When I once asked, “Is there any combination of consenting adults you *wouldn’t* accept as a marriage?” only one of my more liberal acquaintances really addressed the question with a substantive response. He said he wouldn’t support legalizing polygamous unions because of the confusion they would create.
He was absolutely right, but this is another example of how social progressives must not have truly examined the likely consequences of changing the definition of marriage, because such a reality will absolutely be the actual result of where our society is going.
I know this because we’re already well on the way.
In 2012, Brazil formalized a three-person union.
Also that year, a bill was introduced in California to allow children to have more than two legal parents. The bill made it all the way to the governor before being vetoed. Obviously, such an outcome is inevitable if same-sex marriage is sanctioned.
As the journal Public Discourse noted:
Let us state an obvious fact: a same-sex couple cannot have a child unless someone gives them one, or part of one, namely either an egg or a sperm. If two women, for instance, decide they want to have a baby, they must still involve a man in the process. They can use some form of artificial reproductive technology with sperm from a man who is unknown to them. Or, they can find an accommodating friend to have sex with one of them, or to donate his sperm.
The question is this: how is the same-sex couple going to manage the relationship with this third party? In some cases, the women do not want any relationship with the father. Our government will give them this. Through the legal institution of anonymous sperm donation, the government agrees perpetually to separate a mother and a father from a legal relationship with each other.
If all same-sex couples were completely and permanently committed to ensuring that their child would never have a relationship with his or her other biological parent, then there would be no particular drive for same-sex parenting to lead to triple-parenting. But this is obviously a very strong condition. Some female couples will want their children to have an ongoing relationship with their father. Some fathers will want a relationship with their children. Hence, we can see that through situations such as these, normalizing same-sex parenting creates momentum for triple-parenting.
Some of these three-party relationships will be agreeable and cooperative and amicable. But again, it is obviously a very big presumption to suppose that every such relationship will be completely harmonious for a lifetime. Only some known donor fathers will be fathers on the exact terms desired by the two women. Other fathers will desire something different, either more or less involvement than the women want. We cannot count on private agreements among the parties to solve all problems and manage all disputes. A subset of these cases is going to end up being settled by the family courts. Therefore, not only does same-sex parenting create an impetus to triple-parenting, it creates an impetus for state involvement in the ongoing management of these complex relationships.
Think we saw a lot of negative fallout from the last generation’s experiment with no-fault divorce and single parenthood? As same-sex marriage opens the door for several legal parents, the emotional damage that absolutely will be wrought on children will be magnified.
Think this is alarmist? Again, we’re already there. In 2011 in the UK:
P’s problem is not that she has two mothers. P knows that her mother RWB and her mother’s civil partner SWB are her family and she is happy with that.
What makes P so miserable is she and her six-year-old sister L also have two fathers. P says she likes seeing ML and his long-term partner AR. But, according to a grownup who was looking after the 10-year-old a few months ago, “she cannot just pretend that ML is her father in order to make him happy”.
Except that he is. ML, 50, is indeed the biological father of the two girls. They were conceived by IVF after the lesbian couple (as they described themselves) had advertised in the Pink Paper in 1999 for a gay man or couple who might want to start a family with them.
The problem according to Mr Justice Hedley is that the four adults failed to decide at that time what their respective roles should be. It was agreed that ML, who is of Polish descent, would be the child’s father and his partner AR, 41, would be the stepfather. But what brought the two couples to court was the effect these terms were intended to have.
Two lessons bear repeating here: 1) conservatives are motivated by concern for the long-reaching effects of public policy decisions, not animosity towards others who are different, 2) feel-good platitudes about equality are not a good enough foundation for revolutionary legislation, and 3) we must always be careful of the law of unintended consequences, which means more prudent and rational discourse about radical social innovations.