Almost unnoticed, a court case of immense cultural importance has been filed in Canada. The case, which asks that full legal recognition be granted to three parents of a single child, gives the clearest indication yet of the real impact that gay marriage will have on the American family.
A lesbian couple from London, Ontario has asked a Canadian court to simultaneously recognize the two of them (the biological mother and her partner), as well as the biological father, as legal parents of a young boy. Rather than turn to an anonymous sperm donor, the women in question asked a friend to father their child. The father does not live with the couple and child, but is nonetheless treated as a member of the household.
In September of 2000, in an article in Commentary, I suggested that it would be only a matter of time before lesbian couples like rock singer Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher petitioned to give biological father-friends like David Crosby the right to join in a three-person marriage. With a suit to legalize triple parenthood in just such a union, we are only one short step away from that point.
Why is this important? No doubt, many will ask why we should care if three people want to define their family in a novel manner. After all, this is their choice, and the child appears to benefit from an additional adult to provide care and sustenance. But of course, the potential problems are legion. Once parental responsibilities are parceled out to more than two people — even to someone living outside the household — it becomes that much easier for any one parent to shirk his or her responsibilities. The very notion that parents can be added and subtracted at will tends to cut against the feeling of special responsibility for a given child.
But the biggest danger here is that legalized triple parenthood opens the way to legalized polygamy or polyamory (sexually based group marriage). Although in this particular instance, the relationship does not appear to be sexual (except for the initial conception), once a legal precedent for multiple parenthood has been set, it will be impossible to deny recognition to sexually bonded groups (whether heterosexual, bisexual, homosexual, or a mixture of these). And just as gay adoption has set a legal precedent for gay marriage, so will group parenthood pave the way to group marriage.
Yet, as I showed in the Commentary piece cited above, group marriage is inherently unstable in a Western cultural context. So legalized polyamory means still another radical increase in the difficulties of children. And polyamorists (not to mention polygamists) are already organized and ready to take advantage of any opening in the law. (Just try running a Google search on “polyamory.”)
Once we cross the border into legalized multiple parenthood, we have virtually arrived at the abolition of marriage and the family. The logic of gay marriage leads inexorably to the end of marriage, and the creation in its place of an infinitely flexible series of contracts. Monogamous marriage cannot function if it is just one of many social arrangement. Marriage as an institution depends for its successful functioning upon the support and encouragement that the ethos of monogamy receives from society as a whole. If anything can be called a marriage — including group marriage — then the ethos of monogamy that keeps families together will have been broken, and the social reinforcement that is the essence of marriage itself will be gone. Again, it is children who will pay the price.
Up to now, advocates of gay marriage have had no real answer to the polygamy/polyamory argument. They have simply suggested that such an innovation is, if anything, a distant and unlikely prospect. But now it is clear that legalized group marriage is only a moment away. And the path to group marriage has been openly and obviously paved by a lesbian couple who consider themselves to be married. (The couple exchanged vows at a public ceremony in 1992.)
Of course, only some advocates of gay marriage downplay the slippery slope to polygamy/polyamory. Other gay thinkers are perfectly aware that same-sex marriage will lead to group marriage, and are eager to bring about exactly this result. (Again, see my Commentary piece.)
Some may dismiss this suit as a freak occurrence, with no real chance of success. Yet the judge has already openly sided with the plaintiffs. Family Court Justice David Aston is quoted as saying, “I can’t imagine a stronger case for seeking the order you are seeking….The only concern is that I’m governed by legislation and that’s the only hurdle you’ve got to get over.
It’s rare that a judge openly admits what has been so obviously going on regarding gay marriage — that he is searching for a way to usurp the role of the legislature, so that he can decide the case according to his personal preferences. If Justice Aston doesn’t find a way to legalize group parenthood right now, who can doubt that another judge will do so shortly?
Certainly, radical libertarians can make a case for “getting government out of marriage.” But what that really means is the end of marriage. The American public needs to understand that the changes will not stop at gay marriage. Once this barrier has been broken, it will be impossible to stop marriage itself from suffering irreparable damage. The ethos of monogamy is delicate and under threat in the best of circumstances. It will be profoundly weakened by legal group marriage.
Yet the argument for group parenthood (and, inevitably, group marriage) has the same superficial appeal as the argument for gay marriage. “We are a loving family.” “We only want legal recognition for the loving partnership we already have.” And so forth. This argument is being made right now. And the judge is buying it. So when it comes to gay marriage, we can confidently say that the changes will not stop there. Gay marriage, means group marriage — which means no marriage.