Telling straight people how to live

Kids are the most subversive act

In a recent episode of Queer As Folk, Lindsay and Melanie ask Brian for his sperm because they want a second child. Brian had earlier co-operated with Lindsay on baby-making, but this time Melanie was going to get pregnant. There being no love lost between Brian and Melanie, Brian initially refuses.

But all is not lost. Later that evening, he asks his best buddy Michael why any self-respecting queer would have kids. Michael’s pot-induced response, “to piss off straight people,” makes it all crystal clear. Having babies is not about assimilating into the family ways of heterosexuals. It is subversive. With this epiphany, Brian is now only too willing to offer up his sperm, even to the insufferable Melanie.

What’s unthinkable in the show’s fictional location, Pittsburgh, is allowable here in its real location, Ontario. Same-sex couples can adopt each other’s children, have child support rights, child custody rights and child access rights. Having babies here isn’t quite so subversive.

Or is it? There are limits, numerical ones. Lesbians and gay men can’t have families with more than two legal parents. In a court case out of London, Ontario last month, a court denied

a request by two lesbian parents and the biological father for an adoption that would affirm the parental status of all three parents.

Under Ontario law, the non-biological mom could adopt the baby. But the adoption would end the biological father’s parental status. The couple and the bio father asked for a three-way shared custody, but the court said no.

“If this application is granted, it seems to me the door is wide open to step-parents, extended family and others to claim parental status in less harmonious circumstances. If a child can have three parents, why not four or six or a dozen?” observed Justice David Aston in his decision.

Why not indeed? Why not four or five or six parents? Under current law,

a child might have more than two parents for the purposes of child support. Biological parents have to pay child support, but so do step-parents. A child could be living with one biological parent, and receiving child support from both a biological parent and a step-parent. Do the math: three parents in law.

In the London case, both the biological dad and the non-biological mom could be considered parents for the purposes of child support. But the trio aren’t entitled to simultaneously call themselves parents.

The idea that children can only have two parents simply defies the ways in which many Canadians live. There are single families, remarried families and blended families. There are step-

parents on both sides. There are ex-

step-parents and new step-

parents. But when it comes to asking for legal recognition, the law freezes in its 19th-century tracks.


The London family is considering an appeal, and the issues are ones that all queers should be able to get behind. It’s not like the marriage cases, which divide those who seek assimilation from those who seek sexual liberation and a destabilization of all things straight.

The case is about fundamentally changing the definition of family in a way that would allow children to be raised in a range of settings and in a way that would recognize the multiplicity of parental relationships.

The irony is that it’s actually straight people who live in the most diverse relationships with their marrying, reproducing, divorcing, remarrying and so on. Straight people are at least as likely as gay ones to produce children with multiple parents. They should be the ones keen for this kind of legal recognition, but here we are, with gay and lesbian people leading the way to recognizing reality.

Now I hate to suggest that Queer As Folk’s Michael and Brian are insightful social critics. But they are on to something. Queer parenting can be subversive, even for those who are totally disinterested in parenting. Maybe it is all about pissing off straight people.

Brenda Cossman

Brenda Cossman is a professor of law at the University of Toronto, the author of Sexual Citizens: The Legal and Cultural Regulation of Sex and Belonging (Stanford University Press) and a former board member of Pink Triangle Press, Xtra’s publisher.

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