A column in Time Magazine by Po Bronson says stepparents should have the legal rights of parents -- though it doesn't specify if that means all the same rights, or a partial or subordinate set of rights. The column is inspired by a recent Washington State supreme court opinion legally recognizing as "de facto parent" a lesbian who was the lifelong primary caretaker of her partner's child, who they had decided to have as a couple.
Some problems with the stepparent rights idea:
- You give someone rights, often that means taking away someone else's. The stepparent's rights would dilute those of the natural parents (in the model Bronson proposes, where the stepparent becomes a third or fourth parent).
- We already have an objective, conscious, consent-based mechanism people can use to make a stepparent into a full-fledged legal parent -- stepparent adoption. It is usually used only when one natural parent consents and/or has willingly gone for years without having any contact with the child. As Bronson points out, this is available, but it always subtracts a parent before adding one. He wants children to have three. Or more?
- Where can we draw the line, in a political environment that is so hostile to any line-drawing? Would the stepparent have to be married to a parent? Or to another stepparent formerly married to the natural parent? Does the non-custodial parent's spouse also qualify? If you can't draw a line at marriage, how will everyone involved know whether the relationship is serious enough that the stepparent has made like the Velveteen Rabbit and become real?