Debra J. Saunders
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State Sen. Mark Leno wants California to recognize that a child can have "more than two legal parents." So he wrote a bill, SB 1476, which, he argues, wouldn't change the definition of a parent -- for example, live-in lovers would not qualify -- but would allow family court to recognize more than two parents only "when it is required to be in the best interest of the child." He stresses that if the bill becomes law, "none of our sponsors or supporters believe that this authority will be used very often."

SB 1476 is for rare cases, Leno argues, like that of baby M.C., as she is known in court documents. M.C.'s story starts in June 2008, when "Melissa" had a relationship with a man, "Jesus." According to court documents, when Jesus learned Melissa was pregnant, he brought her to live with his family. She lived with him for months but then returned to her former partner, "Irene."

During the window when same-sex marriage was legal in California, Irene and Melissa wed. In March 2009, Melissa gave birth to M.C. Three or four weeks later, Melissa left with the baby. She contacted Jesus in search of money. He sent her $300.

As she pursued a divorce, Melissa took up with a new boyfriend, who, with Melissa's complicity, stabbed Irene in the neck. While Melissa was in trouble with the law, Irene and Jesus sought custody of the baby.

Because Irene was married to Melissa when M.C. was born, the court found Irene to be the baby's "presumed mother." But because Irene was unemployed, receiving general relief and sleeping on an ex-girlfriend's couch in an apartment that lacked a working refrigerator, social workers did not award her custody. Jesus, engaged and gainfully employed in Oklahoma, seemed the most stable adult in the group, but because the court had not officially ruled any of the three adults as unfit parents, a family court ruled that all three adults were the baby's "presumed parents."

In 2011, an appellate court overturned the ruling on the grounds that the court was not authorized to recognize more than two parents. That's the reason for Leno's bill.

"What we do know as a consequence of the case was that the biological father was unable to cement his claim of parentage," Ed Howard, who is the senior counsel for the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law and who helped draft the bill, told me.

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Debra J. Saunders


 
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