Officially, California, like most other states, recognizes no more than two legal parents. That could potentially change soon, as SB1476 makes its way through the legislative process. SB1476 was proposed by Senator Mark Leno, and would be a law that allows children to be legally granted more than two parents. It would apply equally to men and women, and to either heterosexual or homosexual relationships. The introduction of this bill has moved California to the center of a growing debate over how (and whether) such alternative family arrangements should be legally recognized. Leno says, “The bill brings California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than ‘Ozzie and Harriet’ families today”.
As the traditional American family evolves, including surrogacy arrangements, same-sex marriages, adoptions, and reproductive techniques, many proponents see the need for more than two legally recognized parents.
Critics point out that the addition of another parent could open the door for particularly messy battles over custody or child support, and gives adults legal protection to create “radical families.”
Mr. Leno was moved to propose the bill last year after he recognized a “problem” in the legal system when an appellate court placed a girl in foster care when her legally married parents ( two lesbians) could not care for her. The girl was taken into state custody when one of her parents was jailed and the other parent 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 “benefited the well-being of the child,” said Leno.
While many of the third-parent cases have involved same-sex couples, heterosexual couples have also sought legal recognition for third parents. Many parents in non-traditional families who wish to be legally recognized as a third or fourth parent involve step-families or adoptions. They cite many practical reasons why they want to be recognized; they want to make sure their child would be provided for in case of they die, and they would like access to health insurance and tax deductions.
Even with these examples, we have to wonder how many families this law would actually apply to? Leno does acknowledge that the law might be applied in “rare circumstances” and only when it is required “for the best interests of the child.” Mr. Leno has said that he hoped that allowing the court to recognize a third or fourth parent could help keep children out of foster care in a small number of cases.
The bill has passed on both the State Assembly and Senate floors, and is currently being reviewed by the Governor. It shouldn’t be too much longer before we hear more information on this groundbreaking law.