Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

September 15, 2016

On Canada's top TV news program: "Canadian polyamorists face unique legal challenges"

"The National" on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is Canada's leading nightly news show. Last night it aired a three-minute segment "Strange Bedfellows: Polyamorous Relationships and Family Law in Canada," about a recent legal research report.

Watch here; jump ahead to where the segment starts at 14:25.

(If that embed doesn't work, here's the link.)

The report is entirely straightforward and normal, even sympathetic, in a way I don't think we'll see commonly in the U.S. for another five or ten years.

A more in-depth article is on the CBC's website. As of the this morning it was the site's most-viewed page. Excerpts:

Canadian polyamorists face unique legal challenges, research reveals

'There is a choice, other than cheating or serial monogamy and multiple divorces or failed relationships'

Shannon Ouellette, of Saint Lina, Alta. is in a polyamorous relationship. She lives with her husband and his girlfriend, while her boyfriend lives in England. (CBC)

By Alison Crawford, CBC News

Canadian family laws, which adapted for common-law and same-sex couples, as well as multiple parents of children conceived using reproductive technologies, may have to adapt once again, according to new research on polyamory.

This summer John-Paul Boyd, executive director of the Canadian National Research Institute for Law and the Family, conducted the first national survey of polyamorous families. Polyamorists are people who choose to commit themselves to more than one committed intimate partner at the same time.

"It's not a huge number of people, but it's still significant and I believe the population is growing," said Boyd.

More than 550 people responded to the survey, which found most of Canada's polyamorists live in B.C. and Ontario, followed by Alberta.

Polyamorists hope for future legal recognition

While half of respondents reported having relationships that involved three people, most choose to live in two households. Twenty-three per cent of those surveyed said at least one child lives full-time in their house.

    Related Stories:
    Polyamorists hope for future legal recognition
    B.C. Supreme Court upholds Canada's polygamy laws

Respondents also reported higher levels of education and income than most Canadians. Yet only one-third of those polyamorists said they had taken legal steps to formalize the rights and responsibilities of everyone in the family.

Polyamory is not polygamy

Unlike polygamist families, which are typically faith-based, patriarchal arrangements where one man marries two or more women, polyamory is legal because no one is married to more than one person at the same time.

Polyamorists further distinguish themselves from polygamists by highlighting that their relationships are consensual and egalitarian.

"Nothing in the Criminal Code stops three or more consenting, informed adults from living together and engaging in a family relationship how and as they please," said Boyd.

As for why he chose this line of research, Boyd says he grew curious after a number of polyamorous clients approached him for legal help.

"Most people who are involved in polyamorous relationships have executed emergency authorizations to deal with health-care issues. Following that, most people had done school authorizations so other adults could deal with the school on behalf of the kids, followed by legal and medical powers of attorney and things like this," he said.

..."The social service benefits such as health-care arrangements, Canadian Pension Plan, Old Age Security and other benefits, such as employment insurance, that are indexed to the number of people in the household — those laws are also predicated that a relationship consists of two adults plus children," Boyd said. "I imagine at some point we're going to have a charter challenge much like we saw in 2003 with same-sex marriage."

That's unlikely as long as polyamorists remain quiet about their relationships.

"I think more and more people would challenge the charter, ask for more rights and look for more legal protection but the challenge there is that would involve them being out," says Michelle Desrosiers, a married mother of two who is out to her friends, family and work colleagues about being polyamorous.

"My husband has a girlfriend and I am also seeing two other men and they also are married with families as well. So, one big awesome community."

In her experience, Desrosiers says the greatest concerns people have before coming out as polyamorous centre around their children. As many Canadians cannot yet distinguish between polygamy and polyamory, Desrosiers says many in her community fear losing custody of their children.

"A lot of these families have children and they are concerned about being outed and what that means and as long as that fear is in place, there's not going to be a fast push for those legal rights to be changed," she says.

...Ouellette and her family have talked about drawing up legal documents for worst-case scenarios, such as illness, death or someone leaving the relationships, but Ouellette remains concerned they would remain unprotected.

"It's those moments when we're at our most vulnerable, when somebody is ill or that we're going to struggle the most and at that time we have no rights. The two, three, five years and all the intentions we had to have a life partnership are meaningless."

The whole article (Sept. 14, 2016).

