California’s Children Still Only Have Two Parents

Among Gov. Jerry Brown’s vetoes during September was a bill that would have allowed California children to have more than two legal parents. 

Backers of the bill – SB 1476 by Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat – said it fixed a quirk in the law that prevents a previous custodial or biological parent from taking care of a child if the two current parents are incapable.

Opponents portrayed the bill as an effort to legitimize same-sex parenting because, by definition, they say, the child of a same sex couple comes from someone else’s sperm or egg.

 “I am sympathetic to the author’s interest in protecting children,” the Democratic governor said in his September 30 veto message. “But I am troubled by the fact that some family law specialists believe the bill’s ambiguities may have unintended consequences. I would like to take more time to consider all of the implications of this change.”

Urging the Democratic governor to veto the measure, Karen England, executive director of the Capitol Research Institute, said in an email:

“The proponents of this bill are aiming to extend parental rights to a child’s biological parent’s same-sex partner. This is yet another attempt to break down the traditional definition of the family and normalize same-sex unions. This is very harmful to children.”

Leno, who is gay, says the bill does nothing of the sort and California’s current definition of a parent is unchanged.

Using existing criteria for what constitutes a parent, Leno’s bill would have allowed a court to rule that a child has three or more legal parents – as long as doing so is required to protect the child’s best interests.

If the multiple parents can’t agree on custody, visitation or child support, a judge makes the final determination. 

Generally, in California a parent is biological, adoptive or foster. Guardians or grandparents or stepparents also are considered parents under the law.

The Association of Family Conciliation Courts said in opposition that Leno’s bill “does not provide for any limitation of these potential parents. A child’s time can barely be handled effectively between two conflicted parents and often the children are caught in the middle.

“If three or four different people with ‘parental’ claims have differing perspectives regarding the child we will have created an untenable situation for the child and an even greater degree of conflict.”

The May 2011 appellate ruling that sparked the legislation, in re M.C., involves a same sex couple and their child’s biological father.

The father, who had never denied paternity, sought custody when the couple couldn’t care for the child but was denied by the appeals court, which overturned what it called the “novel finding” of the juvenile court that the child, in fact, had three parents – a biological mother and father and a custodial mother.

That win for the father was appealed by the two mothers. The appellate court said that “substantial evidence supports the parentage findings, but the juvenile court’s work is incomplete.” The case was sent back for reexamination.


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