Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

June 12, 2021

South Africa may become the first country to recognize full polyamorous marriage

South Africa has been abuzz for the past month over a government proposal, now out for public comment, to make polyamorous group marriages fully legal and recognized without regard to the members' sexes or genders. 

The proposal grows out of South Africa's existing recognition of traditional polygamous marriage — one man with several wives — which has deep cultural roots in the region. (For instance, former South African president Jacob Zuma has four wives.) Now the government is considering, among other marriage reforms to accommodate cultural and religious minorities, a proposal to recognize polyandry, group marriage with more than one man, based on the national principle of gender equality.

The proposal, in the Green Paper on Marriages in South Africa (PDF download), is open for public comment through June 30. Reaction has been intense.

South Africa's small but energetic polyamory community has suddenly found itself the center of media attention, and polyamory spokespeople have been interviewed all over.

Let's start with the thorough article I Do, to You and You Too in the Sunday Tribune, owned by South Africa's largest print-news publisher (May 16):

By Tshego Lepule and Nkululeko Nene

...A proposed change to the country’s marriage laws is flipping the script on patriarchy and proposing that women be allowed to wed more than one partner too.

The possible recognition of polyandrous marriages in South Africa has sparked widespread and vigorous debate.

Last month, the Department of Home Affairs published discussion documents that outline policy proposals to the country’s marriage regime that, if adopted, would see a host of unions that are not currently recognised become legal.

Currently, the country has three marriage laws: the Marriage Act 25 of 1961, that recognises Christian monogamous unions; the Recognition of Customary Marriages of 1998, that deals with cultural marriages; and the Civil Unions Act of 2006, which deals with same-sex marriage.

All three pieces of legislation have been criticised, however, for loopholes that exclude the recognition of Hindu, Muslim and other customary marriages in the Khoi and San communities.

This week, politicians weighed in with their views on the proposals, particularly when it came to recognising polyandrous marriages that allow women to marry more than one husband, as currently the country’s law only recognises polygamy – where a man can have more than one wife.

The paper makes provisions for different options that could be adopted in recognising different marriages. One speaks about religious and cultural neutral marriages, and another that is gender-neutral and allows for all marriages, monogamous or polygamous, to be conducted regardless of sexual orientation, allowing both polygamy and polyandry.

President of the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) Bishop Marothi Mashashane said: “According to the bible, polyandry is considered a sexual immorality, and so is the marriage between people of the same sex, and we shall by no means bless such relationship as a marriage.

“This proposal is nothing but a disgrace and a mockery to both our religion and our African cultures. We oppose and condemn it in all terms.”

Both Al Jama-ah and the African Christian Democratic Party have also voiced their disapproval of the proposal.

Polygamist [sic] Erich Viedge [of Polyamory South Africa] said despite polygamy being legal in the country, there were still some citizens who could not enter into marriages.

“I have two partners, one of which I’m not allowed to marry because the law says I have to register a traditional marriage, which I cannot as a white, middle-aged man. This means some citizens are allowed privileges that some cannot access, and these are some of the problems this green paper is trying to solve,” he said.

“With polygamy, women have always got the short end of the stick, as they were not always protected under law if their marriages were not recognised. And now, more than ever, women are expressing their sexual selves more as society becomes more equal.

“People don’t need to keep (partners) hidden; they can introduce them to their existing partners, and as consenting adults they can form relationships that suit them. This green paper means if either of them wishes to enter into marriages, they can do so freely. I’m currently living with both partners, but I’m not allowed to marry both of them,” Viedge said.

“Polyandry does exist in this country; the reason we don’t see it as often as we see polygamy, is because of stigma and toxic masculinity where men are threatened by there being more than one penis in the relationship.”

Samantha*, 42, who is polyamorous, says the stigma around females having more than one partner, particularly if they are both male, is still rife.

“I have been married to my husband for 10 years and we have two children together. We have an open marriage where we are free to date other people,” she said.

“Stigma is still a big thing in society around women openly dating more than one partner without being called nasty names. I don’t know if one day this proposal becomes law if I would want to walk down the aisle and take another husband, but it is a step in the right direction.”

Siphiwe Sithole says while much stigma is attached to non-monogamous relationships, a shift in legislation would go a long way in helping change mindsets, particularly in the black communities.

“I support the idea of legally recognising non-monogamous relationships, and in this case, the idea that women, in particular, can marry more than one husband, is a step in the right direction and an indication of a transformative democracy,” he said.

