Yesterday the Supreme Court heard an unusual citizenship case that’s rooted in gender discrimination. According to Fox News:
The Supreme Court confronted a U.S. citizenship law with evident distaste Wednesday because it treats fathers and mothers differently, even as justices offered little hope to a Mexican-born man who says he should be declared an American.
If Ruben Flores-Villar’s mother had grown up in the U.S. instead of his father, he’d almost certainly be a U.S. citizen under a 70-year-old law for children born abroad to one American parent and one non-American. Flores-Villar’s problem is that his father, not his mother, is a U.S. citizen. The law makes it harder for children of unwed American fathers to claim citizenship.
The law is based on the old (and transcultural) tradition of matrilineal descent: it’s the womb that counts, because you always know whose you came from. But the days of “mama’s baby, daddy’s maybe” are over. Now that paternity can be proven to an absolute scientific certainty, there’s no reason for matrilineal descent. Setting one standard for mothers and another for fathers is inherently unfair.
I have a personal bone to pick with matrilineal descent because it’s been used against me my entire life. Despite being Jewish by both bloodline and religious practice, the fact that my one Jewish parent is my father means many in the Jewish community—and the entire state of Israel—tell me that I’m not Jewish. Unfortunately, Jewish law was codified thousands of years ago and hard-liners will not depart from it. Fortunately, US civil law is progressive in a way Jewish religious law is not.
I have heard claims—some from feminists—that that matrilinealism favors or empowers women by making them the bestower of ethnic identity, or in this case, citizenship. They are wrong. Matrilineal descent should never be confused with Matriarchy. Matrilineal descent is rooted in a fundamentally patriarchial view of womanhood: our primary role is to bear and raise children. It also gives the Patriarchy every reason to continue subjugating women by ensuring that they have no legal rights and are entirely dependent—the better for their husbands to control their wombs. This was the case in Western society for millenia and is still true in many parts of the world. And for millenia, ethnic groups had a vested interest in preventing their men’s out-of-wedlock children with women of another group from claiming membership. Acknowledging only children born with the “right” women helped preserve a people’s resources and ethnic purity.
In more progressive societies, applying matrilineal descent—as in this case—simply reinforces the idea that women, not men, should be primarily responsible for their children, which deprives men of equal rights as parents, and implies that they are inadequate to the task of raising their own children.
The federal public defender representing Flores-Villar, Steven Hubacheck, said the law perpetuates outdated “gender stereotypes” about caring for children in a time when many more single fathers raise children.
Scalia questioned whether these notions were outdated. He asked if it wasn’t generally true that with “an illegitimate child, it is much more likely that the woman will end up caring for it than that the father would?”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg interjected that the court should be considering parents like Flores-Villar’s father “who don’t fit this mold.”
Yes, they should. Those fathers are entitled to the same rights as mothers in this regard. The gender discrimination becomes especially glaring if you consider that even if an unwed American mother deserted her child, the abandonment would not affect the child’s right to citizenship. The issue here isn’t who raised the kid, it’s who the kid’s biological parents are—a fact that does not change according to circumstance.
The law discriminates against men, pure and simple. Ruben Flores-Villar should have US citizenship, as he would have if his mother had been American. He does not because his father—and by extension, he—was the victim of gender discrimination. The end.