Janet Hardy on CNN.com: "Why Plural Marriages Make Sense"
Janet Hardy — co-author of The Ethical Slut, founder and owner of Greenery Press, and a sex radical for decades — has a provocative opinion piece on the CNN site today. Enjoy. It kicks the opposition's hornets nest; get ready to pitch in.
Why plural marriages make sense
By Janet W. Hardy
• Janet Hardy: It is tempting to think of nuclear family as an ideal and universal norm.
• Hardy: Plural marriage and "alternative families" based on love and mutual consent work.
• She says nuclear family is an uncomfortable fit for many, an impossible dream for others.
• Hardy: We should not expect all to conform to an unrealistic standard for the rest of history.
Editor's note: Janet W. Hardy, a writer, editor and consultant, has published 11 books, including the best-selling, "The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures." She has taught workshops about alternative sexualities and relationships all over the world.
(CNN) -- I grew up in the early 1960s in an affluent suburb on the East Coast. Every child I knew went home to a family that looked like mine: a mom at home waiting for us, and a dad who showed up a few hours later in time for dinner.
How tempting it is to remember such households as an ideal and universal norm. But they were rarely ideal, and they were never universal.
Let's not discuss the stresses that affected those nuclear families. Let's just talk about the innumerable people who, by virtue of race, background, health or circumstance, could not -- or did not want to -- live in such families.
Instead, they lived in single-parent households, in households with two men or two women, in extended families of grandparents and aunts and grown siblings, in households where multiple adults pooled money and skills to make ends meet, and in many other configurations.
Back then, it never occurred to the people I knew to call those configurations "families." Today, in a more tolerant era, that old standard of the nuclear family is still encoded in our laws and our tax code, as well as in the antiquated and judgmental phrase "family values."
Among my own circle of acquaintances, I hold many "alternative families" close to my heart:
— A man and two women who have been raising their two children together from infancy through high school.
— Three men who have shared a loving household for nearly 20 years.
— A "core couple," married for many decades, who have consistently surrounded themselves with long-term, live-in lovers.
— Two couples who share a duplex and a busy and intermingled sex life.
— A long-partnered gay man and lesbian woman who together brought a third, lesbian woman into their household because the female half of the pair missed that part of her life.
There are as many configurations of genders, ages and numbers as you can imagine. These are families as surely as any family you've welcomed into your neighborhood. They share property, raise children, tend to their homes and communities.
Last month, in a case involving the plural family portrayed on the reality show "Sister Wives," a Nevada judge overturned a ban against cohabitation, enabling consenting adults to form whatever style of household meets their desires and needs. He refused, however, to overturn the part of the law that banned plural marriages....
Read on (Jan. 15, 2014). In the end she proposes, "One solution for the future might be to designate 'marriage' as a social institution with no legal standing and to create 'civil union' as a legally recognized subtype of business partnership, available to anyone who is willing to make the appropriate commitments."
On the Polyamory Leadership Network, this piece prompted Barry Smiler to elaborate on his perspective that polyamory is going to be widely normalized sooner than we think, and not so much by us. Copied here by permission:
I found it interesting that this was published by CNN, hardly a bastion of leading-edge thought. As with such issues as legalized cannabis and marriage equality, the conventional wisdom on multi-partner and open relationships seems to be changing rapidly. I feel that a tipping point is coming, and the change will be a lot sooner than many people expect.
But I am also beginning to feel that the leading actors in that change will not be from the polyamory camp. Rather, it will be from three (well, three and a half) other camps:
1) Swing lifestyle folks. Swinger-identified folks hugely outnumber poly-identified folks (for example swinglifestyle.com gets fifty thousand new profile signups *every month*), and while the swing scene is still primarily about recreational sex, when you read the profiles it's clear that there is more and more desire for actual ongoing relationships. Sounds like poly to me. It's still a minority of the lifestyle scene, but given the numbers, even just that minority is *way* bigger than the entire poly scene.
2) Polygamy folks. While not as numerous as swing lifestyle folks (or as geographically distributed), unlike polyamory everybody already knows what polygamy is about. (Or thinks they do, effectively the same thing, because it means it's already in the mindspace.) Eventually, more court rulings like the Utah decision will lead to more of an acceptance of multi-partner relationships. The fact that these questions are even making it into court at all is raising awareness.
3) Kinky folks. As with swinger-identified folks, there are way more kinky-identified folks out there than poly folks, and with the phenomenal recent sales success of Fifty Shades of Gray this is only growing. My friend Jay Wiseman, who literally wrote the book on BDSM (SM 101: A Realistic Introduction) and gives presentations all over, tells me that there are active and thriving kinky groups just everywhere nowadays, even in the kinds of benighted red-state places you'd never expect. The kinky scene definitely includes active sex-positive and multi-partner elements, and kink ideas are entering the mainstream very quickly. I feel this will tend to reinforce and validate the ideas of multi-partner and open relationships.
3 and a half) The LGBT scene.... There is a good deal more acceptance in the LGBT scene than in the het scene for multi-partner and open relationships. When the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's annual Creating Change conference was in Baltimore in 2012, BmorePoly sent a contingent of volunteers to help out. Two things here. First, we as poly folks were very well received and appreciated there, and seen as allies (as we felt we are). Second, as one of our BmorePoly volunteers I had a chance to go to many of the workshops and panels there, and I noticed that quite a few touched on the possibility of multi-partner and open relationships, and some were specifically on that topic.
...So I feel these scenes will inevitably define and take up oxygen from their respective sides, since their conceptual frameworks already exist in the minds of far more people than the polyamory concept does.
In my paper a few years ago There's No Such Thing As Polyamory (Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 14; April 7, 2011), I said:
As time progresses and social trends continue to evolve I expect that greater numbers of people will incorporate multiple loving relationships into their lives. As this happens, inevitably these behaviors will become more accepted by mainstream society as a valid option, as interracial or gay relationships have in our era. Ironically, the more that happens, the less these behaviors will reflect social ideals of self-determination. Polyamory will become just another mainstream choice, in the same way that once-edgy options like vegetarianism, jazz, or premarital cohabitation have now become just another mainstream choice. When that happens we won't even use the word "polyamory" any more. It will just be what (some) people do.
I still believe that multi-partner and open relationships as an accepted option are where we are inevitably headed, and a lot sooner than many people think. The difference is that now I wonder if these other movements, rather than the polyamory concept itself, will be the leading players in this evolution.
To that last question, I don't really think so. Those other groups have the numbers, but we have the focus, the drive, and the ability to grab attention for the poly concept specifically. As Janet — long a major BDSM leader although CNN didn't mention it — just did under our umbrella instead.
(Let Barry tell more about himself: "With Cathy Smiler, Barry Smiler runs BmorePoly, by far the largest and most active [alt-lifestyles umbrella] group in the Mid-Atlantic area and one of the largest in the country. They are both longtime members of the Polyamory Leadership Network.")