Status implications: The way forward?
To address the status issues raised in my interviewees’ accounts, I will focus on the three questions posed in the introduction.
Does Anglo-Welsh family law have the necessary mechanisms for recognising the parental role of co-mothers?
As outlined in the introduction, the legal concept of parenthood is made up of a number of components. Principally, these are: the parental status of either ‘mother’ or ‘father’ as registered following the child’s birth; the concurrent allocation of parental responsibility (subject to s 4 Children Act 1989); and an (almost) inalienable link between the child and parent, and the parent’s wider family. The closest analogy to the parental role of the co-mother is that of the unmarried male partner of a woman who undertakes licensed donor insemination to conceive their child. In an unprecedented move, Anglo-Welsh law provides legal parenthood for such men in the absence of the traditional markers of this status: that is, a marital link with the mother or an assumed bio-genetic tie to the child. As Franklin notes, this provision illustrates the exercise of new powers of legal discourse to confer parenthood. Clearly, Anglo-Welsh legal discourse can, where considered necessary or desirable (for policy reasons, for example, matching children to fathers as outlined above), change the ‘markers’ it renders significant to the ascription of parenthood. Therefore, I would submit that legal parenthood already provides the necessary mechanisms to recognise co-mothers’ parental roles, although clearly access to this status is currently denied to them. (The policy reasons for this exclusion are discussed in the following section.)