San Diego 'throuple' lays the groundwork for legalised polyamory

The polyamory world is abuzz with excitement. Next Tuesday sees the release of Three Dads and a Baby, a memoir about three gay guys in San Diego decided to begin a family.

Dr Ian Jenkins, a doctor and the author, Jeremy Hodges, a zoo-keeper, and Dr Alan Mayfield, a psychiatrist, regard themselves as just your average, ordinary throuple. They have two children, daughter Piper, aged 3, and son Parker, aged 1.

“The fact that Piper has three parents is just not a big deal. I have three parents myself — my mother, father and stepmother — and no one thinks anything of it,” Jenkins writes in his book. “Some people seem to think it’s about a ton of sex or something, or we’re unstable and must do crazy things. [But] it’s really remarkably ordinary and domestic in our house and definitely not ‘Tiger King,’” (the sordid documentary series on Netflix about Joe Exotic’s gay throuple).

The ground-breaking feature of the domestic arrangements of these gentlemen is that Piper has three dads on her birth certificate and no mums. Ditto, Parker. And, according to the LGBTQ section of San Diego County News, the precedent paves the way for “the future children of other polyamorous parents”.

The two children were conceived with the eggs of a long-time friend and gestated by surrogates; another woman gave breast milk. "We’re a family of three men, and the heart of the story is the love of women," gushes Jenkins. "Thank you, mothers, for our treasured children." But, notwithstanding these sentimental words, their children will grow up without the love of a mother. Women have been erased from their lives.

The three men won the right to all be included on the birth certificate just before Piper was born. “Had we not … one of us three parents would be a legal nobody to the kids,” Jenkins writes. “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.”

Is this weird – just another “only in California” – story?

No, it’s a glimpse of the future after Obergefell v. Hodges, the 2015 Supreme Court decision which legalized same-sex marriage in the United States.

This is not what the majority in the 5-4 case promised Americans: mothers excluded from their lives of their children; uncertain paternity; deceitful birth certificates; and polyamory. But this is what is happening. Three Dads and a Baby documents it.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts predicted precisely this development:

Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.

It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry? If a same-sex couple has the constitutional right to marry because their children would otherwise “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children?

It’s not clear from media reports whether the three men are formally married – perhaps not. But it doesn’t make much difference if they are all recorded on the birth certificate of their children as a parent.

Americans were assured that same-sex marriage would merely open up the institution of marriage to gay couples and lesbian couples. There was no intention whatsoever to alter the fundamentals of marriage. Etc. Etc.

Well, six years on, it seems that throuples are being normalised and mothers are being erased. If those aren’t fundamental changes, what is?


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