Our View: Don't interfere in sperm donor custody battle

July 22, 2013 

Jason Patric, who gained fame for his starring role in the 1980s vampire flick "Lost Boys," has re-emerged, this time on Katie Couric's television show, in People magazine and in legislation that seeks to define the rights of sperm donors.

It's all very soap operatic, and not the sort of issue the Legislature should attempt to resolve, at least not yet.

Patric donated sperm to Danielle Schreiber, a woman with whom he had an on-again, off-again relationship. At some point, Schreiber and Patric rekindled their relationship, the relationship hit the rocks, and he sued to gain shared custody of the boy, who is 3.

In this he-said, she-said story, this is known: A Superior Court judge in Los Angeles ruled against Patric and upheld Schreiber's sole custody rights. Patric's lawyer is appealing to the state Court of Appeal.

Even before the lawyers submitted their appellate briefs, Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced Senate Bill 115, which zipped out of the Senate on a 35-0 vote and awaits a vote in the Assembly. That's where it should remain.

The right to petition government is fundamental. But legislators should know better than to step into disputes that are pending in court. Because the case involves a minor, the trial court record is sealed, including the judge's ruling. As a result, the legislation is based on supposition about what may or may not be reality.

Both sides retained high-priced lawyers and lobbyists. The bill's supporters include two gay and lesbian rights groups, Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and an attorney's organization.

A leading opponent is Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat who is gay and fears lesbian couples could lose parental rights. Some women's rights groups have come out against the measure, concerned that mothers could lose rights to sperm donors who pass through their lives.

Hill's legislation would permit sperm donors to sue for parental rights "at any time." A donor would have standing to claim parental rights if he "receives the child into his home and openly holds out the child as his natural child." Could a man claim rights "at any time" if he declares on Facebook that his donated sperm was used to impregnate a woman, and he had the child over to his house for a few visits? Alternatively, could a mother who knows the donor's identity and allows him to spend time with the child sue for child support? If the mother must collect welfare to support the child, could the state compel a known donor to pay for that child's care?

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