The California State Assembly approved a bill on Monday that would allowing children to legally have more than two parents.
The bill, introduced by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would give judges in custody hearings the authority to recognize three or more parents if it's best for the child's health and welfare.
"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."
The bill doesn't alter the standard for what is required to qualify as a parent (raising the child as they would their own). Rather, it gives judges more leeway in making legal decisions.
The law was passed in a largely party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
"[The bill] would apply to a range of family structures," explains the Associated Press, "including a man who married a woman while she was pregnant with another man's child or a lesbian couple who conceived a child with the help of a sperm donor who has stayed involved as a father."
A number of other states, such as Maine and Pennsylvania, already have similar laws on the books allowing for judges to recognize more than two parents.
Leno's bill has drawn strong, divisive reactions from both sides of the aisle.
"It is hard enough for even two parents to agree on how to raise a child. Three parents in conflict would be still worse," wrote authors Elizabeth Marquardt and John Culhane in a blog on the Huffington Post. "Constant judicial involvement in decision-making would be the unintended but entirely predictable consequence. If there were a custody battle, the child might end up being shuttled between all of them. In fact, a Pennsylvania court has ordered custody to be shared among three legal parents."
Conversely, many LGBT and children's advocates 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 now heads to the California state senate for a full vote.