Our Poly Family Legal Battle: Answering FAQs
Breaking down our struggle to become legally recognized poly parents.
Posted Mar 01, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
In this post, I answer some commonly asked questions about our struggle to become legally recognized poly parents of our children.
Why was your legal battle so important to you?
Because had we not won that poly birth certificate, one of us three parents would be a legal nobody to the kids. Like, nobody. No right to visitation if we split up. No ability to consent for medical care. No say in decisions. No legal responsibilities. No automatic inheritance.
This would have been really risky for the family. We didn't do this for fun, for vanity, or to prove a point. We sought parentage to protect our children and their psychological, legal, and financial well-being.
Do you know any other three-parent families that have been helped because of your efforts?
We’ve heard from a few throuples who were excited by the news, including one with a new baby, but no legal rights for the newest partner in that relationship that we know of. Up in Canada, there was a triad granted a similar parentage agreement, but I don’t have any reason to believe they knew about us or that a Canadian court would factor us in. But we’re hoping those rare families like ours, or some other nontraditional family, will hear and benefit from legal protections and that our example in California will move other states' courts along.
I also just connected with Diana Adams, Executive Director of the Chosen Family Law Center, which specializes in protecting the legal rights of poly families, and learned about efforts to pass nondiscrimination ordinances in cities across America, similar to the one that passed in Somerville, MA, in 2020. I also connected with PLAC—the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition. I’m really excited to help spread awareness of how normal poly families are and advocate for legal protections for them.
What specific roadblocks related to being gay have made your experience harder?
Except for very rare moments (a guy on Boston’s T making trigger-pulling motions at me; a patient in San Diego calling me a slur), I haven’t had to worry about being treated differently as a gay person since 2001—until parenting entered the picture. My work’s leave policy wasn’t equitable, but that’s been fixed, and it didn’t involve much drama—sometimes it takes a “first gay parent” situation to make that happen.
Then, we had to leave our first IVF doctor because of major disagreements about medical risks and found out another gay couple had been turned away by the same clinic, advised their case was too complicated, although they just had standard IVF needs. It made us wonder, because I have been discriminated against—I wasn’t able to marry before or serve in the military, and I was subject to possible employment discrimination (never happened) and housing discrimination (that did happen, as a prospective landlord rejected me, completely legally). The clinic flatly denied that our orientation was a factor.
In sum, the only definitive barrier we had in becoming gay parents was that we obviously needed a lot of help from women. Embryo donors, then surrogates, our egg donor, a breast milk donor, and just lots of wonderful women who would help while we juggled kids at an airport or who said lovely things to us at a store. The whole experience has redoubled my view on American government, which is that men have run the show too long, and women are amazing, so why don’t we give them the reins for several hundred years?
How about issues related to being poly?
The poly issue definitely created more legal barriers. First, we all needed separate legal contracts with our egg donor and surrogate, so that was six contracts instead of one, in the case of a married, straight couple who needed a surrogate to carry a child for them. Our relationship wasn’t legally binding, so the clinic required those extra steps.
The real frustration was the insistence on a parenting agreement. We felt that parenting is well defined, socially and legally, and it really stung to have to write down our agreement about it (obvious things, like we’re financially responsible for the children) and to have to pay an attorney to draft those thoughts and then three other attorneys to confirm that our agreement was OK with us. Individually.
After that, we had to win parentage for all three of us at court. That legal first is really what convinced me we needed to share the family story in a book. It had never been done, and we spent a lot of time working with our attorneys to describe our relationship, study court cases and state laws, and point out examples from other states, up to printing out news articles on poly families 10 minutes before walking to family court from our attorney’s office.
Did any of those ease up when you had Parker?
All those troubles just evaporated. Instead of a legal battle, we just already had existing parenting agreements and precedent. Instead of having to go plead for parental rights, the court just said no problem—we didn’t even need to go in.
Hugely anticlimactic in a way, because it was overjoying to win that victory with Piper. But of course, it was so much better not to have to battle a second time. When I was a minor activist in college, a school paper reporter asked me at some point why we insist on having a student group. My answer was that I wished we didn't have to. We wanted to be treated like left-handed people—a little different but fully equal and uninteresting.
That’s how being gay has felt since I left central Virginia and the 90s for Boston and San Diego and the 21st century, and that’s how having Parker felt too. Very satisfying. We're hoping it's easier for others now, too.