SACRAMENTO -- A bill approved Monday by the state Assembly would allow judges to declare more than two legal parents for some California children.
Lawmakers approved SB1476 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, on a party line vote, with Democrats supporting it. The legislation would allow judges to legally recognize multiple parents when it is in a child's best interest to have more than two parental relationships.
"We live in a world today where courts are dealing with diverse circumstances that have reshaped California families," Leno said 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."
The bill was inspired by the case of a young California girl who was put into the foster care system because her biological father could not be ruled a third parent when her two legal parents were unable to care for her. Supporters of the legislation say it could keep future children out of the foster care system by giving them additional legal parents who have caretaking and financial obligations.
Opponents say the bill erodes traditional parental roles and could allow children to have a limitless number of parents.
"This smacks of the state redefining parenthood," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks. "What's next? Are we going to parent by committee?"
Supporters say these scenarios are unlikely because the bill would not change existing standards for legal parenthood, only the number of parents a court can recognize.
To qualify as a parent, adults would have to raise the child as their own. Stepparents and parents' boyfriends or girlfriends would not qualify.
Other states, including Pennsylvania and Maine, already allow judges to recognize more than two parents in custody cases, according to Leno's office.
The California legislation, if approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, would apply to a range of family structures, 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.
In 2010, married couples fell below half of all American households for the first time, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The bill passed 50-19 and returns to the Senate for a final vote.