California courts may soon weigh parents’ gender acceptance in child custody cases

A picture of two trans flags waving in an open area.

Courts in California may soon have to weigh up a parent’s acceptance of their child’s gender identity when making rulings on custody and visitation decisions.

A new bill that was cleared by the California State Senate on Wednesday (6 September) would make gender affirmation a new factor that judges must consider during custody proceedings, alongside other determinants like whether a parent has been abusive, or how much contact a parent has had with their child.

The vote for this bill was split almost entirely between Democrats and Republicans.

Every Republican state senator voted against the bill, with Senator Kelly Seyarto claiming that it would interfere too much with how parents choose to raise their children, the Associated Press reports.

California protest in support of transgender minors.
California courts may have to take parents’ acceptance of their child’s gender identity into account during custody cases. (Getty Images)

Meanwhile, most Democrats argued that these amendments to custody law would be a proactive measure in helping to protect the well-being of LGBTQ+ children.

Democratic Senator Scott Wiener argued: “This is about not having to get involved after a child has been beaten and had their arm broken, or after they’ve been kicked out.

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“This is about trying to make sure that something terrible does not happen to them.”

If the California State Assembly agrees to the amendments made to the bill and is signed by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, it will become law.

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The bill will not directly specify what gender affirmation includes, as it can look different depending on the particular child and their age.

Offering examples, Assemblymember Lori Wilson, who first introduced the bill, suggested gender affirmation could mean letting children play with toys associated with their gender identity, or letting them wear their hair at a length that feels comfortable.

However, the bill will not require custody judges to prioritise a parent’s affirmation of their child’s gender identity above other factors.

Coincidentally, this senate vote comes amid an ongoing legal battle regarding transgender students’ rights in schools, after the school district of Chino Valley attempted to enforce a ‘parental notification policy’ that would alert parents and guardians if their child goes by a gender other than what is listed on their birth certificate.

That policy was put on hold by a Superior Court judge this week and will be kept on ice while California’s attorney-general Rob Bonta pursues a lawsuit against the school district.

Rob Bonta, California Attorney-General
California’s Attorney General Rob Bonta has called on the San Bernardino County Superior Court to immediately ban the school district policy.(Getty Images)

Bonta has argued that the policy could put transgender students in ”danger of imminent, irreparable harm” by possibly outing them at home before they’re ready.

This school policy and the resulting lawsuit have sparked a major debate within the community over a parent’s right to know the decisions their child is making in school. 

While some argue that parents should be made aware of their child’s decision to socially transition so that they can be involved and offer support, others fear that violating a child’s privacy rights could threaten their well-being.

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This is just one political battle of many happening across the United States, as each state fights to assert its stance on transgender rights, particularly among minors.

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