Boyd's full paper, titled "Strange Bedfellows: Polyamorous Relationships and Family Law in Canada," is a 70-page single-spaced PDF. It was completed in July and is scheduled for formal publication in December. Canadian polyfolks who have seen its current version warn of several problems with it:

– It conflates settled, long-term polyfidelitous households with polyamory in general, although such households are just a small part of the poly world (though they do have the most pressing legal issues). This will mislead the public about the scope of polyamory. "That would also explain why he claims that a polyamorous relationship (single, whole polycule) is indistinguishable from consensual polygamy except for marriage."

– The paper's brief history of monogamy and nonmonogamy in Western civilization is is inaccurate and naive.

● Here is a different, shorter paper by Boyd based on the survey's collected data so far: Polyamorous Families in Canada: Early Results of New Research from CRILF (Aug. 24, 2016).

● Published by Boyd in Slaw, "Canada's online legal magazine": The Rise of the Polyamorous Family: New Research Has Implications for Family Law in Canada (Sept. 2, 2016).

Update next day: The Ottawa Metro paper follows on: 'It’s complicated': Ottawa's polyamorous families face tough legal hurdles (Sept. 15):

...“It’s about time people are talking about this,” says the woman who spoke to Metro. But she added fear and stigma still hold people who are in poly relationships from fighting for their rights.

She said the whole system of tax benefits, parental rights and even hospital visitations are set up around couples made up of two people, and there isn’t anything set up for people who live and love in poly relationships.

“It’s going to take time to change things,” she said. “And it’s going to be hard.”

For now, she’ll continue to live in her loving poly home, despite its complications because, she says, “It’s worth it.”


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Blogger Alan said...

(Comment posted elsewhere by Dave Doleshal, printed here by permission:)

Okay, I finally got a chance to go through the whole article (fairly quickly).

Although its not all wine and roses, overall, it seems to me the situation in Canada for poly families and poly parents is quite positive - with Canada apparently being quite a few years ahead of the US on these kind of delicate issues of family/sexuality (as usual).

In one of the summary statements, the author concludes: "Polyamorous relationships are surprisingly well accommodated by the family law legislation of Canada's common law provinces..."

It is not all good news, and there is considerable variation from one province to another (British Columbia being the most favorable to poly families, and Alberta being the least favorable).

Much of this seems to revolve around a rather "loose" interpretation of the term "spouse." Much of Canadian law seems to have accepted the idea that a spouse does not necessarily need to be a legally and formally married person. Thus, it speaks of both "married spouses" and "unmarried spouses." In essence, what seems to have happened is that while Canadian family law still firmly retains the category of "married spouses" as something superior to and priviliged above other relationships - at least to some extent and at least for some issues, it also accepts that people who cohabit, give birth together, raise children together, etc, and basically live in a relationship that functions and resembles that of married people/family should basically be treated as sort of "de facto" spouses- as If they were actual spouses for most practical - and legal - purposes. That is interesting because it seems that in many cases, even while Canadian law still insists that a person can have no more than one "married spouse" at a time, it places no such numerical limit on the number of "unmarried spouses" they can have. That is even more interesting because this seems to extend to situations in which four or six or ten people could collectively be the legal parents, or a least the de facto parents/ legal guardians of a specific child.

Even so, what the author seems to say it that most this is never explicitly stated in explicitly or positive terms in the existing laws. It is simply implied in the wording, and, (apparently) interpreted in these ways by the Canadian family courts. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, the main weakness of the paper is that it deals mostly just with the way the law is written, and we receive virtually nothing in terms of concrete details about how all this actually plays out in real life. What actually happens when a poly family with real live children ends up in a Canadian family court, and nasty accusations fly in all directions about sex perverts corrupting children, hysterical Christian fundamentalist mother-in-laws and outraged anti-poly grandparents begin passionately pleading their cases before the judge?

Nevertheless, it is all very interesting reading. My quick little summary hardly does justice to the full article - so I highly recommend it to everyone with an interest in the subject.

All of this demonstrates that, despite so much pessimism, a modern,complex, technologically-advanced, North American society, with a primarily Anglo-European cultural heritage and at least a nominally "Christian" background (that is - a place remarkably similar to the United States) can indeed eventually accommodate polyamory and poly families.

September 15, 2016 1:21 PM  

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