(San Francisco, CA, August 27, 2012)—Today, the California Assembly voted 51-26 in support of Senate Bill 1476, which will allow judges to recognize the reality that some children have more than two parents.
This bill makes it possible for a third parent—such as a gay father who is raising a child with a lesbian couple—to have legal rights and responsibilities to protect and provide care for the child.
The bill provides that when more than two adults meet the criteria to be a legal parent under existing California law, a court has the flexibility to rule that a child has three legal parents. In order to do so, the court must find that recognizing three parents is required to protect the child’s best interests.
This bill is necessary because a recent California Court of Appeal case, In re M.C., ruled that courts can never recognize more than two legal parents, regardless of the situation and even if recognizing a third parent would protect the child from harm. The court agreed that there could be cases where recognizing more than two parents would protect a child’s best interests and called on the legislature to address this issue.
“We live in a world today where courts are dealing with diverse circumstances that have reshaped California families,” said Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who authored the bill. “This legislation gives courts the flexibility to protect the best interests of a child who is being supported financially and emotionally by those parents. It is critical that judges have the ability to recognize the roles of all parents, especially when a family is in distress and a child’s security is a concern.”
Added National Center for Lesbian Rights Family Protection Project Director Cathy Sakimura: “Families come in many forms, and all children deserve to have their families protected by the law. Legal recognition gives children tremendous legal, emotional, financial, and psychological benefits and helps them thrive.”
Said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law: “Everyone who places the interests of children first, and realizes that judges shouldn’t be forced to rule in ways that hurt children, should cheer this Assembly vote.”
Although situations in which a child has more than two parents are unusual, the potential harm to children when courts are prohibited from recognizing the reality of the child’s family structure is great. Several other states already recognize that a child may have more than two parents, including Delaware, Maine, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia.
The law will not change who can be a parent, and applies only when there are more than two people who meet the definition of a parent under existing California law. It will not give any new rights to people who are not parents—like stepparents, grandparents, babysitters, and other caretakers.
The bill, which was approved by the Senate earlier this year, will now return to its house of origin for a vote to concur in amendments made in the Assembly before moving to the Governor’s desk.
SB 1476 is sponsored by the Children’s Advocacy Institute and NCLR.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.