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California Assembly Bill 957, still under consideration by the state’s Legislature, would add a parent’s affirmation of a child’s gender identity to a list of considerations a judge must weigh when resolving custody disputes.
The bill would amend one section of the California family code and would not change the penal code, where the crime of child abuse is outlined.
Who gets to decide what is best for transgender youth? That controversial question has gripped state legislatures this year, and social media users are capitalizing on the uncertainty to spread alarming claims.
"New California Bill Charges Parents with Child Abuse for Refusing to ‘Affirm’ Their Kid’s Gender Identity," reads the on-screen text in a video shared June 18 on Facebook. The video and its near-identical caption echo recent headlines by conservative news sites.
The video references California Assembly Bill 957, or A.B. 957, which has passed the chamber and will next come up for a vote in the Senate. But the bill would not charge parents with a crime for not affirming a child’s gender identity, the law’s sponsor and experts said.
If passed, the law would amend one section of the California family code. It would require judges presiding over custody and visitation disputes to consider whether a parent is affirming a child’s gender identity. It would be one among several other factors considered. And it would not change the definition of child abuse, which is a crime outlined in the California penal code.
AB 957 was introduced Feb. 14 by Assemblymember Lori D. Wilson, D-Suisun City.
The current version would amend Section 3011 of the California family code, which outlines the factors a judge overseeing custody disputes must consider when determining what’s in the child’s best interest.
Those include things such as any history of abuse by a parent, a parent’s habitual drug or alcohol use and the health, safety and welfare of the child.
Under the existing consideration of "health, safety, and welfare," A.B. 957 would add that "a parent’s affirmation of the child’s gender identity" is included in that category. In a previous version of the bill, gender affirmation was listed separately from "health, safety, and welfare."
When deciding custody among parents who are considered fit to provide care, most often, "judges are going to look at small differences," said Scott Altman,University of Southern California Gould School of Law professor. "Between two good-fit parents, there are tiebreakers that can lead to a judge declaring one to be the better fit for primary custody." Affirming a child's gender identity was simply added to that list of tie-breakers, he said.
Wilson’s spokesperson said affirmation of a child’s gender will not be weighed more heavily than other factors.
If the legislation is signed into law, refusal to affirm gender identity would not become a crime. Child abuse and neglect are crimes outlined in the California penal code, and several legal experts confirmed that this bill would not amend the penal code or alter the definition of criminal child abuse.
According to Wilson’s spokesperson, the bill has had consistent support from Democrats, and with a Democratic majority in the Senate, it is expected to pass the Senate.
The bill’s opponents have disagreed with considering gender-affirmation as part of a child’s "health, safety and welfare."
Family Policy Alliance, a conservative Christian group, argued there could be legal fallout.
"When an action is deemed as contrary to a child's health, safety, and welfare, family courts often hold that those actions are abusive," said Joseph Kohm, the group’s director of public policy, in a statement to PolitiFact. "This de facto finding of abuse would create precedent for a much broader application of this standard beyond mere custody determinations."
Altman said that interpretation is an "extremely unlikely" reading of the statute.
Courtney G. Joslin, University of California, Davis law professor, said, "There are many actions and behaviors that can impact a child’s best interest and their health, safety, and welfare that are not child abuse."
This could include which parent has a stronger relationship with the child, is most consistent with discipline or supports the child’s success in school.
"This distinction is clear in existing California law, and nothing in the bill alters this distinction," Joslin said.
California state Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, who opposes the bill, also acknowledged in his public testimony that, as written, the bill involves only custody proceedings.The viral Facebook video includes the clip of his statements.
The bill "does not address fitness of a parent," said Christy Mallory, legal director at the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute. "The bill addresses the definition of health, safety, and welfare as it is used in the context of child custody and visitation rights."
A Facebook post says a "new California bill chargesparents with child abuse for refusing to ‘affirm’ their kid’s gender identity."
The bill would modify one section of the state’s family code that governs how judges resolve child custody disputes. The bill would add a parent’s affirmation of a child’s gender to the list of considerations a judge must weigh when deciding custody and visitation disputes between parents.
The bill would not change California’s penal code, which outlines the crime of child abuse.
We rate this claim False.
Interview with Scott Altman, Professor of Law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, June 19-22, 2023
Interview with Courtney G. Joslin, Professor of Law at the University of California, Davis School of Law, June 19-20, 2023
Interview with Spokesperson for California Assemblymember Lori Wilson , June 19-20
Email interview with Christy Mallory, Legal director at the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, June 19-21, 2023
Email interview with Family Policy Alliance, June 19-21, 2023
Email interview with Ralph Richard Banks, Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, June 19, 2023
Facebook Post, June 18, 2023
The Daily Signal, "California Bill Would Classify 'Not Affirming Child's Gender' as Child Abuse," June 9, 2023
The Gateway Pundit, "EVIL: New California Bill Charges Parents with Child Abuse for Refusing to "Affirm" Their Kid's Gender Identity, June 9, 2023
The Washington Stand, "California Bill Would Consider It ‘Child Abuse’ to Not Affirm a Minor’s Chosen Gender Identity," June 12, 2023
California Legislative Information, "AB 957" Accessed June 19, 2023
California Legislative Information, "AB 957 Bill Analysis," accessed June 20, 2023
California Legislative Information "California Family Code Division 8," accessed June 20, 2023
California Legislative Information, "California Penal Code Title 9" accessed June 21, 2023
California Legislative Information, "California Family Code Section 3011," accessed June 19, 2023
California State Senate, "Current Membership," accessed June 21, 2023
CBS News, "California bill would include child's gender in custody cases. Here's what opponents say," June 13, 2023
YouTube, "Sen. Scott Wilk speaks on Assembly Bill 957," accessed June 21, 2023
Family Policy Alliance, "California Take Action: Bill Would Categorize Certain Beliefs as Child Abuse," accessed June 19, 2023
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