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April 20th, 2012 by Robert Franklin, Esq.
Since I reported on Minnesota’s equal parenting bill’s being passed by the state House of Representatives, I thought I’d throw some light on what’s going on in the Senate.  Here’s a pithy article on that subject (MinnPost, 4/16/12).

The House bill passed 80 – 53, with both Republicans and Democrats voting for and against.  But if the linked-to article is any indication, the same may not hold true in the Senate.  The article describes the writer’s experience testifying in favor of the Senate bill, SF 1402, before the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.  His observations bring Will Rogers to mind.  Rogers’ comment about the similarity between laws and sausage – that it’s best not to look closely at how either is made – is apt. 

This bill has been bouncing around the Capitol for over a decade. One intrepid woman, Molly Olson, has kept the bill alive. She — and I — believe that it is in the best interests of children that the default presumption should be 50-50. The bill makes all sorts of exceptions, for unfit parents and other extenuating circumstances.

By the time I testified, the bill had basically been gutted. The percentage was dropped from 50% to 35%. Nevertheless, I testified that the Court system has habituated a outdated notion that mothers are always better to be the primary parent than fathers. I argued that when the judicial branch of our government is too habituated in certain patterns, the legislative branch needs to step in and set things right.

I acknowledged that it’s odd for a white man to be claiming discrimination. Even so, that’s what this is.

But here’s the funny thing: Democrats are unanimously against this bill, and Republicans are for it. You know who else is against it?

Divorce lawyers. Even my own lawyer is against it.

Testifying for the bill were parents (both mothers and fathers), a grandmother, two social workers, and a couple former state legislators who are also attorneys. Even a woman in her 20s who is a child of divorce testified emotionally that she had virtually no relationship with her father until recently, because of the existing law.

Testifying against the bill: the lobbyist for the state association of matrimonial lawyers. Plus a couple other lawyers, one of whom practices in Wisconsin.

This is a slam dunk, I thought. It couldn’t have been more clear that lawyers like the current bill, but no one else does. It’s about then that someone in the gallery leaned over and whispered that the Judiciary Committee is made up of State Senators who are — you guessed it — lawyers.

Once the hour of testimony from the public was over, the Senators on the Committee — particularly the Democrats — immediately began attacking the testimony of those supporting the bill. One Senator repeatedly stated that the bill had not been worked on long enough; the bills she works on, it seems, take even longer than 10 years to pass. Another Senator dismissed my testimony, saying “There are always two sides of every story.” Other Senators were equally dismissive. Still others spent the entire meeting on their iPads, not even paying attention.

It seems that, to the Democrats, support of the bill would undermine women’s rights. But, as the grandmother testified, as a feminist she is offended by the current law. She said that feminists like her fought in the 1970s for equality, not for laws that favor women.

That woman sounds suspiciously like a real feminist; you know, the type that actually believes in equality of the sexes.  She not only believes in it, she goes to bat for it.  By contrast, the Democratic senators the writer describes are the newer version of feminists, the kind that long ago abandoned gender equality in favor of ”more for us.” 

Unlike the grandmother referred to, the Democrats on the committee don’t understand that laws that put 75% of the childcare burden on mothers, also ensure that those women will never be able to earn or save equally with men.  Discrimination against fathers isn’t just bad for fathers and their children, it’s bad for mothers too.  The anti-dad forces just don’t get it.

Apart from the knee-jerk reactions of the Democrats on the committee, I suspect that main opposition to equal parenting in Minnesota comes from the family bar.  I don’t know if those lawyers know about the research showing that equal parenting arrangements tend to reduce parental conflict over time, but my guess is that they sense it in some part of their beings.  I’d say that anything like equal parenting that holds the potential to reduce parental conflict and thus cut into the earnings of family lawyers conflicts with the instincts of those family lawyers, whether they know the science on the matter or not.

The good news is that SF 1402 passed the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on a straight party-line vote – Republicans Aye, Democrats Nay.  The Minnesota Senate itself consists of 37 Republicans and 30 Democrats, and I assume each committee of the Senate reflects that Republican majority.  So, if the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee is any indication, SF 1402 should pass out of committee and be approved by the full Senate.

Then of course there’s the governor, Mark Dayton, who’s a Democrat.

Stay tuned.

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