Maude Boutin St-Pierre and her longtime friend Kathleen Laurin-Mc Carthy have a dream: to raise a child together. But their plan to co-parent falls into a blind spot in Quebec law.
"We have a platonic relationship, that is to say that there is no sexuality or romance between the two of us," explained Boutin St-Pierre. "But we have a very strong bond of attachment."
The pair, who each have a spouse, met in CEGEP about 10 years ago. The idea of having a child together came up very quickly, first as a joke, then as an interesting avenue.
"Those around us would tell us, 'That's a little juvenile, that's not how it works.' But the older we get, the more we think: 'if this is the best team, why not?'" said Boutin St-Pierre.
The two women, who define their bond as platonically queer, get along extremely well, they say. And in their opinion, their dream to co-parent a child together is not that different from that of a traditional couple.
"[What we share] is kind of like a couple! A couple wakes up together, has breakfast together, they go to the grocery store together," said Boutin St-Pierre.
It's the image of what society tells them a couple should be, says Laurin-Mc Carthy.
The women say their spouses would support them in their plan — that is, if Quebec law allows it to materialize.
It's not impossible for two friends to become platonic co-parents in Quebec, however, it would be difficult for both women to be recognized as parents in the eyes of the law.
Two elements in particular complicate their case.
Firstly, should one of the women want to give birth, the pair would need to find a sperm donor — a problem that a duo of friends composed of a man and a woman wouldn't face, for example.
Secondly, the fact that the women are in a relationship with other people also muddies the waters. Adoption and assisted reproduction are available to single people and couples, but the two women could not claim to be in a relationship with their spouse and friend at the same time.
"This is not the type of situation that the law explicitly recognizes," said Michael Lessard, a lawyer and doctoral student at the University of Toronto.
He says that if the two women were to go ahead with their plan, whether through adoption or assisted reproduction, only one of them would be recognized as a parent in the eyes of the law. This would be a legal and administrative headache for them in many situations.
The other person would have no legal power, Lessard says. She would not, for example, be able to consent to the care of the child in the hospital or be able to choose the school where the child could go.
No plans to change rules
In his major reform of family law that should be tabled by the end of this parliamentary session, Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette does not plan to adapt the regulations to allow for a type of parenting situation like the one Boutin St-Pierre and Laurin-Mc Carthy are seeking.
"The current rules do not allow two friends to form a parental project," said Elizabeth Gosselin, spokesperson for the minister, in an email. The main issue is the fact that the women are already in other relationships.
"The proposed plan to reform family law, Bill 12, does not provide for such a change," she wrote.
Barrette's office reiterated that this reform is made "in the interest of children."
What are the options?
One possible avenue for Boutin St-Pierre and Laurin-Mc Carthy would be to leave their respective spouses and become a couple together.
But the two women reject this option, saying they believe that Quebec should review its regulations.
"I don't feel like leaving my partner to show society that I'm really committed to Maude when I've been committed to Maude for 11 years," said Boutin St-Pierre.
"We are not yet at the point where we are going to make a family. I have to admit that I'm naively hoping [the rules] will change by then."
The issue could also go to court, according to Lessard, but the two friends don't know if they're ready to start that process.
"I'm afraid I don't have the strength," said Laurin-Mc Carthy.
For Boutin St-Pierre, it's difficult to have to defend "basic rights."
"It hurts to say, 'Hey, I have a right to exist, too. I think I can give everything to a child and I will. Why don't you give me that right?'"
The two women launched a podcast this spring called Parentèle: en quête d'une famille qui nous ressemble (Parenthood: in search of a family that looks like us) about atypical family arrangements, allowing them to discuss their experiences and meet people with different views of family.