Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Connecticut Parentage Act Heads to House Floor for Vote

On the heels of a hearing earlier this month where Connecticut families called on lawmakers to reform state parentage law, the Joint Committee on Judiciary (Judiciary Committee) passed the Connecticut Parentage Act (CPA) on consent out of committee on March 29, 2021. If approved by the full Connecticut General Assembly, HB 6321 would overhaul existing state law to ensure that all Connecticut children — regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the marital status, gender, or sexual orientation of their parents — have equal access to the security of a legal parent-child relationship.

“Today’s historic vote brings us one step closer to a Connecticut that recognizes all families are deserving of respect and dignity under the law,” said Connecticut native and principal drafter of the bill Douglas NeJaime, Anne Urowsky Professor of Law at Yale Law School. “Connecticut’s current parentage law denies protections to many LGBTQ families and is outdated, discriminatory, and unconstitutional,” he said. “We hope that the full General Assembly will act without delay and vote to approve the CPA.”

The CPA was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers and enjoys broad support. The CPA would modernize Connecticut’s parentage law by ensuring access to legal parenthood for all children, including those with unmarried, same-sex, or nonbiological parents. For example, it would extend the Acknowledgement of Parentage process to same-sex couples, a simple form already available to unmarried different-sex couples that allows a parent to establish a legal parent-child relationship at birth without court proceedings. The bill would also remove gender-specific language from the state’s parentage laws and provide protections for children conceived through assisted reproduction, which account for 4 percent of all Connecticut births.

“When it comes to paths for parents to establish a legal relationship to nonbiological children, Connecticut falls far behind other New England states,” said Rep. Jeff Currey (East Hartford, Manchester, South Windsor), the lead sponsor of the bill. “Connecticut has the second highest rate of births through assisted reproduction in the country and 37 percent of children in our state were born to unmarried parents. Yet our laws do not recognize a legal connection between parents and nonbiological children and actually create obstacles to parentage.”

At the public hearing before the Judiciary Committee on March 8, 2021, dozens of impacted families and legal and medical experts submitted oral and written testimony in support of the bill. The effort to pass the CPA is led by the We CARE Coalition, a coalition of Connecticut families, legal advocates, and community organizations, and spearheaded by a Yale Law School clinic and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD).

“When our amazing baby girl was born, my wife Denise and I were horrified to learn that Denise wouldn’t be legally recognized as her parent nationwide unless she went through the long and expensive process of adopting her own child,” testified Bridgeport resident Stephanie Ocasio-Gonzalez, who with her wife Denise is raising both their toddler daughter and a teenage son. “I lie awake at night worrying about what would happen to my family if, God forbid, something were to happen to me — Denise could lose both her wife and her children. I urge you to pass this bill and make Connecticut a state where all families are treated equally. Our children’s futures depend on it.”

“Exclusive parentage law sends a message that children like me do not belong,” testified Malina Simard-Halm ’23, a Yale Law School student and member of the We CARE Coalition who was born to her two fathers via surrogacy. “When I was growing up, laws like Connecticut’s gave authority to schoolyard bullying and kindled my own insecurities; at times, it led me to feel ashamed of the people that loved me and fought for me the most.”

The CPA was adapted from model legislation by the Uniform Law Commission, a nonpartisan body of state lawmakers, state judges, scholars, and lawyers that produces uniform laws on a wide range of state law issues. Similar legislation has been passed in Maine, Washington, Vermont, California, and Rhode Island.

“Connecticut’s current parentage law raises serious constitutional concerns,” said Polly Crozier, GLAD Senior Staff Attorney. “It is high time that Connecticut passed this commonsense reform to protect all children, regardless of their parents’ marital status, gender, or sexual orientation. The Judiciary Committee’s vote today means that we are that much closer to a legal system that reflects and protects the diversity of Connecticut’s families.”