Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Gender Affects Citizenship of Children ; Court Says That Mother's Nationality Can Determine Citizenship of Foreign- Born Kids

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

How Gender Affects Citizenship of Children ; Court Says That Mother's Nationality Can Determine Citizenship of Foreign- Born Kids

Article excerpt

Women are too frail to participate in competitive sports.

Women aren't worldly enough to vote.

A woman's place is in the home.

Some long-held stereotypes seem ridiculous when repeated in America in 2001.

And so it was with a sense of great anticipation that a number of women's rights groups helped litigate the case of Tuan Anh Nguyen. They advanced the case with the hope that the US Supreme Court might use its enormous persuasive power to put an end to another stereotype that they saw reflected in federal immigration law - that women are more likely than men to form a loving, nurturing relationship with a child.

Instead, this week, the nation's highest court delivered a far different message - that the US Constitution does not forbid Congress from passing laws based in large part on biological differences between the sexes.

"To fail to acknowledge even our most basic biological differences ... risks making the guarantee of equal protection superficial," writes Justice Anthony Kennedy in a majority opinion joined by Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justices John Paul Stevens, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas.

Upholds existing law

The 5-to-4 decision upholds an immigration statute that makes it more difficult for fathers than for mothers to obtain US citizenship for a child born overseas out of wedlock.

US immigration law allows for an immediate grant of citizenship to any child born overseas to an American woman. But children of American men born out of wedlock to a non-American woman may become citizens only if the father takes certain steps to legally acknowledge the child.

In passing the law, Congress considered the potential problem of American servicemen overseas fathering unwanted children who might then demand US citizenship. Congress also considered that childbirth is a more involved process for women than for men and that such involvement can lead to a presumption of a bond between mother and child.

"Principles of equal protection do not require Congress to ignore this reality," Justice Kennedy writes. He says the US government has a strong interest "in ensuring some opportunity for a tie between citizen father and foreign born child which is a reasonable substitute for the opportunity manifest between mother and child at the time of birth. …

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