Most people in the U.S. assume that laws – as written – do not put forward different requirements for men and women. But that assumption is wrong – and one of the laws that has different provisions for men and women is about to undergo scrutiny by the Supreme Court when Flores-Villar v. United States is heard on November 10.
Inheriting your citizenship
The issue is citizenship. While the general principle – children of U.S. citizens have U.S. citizenship – is accepted, this principle is limited in certain circumstances. For a child born outside the U.S. to parents who are not married, U.S. citizenship is not automatically granted. In the face of the large number of people who would like to enter the U.S. legally, the law includes some other provisions. One of them is a residency requirement. In order to pass along citizenship to a child, the parent who is a U.S. citizen must have had a certain period of residency in the USA after the age of 14.
Women (mothers) can pass their U.S. citizenship to their child if they lived in the USA for at least 1 year since they turned 14.
For men (fathers), the requirement is 5 years.
Biological differences and logical impossibilities
Not all of the arguments supporting the law make sense to me. While it may be true that U.S. military men tend to have sex with local women while posted overseas, and that some local women may claim that a child was fathered by a U.S. citizen when, in fact, the child’s paternity isn’t known – the extended U.S. residency requirement won’t resolve the problem. (A requirement for DNA testing would be more relevant.)
In the case now coming before the Supreme Court, the father – as U.S. citizen – was 16 years old at the time his child was born. Although he had lived in the USA with his grandmother and father – both U.S. citizens – since he was 2 months old, it was logically impossible for him to have five years of residency until he reached the age of 19. While I’m certainly not in favor of teen fathers, they certainly deserve to have the same rights (and supports) as teen mothers.
Stereotypes begetting stereotypes
Society tends to see teen dads – all out of wedlock dads – as deadbeats who impregnate women, then leave them and their children behind. When we make laws grounded in that stereotype, the structure of the law will bring that image into reality. In this case, the teen dad, along with his family, is actively seeking to parent this child. The National Women’s Law Center wrote in their amicus brief:
If the stereotype that unmarried fathers are always absent and uninvolved were ever true, it is not true today. And that stereotype cannot justify treating fathers who have taken steps to establish a relationship with their children differently from mothers.
Not all gender-based stereotypes work against women. I was glad to see the Women’s Law Center standing for fathers’ rights in this case. I hope the Supreme Court does likewise.