August 1 marked the five-year anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Rhode Island. However, gay rights advocates say that the state still needs to provide more protections for gay parents and their children, whether adopted or conceived via the ever-increasing strides in reproductive technology.
Currently, Rhode Island has no laws on the books addressing how parentage is legally determined for the nonbirth or nonbiological parent when a couple has a child through assisted reproduction. The law currently in force was enacted almost 40 years ago, before such technology or same-sex marriage existed.
Advocates are seeking passage of the Uniform Parentage Act. A version of this act is in place in Vermont and Washington. It would give same-sex parents who use assisted reproduction to have a family, including surrogacy and donor insemination, the same rights as those in opposite-sex couples have. It would allow both people to establish parentage by completing a form when the child is born in the hospital without having to go to court to establish parental rights.
Under the current law, parents who didn’t give birth to a child or aren’t biologically related to them must either seek a parentage judgment or adopt the child to establish legal parentage. They may be required to go through the same process to determine their fitness as a parent as anyone else seeking to adopt a child to whom they aren’t related. The law has been open to broad interpretation by judges in the state, according to one attorney, regarding what steps these parents need to take.
Both the Rhode Island House and Senate Judiciary Committees have heard testimony about the proposed legislation. State lawmakers are still studying it.
Legally establishing parentage can help give same-sex couples and their children the same protections and legal stability that other families take for granted. It may also be an important factor if a couple splits up and both parents seek custody of their children.