Complicated Love: Parentage, Conjugality, and Family Diversity in Canada

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • The increased availability and use of assisted reproductive technologies, legislative changes that recognize equal marriage, and the expansion of legal parentage beyond “the rule of two” are inviting Canadians to reimagine fundamental questions about kinship, parentage, and legal recognition. My dissertation examines this expansion by asking two interrelated questions: what does the expansion of legal parentage tell us about the Canadian state’s interest, and investment, in the governance of kinship? And, what are the possibilities, and challenges, for re-imagining kinship, intimacy, and parentage? I answer these questions through an analysis of three case studies: first, British Columbia’s Family Law Act (“FLA”) and its expansion of the number and identity of people who can be parents; second, and similarly, Ontario’s All Families Are Equal Act (“AFAEA”); and third, three court cases concerning poly-conjugality: Reference re: Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada 2011 BCSC 1588 [Polygamy Reference], C.C. (Re), 2018 NLSC 71 [C.C. (Re)], and British Columbia Birth Registration No. 2018-XX-XX5815, 2021 BCSC 767 [BCSC 767].

    These cases enable me to interrogate how intimate “choices” – who is a parent, how one becomes a parent, and how families are formed through parentage – are produced and pre-figured by the state. To do so, I draw on theoretical contributions from critical intimacy studies, critical citizenship studies, queer, feminist, and critical race theory to demonstrate how the Canadian state has always been invested in the production, regulation, and reproduction of heteronormative (and, increasingly, homonormative), nuclear, and private kinship systems. Emerging from these theoretical frameworks, I engage feminist and queer critical discourse analysis and critical policy studies to reveal the possibilities in the expansion of legal parentage, on the one hand, and the ongoing challenges associated with that expansion on the other.

    I found that BC’s FLA, ON’s AFAEA, C.C. (Re), and BCSC 767 modestly expand Canada’s idealized nuclear family. Indeed, the legislative and judicial successes were made possible by their affirmation of the genetically related, procreative, and “monogamish” family units. These case studies demonstrate that the law is willing to expand legal parentage for poly-conjugal and multi-parent families who do not undermine the (re)production of heteronormativity, mononormativity, and Whiteness. What appears shiny and new in the FLA, AFAEA, and C.C. (Re), and BCSC 767 reinforces the historic, and on-going construction of polygyny as deviant. The Polygamy Reference affirmed Canada’s commitment to monogamy as the pinnacle of liberal democracy, the nation-state, gender equality, and the family itself.

    Thus, while expansion of legal parentage has the potential to move beyond “the rule of two,” I argue that Canadians must also consider the ways in which BC’s FLA, ON’s AFAEA, C.C. (Re), BCSC 767, and the Polygamy Reference reproduce and reinforce the hetero- and homonormative nuclear family. My analysis demonstrates how the law continues to regulate intimacy along lines of sexuality, race, gender, and class and by modestly expanding what forms of relationships constitute the Canadian nuclear family, the state can absorb forms of queer intimacy without dismantling hegemonic Western kinship systems. This assimilation serves to reinforce ab/normal forms of intimacy, thereby determining who, and what, constitutes a family.

    And yet, all of us belong to a constellation of relationships loosely called “family.” Sometimes we are born into family and other times we choose them. In both cases, our families are governed by liberalism’s conceit: the public/private divide obfuscates carefully constructed, and governed, membership rules for forming families and political communities. The FLA, AFAEA, C.C. (Re), and BCSC 767 represent the hopeful possibility that there are ways for intimate life to help us flourish. But there is no guarantee that they will.

  • Date created
  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Type of Item
  • DOI
  • License
    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International