As the issue of gay marriage continues to prompt heated debate in the United States, a different type of controversial union is driving the conversation in Brazil. A Sao Paulo man has entered into a civil union — with two women.
The union was formalized three months ago but only became public this week, as reported by Brazil’s Portuguese-language site G1, part of Globo TV. The trio have largely shied away from public attention, declining to reveal their identities or to speak to the press.
But the government officials who helped approve their union are shedding light on their decision. Nathaniel Santos Batista Junior, a jurist involved in the drafting of the official document, told Globo TV the purpose of the union was fundamentally practical: to ensure the rights of the partners should one of them pass away or separate. The Daily Telegraph reports that the three partners have been living together for the past three years in Rio de Janeiro, where they share a bank account, bills and expenses.
The union was approved by Public Notary Claudia do Nascimento Domingues, on the basis that there was no law prohibiting it from taking place. Civil unions were introduced in Brazil in 2004, primarily to recognize partnerships between same-sex couples, although it also allows civil unions for heterosexual couples as an alternative to marriage. “We are only recognizing what has always existed. We are not inventing anything,” Domingues said, as quoted in the Daily Telegraph:
“For better or worse, it doesn’t matter, but what we considered a family before isn’t necessarily what we would consider a family today.”
That stance has been met with fierce criticism, both from legal experts and religious communities. Regina Beatriz Tavares da Silva, president of the Commission for the Rights of the Family within the Institute of Lawyers, told the BBC the union was “absurd and totally illegal” and “something completely unacceptable which goes against Brazilian values and morals.” Brazilian psychologist and evangelical Christian Marisa Lobo told the Portuguese-language Christian publication Verdade Gospel that upon hearing of the union, “my faith and my indignation also grew,” according to the Christian Post.
Many are comparing the three-person union to polygamy, which is banned in virtually all Western nations and is specifically prohibited by the Roman Catholic Church, the dominant religious denomination in Brazil. (Brazil has no law for or against the practice.)
In the United States, polygamy has historical ties to the Mormon Church, who adopted the practice in 1852, calling it “plural marriage.” While the mainstream Church eventually dropped polygamy in 1890, it continues to be practiced by fundamentalist Mormon splinter sects. It also remains legal in almost 50 countries in the Muslim world and Africa.