Legislation to allow California children to have more than two parents was vetoed today by Gov. Jerry Brown.
The bill would have given judges authority to recognize multiple parents if doing so is "required in the best interest of the child."
On separate legislation watched closely by the gay and lesbian community, however, Brown signed Senate Bill 1172 to prohibit children under 18 from undergoing psychotherapy to change their sexual orientation.
State Sen. Mark Leno proposed the multiple-parents measure, SB 1476, in response to surrogate births, same-sex parenthood, assisted reproduction and other technological and societal changes that create new possibilities for nontraditional households.
The San Francisco Democrat touted SB 1476 as legislation to bring California into the 21st century.
But Brown, in his veto message, urged more study of the bill's potential ramifications.
"I am sympathetic to the author's interest in protecting children," he wrote. "But I am troubled by the fact that some family law specialists believe the bill's ambiguities may have unintended consequences. I would like to take more time to consider all of the implications of this change."
Under SB 1476, if three or more people who act as parents for a child could not agree on custody, visitation and child support, a judge would have discretion to split those things up among them.
Designating multiple parents, when warranted, could enhance the child's prospects for financial support, health insurance or Social Security benefits, thus reducing the state' potential financial responsibility, supporters of SB 1475 say.
The bill did not necessarily envision giving multiple parents equal time with the child, however, stating that the minor's best interest and stability "may mean that not all parents share legal or physical custody."
SB 1476 was co-sponsored by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the University of San Diego School of Law Children's Advocacy Institute.
Opponents argue that SB 1476 did not adequately consider the legal ramifications of designating multiple parents for a child in other areas of law - tax deductions, probate, Social Security, wrongful death and education benefits, for example.
Opponents also note that making SB 1476 state law would have required the state to set new guidelines and reprogram its automated system for determining child support, a process estimated by the Senate Appropriations Committee to cost $6.4 million.
One example of a family relationship that could have been affected by SB 1476 is a same-sex female couple who asked a close male friend to help them conceive, then decided that all three would raise the child.
Another example is a divorced couple in which the woman and her second husband were the legal parents of a child, but the biological father maintained close ties as well.
SB 1476 stemmed from an appellate court case involving a child's biological mother, her same-sex partner, and a man who had an affair with the biological mother while she was separated temporarily from her female lover.
The bill was not meant to expand the definition of who can qualify as a parent, only to eliminate the law's current limit of two per child.
Under current law, a parent can be a man who signs a voluntary declaration of paternity, for example. It also can be a man who was married and living with a child's mother, or who took a baby into his home and represented the youth as his own.