This story is a few days old but I haven’t seen it mentioned on any of the (admittedly few) tumblrs I follow so I thought it might be worth posting.
I find this interesting partly because I did a bit of research on stable unions (as these registered relationships are called in Brazil) recently. Please note that I don’t know very much about it, and I know almost nothing about Brazil and its culture and legal system, so don’t set too much store by what I say here, especially if anyone who is actually from Brazil says something different.
But, as I understand it, the legal recognition of stable unions comes from article 226 paragraph 3 of the Brazilian constitution (English-language PDF version here), which says that ‘the stable union between a man and a woman is recognized as a family entity’. In 2011 (in two linked cases called ADI 4277 and ADPF 132) the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the restriction of stable unions to ‘a man and a woman’ was unconstitutional and all couples should be able to register stable unions and gain the accompanying legal rights and benefits. The Court didn’t rule on same-sex marriage.
Article 226 paragraph 3 also says that ‘the law shall facilitate the conversion of such entity [i.e. a stable union] into marriage’. Putting this together with the ruling in ADI 4277 and ADPF 132, some courts have allowed some same-sex couples in stable unions to convert their unions into marriages. This seems to be patchy: Wikipedia lists some cases where it has happened. The issue doesn’t seem to have come before the Federal Supreme Court yet.
So the interesting thing about this news story is that it raises the possibility of a similar path for polyamorous relationships. In this case the union has been registered by a public notary, which is not the same as being recognized by a court (let alone by the Federal Supreme Court). But when the CNN article quotes a lawyer as saying that ‘It goes directly against the constitution [because] [m]onogamy is defined as relations between two, not three or four or five’, that lawyer seems to be ignoring the fact that the constitution also defines a stable union as being between a man and a woman, and that hasn’t stopped the law from recognizing same-sex stable unions and even, in some cases, same-sex marriages. But equally this shouldn’t be relied on by ‘slippery slope’ arguers as evidence that same-sex marriage leads inevitably to polygamous marriage, marriage with animals, marriage between a cactus, a petrol station, and a hyper-intelligent shade of the colour blue, &c. All legal systems are perfectly capable of drawing distinctions between different things, and the case-law on same-sex stable unions doesn’t make recognition of polyamorous stable unions inevitable or even especially likely. But this particular public notary obviously thinks that the same logic can and should be applied, and time will tell whether that idea is palatable to Brazilian law. One to watch, perhaps.