California: the land of a thousand parents

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“Why can’t we all just get along” is the rhetorical lament by which the recently deceased Rodney King will be remembered. “Why can’t they just leave things alone,” however, is the question by which California legislators are defined. Never content to simply enforce laws and regulations on the books — of which there are enough to keep authorities busy for generations to come — legislators in this once-golden state continue their constant search for ever more ways to complicate businesses, social relationships and public services.

Their latest effort? Expanding the definition of “parent” in order to allow children to have more than two.

While some may conclude that, considering the alternative lifestyles and relationships recognized in California, the effort to expand the definition of “parenthood” by state Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) is nothing more than another step on the road to the anything-goes society America is becoming. Indeed, in the over-blown rhetoric of our times, Leno says he sees his bill, which is now pending before the legislature in Sacramento, as a measure to “bring California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than Ozzie and Harriet families today.”

There is no denying that the American family has changed significantly since the 1950s, when families that included a stay-at-home mom, a working dad and two kids — personified by TV’s Nelson family — were the norm.

With a large and increasing percentage of children being raised in single-parent households, and a not-insignificant number of children (especially in more liberal states like California) being raised by two parents of the same sex, the family described in Heather Has Two Mommies is no longer as unusual as it was when the book first appeared in 1989.

Still, this move to offer legal imprimatur as a “parent” to any person who claims an “interest” in a child is an unnecessary and problematic maneuver. It will, as noted by Diane Wasznicky, the president of the Association of Certified Law Specialists, cause significant unintended consequences.

If Leno’s bill is enacted, it will be possible for California children to have a virtually unlimited number of parents. For example, under the proposed law a man who assisted a same-sex couple in conceiving a child could assert a legal parental interest. So could a man who became involved with a pregnant woman married to another person, and who helped raise the child, despite the adolescent having a “parental relationship with the biological father” (who may or not still be married to the mother).

Complicated? The number of relationships that could give rise to individuals asserting an interest in a child — and thereby meeting Leno’s definition of a “parent” — is as limitless as the (very fertile) California imagination. If passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, the measure will create endless legal, tax and financial complications that will do nothing to help children develop and grow into adults and equip them to serve as parents themselves.

After all, how can one learn to be a nurturing and caring parent when one doesn’t even know what a “parent” is — other than someone who vaguely, and perhaps for some self-serving reason, asserts an “interest” in a child?

Unfortunately, rather than engaging in a substantive debate over what is truly best for children, some advocates of Leno’s proposal are simply dismissing opposition to the law as the typical “conservative” opposition to gay marriage. In fact, this legislation — this issue — has little if anything to do with the propriety of recognizing same-sex marriages or certain adoptive rights. The legislation is a solution in search of a problem; nothing more than an example of courts and legislatures defining and attempting to control virtually every aspect of people’s lives and relationships. It needs to be defeated.

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He provides regular commentary to Daily Caller readers.