The California Assembly this week approved a bill which would allow judges to extend parental rights and obligations to a third person acting as a child’s parent, even if the child has two legal parents. The intent of the bill is to recognize and protect that existing parental relationship, if the court finds that it is in the child’s best interest to do so.
Why are opponents decrying this move by the California Assembly? What could possibly be harmful to our society and to our values of caring for our children if the law recognizes the reality that some children have three parents?
This legislation has raised the ire of people opposed to same-sex marriage, who view anything other than the traditional family structure as not what is “best” for children. This opposition, however, misses three central points that are at the heart of the matter.
First, multi-parent families are not new. Married couples with children have been divorcing and re-marrying for decades (at least) and when they re-marry, step-parents take on parenting responsibilities and form parental relationships with their step-children. This isn’t some new, radical, left-wing agenda. This is reality for today’s American families.
Second, fundamentally, this is NOT about the relationship between the adults in this family, it is about the children; it is about their relationship to the nurturers, breadwinners, caregivers and protectors in their lives. Children don’t necessarily know how or why they have the parents they have, but they know who loves and cares for them. They deserve to have the emotional and financial security that comes from the legal recognition of that relationship.
Third, people who oppose this legislation seem to be under the misconception that we define parentage in this country based solely on a biological connection. However, for many years now, we have witnessed a trend in American families where more and more children are being raised by adults who do not have a biological relationship to them, e.g., step-parents, foster parents, or adoptive parents. The age of “Ozzie and Harriett”, if it ever existed at all, is long past.
Our national challenge today is to continue to provide for, love, nurture and responsibly raise our young people, regardless of how their families are formed. To some extent, we are already doing so. We provide legal pathways to adults who wish to step into the shoes of an absent biological parent, whatever the cause. We allow for step-parent adoption, and we allow for the adoption of children whose parents are deceased and neglected or abused children. We subsidize foster parents who step into the role of parent temporarily (and often permanently), all in the name of providing for the best interests of our country’s children.
But our laws need to continue to evolve as our families do. The California legislature has taken a bold step forward, but one solidly grounded on the time-tested foundation of the best interests of the child. At Family Equality Council, we support this legislation. We believe that if an adult takes on the important task of providing for, raising and loving a child, the law should recognize that relationship. Through the eyes of a child, that person is already a parent. That’s all that matters to them, and should be all that matters to the rest of us.