PROVIDENCE, R.I. – State Rep. Carol Hagen McEntee this week cheered the passage and signing of the Rhode Island Parentage Act, which provides legal parental rights for same-sex couples and people using assisted reproductive technology.
Gov. Gina Raimondo signed the bill into law on Tuesday in a State House ceremony with McEntee (D-Dist. 33, South Kingstown, Narragansett) and co-sponsor State Sen. Erin Lynch Prata (D-Dist. 31, Warwick, Cranston) in attendance.
“Love is love – it’s as simple as that,” Raimondo said. “No parent should have to jump through hoops to receive legal recognition because of their sexual orientation or the circumstances of their child’s birth. The Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act enshrines into law our belief in the validity of all paths to parenthood.”
The law takes effect Jan. 1.
Rhode Island’s parentage laws have not been updated in more than 40 years, and McEntee has worked for more than three years to see the bill passed and become law. The legislation appeared on track last year but died late in the General Assembly session, disappointing same-sex couples and other supporters.
The Parentage Act repeals existing state law governing paternity and replaces it with what McEntee and Lynch Prata called a more comprehensive measure that provides procedures establishing parentage, genetic testing, surrogacy agreements and assisted reproduction.
“Our state’s adoption and parentage laws are significantly outdated, especially toward our state’s loving LGBTQ parents who want nothing more than to love, protect and be responsible for their children,” McEntee said. “These bills are needed because we must acknowledge that our society and its definition of ‘families’ has changed and we cannot discriminate or put up undue burdens for those who wish nothing more than to love and raise the future members of our society. The legislation is also supremely beneficial to the children who are born through these processes, because it allows them to officially have two loving and supportive parents from the moment they are born. This bill is specifically about one thing - equality and fairness, especially for the loving parents and their children in this state.”
The law provides for several paths to legal parentage in Rhode Island, including birth, adoption, acknowledgment, adjudication, genetics, assisted reproduction, surrogacy, de facto parentage and presumptions. It also outlines standards for the Family Court to apply in order to establish parentage.
“The Judiciary Committee heard heart-wrenching testimony about the ways in which our outdated laws are impacting parents and children,” Lynch Prata said.
Under the prior law, Lynch Prata said, a couple who have a child via a sperm donor might have had to hire a lawyer or advertise to determine parentage in order to terminate the parental rights of an anonymous sperm donor. The parents also could be blocked from making medical decisions for a child that was incapacitated because of complications, she said.
“This is simply unfair. Rhode Island law needs to be updated so that the state no longer puts up unnecessary obstacles to loving parents simply because they are not heterosexual or have not conceived through traditional reproduction methods,” Lynch Prata said.
Longtime advocates for the new law applauded its passage last week and were also on hand for Tuesday’s signing ceremoy.
“The parents advocating for this bill have shown up again and again to tell painful stories about the fears and consequences of not having a clear legal relationship to their children,” said Wendy Becker, advocate and organizer with Rhode Islanders for Parentage Equality and LGBTQ Action Rhode Island. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made their concerns even more urgent. We thank the members of the House and Senate, including all of the bill’s sponsors, for recognizing that what’s best for Rhode Island and best for families is to ensure that all parents have the ability to protect their children through a secure legal relationship as soon after birth as possible.”