California Considers Bill Recognizing More Than Two Legal Parents

By Erin Rook, PQ Monthly

A bill allowing more than two adults to be legally recognized as the parents of a child has passed the California Senate and is awaiting an Assembly vote, ABC News reports.

Introduced by State Sen. Mark Leno and co-sponsored by the University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the bill is intended to address scenarios in which a child’s two primary parents are unable to care for them, but there is another parental figure available:

“The bill brings California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ families today,” Leno told the Sacramento Bee, which first reported the story.

Leno told that he recognized a “problem” in the legal system in 2011 when an appellate court placed a girl in foster care when her legally married parents — two lesbians — could not care for her.

The child was taken into state custody when one of her mothers was jailed and the nonbiological mother was hospitalized.

The court did not have the authority to appoint the girl’s biological father, with whom she had a relationship, as a legal parent. That third parent could have “benefitted the well-being of the child,” said Leno.

All parents would have to agree on the terms of their parenting relationship, including custody, visitation, and child support. Legal parents could include a wide range of adults including sperm donors, the birth parents of adopted children, and step parents, irrespective of sexual orientation.

Though the law is considered unconventional and is attracting criticism from conservative organizations such as Focus on the Family, it is not the first of its kind. Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maine, and Washington, D.C. all have laws recognizing more than two parents.

“Some of the hyperbolic corners of the opposition are suggesting there could be four, six or eight parents,” Leno told ABC. “But I think that it will not be used when a child has too many parents, but when there are too few.”