“Polyamory certainly challenges a lot of norms and ideas we all grew up with; this doesn’t, however, necessarily make it wrong. But we lack a platform and safe space as a nation to talk about these issues, hence many people who practice non-monogamous relationships live in hiding, particularly fearing stigmatisation.

“Marriage is a construct rooted in patriarchy and this is slowly changing. I, as a black polyamorous person, is in full support of the green paper by the government to re-examine the entire institution of marriage. I believe it is a significant step in not only changing our mindset as a nation around marriage alone, but also a great effort in trying to dismantle patriarchy,” Sithole said.

Cultural activists and religious leaders have rubbished the discussion on polyandry, which sparked a heated debate in Parliament recently. ...

In publishing their Green Paper for public comment, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said: “This is the beginning of a crucial public discourse that will redefine the concept of marriage in South Africa.”

Motsoaledi said the next step to implementing the marriage policy would include submitting it to the Cabinet for approval by March 31 next year.

This would be followed by submitting the Marriage Bill to the Cabinet for approval by the end of March 2023 and, finally, taking the Marriage Bill to Parliament for approval by March 31, 2024.

Here's just one more article out of a great many: a news piece (with 10-minute audio) on Cape Talk Radio: SA govt considers new marriage law that recognises women with multiple husbands (May 11). An excerpt:

By Qama Qukula

...Elizabeth Retief, a member of PolyamorySA, has welcomed the proposal as a move in the right direction.

According to Retief, the department’s proposals are a step closer towards the acceptance of non-monogamy in South Africa.

However, she explains that the laws are still focused on polyandry and polygyny, which are both forms of polygamous marriages.

Polygamous marriages are primarily based on traditional value systems, cultural beliefs, heteronormativity, and static gender roles, she argues.

Retief says greater advocacy is still needed for polyamorous relationships, which are more fluid, progressive, open, and accepting of different sexualities and gender identities. ...

From the homepage FAQ of Polyamory South Africa. Click to enlarge. 

Greenfizzpops, longtime organizer of the older ZAPoly discussion list ("the umbrella mailing list for polyamory in South Africa") and its website, sent us this (May 19):

It has been a week hey. If you do this google search you will see the tip of the iceberg. 

There are some bright lights.... [But] a few thoughts/observations: 

1. The misogyny and sexism brought to light by this debate is pretty sickening. It points out very firmly that we live in a patriarchy and most people don't even realise it.

2. In our legal system, marriage is clearly primarily about property rights.

3.The amount of incoming media requests by journalists who don't know the difference between polyamory and polygamy/polygyny/polyandry is overwhelming.

4. There are opportunities here to benefit polyamorous people. The Department of Home Affairs is inviting comment on their green paper.

Polyamory is hardly new to the South African media and public. For many years Greenfizzpops has been logging South African articles and broadcasts on the website of ZAPoly, where she includes 67 from 2003 to 2019, with links. (Click "media" in the sidebar there.)

Erich Viedge of Polyamory South Africa, a newer group (Facebook page), writes to us,

South Africa has one of the most liberal constitutions in the world. They were the fifth country in the world to legalize same sex marriage when their constitution was adopted.

Or are they?

Marriage law in South Africa is a mess.

The racially-segregated Apartheid regime had one marriage law for Whites and another regime for Blacks. 

After the fall of Apartheid in 1994, the new government was keen to adopt a very liberal constitution which recognised the basic humanity of all people, Black, White, gay, trans and straight as well as differently-abled.

Rather than repeal the racist marriage legislation, the new government quickly patched up the deficiencies as best they could. They introduced the Recognition of Customary Marriages Act which gave legal recognition to the traditional polygamous marriages that indigenous peoples were conducting anyway.

The new government also introduced the Civil Unions act, which was a marriage-in-everything-but-name for gay couples.

But legal marriage remains reserved for one man.

There are lots of legal and practical problems with this.

For instance, if you're trans and married, and transition while you're married, your marriage is no longer recognised. You have to get divorced.

If you belong to an ethnic group whose traditional leaders are not recognised by government, then your marriage to multiple women is not legally recognised. Ironically, this excludes the San and Khoe peoples who were the original inhabitants of the country.

Because Apartheid was conceived as a Christian theocracy, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim marriages are not recognised. This is ironic in a country that recognises polygamy for some people and not for others.

And of course, only Christian clerics can apply to be marriage officers. So if you're gay and want to marry, you need to find a sympathetic church (good luck with that). And if you go to get married at the City Hall, the government officials are allowed to object on grounds of conscience.

