Maggie Gallagher

Do mothers and fathers matter to children? When adult rights and desires clash with children's needs, how should the conflict be resolved?

"These are the questions raised by this report," says Elizabeth Marquardt, the principal author of a stunning new essay, "The Revolution in Parenthood" (available at and co-published by the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, where I am president). Hard on the heels of redefining marriage, legal elites are rapidly moving to change the very meaning of the word "parent," and in ways that disconnect parenthood -- not to mention children -- from biology, from the man and woman who together make the child.

Marquardt points to some of the obvious reasons, good and bad, for this new legal development: family fragmentation, child abandonment, the blessings of adoption, new reproductive technologies, cultural movements endorsing adults' rights to form diverse families of choice -- all of which call into question the "old" model connecting sex, love, marriage, babies, and mothers and fathers.

But I think there are subtler reasons for this culture shift as well: We live in an incredibly powerful and productive society that got that way primarily by unleashing the talents of the mind. In science, technology, academia, media, financial markets -- everywhere, it is the immense and amazing productive capacities of symbolic analysts that are recognized and rewarded, with increasingly lavish returns. These are our governing, culture-making elites. In such a society, the power of the body to generate something as magnificent as new life appears a strange anomaly. The parents are the people who play "Baby Mozart" to the child. Does physically making a baby really matter? If no graduate degrees are required, how important can it be?

How important? Let me tell you a story. It's not the single most important story I could tell you, just the one I happened to read in the paper this morning:

In 2000, one of the foremost symbolic analysts in the country, neuroscientist Paul Greengard, won the Nobel Prize. He used the $400,000 award to help establish the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize for outstanding work by a female biomedical researcher.

Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.