Children have rights too

I know the Fortnight for Freedom is getting a lot of coverage in Catholic circles right now, and deservedly so, but I want to take a minute and respond to some of the comments made in the wake of the column I wrote for CV on Father’s Day. I don’t plan on making this a regular occurrence, but given the heft of some of the arguments concerning absentee dads, fatherless homes and the larger issue of children’s rights, I want to provide a cogent defense of why I believe children have a right to a mother and a father. That being said, I think a good place to start is to understand what rights really are.

Rights at their most basic level are claims against others. They are claims that impose duties on other people. To live in a society, man must enter into relationships with other men. This results in, among other things, a complex web of competing rights claims. Some rights take precedent over others but eventually new rights come into existence, resulting in a debate over which rights we should value most.

In recent decades the United States has witnessed an emerging trend that I believe fails to understand what rights we are legitimately entitled to and where they actually come from.

Jay Richards, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, offers a solution to this problem. According to Richards, the co-author of the best-selling book “Indivisible,” humans posses rights that the state may not alter. These are rights that emanate from pre-political realities. Pre-political realities like marriage and the family, Richards argues, possess intrinsic rights, not only because they precede the state, but because they comprise our human nature.

Children, therefore – an essential aspect of the family – also have rights. But what are they? According to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, children, among other things, deserve opportunities and facilities that will enable them to develop physically, mentally, morally, spiritually and socially in a healthy and normal manner. And as recent studies confirm, children develop best when raised by their biological, married mother and father.

Though children may not be fully matured individuals, they are not subhuman (even though some ethicists claim they are). They are persons endowed by their Creator who play an integral role in a natural human institution the state comes into existence to protect: the family. Even if you look at the issue of children’s rights from a purely pragmatic perspective you’ll realize that if we allow children to live in a world where they have no rights at all, or tolerate a culture that views them as nothing more than chattel property (think Nadya Suleman), then we are not only ignoring their unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but we are abdicating our responsibility to provide intergenerational justice by setting them, and society, up for failure later on.

Stephen Kokx is an adjunct professor of political science and featured columnist at Follow him on twitter @StephenKokx



17 thoughts on “Children have rights too

  1. Patrick says:


    You said this posting would be a cogent response to questions I raised in an earlier thread. It fails to do that. It is clear THAT you believe every child has a fundamental right to be raise by his natural parents who are marrried to each other, but you do not explain HOW or WHY you reach that conclusion. If your belief is based solely on that you NEED to believe that every child has this fundamental right, I can sympathize.

    You have answered none of my question, although I truly appreciate the robust discussion I see here on this topic. I’m sorry if I seem to slam you, but this is an incredibly import issue to living, breathing Americans (including but not limited to the children of gay couples) and you treat it as mere theory. But real people and real laws are affected every day. To wit:

    My neighbor, a boy named Spencer, is right now being raised by a single mother because she and Spencer’s father together agreed that the father would go pursue his dreams of rock music and the mother felt she could raise Spencer best on her own. No marriage ever took place. So, who has abridged Spencer’s rights? How? What laws should be in effect to prevent this?

    Sure it sounds like a lovely thought to say that every child has a fundamental right to be raised by a mother and a father who are married to each other. It might also be a lovely thought to say that every person has a fundamental right to bear arms in order to protect what is his.

    But your opinions rest on a premise that you fail to support. your references to Richards and the UN statement aren’t helpful. (Yes, I’ve read them).

    Please let me know what you think Spencer’s remedy should be. Should society/the people/the government force his parents to marry and move in together? Isn’t that the only logical conclusion you could reach?

    1. Stephen Kokx says:

      Hi Patrick. You bring up a very interesting situation. If you like, I’d love to continue this conversation over email. I think I have the answers you are looking for.

      1. Patrick says:

        Post it here. Public discourse is the way to go! These are important issues to all of us!

        1. Patrick says:

          Bueller…..? Bueller….?

  2. Backside Surfer says:

    Tired of seeing this study trotted out as some sort of proof that committed gay couples are bad parents. It didn’t even study that, and the author SPECIFICALLY mentions that it shouldn’t be assumed to say that. I have no doubt why it was published. It was done with just enough facts that bloggers could cite it and make claims that it says something that it doesn’t. Its irresponsible and dishonest. It’s done simply to prey on prejudice. It’s certainly not a very Catholic thing to do, and it needs to stop. You can be supportive of traditional families without trying to put non traditional families down.

    1. Deacon James says:

      Unfourtunatley, I believe you are correct. I have reviewed the study, and it does not say gay couples are bad parents, because it found only a few adult children that were raised by gay couples. It did find that parents with unstable relationships create negative outcomes for children. It also says that as a society, we should work to create stable relationships by supporting families. This includes all families, both gay and straight. Banning gay people from marriage does nothing to help straight families. It doesn’t protect the rights of straight couples or religions. In itself is an act only to remove a right from a group of people. It is a “claim against others” that protects no one.

