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Gay-marriage advocates have become leery of public association with the poly cause—lest it give their enemies ammunition.

Terisa Greenan and her boyfriend, Matt, are enjoying a rare day of Seattle sun, sharing a beet carpaccio on the patio of a local restaurant.

Matt holds Terisa's hand, as his 6-year-old son squeezes in between the couple to give Terisa a kiss.

But because academia is only beginning to study the phenomenon—Sheff's study is too recent to have drawn conclusions about the children's well-being over time—there is little data to support that notion in court.

Twelve years ago, she started dating Scott, a writer and classical-album merchant.

"This group is really rising up from the underground, emboldened by the success of the gay-marriage movement," says Glenn Stanton, the director of family studies for Focus on the Family, an evangelical Christian group.

"And while there's part of me that says, 'Oh, my goodness, I don't think I could see them make grounds,' there's another part of me that says, 'Well, just watch them.' "Conservatives are not alone in watching warily.

They are polyamorous, to use the term of art applied to multiple-partner families like theirs, and they wouldn't want to live any other way.