MARY REICHARD, HOST: Up next on The World and Everything In It: polyamorous parenting.
Bigamy and polygamy have been outlawed in the U.S. since the 1860s. Almost all other Western nations have outlawed the practices as well, traditionally believing marriage should only be between one man and one woman.
NICK EICHER, HOST: That’s what makes a Canadian court’s ruling so surprising. The Newfoundland court announced last week it had granted three adults in a polyamorous relationship equal parenting rights to one child. Polyamory is having more than one romantic relationship at a time. The practice is legal so long as the group remains unmarried.
The judge said family structures are continuously changing along with society and polyamory is not a detriment to the best interests of the child.
But as WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports, the child may feel differently. One note to parents: This report deals with sensitive issues that might not be appropriate for young children.
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The case began when a woman in an unmarried, polyamorous relationship with two men gave birth to a daughter. The triad, together since 2015, claimed they didn’t know which man fathered the child. After the birth, the Newfoundland Ministry of Service refused to designate all three adults as parents because Canadian law allows only two parents on a birth certificate.
But Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court Justice Robert Fowler overturned the lower court ruling and granted all three adults parenting rights.
The so-called poly triad spoke to CBC news but didn’t give their names. They refer to the baby girl as Little A and say they won’t find out who her father is.
AUDIO: It doesn’t matter to us, we don’t know, she doesn’t know. We don’t care, no one should care. It doesn’t matter. They are both her dads. This is papa, this is dada, and it doesn’t really matter whose genes she has. Again, love is love you know.
But that will probably be hard to conceal from Little A as she grows older and starts to resemble one of the two men.
James Lopez says the whole situation will be troubling for the girl, and he would know. Lopez grew up in a home with his biological father, his biological mother, and his father’s other female partner, as well as a stepbrother. He says it was confusing to see his dad with two women.
LOPEZ: I would see that they would always share time together when my mom either wasn’t there or when she was showering or you know, just outside or something. It just felt weird seeing my dad do that to someone else that was not my mom.
Lopez says his family structure didn’t allow him to bond with his father. In high school, he struggled with depression and substance abuse.
LOPEZ: I didn’t ask to be raised in that family structure. I didn’t want my dad to be with someone else and my mom at the same time, you know. If I could have it all together from the beginning, I wish I had just my mom and my dad.
What’s more concerning is that this ruling probably won’t be the last of its kind. A 2017 Gallup poll found 17 percent of Americans believe polygamy is morally acceptable. That’s up from seven percent in 2003. A Rolling Stone article late last year praised the growing acceptance of polyamory among millennials.
Amos Guiora is a law professor at the University of Utah. He says approval for plural relationships is, for some people, the logical next step after redefining marriage.
GUIORA: Changing societal norm is perhaps it would mean that people are more receptive to the idea of polygamy. Maybe.
But Guiora, who has interviewed dozens of women and children who left Fundamentalist Mormon, polygamous homes, says plural relationships are usually about power and domination. These relationships are especially harmful to women…
GUIOA: The whole thought there are four wives and he skips over your night to be with somebody else… that’s not consent. That’s perverse.
And they are harmful for children, even if poly relationships are between consenting adults.
GUIORA: The moment there are children, that dramatically changes the equation.
James Lopez says whatever happens to Little A as she grows up, there is hope. During his senior year of high school, friends invited Lopez to youth group, and he became a Christian. Today he is married to one woman, with whom he has two children. He hopes he can teach his children what a healthy relationship looks like.
LOPEZ : We need to understand that our children do not choose the family structures. They need the right environment, the right, you know, um, role models in their life to grow up to be good citizens, you know, to live a good life.
Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.