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(Photo Credit: Flickr, mulan)

What Makes Children Illegitimate Bastards?

An unbalanced belief in civil marriage causes some children to be horribly branded as illegitimate bastards through no fault of their own. In Marriage Without a License, it is explained how civil marriage was created for a number of reasons largely beneficial to men. At one point in Roman history (which had great influence on the development of future societies), a woman who conceived a child without being legally married had no legal right to request support from the child’s father. Mothers in this position bore the stigmas of being nothing more than whores and their children nothing more than bastards. A man had no legal obligation to children born out out wedlock and these children were not entitled to receive an inheritance of real estate or anything else owned by a biological father.

Baby Mamas and Bastards

Since that time until now, many women still bear the branding of being “baby mamas”…a pejorative term often meant to deride or degrade a woman’s reputation. This branding also spills over onto children who are often labeled as illegitimate or bastards. While today’s children born to parents who are not legally wed do have the legal right to financial support and inheritance, the social stigma still prevails.

I know grown people who were born to parents who weren’t legally wed and who still recall the hurt of being scorned and referred to as bastards. Some of these people vividly recall not being able to play with other children, being turned away by babysitters or being shunned by members of their own families because of their parents’ lack of a civil marriage. And this is not just with generations past, either. Not long ago, I was speaking with a friend about a young woman who had a child before she legally wed the child’s father. This friend was telling me how her own teenager wanted to visit the young woman and her newborn, but was not being allowed to because the infant was “born out of wedlock”.

An Unbalanced Belief In Civil Marriage

This is what an unbalanced belief in civil marriage does to our society and, more importantly, to innocent children. It teaches them that their value does not come from God, but is determined by society and, specifically, by a government’s validation. Prior to the creation of civil marriage, all children bore equal standing in society’s eyes and were not segregated according to what types of relationships their parents had.

God Created Children, Man Created Bastards

Do you think that God intended for children to be branded this way? Do you think that He intended for women to be shunned for having children outside of society’s legal concepts? Before you answer this question, ponder for a moment the Bible’s teaching that God’s only begotten Son was born to a woman who wasn’t yet married to her husband.

I don’t believe that any woman or child should be assigned such negative labels or lower status in society simply due to the absence of a civil marriage license or contract at the time of a child’s birth. I believe that birth is a miraculous blessing; that mothers are to be celebrated as chosen vessels through which life is created and nurtured. I believe that men should place the women who birth their children on pedestals never to be disrespected and that fathers owe their children support and inheritance no matter the circumstances surrounding how these children came to be. I believe that all families should be proud of the children entrusted to them and should never feel ashamed about that child’s conception. I believe the negative labeling of innocent children (and their mothers) to be very UN-Christlike.

Keeping Things Civil

When I speak about an unbalanced belief in civil marriage, understand that I am not opposed to the existence of legal matrimony at all. Only that I am opposed to it being held up as the end-all-be-all of determining what makes a marriage or determining the value of a relationship or children born of a relationship. Civil marriage has its place in terms of taxation, the division of marital assets, a spouse’s legal right to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated partner and so forth. In short, its place is entirely related to the governing of legal matters and I believe that partaking of it should be optional (so does our government, which is why couples are not required by law to marry). When we exceed legal matters and allow civil marriage to be the measurement by which we determine social and moral values, however, at what point will we wake up and say that we may have allowed an unbalanced understanding of civil marriage to go a little too far?

Which Children Are Illegitimate Bastards?

What’s your take on the whole issue of children who are born out of civil wedlock? Are they illegitimate in your eyes? How about mothers who have children without partaking in civil marriage? Do they have lower status in comparison to mothers who are legally wed? Have you ever questioned the labels assigned to women and children in these situations? What’s the label for a man who has a child with a woman he’s not legally married to? Beyond being called a “baby’s daddy”, is the social stigma just as bad for him as it is for a woman? Your thoughtful comments to all of these questions are welcome in the space below.

Disclaimer: I do not know the children in the photo accompanying this post, nor do I know the status of their parents’ relationship at the time of their birth. The use of their picture is not, in any way, meant to disparage these children or their families. ALL CHILDREN, including the ones in this photo, are equally precious in my sight and, I believe, in the sight of God.