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Parents and advocates urge House Speaker to pass H5707 to modernize outdated parentage laws



Rhode Island urgently needs to update our parentage laws which haven’t changed since the 1970’s. The Senate unanimously passed the Parentage Act; parents and community advocates are pressing the Speaker to bring it to the floor for a vote.

Parents, community advocates, child welfare experts, and family law attorneys all agree about the urgent need to modernize Rhode Island’s parentage statutes, which were last updated in the 1970s. After compelling testimony in the House and Senate, there was overwhelming support in both bodies for the Rhode Island Parentage Act. The Senate passed the bill, sponsored in that chamber by Senate Judiciary Chair Erin Lynch-Prata, unanimously on June 6. We urge the Speaker to bring H5707, sponsored by Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, to the floor so the House of Representatives can pass this much needed piece of legislation. We can no longer discriminate in parentage law based on sexual orientation and gender identity, or based on the ways in which families are formed.

During the hearings before the Judiciary Committees of the House and Senate, parents shared personal, at times painful, stories about the devastating impact of current law on their children and families, and urged legislators to adopt common-sense updates to the state’s parentage laws.

Rhode Island parent Sara Watson told the committees about the fear and uncertainty she experienced in the hospital after her partner Anna gave birth to their son. “I was holding our newborn in my arms and I realized that, on paper, I was completely invisible. I had no way to establish my legal relationship to our son,” she said. “I worried that if something had happened to Anna, I wouldn’t even be able to take him home from the hospital.”

The proposed Rhode Island Parentage Act (RIPA), which clarifies who can be a parent and how to establish parentage, would enable families like Sara’s to access legal parentage immediately after birth. The RIPA would modernize Rhode Island’s outdated laws to ensure that all children have access to legal parentage and are protected immediately. It would also ensure that Rhode Island’s laws are fair and constitutional for all Rhode Island families.

“Having a secure, legal connection to their parents as soon after birth as possible is critical to children’s financial security and emotional well-being,” said Polly Crozier, Senior Staff Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders. “Rhode Island needs a comprehensive modernization of its parentage laws. Among many critical gaps, Rhode Island is the only state in New England lacking any protections for children born through assisted reproductive technology and for children born through surrogacy, leaving children vulnerable. We need to do better for all Rhode Island families.”

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Existing law also places unnecessary, expensive, anxiety-producing and often humiliating burdens on LGBTQ parents, who are essentially forced to adopt their own children. This includes a six-month waiting period, an invasive home study, a requirement to advertise for anonymous sperm donors, and the need for a lawyer.

The RIPA establishes clear paths to parentage in Rhode Island that reflect the many ways contemporary families are formed. The bill is based on the 2017 Uniform Parentage Act (UPA), a model, non-partisan, uniform law that advises all states to ensure that their parentage statutes apply equally to LGBTQ families, among other suggested updates.

“Rhode Islanders deserve laws that reflect and protect the range of families that exist in our state today,” said Denise Crooks, a parent and representative of LGBTQ Action RI. “For children who are born through assisted reproductive technology, we need a streamlined process to legally secure their relationship to their parents. As a parent of donor-conceived children, my greatest wish is to keep my family secure, the same as any parent.”

Overwhelming support for RIPA has been articulated by experts and advocates including LGBTQ Action RI, GLAD, Adoption RI, the ACLU of RI, Resolve NE, NASW-RI, the Rhode Island Department of Human Services/Office of Child Support Services, the Rhode Island Department of Health/Division of Vital Records, and numerous family court lawyers.

We urge Speaker Nicholas Mattiello to bring the Rhode Island Parentage Act to the floor to create a clear, fair and secure path of parentage for all Rhode Island families, and to end discrimination in Rhode Island law.

For more information and an additional list of supporters, read the fact sheet on S0789/H5707, the Rhode Island Parentage Act.

[From a press release]

LGBTQ Action RI is an advocacy organization dedicated to securing equality and justice for LGBTQ Rhode Islanders through legislative and policy advocacy.