of States Calling Children
"Bastards" or "Illegitimate"
Marital Status Statistics
Including Unwed Births
Letters to Governors and
Attorneys General in:
Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina,
Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Washington, and West Virginia
National Judicial Education
American Judges Association
to American Judges Association
to the Editor from Judge Ira J. Raab
to Council of State Appellate Judges
to National Association of Women Judges
Justice Charles Z. Smith,
Washington Supreme Court
of Southern California's letters to Judges Assns.
Bill passed in Illinois
The Old Testament speaks of the sins of the parents being visited upon their
children. (Exodus 20:5) Believe it or not, but this punitive biblical admonition is being
enforced today by antiquated statutes and unthinking judges in dozens of states in this
Even though premarital sex is now the norm in
our society, many religious denominations still consider sexual intercourse between an
unmarried man and woman to be a sin and unmarried cohabitation to be immoral. What some
folks would find surprising is that several states still have laws penalizing consenting
heterosexual sex in private or outlawing unmarried cohabitation.
In Florida, Idaho, Massachusetts,
Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, Utah,
Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia, such "secular sins" are
generally punished as misdemeanors carrying penalties of up to several months in jail.
But even more amazing is the fact that in 15
states there are statutes on the books which stigmatize children born to unmarried parents
by labeling the offspring as "bastards" or "illegitimate" children. In
37 states, it is the judges who continue to brand these children as
Every child is legitimate. Judicial and legislative name calling is
unconstitutional and must cease.
Lawmakers should remove the term "bastard" from statutes.
Legislators and judges should replace "illegitimate child" with more appropriate
terminology. A phrase such as "child born to unmarried parents" would do.
Society should show respect as each child is
welcomed into this world. The dignity of all children should be honored, including the
millions of babies born each year to unmarried parents.