When Leslea Newman released her landmark children's book, Heather Has Two Mommies, about non-traditional families in 1989, it sparked a national uproar.
But what if Heather had three mommies? Or two mommies and a daddy? Or two mommies and two daddies?
Could any of those family situations be legal?
That's the question being raised by California State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) in a new bill that would eliminate the rule stating only two people can be legally be considered the parents of any one child.
"We live in a world today where courts face the diverse circumstances that have reshaped California families," said Leno in a statement. "This legislation gives courts the flexibility to protect the best interests of a child who is being supported financially and emotionally by those parents. It is critical that judges have the ability to recognize the roles of all parents, especially when a family is in distress and a child's security is a concern."
Leno argues that the bill is intended to give judges more flexibility when dealing with parent-child relationships and the custody, visitation and child support issues that often arise when there are more than two parental figures involved.
The measure doesn't expand the current definition of what qualities as a "parent." It simply allows for that definition to apply to three or more people--something that could easily become an issue in cases of surrogate parents or if a non-blood relative voluntarily signs a legal statement of parenthood.
The senator hopes that the bill could, in certain cases, easier facilitate children moving into a functional, loving home instead of being forced into the foster care system if both biological parents are unfit.
The decision that a child should legally have more than two parents is one that will ultimately be made by the courts, and the bill instructs that it should be done only if it is in "the best interest of the child."
Unsurprisingly, Leno's measure has raised the hackles of some Christian groups who advocate for a rigid definition of what constitutes a family. The Sacramento Bee reports:
Benjamin Lopez, legislative analyst for the Traditional Values Coalition, blasted Leno's bill as a new attempt to "revamp, redefine and muddy the waters" of family structure by a leader in the drive to legalize gay marriage.
"It comes as no surprise that he would try to say that a child has more than two parents--that's absurd," said Lopez, whose group calls itself a leading voice for Bible-based values.
LGBT and children's advocates, on the other hand, have cheered Leno's proposal. "A child who has been raised since birth by a mother and a non-biological father may also have a parental bond and relationship with her biological father," said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children’s Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law. "The child knows all three of these people as parents, and the law should not arbitrarily extinguish those relationships when doing so would hurt the child."
The bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this week and will soon be headed for vote for the full Assembly.