News & Politics

Three legal parents

Today, Ontario’s highest court ruled that a five year old boy has three legal parents – his biological mother, her partner, and their good friend, his biological father.

The case is believed to be the first in Canada in which a child has more than two legal parents, said Peter Jervis, a lawyer for the partner. He said while there have been birth-registry cases in which lesbian couples sought parentage of their children, the fathers in those cases were not active or were unknown due to sperm donations.

In this case, the biological father, a friend of the lesbian couple, remains involved in the 5-year-old boy’s life at the request of the two women. The father would have lost his parental rights if the lesbian partner had been able to adopt the boy under Ontario law.

The lesbian partner brought the case against the biological mother and father, seeking a declaration for parentage. They fully supported the legal action.

The Ontario Court of Appeal ruling released yesterday overturns a 2003 Superior Court of Justice decision not to give the female partner legal status as the child’s mother. The judge said the court did not have jurisdiction to grant the title.

Justice Marc Rosenberg, writing on behalf of Chief Justice Roy McMurtry and Justice Jean-Marc Labrosse, found that due to a gap in legislation, the court in this case can exercise its “parens patriae” – the legal term for the state to act as the guardian for a minor – in declaring the partner a mother.

“Advances in our appreciation of the value of other types of relationships and in the science of reproductive technology have created gaps in the (Children’s Law Reform Act’s) legislative scheme,” Rosenberg wrote. “Because of these changes, the parents of a child can be two women or two men.”

I find this very exciting, as it really does challenge traditional family structures and makes all those f*ocus on the f*amily freakos very very upset. Because of course, having MORE parents for a child is a bad idea, right? What about the “village” folks? I don’t think queers made up that saying, but I do know that many of us take it to heart and have a number of people in our chosen families.

Joanna Radbord, who has been a prominent lawyer in many cases affecting gays and lesbian, such as adoption and same sex marriage rights in Ontario, has stated that lesbians with known donors (and also gay men with surrogates) should look to families with step parents as allies. This would be another case where there could potentially be a third person seeking parental rights (the step parent of a child who already has a legal mother and father would have to have one of those parents removed from the official documentation in order to adopt the child and therefore be legally responsible for the child). What is so different from that situation than from queers who may be looking to acknowledge all the people involved in a child’s life? The one major difference between these two scenarios is actually another argument in favour of allowing gay and lesbian redefinitions of the family – divorced couples and step parents usually have been through the breaking up of a relationship, whereas this case is bringing together three people who are actively seeking to be a part of their child’s life.

My partner and I were discussing this news as we watched the telly this evening and the reports on the issue. Of course, the focus on the family opponents were out in full force, with worries that if we allow children to have more than 2 parents, families will fall apart and never be the same. The issue? Custody. If folks break up and partner again, wouldn’t it be really confusing to arange visitation between 3, 4, 5 etc. parents? (As if organizing visitation and custody between two people is always easy peasy). It was obvious that the issue was with the LESBIANS who were involved in this parenting family. If it had been the opposite sex wife of the biological father who was looking for rights, no one would have said a word.

I know that I speak from a position of privilege, as here in Canada my partner had the right to adopt our child and be recognized as our son’s legal parent (and I know many families in the US and around the world are not able to do so). Yet this ruling may mean that we could acknowledge all the people who helped create our son, and who may be interested in being in his life in the future (we don’t have that kind of arrangment with our current donor, but who knows how he will feel in the future, or how our new donor will feel?). I also feel that it could take away the fear of using a known donor, especially if non biological partners can be recognized equally as a parent if the donor does not want to terminate his rights. Or perhaps this is still a scary scenario?

How do you feel? If there are more than 2 people involved in the life of your child that would like to acknowledge (known donor, surrogates, birth mom/dads?) is this a good thing?

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  1. This is amazing news – legal recognition of what our families really look like.

  2. I think this is just fabulous. We know several families who could use legal recognition of an already existing structure. I will never understand why folks think that more parents are a bad thing and why they always focus on a potential future breakup as reason to deny custody or something.

    Thanks for the heads-up!

  3. I think this is a great thing. We consider our donor to be an uncle to Julia… but if it weren’t for the legal fear that his rights supercede mine (as a non-bio who can’t adopt) we would be happy to acknowledge him as a father.

    Of course, such a situation opens up new dilemmas along with new possiblities, but I’ve never been one to shy from discussion of new arrangements. The more people who love and are concerned about the well-being of a child, the better.

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