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L.A. Daily News: The Modern Family Act

Los Angeles Daily News

First Published Aug 23 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Aug 23 2014 01:01 am

Anyone who has sat through prickly Thanksgiving dinner conversations with a stream of uncles, cousins, girlfriends and fiances chiming in already knows family is complicated.

There are stepparents, biological parents and exes. But as difficult as relationships can be, who is legally recognized as family can get even trickier.

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California and the rest of the country’s rules governing our familial bonds have lagged far behind the social realities that so many live.

It’s a point that same-sex couples know painfully well. That’s why a raft of bills going through the California Legislature are important.

The bills address legal problems often faced by same-sex couples, those who use assisted reproduction and stepparents trying to raise a family in an environment that at times seems to overlook them.

One of the most compelling pieces of legislation is a proposal by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, a gay rights activist whose lesbian staff member with three children helped write the bill. She had first-hand experience navigating the cumbersome system.

One of the most frustrating points for her came from an arcane and complex family law system based on the premise that children’s lives revolve around a male and female having intercourse and conceiving rather than taking into consideration assisted reproduction.

The legislation, dubbed the "Modern Family Act," speeds up adoption for nonbiological parents, such as a lesbian woman whose partner gave birth to their child.

The bill would further eliminate a requirement that nonbiological parents undergo a state investigation and court hearing to become adoptive parents. The step is required by other states that don’t recognize non-biological parents even if they have been caregivers since birth. Financial and legal responsibility would also be made more clear for surrogate mothers and sperm donors. These aren’t the types of rules that might have gotten urgent treatment a decade ago.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year paved the way for California to legally recognize same-sex marriages, prompting a rush of wedding vows often on the steps of city halls.

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Now, same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg recently told the Associated Press she expects the court will take up the issue by June 2016, predicting the court wouldn’t duck ruling on same-sex marriage, as it had on inter-racial unions decades ago. Even as these legal partnerships are forming, the children’s relationships can get caught in limbo.

While the courts and lawmakers may be still grappling with this, life and love don’t wait.

Parenting has evolved over the years, along with family units. What creates family now isn’t limited to mom and dad. Gender is more fluid and caregivers and parents aren’t always related by blood.

These bills could not only create clearer laws to protect families, but also help develop stronger families — ones that don’t have to go through a legal process to be recognized. It is difficult enough to navigate a family’s emotional relationships; the state shouldn’t make it more difficult to navigate legal ones.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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