Gender ideology infects family court
IN THE NEWS | California bill could strip “non-affirming” parents of child custody
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Each week, 3-year-old Sawyer spends half of his time with his mother. The other half, the boy is with his father, Harrison Tinsley, 31, of Los Gatos, Calif.
While with his dad, Sawyer wears boys’ clothes, and Tinsley refers to his child as “him.” But his mother refers to Sawyer using “they/them” pronouns and, according to social media posts, appears to sometimes put him in a dress or makeup.
Tinsley is fighting in court for full custody of his son. But if a new California bill becomes law, he worries a judge could label him abusive since he refuses to treat Sawyer as nonbinary.
California Assembly Bill 957, which cleared the state Senate Judiciary Committee on June 13, instructs family court judges to award custody and visitation rights based in part on “a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity.” It equates such affirmation with the “health, safety, and welfare of the child.” But critics say the bill sets a dangerous legal precedent that extends beyond family court—and parents and pro-family groups in the state are fighting back.
State Sen. Scott Wilk, a Republican, put the matter starkly in an impassioned speech to the Judiciary Committee: “If you love your children, you need to flee California.”
Across the country, a backlash to gender-affirmation ideology has grown in recent months. This year, 17 states added bans or restrictions on “gender-affirming” interventions for minors, such as cross-sex hormones and puberty blockers. But these efforts are facing court challenges. On June 20, a federal judge struck down an Arkansas ban. Judges have blocked or stayed similar laws in Indiana, Alabama, and Florida.
In some cases, family court judges in California and elsewhere already penalize parents who don’t affirm a child’s transgender identity. Under AB 957, state lawmakers seek to codify that factor. But the bill doesn’t clarify how far parents must go to affirm a child’s gender confusion: Could a parent be penalized or lose custody for failing to use alternative pronouns? For opposing irreversible transgender treatments? Judges would weigh a parent’s affirmation along with other factors, including history of abuse, habitual drug usage, and presence in the child’s life—but how much?
Tinsley sent us pictures of Sawyer climbing a tree, snowboarding, and covered in mud. “My son’s mom can use this bill and claim with no evidence that he’s not a boy anymore, and I can lose custody of him,” Tinsley said at a June 13 press conference for opponents of AB 957 outside the state Capitol.
Kevin Snider, chief counsel at the Pacific Justice Institute, said his organization will likely raise a constitutional challenge if AB 957 passes into law since it violates parents’ freedom of religion by requiring them to embrace a particular view on gender ideology. He predicted the bill’s premise would eventually extend beyond custody cases.
“If the Legislature deems someone who’s not gender affirming to not be a fit parent in a custody dispute there’s a very small step to go from there to any parent, any family, whether they are having any legal issues or not,” he said.
AB 957 passed the Assembly in March and now awaits a vote on the Senate floor. Unless amended, it would next go to the governor’s desk. Other bills would further chip away at parental rights in California: SB 407 seeks to change foster care licensing standards to include LGBTQ affirmation. AB 665 would require mental health care providers to consult with minors before deciding whether to notify parents about counseling.
“It paints a scary picture of redefining the family out of existence and putting the state in the role of parents,” said Nathan Pierce, executive director of Family Protection Ministries in Lincoln, Calif.
Other speakers at the June 13 press conference included Adam Vena, a California father who says he lost custody of his 5-year-old son in part over his failure to affirm him as a girl. And parent Abigail Martinez described how Child Protective Services removed her teenage daughter from her home after a Los Angeles County school convinced her to seek cross-sex hormones, which her parents didn’t support. Martinez’s daughter committed suicide at age 19.
Another speaker, attorney Erin Friday, told WORLD in an interview that her daughter was identifying as pansexual at age 11, and as transgender at 13. Friday said her daughter later came to accept her female body. Now, Friday co-leads the Western region chapter of Our Duty, a support group for parents of gender-confused kids. She hopes more people will fight back against harmful laws such as AB 957.
“This is a national issue.” Friday said. “It’s something everyone should be talking about.”