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General Assembly considers updating Rhode Island’s out-of-date parentage laws



Rhode Island’s parentage laws are woefully out of date. The statutes were enacted in 1979, and have not been revised or updated much since that time. Some parts of Rhode Island’s parentage laws are archaic and perhaps unconstitutional, since the United States Supreme Court held that laws barring marriage between two people of the same sex are unconstitutional in Obergefell v Hodges (2015).

Legislation to remedy the state’s parentage laws has been introduced to the General Assembly by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and Senator Donna Nesselbush (Democrat, District 15, Pawtucket). The Senate version, S2303, has already been heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee. The House version, H7226 is being heard on Tuesday, March 27 in the House Judiciary Committee.

The legislation introduced is the Uniform Parentage Act (2017) (UPA (2017)), which provides states with the rules needed to determine the parents of a child. The statute

UPA (2017):

  • provides clarity for and reduces unnecessary litigation regarding children born to same-sex couples.
  • cures potential constitutional infirmity in existing state law.
  • clarifies and codifies state law related to de facto parentage.
  • complies with federal laws tied to subsidies and financial incentives for states.
  • improves the surrogacy provisions of the UPA to reflect developments in modern science, law, and culture
  • addresses the right of children born through assisted reproductive technology to access medical and identifying information regarding any gamete providers.

UPA (2017) is itself an update of UPA (2002) which Rhode Island never adopted. UPA 2017 incorporates the following five improvements to UPA (2002):

  • seeks to ensure the equal treatment of children born to same-sex couples.
  • includes a provision for the establishment of a de facto parent as a legal parent of a child. Most states recognize and extend at least some parental rights to people who have functioned as parents to children but who are unconnected to those children through either biology or marriage.
  • includes a provision that precludes establishment of a parent-child relationship by the perpetrator of a sexual assault that resulted in the conception of the child.
  • updates the surrogacy provisions to reflect developments in that area, making them more consistent with current surrogacy practice and recently adopted statutes in several states.
  • addresses the right of children born through assisted reproductive technology to access medical and identifying information regarding any gamete providers. While Article 9 does not require disclosure of the identity of a gamete donor, it does require that donors be asked whether they would like their identity disclosed. It also requires a good faith effort to disclose nonidentifying medical history information regarding the gamete donor upon request

As attorney Michael Grant, an acknowledged expert on surrogacy contracts in Rhode Island stated before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 27th of this year, Rhode Island still doesn’t have a statute on surrogacy. Instead, the state relies on judges building accepted practices through case law. Passing this legislation would codify Rhode Island’s legal response to gestational and genetic surrogacy agreements.

Here’s the video of the Senate Judiciary discussion. Unfortunately, only Michael Grant testified, so many of the benefits the new statute might confer were not discussed.

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See the link for more information on the Uniform Parentage Act (2017)

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About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.