Parents and advocates call for urgently needed comprehensive parentage reform“When Eli was born, I had no presumed parental rights. Not one. I was not his birth parent and I wasn’t able to put my name on his birth certificate before we left the hospital,” said Dr Sara Watson. “I had to spend eight agonizing months going through a burdensome process to adopt my son. I couldn’t make legal decisions
Published on February 26, 2020
By Steve Ahlquist
“When Eli was born, I had no presumed parental rights. Not one. I was not his birth parent and I wasn’t able to put my name on his birth certificate before we left the hospital,” said Dr Sara Watson. “I had to spend eight agonizing months going through a burdensome process to adopt my son. I couldn’t make legal decisions for Eli, add him as a beneficiary on my insurance or pick him up from daycare… Rhode Island’s outdated law might even have denied me custody if something happened to my partner, Anna, before the adoption was finalized.”
Ahead of the House Judiciary Committee hearing to hear testimony on the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act (H7541), parents, family law experts and other advocates gathered in the State House Library to speak out on the urgent need to pass comprehensive parentage reform this session and provide an equal path to parentage for all children.
Rhode Island parentage law has not kept pace with how contemporary families are formed. the law was last updated over 40 years ago, and only two states, Mississippi and Kentucky, have laws that are as out of date. The current law is unconstitutional, place unnecessary, costly and often humiliating burdens on parents who must adopt their own children, and leaves many children vulnerable. Rhode Island’s current parentage law does not provide equal protection to children of unmarried parents, or children born through assisted reproduction. While Rhode Island allows surrogacy, current law also provides no protections for children born through surrogacy.
The Rhode Island Senate unanimously passed its version of the bill, S2136Aaa, on February 11.
See all the video from the House Judiciary Committee hearing here: Testimony from the House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act
“My family and I have been standing in front of legislators advocating for an updated parentage law for the past three years – just about as long as my son Eli, has been alive,” said Dr Sara Watson, speaking with her partner Anna and son Eli. “When Eli was born, I had no presumed parental rights. Not one. I was not his birth parent and I wasn’t able to put my name on his birth certificate before we left the hospital. I had to spend eight agonizing months going through a burdensome process to adopt my son. I couldn’t make legal decisions for Eli, add him as a beneficiary on my insurance or pick him up from daycare. I couldn’t automatically utilize the parental leave Rhode Island guarantees for new parents. Rhode Island’s outdated law might even have denied me custody if something happened to my partner, Anna, before the adoption was finalized. It breaks my heart to think what might have happened to Eli had that been the case.”
“I have the unique experience both of going through the drawn-out, expensive and invasive ‘second parent adoption’ process following my first child’s birth and of being presumed the legal co-parent at my second child’s birth,” said Aarav Sundaresh, testifying with with partner Katie and son Dara. “I am transgender, and our first child was born before my gender transition. Experiencing both of these scenarios demonstrates the painful irony of Rhode Island’s current legal pathways to parentage. I am the same person, experiencing very different situations. The law needs to ensure equality for LGBTQ parents so they can establish their parentage like other families, including through a voluntary acknowledgement of parentage. All children – including children born through assisted reproduction – need a route to secure their parentage.”
“When my daughter June was born, she was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit,” said Moira Hinderer, with her daughter June by her side. “I saw her for one blurry second and then underwent an emergency hysterectomy and was incapacitated. In the meantime, June’s other mother Hillary had no legal standing as a parent. her second-parent adoption would not be complete for three months and her name was not on the birth certificate. Thankfully, the staff let Hillary into the NICU with June, but since I couldn’t give her permission to make medical decisions, the NICU team had to do what they thought was best, which was to intubate her. To say it was incredibly stressful doesn’t begin to describe it. While June is now a healthy and happy 8-year old, we still think about what could have happened had the hospital staff not been supportive. Families like ours should not be at the mercy of chance.”
“In my work at GLAD and as a family lawyer, I have seen the tragic impact of outdated laws,” said Polly Crozier, Senior Staff Attorney at GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD). “I have seen children effectively kidnapped and separated from loving non-legal parents. I have seen non-biological parents run to court for protection so that their child doesn’t go into the foster care system. No child or parent should have to worry about the loss of this most precious and foundational relationship.”
Kate Weldon LeBlanc from Resolve New England acted as the emcee:
Senator Erin Lynch Prata (Democrat, District 31, Warwick, Cranston) is the Senate sponsor of the bill:
Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Courtney Hawkins:
Rhode Island General Treasurer Seth Magaziner:
Representative Carol Hagan McEntee (Democrat, District 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) is the House sponsor of the bill:
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