Polyamory and the modern family

Polyamory and the modern family

Posted on December 6 by Jenny Yuen in Recent Releases
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When I began writing my first book, Polyamorousall the stories people in consensually non-monogamous relationships shared intrigued me.

Over the course of a year-and-a-half, I interviewed more than 50 polyamorists across Canada, hearing about their joys, heartbreak, discoveries and challenges. Some of the most interesting experiences, in my opinion, stem from trying to fit within the legal system that’s seemingly intended for couples only.

In 2011, when a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled polyamorists would not be criminalized for living together with more than one partner at a time provided they didn’t have a “sanctioning event” (read: marriage ceremony, legal or not), it was a huge step for polyamorous Canadians, because it clarified the definitions between polyamory and polygamy under the Criminal Code of Canada (section 293).

Polyamory is egalitarian, multiple consensual loving relationships between more than two people, based on respect, trust, love, open communication and honesty. Partners can come and go as they please and people in these relationships can negotiate and designate boundaries and needs.

Polygamy, in contrast, tends to be rooted in religion. In Canada, the Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C. is the most well-known as such. Polygamy is based on patriarchy and it’s usually one man with a bunch of wives. And in the case of Bountiful, there were lots of abuse issues exposed, including those involving child brides, which led to the 2011 constitutional challenge in the B.C. Supreme Court.

I think the general public still doesn’t know the difference between polyamory and polygamy – they assume the former is the latter.

But that decision in 2011 was huge for polyamorous people. However, it also left them in a grey zone. That is, despite being egalitarian, the moment that they go through some sort of marriage ceremony or public commitment if they already have a legal spouse, then they cross into that murkiness of violating the Criminal Code.

It’s true some poly people aren’t interested in the traditional ties of marriage. But some are – and they are still left in limbo, unable to publicly declare their love for more than one partner via a ceremony.

Families – polycules that involve children – continue to face hardships when it comes to legalities.

When it comes to healthcare benefits at work, for instance, you can only list one spouse, one beneficiary. What happens to the division of CPP, Old Age Security, not to mention extended health care and dental care? The federal Divorce Act defines spouse as “either of two persons to the exclusion of all others.”

Poly families who want to navigate their wills or real estate purchases to include multiple partners often have to draw up their own contracts in order to make them custom for more than two. Many parents who are in polyamorous relationships say they’re afraid of being “out” for the fear of having someone misinterpret what polyamory actually is for what it’s not – sex orgies or swinging or pedophilia – and calling Children’s Aid Society on them and risk having their kids being taken away. Polyamorists working as teachers or in other sectors involving children are afraid they’ll be fired if they expose their lifestyle/identity.

But interestingly enough, there are already case laws in Canada as recent as 2018, where court rulings have stated that polyamory is not harmful for children. Earlier this spring, a polyamorous family consisting of two men and a woman were denied by the government to have all three names on their child’s birth certificate. So they went to court. In the first decision of its kind in Canada, a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge’s decision made their wish possible.

In his ruling, the judge said that the child “has been born into what is believed to be a stable and loving family relationship which, although outside the traditional family model, provides a safe and nurturing environment.”

He also said to deny “this child the dual paternal parentage would not be in his best interests. It must be remembered that this is about the best interests of the child and not the best interests of the parents.”

Hopefully, my book will shed some light on some of these legal challenges and provide a sense of normalcy on polyamorous relationships – in whatever configuration they may look like – and perhaps also shine a light on how modern families (despite having to conform to the existing legal system) don’t always come in tidy pairs.

Jenny Yuen

Posted by KathrynB on January 9, 2018
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Jenny Yuen

Jenny Yuen is an award-winning news reporter, who covers a wide variety of local, provincial and national stories, and has written for the Toronto Sun, Now Magazine, and CBC Radio. She is a proud poly partner and has a dog named Wampa. She lives in Toronto.