Finally the government wants to harmonise this hodge-podge of legislation in line with the principles of the constitution.

They want one marriage regime for gays and straights. They want to recognise marriages conducted in religions outside Christianity (Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Rastafarian among others). 

And they want to keep traditional polygamy on the books, and extend it to other groups who might want it. Think the Khoe and San people, Muslims, and... Well, and polyamorists.

It hardly seems fair that you have to be a man, born into a certain ethnic and linguistic group, before you're allowed to marry more than one woman.

And it hardly seems constitutional that if you're a woman, you don't have the same rights as a man to marry more than one spouse.

...Predictably, this has caused heads to explode all over this conservative country on the southern tip of Africa. Christians are against polygamy and gay marriage (even though some polygamists justify polygamy on Christian grounds). Muslims are against polyandry -- the idea that women can marry more than one man, on their religious grounds. Traditional leaders are also against empowering women, and of course they make it about "the children." How will the children know who their father is? Culturally, the lineage is important because it ties children to their ancestors. Certain traditional ceremonies require knowing who your ancestors are.

Polyandry is not new to Africa. The Maasai of Kenya practice occasional polyandry, and polyandry is not criminalised in Kenyan law. The Himba and Herero of neighbouring Namibia also practice polyandry, as does Queen Modjadji of the Babedu people, a kingdom of 100 or so villages in northern South Africa.

All this has caused a flurry of media excitement.

Caught up in all this are secular polyamorists who find themselves in a strange situation. Suddenly, after accepting that the relationship escalator is simply not available to the polyamorous community, the South African government has introduced [that possibility]. Just like for monogamous folk, the idea of Love, Marriage and Baby Carriage (in that order) may soon become the law of the land.


ANNOUNCEMENT: "Join a Global Live Event hosted by Poly Pages on White Supremacy in Polyamory. Join our facilitator All of El in discussion with Dr Justin Clardy, Michelle Hy and Marjani Lane. This event will run on Juneteenth, 19th June 2021, at 9am Hawaii, 12pm PST, 3pm EST."  Paid online event, modest price, sliding scale. All welcome.

"White Supremacy is everywhere -- polyamorous people and communities are not immune. Academic research excludes and erases the non-monogamous experiences of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC), play parties privilege and protect white experiences at the expense of BIPOC bodies, and media representations of consensual non-monogamy often centre exclusively white relationships. The work deconstructing systemic structures of white supremacy must begin with critical discussion about the ways these structures shape our relationships with others and with ourselves."

Have an announcement that might belong here? Write to me at alan7388 (at) gmail.com

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May 30, 2021

A Navy officer's gravestone with a poly infinity heart. The story behind it.

I wrote up this story for Memorial Day 2020.  It became my fourth most-read post in the year since. So here it is again for this Memorial Day, including a few new comments and updates.

On this Memorial Day weekend you may be visiting a cemetery. And if you happen to be visiting the Historic Congressional Cemetery by the Anacostia River in Washington DC, two spots of color on a certain headstone may catch your poly eye.

The stone is that of US Navy Commander Alyce Grillet. She died in 2019 at age 47 of colon cancer, at her home in Alexandria, Virginia, after a nearly 20-year military career.

There is a story.


Her obituary noted the basic details of record: Her career included a variety of roles in naval aviation support, including 19 months aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during the Iraq War. "She was promoted to the rank of Commander in 2016 and reported to the Commander Fleet Readiness Center at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, where she served as Personnel Military Director. Her last assignment was as Officer in Charge and Maintenance Officer at the Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic Detachment Washington at Joint Base Andrews."

And there was some more: "She leaves behind a jaw-dropping collection of personal artwork, focusing in her later years on the medium of permanent marker on canvas. She was a prolific reader of non-fiction, specifically “geeking out” on relationship psychology as game theory, and spiritually identifying as a Chaos-magic Buddhist. She was a community organizer in Memphis and Norfolk and taught classes in Relationship Dynamics and Non-Violent Communication. She helped lead Naval Air Systems Command’s Patuxent River LGBTQIA+ Advisory Team.

"In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to OutServe-SLDN ['advancing fairness and equality for the LGBTQ military and veteran community'] and the Semper Fi Fund ['to assist wounded veterans in all branches of the US Armed Forces'], or to your local LGBTQIA charitable organization."

