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July 21, 2013
Editorial: 'Lost Boy' asks lawmakers to overrule judge on sperm donors

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(July 21 -- By the Editorial Board)

Jason Patric, who gained fame for his starring role in the 1980s vampire flick "Lost Boys," has re-emerged, this time on Katie Couric's television show, in People magazine and in legislation that seeks to define the rights of sperm donors.

It's all very soap operatic, and not the sort of issue that the Legislature should attempt to resolve, at least not yet.

Patric donated sperm to Danielle Schreiber, a woman with whom he had an on-again, off-again relationship. At some point, Schreiber and Patric rekindled their relationship, the relationship hit the rocks, and he sued to gain shared custody of the boy, who is 3.

In this he-said, she-said story, this is known: A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles ruled against Patric and upheld Schreiber's sole custody rights. Patric's lawyer is appealing to the state Court of Appeal.

Even before the lawyers submitted their appellate briefs, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced Senate Bill 115, which zipped out of the Senate on a 35-0 vote and awaits a vote in the Assembly. That's where it should remain.

The right to petition government is fundamental. But legislators should know better than to step into disputes that are pending in court. Because the case involves a minor, the trial court record is sealed, including the judge's ruling. As a result, the legislation is based on supposition about what may or may not be reality.

Both sides retained high-priced lawyers and lobbyists. The bill's supporters include two gay and lesbian rights groups, Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and an attorney's organization.

A leading opponent is Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat who is gay and fears lesbian couples could lose parental rights. Some women's rights groups also have come out against the measure, concerned that mothers could lose rights to sperm donors who pass through their lives.

Hill's legislation would permit sperm donors to sue for parental rights "at any time." A donor would have standing to claim parental rights if he "receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child."

Could a man claim rights "at any time" if he declares on Facebook that his donated sperm was used to impregnate a woman, and he had the child over to his house for a few visits?

Alternatively, could a mother who knows the donor's identity and allows him to spend time with the child sue for child support? If the mother must collect welfare to support the child, could the state compel a known donor to pay for that child's care?

Hill's bill applies to sperm donors, not adoptions. But what if the same standard were to apply to adoptions? In many instances, adoptive parents agree to open adoptions in which the child has a relationship with the birth mother. That can make for an enriching experience for all involved.

But adoptive parents probably wouldn't agree to open adoptions if they had to worry that the birth mother would sue for shared custody.

Perhaps Hill has hit upon a loophole in the law that needs fixing. However, his bill warrants far more study than the Legislature has given it so far.

Patric, meanwhile, has taken his case to the public, appearing on talk shows and producing photos of himself, Schreiber and her baby frolicking at the beach.

"I just hope and trust that the Legislature will protect my family and the countless other families like mine by not interfering with the rights we were promised," Patric said on Katie Couric's show.

Despite his claims that there are "countless" families in similar situations, Hill says his bill would apply to a small number of cases.

Patric also claims he was promised rights, but it's not clear who made that promise and what rights he has in mind.

In most instances, two-parent families are preferable. Fathers and male role models are important. But fatherhood carries with it responsibility.

Sperm donors who give up their parental rights should not be able to come back into a child's life, simply because they change their minds, at any time.

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