Two parents of child could become 3 under bill

Brown’s veto seen as just a delay in letting courts decide

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In California, the day may come when a judge will decide who’s your daddy, who’s your mommy and who’s your other parent.

That time won’t come this year: Gov. Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have permitted a court to recognize more than two parents for a child, saying he needed “more time to consider all of the implications” of such a change.

But with modern society producing complicated childbearing situations — like the case of a California girl named “M.C.” that inspired California state Sen. Mark Leno’s multiple-parent bill — recognizing more than two parents for a child is all but inevitable, say supporters.

“I’m actually very optimistic” about getting a multiple-parent bill signed next year, said Shannon Minter, legal director of National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Mr. Brown’s veto message “shows that, in effect, he supports the concept of the bill and just needs more time to look at it,” said Mr. Minter.

“We will work with the governor and anyone else to ensure that this [veto of SB 1476] will not endure,” said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Unless this law about children having only two parents gets changed, he said, “judges in California will be forced to issue rulings they know will hurt children by bluntly ordering an end to their real relationships with their real parents.”

Others decry the push to designate three or more parents for a child.

SB 1476 is “a step too far,” said Ron Prentice, executive director of the California Family Council, warning that it would permit courts to overlook a child’s biological ties in favor of someone else with a big bank account.

“It is hard enough for even two parents to agree on how to raise a child,” law professor John Culhane and family scholar Elizabeth Marquardt wrote in Huffington Post in August in a plea for California lawmakers to reject SB 1476.

“When it comes to parenting, three’s a crowd,” they said.

U.S. family law scholars have long been wrestling with the “new and uncharted amniotic waters,” as the California Family Law Monthly put it.

Babies are increasingly being born outside marriage — or between marriages — leading to legal battles over who the babies’ fathers are.

In addition, more people — including same-sex couples — are making babies with the eggs, sperm and wombs of unrelated persons. Usually these “strangers” stay separated from their offsprings’ lives, but sometimes, they want a seat at the dinner table, too.

Since so many children grow up with adults who have no biological ties to them, many observers may think that “children have already had three or more parents for quite some time,” Ms. Marquardt wrote in “One Parent or Five: A Global Look at Today’s New Intentional Families,” released October 2011 by the Institute for American Values.

What people don’t realize is “that even in stepfamilies or open-adoption scenarios, children still have at most two legal parents,” Ms. Marquardt wrote. “When it comes to legal parenthood, this ‘rule of two’ has not been breached.”

The “rule of two” is currently the law in California, which is why Mr. Leno introduced a bill this year that would explicitly permit judges to find that a child had more than two parents.

“The definition of family is evolving,” the openly gay lawmaker said. “All this bill does is give authority to a court [to use] when it’s required to protect the best interest of the child.”

Courts need this freedom to recognize all the parents in a child’s life, and have the authority to assign custody, visitation and child support among all the parents, said the National Center for Lesbian Rights, one of the co-sponsors of SB 1476.

Two family law organizations, while agreeing with the concept of multiple parents, objected to aspects of the bill and urged Mr. Brown to veto it.

If it is reintroduced, “a lot of people will be happy to work on this,” said Diane Wasznicky, president of the Association of Certified Family Law Specialists. The California chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts also objected, she said.

But others saw a “Pandora’s box of conflicting laws and legal contracts,” as Brad Dacus of Pacific Justice Institute put it.

“This gives a lot discretion to the family law judge for whatever they judge to be in the best interests of a child. That’s a lot of power,” said Jennifer Roback Morse, founding president of the Ruth Institute, a project of the National Organization for Marriage.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein

Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.

Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...

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