SACRAMENTO — Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday that will allow children in California to have more than two legal parents, a measure opposed by some conservative groups as an attack on the traditional family.
Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said he authored the measure to address the changes in family structure in California, including situations in which same-sex couples have a child with an opposite-sex biological parent.
The law will allow the courts to recognize three or more legal parents so that custody and financial responsibility can be shared by all those involved in raising a child, Leno said.
"Courts need the ability to recognize these changes so children are supported by the adults that play a central role in loving and caring for them," Leno said. "It is critical that judges have the ability to recognize the roles of all parents so that no child has to endure separation from one of the adults he or she has always known as a parent."
The bill was partially a reaction to a 2011 court decision involving a lesbian couple that briefly ended their relationship, according to Leno's office. One of the women was impregnated by a man before the women resumed their relationship. A fight broke out, putting one of the women in the hospital and the other in jail, but the daughter was sent to foster care because her biological father did not have parental rights.
"Everyone who places the interests of children first and realizes that judges shouldn't be forced to rule in ways that hurt children should cheer this bill becoming law," said Ed Howard, senior counsel for the Children's Advocacy Institute at the University of San Diego School of Law.
SB 274 was opposed by advocates for traditional families, including Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, who said Friday he was disappointed by the governor's action.
"This is in the long run going to be a mistake," Dacus said. "The ones who are going to pay the price are not the activists, but it's going to be children, who will see greater conflict and indecision over matters involving their well-being."
Dacus said having more than two legal parents will create the potential for greater conflict over what is best for a child and result in more complicated court fights.
The measure was opposed in the Legislature by the conservative Capitol Resource Institute, which called it detrimental to children. The group said children thrive in homes with their biological mother and father, or with adoptive parents being male and female role models.
Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, and his representatives did not return calls for comment on what changed his mind.
The governor acted on 47 bills Friday, including a measure to allow the Department of Motor Vehicles to test the use of license plates with changeable digital screens and wireless capability.
Then-Sen. Curren Price (D-Los Angeles) introduced SB 806, to allow tens of thousands of cars to be fitted with technology that could cut the cost of issuing metal plates and paper registration stickers.
Price had proposed a similar bill in 2010 that would have allowed the digital plates to periodically show ads to generate revenue for the state, but the bill signed by the governor Friday does not include that function. The test program will be paid for by a private vendor, involve volunteer motorists and end in January 2017.
In response to privacy activists, the law prohibits the DMV from using electronic devices to track the location, movement or use of vehicles. The savings would occur because the DMV could electronically update a plate, showing its registration, without having to send notices back and forth by mail.
The bill was supported by Smart Plate Mobile, a company that holds a patent on a digital electronic license plate.
The governor also signed into law:
• A measure to require disability income insurance policies to cover disabilities caused by severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The bill, AB 402, was by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).
•A measure to permit some patients in life-threatening emergencies to receive experimental treatment without their informed consent. Under state law, medical research cannot be performed on human subjects unless the patient has given consent. Patients in life-threatening situations had been temporarily exempted from the law; the bill, AB 58, by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), makes that exemption permanent.