Polyamory is a familiar theme in Brazil’s telenovelas
In other countries they just talk about changing family models; in Brazil they do something about it. A lesbian trio recently had their love recognised when they took their vows in the presence of Rio de Janeiro notary public Fernanda de Freitas Leitao.
This is not a marriage, but it is more than symbolic because the polyamorous trio intend to have a child. The unnamed women — a businesswomen and a dentist who are both 32 and a 34-year-old office manager — have been living together for three years.
“Our union is the fruit of love,” the businesswoman told the daily O Globo. “We are preparing for my pregnancy … The legalization is a way for the baby and for us to not end up abandoned and penniless. We want to enjoy the same maternal rights that everyone else has.”
Polyamory is a familiar theme in Brazil’s pop culture. A 1976 film, Dona Flor And Her Two Husbands, was the most successful film in Brazilian history when it was made. More recently there have been two poplar telenovelas and a TV documentary series.
While these are the first women to enter a polyamorous civil union, a similar ceremony was held in 2012 for a man and two women in Sao Paulo state. Both arrangements rely upon a 2011 Supreme Court ruling which authorized notary publics to hold civil union ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. According to Freitas, who specialises in civil unions for gay and lesbian couples, the same principles and fundamentals of that ruling “can also be applied to polyamorous relationships.”
“The pillar that supports any family relationship is affection,” says Freitas. “And these three women have everything to start a family: love, lasting relationship, the intention to have children … In private law also what is not prohibited is allowed.”
The legal winds are not necessarily blowing towards polyamory in Brazil. Religious leaders were furious at the news. Other jurists dismiss polyamorous civil unions as nonsense.
“That document is worthless,” says family law specialist Regina Beatriz Tavares. “The Brazilian Constitution expressly provides that a stable union can only be formed by two people and recognition of the Supreme Court of homosexual unions also refers specifically to two people … Polygamy in Brazil has no constitutional support. I do not advocate a single type of family, but the principle of attachment has always been restricted to monogamous relationships. Brazilian society does not accept marriages of three people, whatever sex they may be.”
However, Freitas is not daunted by criticism. “When I began to officiate at unions for homosexual couples, the same thing happened. They told me that it was illegal. All non-traditional unions start off on the same path. At the beginning they are clearly rejected, but afterwards the law begins to grant them family rights until they have been normalised. Since 2012 Brazil already has cases of children with more than two parents because, for example, a sperm donor is included. History is repeating itself.”
It’s hard for other countries to draw lessons from the Brazil’s unique sociological and legal experience. However, Freitas’s quiet confidence in the power of incremental change is worth reflecting upon. In a number of countries it is possible to place three (or more) parents on a birth certificate. If a child can have three parents, why can’t a marriage have three partners?
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.