SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The California state Assembly on Monday voted in favor of a bill that would allow judges to recognize that children could 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 Assembly voted 51-26 in support of Senate Bill 1476, which 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’s origin stems from a California Court of Appeals case, in which that court 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 appeals court, however, agreed that there could be cases where recognizing more than two parents would be in a child’s best interests, and called on the legislature to address the issue.
“We live in a world today where courts are dealing with diverse circumstances that have reshaped California families,” said State Sen. 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,” said Leno.
“Families come in many forms, and all children deserve to have their families protected by the law,” added Cathy Sakimura, Family Protection Project Director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “Legal recognition gives children tremendous legal, emotional, financial, and psychological benefits and helps them thrive.”
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 that chamber for a vote on amendments made in the Assembly before moving to the Governor’s desk.