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California bill would allow multiple moms and dads

August 31, 2012|By Dan Turner
  • State Sen. Mark Leno, right, is behind a bill that would allow courts to designate more than two people as a child's legal parents.
State Sen. Mark Leno, right, is behind a bill that would allow courts to designate… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

Pssst. Don't tell conservatives, but California is about to do something that would vaporize the concept of the nuclear family even more than approving same-sex marriage would. But keep that under your hat, because if family-values Republicans don't know it's happening, they will never notice that it has happened -- and afterward, they'll discover that it didn't degrade the quality or meaning of their own marriages at all. Maybe then they'll figure out that gay marriage wouldn't either.

A bill heading for Gov. Jerry Brown's desk would allow the courts to find that a child has more than two legal parents. In other words: For little Cain and Abel, their parents might not just be Adam and Eve, but Adam, Eve and Steve.

Why is this necessary? As we pointed out in an editorial last month, because family law has become even more complicated as family situations have changed. Current law only allows two partners, whether they're a child's biological or adoptive parents, to be legally considered that child's parents. The case that spurred state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to introduce the bill involved a lesbian couple that split up; one of the partners subsequently took a walk on the hetero side and was impregnated by a man, but it didn't take (the relationship, that is, not the pregnancy). She returned to her former female partner but the two fought, with one ending up in a hospital and the other in jail. The daughter ended up in foster care because her biological father had no parental rights.

Other potential scenarios involving more than two parents can easily be imagined. Most will involve gay couples and an opposite-sex biological parent, but that needn't always be the case. Imagine if a heterosexual couple had a baby but then divorced, and custody was awarded to the former husband and his new wife. Even if the stepmother raised the child from a young age, if a custody situation later arose, she would have no parental rights. That's not fair, either to the stepmother or the child.

That didn't stop legislative Republicans from shunning Leno's bill -- not a single one voted in favor, yet it passed in both houses after attracting sufficient support from Democrats. Obviously, three-parent families are anathema for believers in divinely ordained tradition, but there were legal arguments against the bill too; opponents argue that it could have implications going well beyond family law courts, adding costly wrinkles in cases involving such things as citizenship, tax deductions, probate and other matters as people litigate over who and who isn't a legal parent. Maybe, but three-parent families are still comparatively rare, and the bill isn't likely to clog the courts. It might just help unclog the foster care system though, which would be a very good thing.

Meanwhile, when these unconventional families fail to bring down the wrath of God or reduce the popularity or respectability of nuclear families, we'll have more evidence that same-sex marriage wouldn't either.

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