Imagine a scenario where a small child is allowed to play with loaded weapons without meaningful oversight from the parents. Then imagine the parents excuse their behavior by saying that the child had not yet been shot or shot anyone else, so his continuing to play with firearms has no relevance to their parenting abilities.
A few weeks ago, a Pennsylvania court issued a ruling in a custody dispute with, one can only hope, very unusual facts. The dispute was between a mother and father who had conceived a child while the mother was married to another man with whom the two parents lived (another woman subsequently joined the mix), and the adoptive parents of the biological mother. The parents’ “lifestyle choice” has been given the odd neologism “polyamory.”
At one point in the polyamorous relationship, one of the children sustained an injury while with the husband (not the father) that spurred child welfare agency involvement (it’s unclear what happened, as the court notes in a footnote). “After the four-way polyamorous relationship between Mother, Husband, Father and Stepmother dissolved,” the current dispute erupted. The trial judge gave custody to the grandparents, and this opinion came from a review of that decision.
The facts as described in the court opinion are not entirely clear, and reprehensible conduct by all of the parties seems to be thick on the ground. With that caveat, one part of the court’s opinion seems strange. The appeals court accused the trial court judge of having “injected artificial morality concerns that the legislature has deemed irrelevant” into the case. (The claim about the legislature’s intent seems unaccountable, since the referenced statue says courts can consider “[a]ny other relevant factor” along with other matters like stability, nurturing, and emotional needs that all appear relevant.)
The upshot is that this court believes it is irrelevant to the children’s well-being that the parents are apparently committed to a lifestyle in which unrelated adults may be in the home with the children, possibly living there and engaged in sexual relationships with the parents. It takes a peculiar form of blindness to assert that this factor is not relevant. The court says it can be ignored because the previous polyamorous relationship had not been proved to be “deleterious to the children.”
Moral obtuseness, is unfortunately, not confined to the laws of one state. Our family laws require courts to ignore all kinds of relevant factors such as spousal wrongdoing in divorce and related matters. Federal law currently requires us to ignore the reality that an unborn child is a living person. Other examples would not be hard to find.
The key concern for all of us is to ensure that we do not allow our ideological commitments to blind us to common-sense realities. Then, to ensure that our laws reflect these realities as well.