Last month, in “Heather Has 3 Parents,” I wrote about a Canadian law suit that clearly reveals the slippery slope on which we shall surely be set by legalized same-sex marriage. A court in London, Ontario has been asked to declare three people the legal parents of a single child (the biological mother and father, and the lesbian partner of the natural mother). Since conception, the sexual relationship appears to have been confined to the lesbian partners, both of whom live with the child. Yet the biological father, a close friend of the biological mother and her partner, frequently visits the child’s home. All three adults consider that they are sharing the duties of parenthood.
This case is immensely significant, because it could easily and obviously lead to the effective abolition of marriage. Once multiple parents gain legal status, the way to group marriage is cleared, and marriage itself is effectively replaced by a system of infinitely flexible contracts involving any number (and gender) of adults. That, in turn, would radically undermine the ethos of monogamy, leading to further instability in marriage, and tragedy for our children.
Last week, a judge in London, Ontario reluctantly turned down the application to grant legal status to three parents. Yet the case may be appealed, and the judge’s decision is both complicated and revealing.
As in the initial hearing, Family Court Justice David Aston declared that he would like to have granted the petitioner’s application, if only he had the power. By his own account, the only reason this judge held back from granting legal parenthood of a single child to three adults is that he lacked the jurisdiction under the relevant law. That, and the fact that the petitioners may soon appeal this decision, shows that there is still every reason to fear that triple parenting will soon be granted legal status in Canada.
Yet, despite his claim that he would have decided for the petitioners if he could have, a new element appeared in Justice Aston’s decision. Justice Aston clearly grasped the immense implications of the case before him when he said, “If a child can have three parents, why not four or six or a dozen? What about all the adults in a commune or a religious organization or a sect?”
That statement by Justice Aston can be read in two ways. On the one hand, despite his protestations of right-minded liberal sympathy for the petitioners, Justice Aston may have stayed his hand in this case because of a dawning awareness of the true implications of legalized triple parenting. That would be a very encouraging sign.
On the other hand, if Justice Aston seriously meant that, despite the likelihood that legalized multiple parenthood (and eventually, multiple marriage), would follow from his decision, he would prefer to have found for the petitioners, then we have proof that our judges are determined to tear to pieces the family as we know it, regardless of the consequences.
In either case, the deadly reality of slippery-slope arguments in gay family law has at last been publicly and formally acknowledged by a judge. That is the real significance of this case.
The open and obvious implications of this particular case for the family are really no different than the implications of gay marriage itself. The grounds on which gay marriage is being granted (e.g. the right of all Vermonters to “equal benefits” under the Vermont constitution) cannot help but lead to the legalization of polygamy and group marriage. If homosexual couples are entitled to equal benefits from the state, why aren’t polyamorists?
This case also reveals the characteristic danger to the traditional family posed by legalized lesbian marriage. Most discussions of gay-marriage focus on the potential dangers of male homosexual promiscuity to the ethos of monogamy. Advocates of gay marriage argue that legal marriage will reduce gay male promiscuity. Critics note that the effect could easily work in reverse — male homosexual couples might marry, while nonetheless openly repudiating monogamy. That would undermine traditional understandings of marriage for everyone — a result that many gay thinkers actually hope for. Lesbian couples, on the other hand, tend toward monogamy. This is sometimes said to balance out the potentially subversive effects of gay male marriage.
The triple-parenting case, however, shows that lesbian same-sex marriage will likely be every bit as subversive of the traditional family as gay male marriage. True, this particular lesbian couple may or may not have applied for triple-parenting status had legal same-sex marriage already been available. Yet the relative prevalence of lesbian parenting, and the undeniable parental status of the biological father, means that an eventual application for triple parenting status by some legally married lesbian couple and a biological father-friend is inevitable. And once gay marriage itself has been granted on grounds of “equal protection” or “equal benefits,” it will be impossible to deny either parental or marital status to any number of adults.
Justice Aston’s example of an entire commune being declared the legal parents of a single child is particularly apt. Despite some differences, today’s polyamorists (practitioners of group marriage) carry on the legacy of the Sixties communes. Those communes ran aground on the contradiction between the claim of collective sexual and parental rights, on the one hand, and the undeniable privileges of traditional parenthood on the other. Early attempts to abolish the traditional family on the Israeli kibbutz fell apart from the same contradiction. Gay marriage, and the slippery slope to group marriage that it will inevitably set us on, will force us into a slow-motion version of the kibbutz and commune crackup.
The movement for gay marriage has failed at the ballot box, yet is on the verge of winning in our courts. Only a fool would believe that the changes will stop with legalization of gay marriage itself. The triple-parenting case is a window into our inevitable future. Having learned how to expand and undermine legislative definitions of marriage and family through the courts, petitioners will present us with ever more exotic cases. The end of the line is the end of marriage — unless we wake up now. This summer, with legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts, the battle will truly be joined.