Bills of 2023 | Newsom vetoes bill that would consider gender identity in custody cases

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Editor’s note: As 2023 draws to a close, The Signal is presenting CalMatters’ wrap-up stories on some of the key bills that reached the governor’s desk at the close of the 2023 legislative session. Here’s the CalMatters summary of that would have required courts to consider affirmation of a child’s gender identity in custody cases. 

By Nigel Duara 
CalMatters Writer 

Assembly Bill 957 would have required judges to consider whether a parent affirms their child’s gender identity in making custody and visitation decisions.  

The bill would not mandate that a court side with the parent who affirms the child’s gender identity. Instead, it would be one of many factors — including whether a parent has a history of drug or alcohol abuse or domestic violence and how much contact a parent has had with the child — in determining what is best for the child’s health, safety and welfare.  

Who Supports It 

The bill passed along party lines. Democrats argued that it would protect the rights of LGBTQ children in divorces, particularly when the parents don’t agree on their child’s gender identity. Supporters also cite studies that transgender children are at higher risk for depression and mental health crises and could be in danger if with a parent who doesn’t accept their identity. Equality California, the state’s most prominent LGBTQ advocacy group, co-sponsored the bill, which is also backed by the California chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.    

Who Is Opposed  

Republicans argued that judges already have discretion to consider what the measure requires. Several parents’ rights groups also object to the bill, arguing that it would force family courts to ignore a parent’s objections to a child changing their gender identity. The California Family Council, which led rallies at the state Capitol this session, targeted this bill and others as government deciding how parents raise their children.  

Why It Matters  

While not necessarily a sweeping change to family law, this bill is another front in the battle over transgender children, which is playing out in California’s public schools. Assemblymember Lori Wilson, the bill’s author whose son came out as transgender as a teenager, wiped away tears as she defended the measure during the final debate. She told colleagues that it does not “put the thumb on the scale” for a parent who affirms their child’s gender identity — and certainly doesn’t allow the state to take custody from a parent who doesn’t.  

In July, she told CalMatters that her office received death threats over the bill when conservative political figures found out about it.  

Gov. Gavin Newsom has been on the side of transgender students. Last year, he signed into law a bill designed to make California a refuge by shielding parents who travel from other states to access gender-affirming care and the doctors who provide it.  

The Governor’s Call  

Newsom announced Sept. 22 that he vetoed the bill, saying that while he appreciates “the passion and values that led the author to introduce this bill” and while he shares “a deep commitment to advancing the rights of transgender Californians,” the executive and legislative branches should be careful about trying to dictate “in prescriptive terms that single out one characteristic” legal standards for the judicial branch.  

“Other-minded elected officials, in California and other states, could very well use this strategy to diminish the civil rights of vulnerable communities,” he added. 

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