Parents and Advocates Urge Rhode Island to Modernize Outdated Parentage Laws
Parents, community members and family advocates provided powerful testimony before the Senate Committee on Judiciary in support of S0789, the RI Parentage Act and S0497, the RI Confirmatory Adoption Act
Providence – Parents, community advocates, family law attorneys and others spoke out yesterday about the urgent need to modernize Rhode Island’s parentage statutes, which were last updated in the 1970s. During a hearing before the Senate Committee on Judiciary on S0789, the Rhode Island Parentage Act, and S0497, the Rhode Island Confirmatory Adoption Act, there was overwhelming support for the changes proposed by these bills.
Parents shared personal, at times painful, stories about the devastating impact that the current holes in the law mean for their children and families, and urged senators to adopt common-sense updates to the state’s parentage laws to meet the needs of all of Rhode Island’s families.
Rhode Island parent Sara Watson told the committee 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 be able to access legal parentage immediately after birth. The RIPA, in fact, would modernize Rhode Island’s outdated laws to ensure that all children have access to legal parentage and to ensure that the state’s laws are fair and constitutional for all Rhode Island families.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. Existing law also places unnecessary, costly and often humiliating burdens, including home studies, on parents who are adopting their own children. We need to do better for all Rhode Island families, and passing these bills will do that.”
S0789, introduced by Senator Erin Lynch Prata, establishes clear paths to parentage in Rhode Island that reflect the many ways contemporary families are formed, including children born through assisted reproductive technology and surrogacy. 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.
“The Rhode Island Parentage Act would update and modernize Rhode Island parentage law in critical ways to provide greater certainty and security for children and their families,” said Courtney Joslin, a Rhode Island native who is a professor at UC Davis School of Law and who served as the Reporter for the Uniform Parentage Act, upon which the bill is based. “This important bill will also provide much-needed guidance for family court judges as they grapple with increasingly complex parentage questions.”
S0497, introduced by Senator Gayle L. Goldin, streamlines and provides greater clarity and consistency in the process for co-parent adoptions by LGBTQ couples who seek to adopt their own children.
“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, such as sperm or egg donation, 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. Passing these bills will support all families in Rhode Island.”
In addition to numerous parents sharing heart-wrenching personal stories, overwhelming support for these bills was articulated at the hearing by experts and advocates including LGBTQ Action Rhode Island, GLAD, Resolve NE, the Rhode Island Department of Human Services/Office of Child Support Services, the ACLU of RI, and long-standing family law practitioner Lise Iwon and surrogacy practitioner Mike Grant.
Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.
LGBTQ Action RI is an advocacy organization dedicated to securing equality and justice for LGBTQ Rhode Islanders through legislative and policy advocacy.