  3. Montgomery says:

    There is no “right” for children to be raised by a mother and father, just as there is no “right” to be admitted to Yale and make $1 million a year and lead a priviledged life. Families come in many shapes and forms. We are all trying to make the most of what we were given by God. I’m constantly perplexed by people that make the argument that children of gay parents are at a disadvantage. They aren’t. I’ve met many children raised by gay couples, and they are some of the most astoundingly smart and well adjusted children I’ve met. Even if you do believe these children are at a disadvantage, it makes no sense to harm them further by making it illegal for their parents to marry and give them legal protections and government benefits that other families with married parents receive.

  4. Mara says:

    Stephen, I see nothing in your new post that proves that children have a right to be raised by their biological parents. Have I missed something?

    1. Stephen Kokx says:

      I am not sure how that is possible, but I’ll try to explain it one last time. Humans have intrinsic rights by virtue that they are human beings. Among these are the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As the Founders recognized, and as Richards argues, some of the most basic rights humans posses emanate from “pre-political realities.” I believe that the traditional family unit is one of these “realities.” Therefore, it possesses certain rights that the state cannot alter (ie the state cannot redefine what marriage is or what comprises it). Seeing how children play an intricate role in the family unit, and seeing how they themselves are human beings, I, along with the UN, believe they posses rights to an environment where they will best be able to flourish. As these recent studies have shown, it seems abundantly clear that the environment in which children are best able to flourish is in a family with their biological, married mother and father. If you bridge these statements together, one could argue that the child does indeed have such a right. How do you see it, Mara?

      1. Mara says:

        Stephen, you state “Rights at their most basic level are claims against others. They are claims that impose duties on other people.” Sandra, in her post, stated that this premise, your premise, is false. Again, she is correct. A right does not come with obligation “of other.” My birth did not obligate my parents to remain together and raise me. My birth did not obligate society to take care of me. My birth did not obligate society to make sure I wasn’t raised by a same sex couple. You believe otherwise. As long as you believe that human rights create obligation “of other” you will not understand the true nature of human rights, in my opinion.

        1. Randall says:

          “My birth did not obligate my parents to remain together and raise me. My birth did not obligate society to take care of me. My birth did not obligate society to make sure I wasn’t raised by a same sex couple.” Well Mara you got one out of 3 right. Society, as in the government, is not obligated to take care of you. That’s welfare and it’s wrong. Society is indeed obligated to make sure that you are kept far away from the influence of gay couples – anything else would be participating in child abuse. And, although it will never happen in my lifetime, your birth SHOULD have obligated your parents to stay together and raise you. Divorce between two parents who have children together should be all but illegal in this country. Children have a right to a father and a mother, and divorce strips over 50% of children of this right. After gay “families,” single parents are the second largest threat to society.

          1. True Catholic says:

            This is a disrespectful and hateful statement. It goes against Catholic teaching, and is not supported by it. It should not have been published.

          2. Deacon James says:

            The church calls on us to be respectful of all of God’s children Randall. There is no need to keep children away from gay couples, and it is not child abuse if they are allowed to meet a gay couple. The insinuation is based on prejudice and fear, not church teaching or fact. Please stop being disrespectful.

  5. Brian D says:

    ” My right to free speech requires no claim against another person. My right to life requires nothing of other people. My right to freedom of religion requires nothing either.” That is not true, Sandra. Your right to free speech is a claim against my ability to keep you from expressing a differing opinion. Your right to life is a claim againt me killing you. Your right to freedom of religion is a claiim against the government from forcing you to participate in a particular religion. Your claims have a greater value than mine, hence your right to free spech, life, and religion and mylack of rights to keep you from speaking, killing you, and forcing you to be a particular religion.

    1. Mara says:

      Brian D, Sandra is correct. An individual right makes no claim against another person. Sandra’s right to life does not take away your ability to kill her. However, a right to kill her does not exist. The ability to kill her does. However, if you kill her, you have infringed on her actual right to life. Same with Sandra’s right of free speech. You have the ability to take that right away but you don’t have the right to take her freedom of speech away. Same with religious right of choice. In all three cases, Sandra’s rights take nothing from you and demands nothing of you. You still, in all cases, have the ability to infringe upon those freedoms but you don’t have the right to infringe on those freedoms. Therefore, Sandra’s rights in no way infringe on your actual rights and in no way infringe on your ability to take her rights away.

  6. Sandra says:

    “Rights at their most basic level are claims against others”. No. My right to free speech requires no claim against another person. My right to life requires nothing of other people. My right to freedom of religion requires nothing either. Rights are rights, not something that you have to force someone else to do for you. Your argument is false on its most basic level and your desire to control others and force them to do what you want is shocking, especially during this “fortnight to freedom”

    1. John C. says:

      If balancing rights is the responsibility of our laws, what rights are protected by banning gay people from marriage? They are still free to adopt or have children, so it actually doesn’t protect anyone’s rights. When they are allowed to marry, catholic churches are still free to refuse to perform the religious rite of marriage, for any reason. Allowing gays to marry doesn’t prevent me from believing that catholic marriage is a true sacrament. So, what rights are more important than the rights of gay couples to be protected by the same laws as everyone else? What rights are so important that we have to ban gay people from being able to live their lives base on their beliefs? What rights are so important that we have to harm the children of gay couples by banning their parents from marriage? I don’t think you have an answer, you just want to control other people and deprive them of the freedoms that you keep to yourself.

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