Petition for multiple-person family law in Taiwan gains signatures

Victoria Hsu, lawyer and president of the Taiwan Alliance to Promote Civil Partnership Rights (TAPCPR), is collecting signatures on a proposal for new Taiwan marriage laws that would allow both same-sex marriages and legal protections for multiple-person relationships.

The multiple-person family portion of the proposed law would adapt the existing law, which Hsu considers "out of date" and "patriarchal," since it is rooted in the practice of concubinage.

The petition has almost 30,000 signatures so far, and Hsu hopes to acquire one million by the end of 2013.

If Hsu's law is adopted by the government, Taiwain would be the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage -- and one of the first countries in the world with a multiple-person family law.

Pennsylvania appeals court sets legal precedent in custody case

Last December, a trial was held to determine the custody of two children. The maternal grandparents had filed a petition asking that either they or the mother be awarded primary custody, which led to the father and mother each filing for primary physical custody. At the trial, it became known that the parents had previously engaged in polyamorous relationships. Despite the fact that the children's' therapist testified that they were not harmed by this, the judge awarded primary physical custody and sole legal custody to the grandparents.

The mother could not afford filing an appeal, but the father could, and did. Just nine months later, he has won, and the court order was overturned -- awarding him full custody of the children.

Nancy Polikoff, a law professor who has worked gay and lesbian family law issues for 35 years, wrote a timeline of the case and how the ruling came to be overturned. It had a lot to do with the appeals court's view that the judge unfairly penalized the father for his past polyamorous relationships.

The appeals court said the judge interjected "artificial morality concerns" into its determination, something not permitted by the list of factors in the custody statute.  Although the trial judge claimed otherwise, the appeals court found that the judge's "general disfavor of polyamory" played a role in the decision.  At the time of the trial the father was no longer in a polyamorous relationship.  They appeals court noted that "while ultimately unsuccessful, his former experimentation with that lifestyle did not harm the children and does not currently affect the children negatively."  The appeals court called polyamory "a nontraditional sexual practice," but considered it analogous to other cases in which a parent's previous sexual conduct was found irrelevant absent evidence of harm to the child.

Sex figured into this case in another way.  The trial court considered the father's wife's friendship with a professional dominatrix and her blog post in which she described herself as a "closet poly."  The appeals court found that "the trial court's preoccupation with these morality issues is improper, particularly where, as here, there is a dearth of evidence to suggest that the sexual practices affected the children at all."

The good news about this is that the court's decision will be entered into Pennsylvania case law, making it an official legal precedent in the state.

Brazilian notary grants three-person civil union

Brazil has been making headlines as it became known that a public notary in Sao Paulo accepted a civil union between three people. The union was formalized three months ago, but has only now become public knowledge.

Public notary Claudia do Nascimento Domingues granted the union after determining that there was no law or mention in the Brazilian Constitution prohibiting such an arrangement. In defense of the decision, Domingues has said, "We are only recognising what has always existed. We are not inventing anything."

The triad of one man and two women, who live together in Rio de Janeiro, have a joint bank account and share all expenses. The union was made official by a deed of Union Poliafetiva ("Deed of Polyaffective Union"). Under this new status, the triad legally share property and assets, are entitled to family hospital visits, and are protected in case of separation or death.

In response to this news, a columnist at The Guardian asks, "Why shouldn't three people get married?" She writes:

The government can dictate that two people should be in a marriage, but it can't legislate what will make them feel happy or stable or emotionally complete together. And if we accept that, as we do every time we allow anyone the freedom to make a decision about who they'll marry, and furthermore allow them the freedom to call each other by execrable pet names in public, then does it not begin to seem strange, just a bit, that we do allow the government to dictate how many people are allowed to pledge to be together forever?

. . . as long as everyone is entering a marriage equally, as long as everyone is really going to make an effort to be open and honest to everyone else, it's probably not the government's job to tell them how many of them there should be.

The move has, as usual, elicited a strong negative response from religious groups. It is also yet to be seen whether courts, service providers, and private companies will uphold the ruling.

Multiple parent bill proposed in California

A new California bill proposed by Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco would allow a child to have more than two legal parents. Designed to benefit modern households such as gay couples, surrogacy arrangements, step-parents, adoptive parents, and folks using reproductive techniques that involve multiple people, the bill's goal is to make the lives of children easier.

Senator Leno first witnessed a shortcoming in the laws when, in 2011, he saw a young girl end up in foster care when her two mothers (her legally married parents) could not care for her. Although the girl had a relationship with her biological father, the court did not have the authority to appoint him as a legal parent.

A bill like this could potentially benefit poly folks. Anne at Life on the Swingset says:

For poly families, this would be a move towards greater legal recognition and protection . . .

Even if the bill passes (and that’s probably a big if), legal parenthood for multiple parents is still at the discretion of the court.  That means that poly families trying to ensure that all parents are legally recognized as such may still face discrimination and skepticism while trying to convince a judge that all three (or four or whatever) of them should be considered parents to the children in the household.  The designation of multiple parents can only be done if it is determined to be in the child's best interests.  It's far from a simple and straightforward process.  But for it to be possible at all would be an exciting step forward.

Opponents say this bill will only encourage "radical" and "experimental" family structures -- which, of course, according to them, do not benefit children.

The bill has passed the Senate and is now awaiting an Assembly vote.