My prediction: This will be a “civil right” in the near future.
SF Gate: An Oakland family has found what they think is the key to a happy household: three parents.
Two women named Melinda and Dani Phoenix and the man they both consider their husband, Jonathan Stein, are in a polyamorous relationship and parenting two babies together under the same roof.
Melinda and Dani began their relationship as a lesbian couple and became domestic partners in 2010. A year later, Jonathan joined them as the third partner and the three married last summer in a ceremony that is not legally recognized.
Now they’re sharing their story to raise awareness about polyamorous families and hope that some day these arrangements can be widely accepted and legally recognized. With children entering their picture, they feel gaining support from the community is more important than ever.
Melinda delivered her first child, Oliver, in a water birth on September 6, 2014, with Dani and Jonathan by her side. A month later, Melinda and Jonathan supported Dani in the birthing tub and welcomed Ella Lynn on October 11.
Now the three are working as a team and sharing the responsibilities of caring for two babies. While many new parents are sleep-deprived and overwhelmed, this trio are gliding through parenthood as they take turns with childcare, diaper changes and nighttime feedings. “We split things up,” Dani says. “We’re all working hard and well as a team.”
“Melinda and I both breastfeed. He’s my son and she’s my daughter and vice versa. We share that responsibility and that love with them.”
In addition to nurturing two new babies, the three parents are working various degrees of part-time hours outside the home. Dani has a low-key dog-walking service, Melinda runs her own healing studio in Oakland called East-West Collaborative Health and Jonathan keeps busy as a self-employed carpenter. Together, they earn enough money to cover household expenses.
With three parents rotating kid duty, it’s also possible for the two moms to advance their careers by going to school. Melinda is earning a degree in Chinese medicine and after a semester break, she’s now loading up on extra units while Dani stays home to watch the babies. “I’m the primary boob for the babies,” Dani says, jokingly.
Dani plans to return to school in the fall to finish her degree to become a sign language interpreter, and Jonathan will support her by accepting fewer carpentry jobs and spending more time with the babies. “We’ll be roughing it for awhile as our income will go down, but we don’t need a lot,” says Dani. “We consider ourselves minimalists.”
The family originally lived in Healdsburg in a farm-like setting and recently moved to an Oakland neighborhood near Mills College to shorten Dani and Melinda’s commute to school. ”We still have goats,” Dani says. “We plan to move back to the country when we’re done with school.”
Polyamory is a term used to define people who love multiple partners at the same time. A polyamorous relationship can range from a married person with multiple love interests to an informal group marriage. Some engage in group sex while others have one-on-one sexual relationships with multiple partners.
Polygamy falls under the polyamory umbrella and refers to a structure with one man who dominates over two or more wives. In a polygamous relationship the wives don’t have an intimate relationship. The Stein-Phoenix clan is different because Melinda and Dani are romantically involved and all three partners are viewed as equals.
“If one was to put a fancy label on our relationship one would say we are a poly fidelitous triad, meaning we are focused on just the three of us (for now at least) and not open to other partners,” Dani says.
A 2009 Newsweek (now there’s a reliable source) article reported that more than a half-million people prefer a more populous relationship over the traditional two-person one, but some researchers say the numbers could be much higher due to underreporting.
Jonathan, Dani and Melinda are sharing their version of polyamory in video clips and blogs on their website LooksLikeLovetoMe.com. Dani has chronicled the story ever since she and Melinda first met at a music festival in 2008 and is now collaborating with local videographer Stephanie Pettee to produce a documentary that reveals the mystery behind a polyamorous family.
“We get so many questions about our relationship,” Dani told SFGate. “Our mission is to share our story and answer some of those questions. I think society has a tendency to put constraints on what love should be but that image isn’t always successful because it’s constraining.”
“We want people to accept other ways to love. We want to empower others to love in the way they feel most comfortable.”
With the UK press recently covering the family’s story, the trio are hearing from people all over the world who have been touched by their philosophy.
“We’ve received great responses from individuals who feel inspired by the story,” Dani says. “People who aren’t happy in their relationships are writing in. We’re hearing from people who are polyamorous but can’t be open about it.”
Extended family have been supportive with Jonathan’s mom attending their three-way wedding and Dani’s mom flying out from the East Coast to meet the new babies.
But the harshest critics have been a few family members from conservative backgrounds. Melinda’s mom was slow to warm up to their situation. “She didn’t come to the wedding and didn’t even want to see us,” Jonathan said in an interview. “But now she’s inviting us to bring the grandchildren to the house.”
Jonathan adds that when he first started telling his friends about his polyamorous relationship they didn’t think he was serious. “They thought it was all about kinky sex,” he told SFGate. “But now that we’ve spent time around them together they see how it works. If people aren’t exposed to our situation, then they don’t get it.”
Jonathan says the biggest misconception people have about their relationship is that he rules the roost, but he’s quick to point out that this is an equal partnership. “People think that because I have two wives that I’ve succeeded in life as a man,” Jonathan says. “But really it’s more like a bisexual women couple and their husband. It’s not a masculine-run household.”
Melinda and Dani married on a California beach on June 26, 2010, but since same-sex marriage was not legal in the Golden State at the time, their union is not legal.
A year later, Melinda confessed to Dani that she was feeling unfulfilled and wanted a man in her life. Months later, the two felt an instant connection with Jonathan in a building class and wrote him a letter revealing their romantic interest.
“When I met the girls I was just coming out of a long-term relationship with my childhood sweetheart,” Jonathan told the Daily Mail. ”I thought they were amazing and fancied them both, but I had to think long and hard whether I was capable of loving them both. While men might fantasize about such a situation, in reality it is double the responsibility.”
On a road trip, the three bonded and Jonathan warmed to the idea of loving two women. The three moved in together in 2013 and made plans to start a family.
“We all have a fabulous sex life, share the same bed, so we just made sure we timed things correctly and prayed our wishes would come true,” Melinda told the Daily Mail. “I found out I was pregnant on January 14th (2014) and two weeks later we all let out a scream of pure delight when we found out Dani was expecting too.”
Before the babies arrived, the three married in a ceremony among friends and family last July, and while their marriage isn’t recognized legally they hope it will be someday. “There’s a huge polyamorous community that people don’t even know about,” Dani says. “Society really looks down on it, so we understand why poly people don’t ‘come out.’
“We want to show that love is beautiful and it’s OK to talk about it, regardless of what it ‘looks like.’ It’s really like any of the civil rights movements of the past, the more people are respectfully exposed to it the more people will accept it. We’re proud to get the conversations started.”
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