In February 2012, State Sen. Mark Leno (D San Francisco) introduced SB 1476, a bill that would have permitted family court judges to recognize more than two legal parents in order to serve the best interests of the child. The bill was a reaction to a recent decision holding that a child cannot have more than two legal parents.
The case triggering this bill was In Re M.C., 195 Cal. App. 4th 197 (2011). In this case,the 2nd District Court of Appeal overturned a family court ruling that a child born to a married same-sex female couple had three presumed parents – the biological mother, her spouse and the biological father. The Appellate Court felt constrained to follow state law which limited recognition of presumed parentage to two people. The court acknowledged “rapidly changing familial structures,” but referred any possible changes in the law to the legislature.
The resulting Leno bill acquired support from LGBT and child advocacy groups, but failed to win gubernatorial approval. One of those unintended consequences of the bill Governor Brown raised in his rationale behind vetoing the bill was that the legislation could create a three-parent household for children of certain surrogate parenting arrangements.
Said NCLR Family Protection Project Director Cathy Sakimura: “We appreciate that the Governor recognized that the needs of children with more than two parents should be addressed by the legislature, but we are disappointed that he vetoed this important bill, which we believe provides a thoughtful, well-considered approach for courts to protect these children. We look forward to co-sponsoring this bill again next year and working with the Governor’s office and other stakeholders to ensure that the children in these families do not continue to go unprotected and that California law recognizes and protects all families.”
Family systems are going through dramatic transformations. As of yet, these new parenting and custody models have not been fully and legally recognized in our family law courts. More legislation is required to properly address the needs of these developing family systems so both children and their biological and emotional parents are properly protected.