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California bill would allow for multiple legal parents

SACRAMENTO — California would become the fifth state to allow judges to declare a child has more than two legal parents under legislation that passed the Assembly on Tuesday and is bound for the governor's office.

The bill from Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, says a judge could legally recognize additional parents if failure to do so would be detrimental to the child.

Current state law allows courts to acknowledge only two people as parents. Supporters say the statute does not give judges any leeway to exercise their own judgment based on a child's situation.

Leno's bill was prompted by a 2011 court case involving a California girl whose legal parent could not care for her and whose biological father was deemed not a parent. In that case, the girl ended up in state custody because her birth mother became incarcerated and her other legal parent was hospitalized.

"This authorization would be used only rarely, and not when children are blessed with too many parents, but too few," said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley.

The District of Columbia and four states — Delaware, Louisiana, Maine and Pennsylvania — currently allow for a child to have more than two legally recognized parents, according to Leno's office.

His bill was co-sponsored by Children's Advocacy Institute and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

The state's chapter of the Association of Family Conciliation Courts opposes the bill, which it says would mark a "sea change" in the cultural role of parents.

The Assembly passed SB274 on a 43-27 vote, returning it to the Senate for a final vote.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill last year, saying he wanted more time to consider the implications of such a legal change.

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