Her grave is located in the Historic Congressional Cemetery's noted "Gay Corner," at the intersection of its Ingles Street and Henderson Street. According to the cemetery's LGBT walking-tour brochure, the Congressional Cemetery "is believed to be the world’s only cemetery with a Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender section. Although earlier LGBT burials are located in the Cemetery, the 'Gay Corner' began in 1988 with Leonard Matlovich." (Matlovich was the Air Force Technical Sergeant who outed himself in 1975 to challenge the military’s ban on gay service, the first US service member to do so.)

Grillet "was an energizing whirl of charisma, intellect and passion for life," wrote a co-worker at the Patuxent Naval Air Station.

Another naval air colleague wrote, "Please know that your contributions have been significant and will appreciated well into the future by people who will never have had the pleasure of meeting or even knowing about you. You made a difference."

I know about this because, as it happens, my wife Sparkle Moose is old friends with a friend of Grillet's. He writes:

We met at a spiritual gathering, talked for a bit, exchanged email addresses, and hugged twice. That’s it. I left home the next week, on my way to Afghanistan. Corresponding began before I left the country. Images, thoughts, questions and answers — some trite, others touching on what “queer” meant to her. Communication progressed for the next three to four months. Then things changed. She had just started an important transition career course when she got a diagnosis of advanced stage cancer.

I returned on leave from Afghanistan days after she died but in time to attend her memorial service. When her headstone was installed on Memorial Day weekend 2019, I was still in the hospital recovering from a bicycle crash. I finally got in to see it in September, and knew of the words — but the symbols made it all the more powerful.


The military is now on board with gay rights. But polyamory, no matter how ethically and honorably carried out, is still grounds for court-martial and dismissal from the services, with loss of all benefits including retirement, if a superior finds out and has it in for you.1

But displaying it on your gravestone? Now, she is finally beyond their reach.

And under the Navy emblem she put, "All should be free to love."

When Brian Crabtree created the first infinity-heart symbol for polyamory back in the 1990s, he could not have imagined all the places where it would someday land.

The Congressional Cemetery in spring


1. Among the grounds for court-martialing someone for being in a group relationship are adultery, even if one's spouse is consenting, willing, and part of the relationship; or the catch-alls of "undermining good order and discipline" or "bringing discredit on the armed forces."

In practice, I'm told, if they want to keep you they'll ignore it unless you're too public about it. But if a superior doesn't like you, or is morally offended by the idea of multiple love, you have no defense and you and your career are toast.



–  A reader tells us, "Alyce was the founder of Norfolk Polyamory."

–  From another: "I'm retiring from the Navy after twenty years of service this summer, and I can attest that what you said is true. Poly doctors in the Navy have told me polyamory is more common in the Navy than society as a whole, but it's always kept quiet for fear of having a bible-thumping boss who will kick you out."

Others have commented on Facebook about this kind of fear and vindictiveness in the armed services. 

–  Does anyone know the exact meaning of the emblem on the stone's top left? Update: A friend of Grillet's writes, "The circle is light green, indicating an LGBTQ safe zone. Alyce designed the layout herself after her diagnosis." 

–  Narlexia comments, "I loved her dearly for almost four years.
Not a day goes by without me feeling the absence of her in my life.  :( "

–  Another: "Thank you. She is sorely missed, but having her life inspire others by what she did in her all too short life is wonderful hope."  

–  Writes TG, "She was a dear friend when we were teens, from 1984 to 1993, and I'm pleased that Alyce and I were able to reconnect on Facebook as adults. Always enigmatic, always smarter than me, Alyce also saw Life through the prism of a young girl who lost her mother far too young. I believe it was her mission in life to buoy up the World, infusing it with the same 'old French romantic' sensibilities that held sway in her heart."

–  Gregg Davis writes just the other day (May 2021): "It is odd to reflect how much Alyce Victorine Grillet means to me. I spent almost no time in physical proximity to her, indeed we were only on the same continent for a couple of weeks. We communicated through email about many things. Through my own research, I learned of some her many accomplishments; this, for example: https://www.dcmilitary.com/tester/tenant_profile/lgbtq-employees-share-their-stories-for-national-coming-out-day-event/article_9168854e-531c-5ac8-a77e-812b3cfd4e36.html . After her death, [we] heard from some Navy Chiefs that she was the finest Officer they’d ever worked for and with.

"For my own experience of her as a catalyst (and she was one), she brought me across many boundaries- intellectual, mental, and spiritual."

