US Passport Applications To Switch To Gender-Neutral Language

Passport USA

From the US State Department’s website:

The Department of State is pleased to announce the introduction of a redesigned Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA). The CRBA is an official record confirming that a child born overseas to a U.S. citizen parent acquired U.S. citizenship at birth. [...]

Applications for U.S. passports and the redesigned CRBA will also use the title of “parent” as opposed to “mother” and “father.” These improvements are being made to provide a gender neutral description of a child’s parents and in recognition of different types of families.

The Religious Right objects:

Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, agreed. “It’s part of an overall attempt at political correctness to diminish the distinction between men and women and to somehow suggest you don’t need both a father and a mother to raise a child successfully,” said Jeffress. “(This decision) was made to make homosexual couples feel more comfortable in rearing children.”

Jeffress is sort of right. But the distinction that matters for passports isn’t just diminished, it’s deceased. The purpose of the form, as James Joyner points out, “isn’t to trace genealogy but rather to establish legal custody. Indeed, both parents must appear in person, with the child, and present birth certificates and other government documents to demonstrate they have the right to take the child overseas.”

It’s no longer the case that the parents with the legal right to take a child abroad are necessarily a mother/father pair. Why shouldn’t passport forms reflect that reality?

Last July, Elizabeth objected:

Does same sex marriage require that we redefine parenthood — and change the very words we use for all families, all children? Yes.

Well, sure, when you’re filling out your child’s passport application form, you’re pretty much confined to using the form’s language choices. Fortunately, approximately 99.9999999% of our lives are spent in activities other than filling out federal forms. Elizabeth’s right to use the term “mother’ to refer to herself in daily life, in conversation, in newspaper op-eds, and in virtually all of her life that is not spent filling out her child’s passport application is absolutely undiminished.

Interestingly, Elizabeth has usually claimed that she’s not opposed to the inclusion of same-sex couples and their children in mainstream American life; she just wants to preserve the term “marriage.” But this issue has nothing at all to do with the term “marriage” — the form doesn’t even ask if the parents are married, afaik.

Will today’s children be inspired to grow up and be good Progenitors “A” and “B” for the next generation? Or will it all be a little too vague for them to figure out?

Wow, is this stretching to find a harm. For Elizabeth’s argument to make sense, we’d have to believe that what’s written on a passport application is an essential part of how we learn to be parents. But here’s a secret: I have never once seen the form my parents filled out to apply for my childhood passport. For that matter, many parents never even apply for passports for their children, and yet they somehow muddle along. No one learns how to be a parent by filling out obscure federal forms.

I do see a potential compromise, for passport forms: Rather than using “parent one” and “parent two,” the form could have a checkbox next to each parent’s name, so people could check “mother” or “father.” That way, the words “mother/father” are preserved, and the form can still accurately record the applications of same-sex parents. (Really, there should also be an “other” option, for families in which the child’s legal guardian is not the mother or father.)

But I can’t imagine that it would satisfy Robert Jeffress. He simply objects to “homosexual couples… rearing children”; as long as same-sex parents have any rights at all, or are acknowledged in any way, Jeffress and his fellow-travelers will object.

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3 Responses to US Passport Applications To Switch To Gender-Neutral Language

  1. 1
    vesta44 says:

    This is a change that’s long overdue, to my way of thinking. When my dad was stationed in England in 1955, I was 18 months old and didn’t get a passport. I was included on my mother’s passport (her passport photo was of her, holding me on her lap). When we came back to the USA in 1958, I don’t think I had a passport then either, and neither did my brother, who was born in England in 1956. I think things have changed markedly since then, but still more changes are necessary in our ever-changing world of relationships and family make-up.

  2. 2
    james says:

    Spot on about the passport, though I think parent A and parent B gives a unpleasant sense of relative importance. But surely the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) is a record of genealogy? The form’s surreal. It literally says:

    “THE FOLLOWING ITEMS PERTAIN TO THE BIOLOGICAL PARENTS. COMPLETE FOR BOTH PARENT A AND PARENT B.”

    http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/83127.pdf

  3. 3
    Thene says:

    Will today’s children be inspired to grow up and be good Progenitors “A” and “B” for the next generation?

    Well shit, is the idea of being a good parent beyond the verbal reach of these clowns?