"The Revolution in Parenthood:
The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children's Needs"
Here's another sign that "What about the kids?" will be the right's argument of choice against polyamory, one that we must address. The Institute for American Values and other groups have issued a report titled "The Revolution in Parenthood: The Emerging Global Clash Between Adult Rights and Children's Needs". The report is written by Elizabeth Marquardt, director of the Institute's Center for Marriage and Families. It says the same things as her article in the Christian Century noted here two months ago, but in more depth.
Here are parts of an article about the report (Sept. 30, 2006) from Zenit, a Catholic news agency:
Family structures and parenthood roles are being redefined without sufficient consideration for the needs of children. This is the warning of a report just published that describes worldwide trends in family law and reproductive technology.
...The report finds that worldwide trends in law and reproductive technologies are redefining parenthood in ways that put the interests of adults before the needs of children. "The two-person mother-father model of parenthood," it states, "is being changed to meet adults' rights to children rather than children's needs to know and be raised, whenever possible, by their mother and father."
The revolution in parenthood described in the publication comprises a variety of issues: high divorce rates; single-parent childbearing; the growing use of egg and sperm donors; support for same-sex marriage; and proposals to allow children conceived with the use of sperm and egg donors to have three legal parents.
...There is increasing support from influential legal commissions and legal scholars in Canada and the United States for the legalization of group marriage arrangements such as polygamy and polyamory, which involves intimate relationships of three or more people.
..."A good society protects the interests of its most vulnerable citizens, especially children," Marquardt's report contends. But the core institution of parenthood is being fundamentally redefined, often in a way that orients it primarily around adults' rights.
...In the United States at least 10 states allow someone with no biological or adoptive relationship to a child, and no marital relationship to a child's parent, to be assigned parental rights and responsibilities as a psychological or de facto parent.
"In law and culture, the two-natural-parent, mother-father model is falling away, replaced with the idea that children are fine with any one or more adults being called their parents, so long as the appointed parents are nice people," the report comments.
These changes will have far-reaching consequences for the family, children and society. "Those of us who are concerned," concludes the report, "can and should take up and lead a debate about the lives of children and the future of parenthood."
We should not ignore these concerns even if we could. Of course, throughout history most children have been raised by extended households with more adult caregivers than just the parents (including grandparents, aunts, other relatives, servants, etc. never mind families in polygamous cultures). By comparison, today's American model of the isolated "nuclear" family, limited to two adults doing it alone, is historically unnatural, socially impoverished, and surely less enriching for children's development overall.
As for sexual matters between the caregivers, details of what goes on behind adults' bedroom doors are not the children's business in any family. Either the children are too young to know or care, or they have it explained that sexual expressions of love are done among the grown-ups privately. In any case it is irrelevant to child care.
Marquardt has done her homework on the poly movement:
Polyamorists are perhaps the newest, most unfamiliar players on the scene.... Polyamory involves relationships of three or more people, any two of whom might or might not be married to one another.... Polyamorists distinguish themselves from the “swingers” of the 1970s, saying that their own relationships emphasize healthy communication or what they call “ethical non-monogamy.”
Polyamorous unions have been around for a while probably for a long while but they and their supporters are now seeking increasing visibility and acceptance....
[S]upport for polyamory is not just found among the fringe types; notably, the topic is emerging at the cutting edge of family law and advocacy. In a recent report on family law, Daniel Cere of McGill University cites examples including a University of Chicago Law School professor, Elizabeth Emens, who last year published a substantial legal defense of polyamory in a New York University law review; a major report, “Beyond Conjugality,” issued by the influential Law Commission of Canada which wondered whether legally recognized relationships should be “limited to two people,” and in An Introduction to Family Law, published by Oxford University Press, a British law professor who notes quizzically, “The abhorrence of bigamy appears to stem…from the traditional view of marriage as the exclusive locus for a sexual relationship and from a reluctance to contemplate such a relationship involving multiple partners.”
Advocates for polyamory often explicitly mimic the language used by supporters of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. They say they must keep their many loves “in the closet.” That they cannot risk revealing their personal lives for fear of losing their jobs or custody of their children. That to reveal their inner “poly” nature is “coming out of the closet.” That being poly is just who they are.
One potential complication is children. Websites for practitioners of polyamory devote considerable space to the challenges of being a poly parent.
At LiveJournal.com, one mom says, “Polyamory is what my kids know. They know some people have two parents, some one, some three and some more. They happen to have four. Honestly? Kids and polyamory? Very little of it effects [sic] them unless you’re so caught up in your new loves you’re letting it interfere with your parenting.”
Another older mom advises a young poly mother-to-be who isn’t sure how to manage a new baby and her poly lifestyle....
A pro-poly website despairs: “One challenge that faces poly families is the lack of examples of poly relationships in literature and media.” A sister site offers the “PolyKids Zine.” This publication for kids “supports the principles and mission of the Polyamory Society.” It contains “fun, games, uplifting PolyFamily stories and lessons about PolyFamily ethical living.” Its book series includes titles such as The Magical Power of Mark’s Many Parents and Heather Has Two Moms and Three Dads.
See the whole report. In particular, read the section "Group Marriage: Polygamy and Polyamory" halfway down.