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May 22, 2021

Liberal churches face up to polyamory... or don't

The national homepage of the United Church of Christ (UCC) two weeks ago presented this article: Focus is on consent, welcome as church studies polyamory (May 7).

The article's lead illustration. OWL, Our Whole Lives, is the sexuality education program run jointly by the Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ.

The article revolves around a webinar led by the UCC’s Minister for Sexuality Education and Justice, Amy Johnson. It was part of series of webinars for facilitators of Our Whole Lives (OWL), the acclaimed set of comprehensive sexuality education programs that the UUC and the Unitarian Universalist churches jointly run for kids at several grade levels, as well as for young adults and older adults.

As seen above, the notice for event included the logos of both denominations. But only the UCC seemed proud of it. And thereby hangs a tale. 

First, here's the entire text (for historical purposes in case the original ever disappears):

Focus is on consent, welcome as church studies polyamory

“In the United Church of Christ we say often, ‘No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here,'” said Amy Johnson. “…Do we really mean that?”

She was talking about something not often spoken of in church: committed romantic relationships involving more than one person.

A Canadian study was the focus of this latest episode in a monthly webinar series sponsored by the UCC and Unitarian Universalist Association.

Those relationships — and welcoming the people who are in them — were the topics of a May 5 webinar, “Consensual Non-Monogamy and Faith.” Johnson, the UCC’s minister for sexuality education and justice, was its moderator.

The webinar (1-hour video)

The one-hour discussion focused on a study of polyamory by the Canadian Unitarian Council. The webinar was the latest in a monthly series on sexuality education presented jointly by two U.S. denominations: the UCC and the Unitarian Universalist Association. It can be viewed now on YouTube.

‘Ethical polyamory’

The executive director of the Canadian church, Vyda Ng, said two things prompted the study. “One of our ministers came out as being polyamorous … and that created a little bit of a reaction,” she said. “At the same time, we had been getting questions and requests from our ministers and our lay-trained chaplains about how to handle requests for self-created rites of passage for polyamorous people.”

The result was a two-year task force study. Among other things, its 21-page May 2020 report:

• Defined polyamory as “the philosophy and practice of loving more than one person at a time, romantically and/or sexually, and doing so with honesty and integrity.”

• Called polyamory a “general term” encompassing “many forms of relationships.” “Some people we spoke with consider polyamory to be an identity, like gender and sexual orientation,” the report said. “Others think of it as a lifestyle or behavior choice. There is not a consensus about this within the community.”

• Emphasized that “ethical polyamory” involves consent, covenant and respect among all people involved.

• Recommended that Canadian Unitarian Universalists “not just tolerate but welcome, nurture, and support polyamorous people and their families as integral parts of our spiritual communities.”

• Noted that Canadian law prohibits rites that bless polyamorous relationships.

• Acknowledged that “polyamory remains a difficult concept for some to understand or accept.”

Already present in the church

“Polyam people and their families have always been here,” said Shoshanna Green of the Unitarian Church of Montreal, a task force member who summarized the report during the webinar. “They’ve always been in our culture, they’ve always been in our society, and they’ve always been in our UU congregations, whether or not they were public about it, whether or not anyone outside their families knew.”

The webinar also featured Gabriela de Golia, who is preparing for ministry in the UCC as a member in discernment in the Southern New England Conference. She summarized a paper she wrote on polyamory for a UCC history and polity class at Union Theological Seminary.

She admitted her research was limited, involving just 95 UCC respondents. She nonetheless concluded that consensual non-monogamy “is an existing and significant reality in the UCC.” She also said many of the polyamorous people she spoke to “don’t feel supported enough to admit their relationship status or share their interest in these topics within UCC contexts.”

Therein lies the challenge, said the Rev. Michael Crumpler, a UCC minister who directs LGBTQ and multicultural programs for the UUA. “The main goal of a faith community is integrity and love and openness and acceptance,” he said. Recognizing that consensual non-monogamy exists, he said, “is another opportunity to practice welcome” and “begin to have language to support people, which is the whole point of why we come together in faith communities.”

A justice issue

The Canadian report concluded that “affirming the validity of polyamory and welcoming polyamorous people is both a justice issue and a religious duty.”

“Whatever form it takes, ethical polyamory is fundamentally grounded in covenant and in mutual respect among all partners,” Green said. “Ethical polyamory is not the same thing as cheating, it’s not the same thing as promiscuity, it’s not the same thing as authoritarian, patriarchal polygamy. And, obviously, not every polyam relationship lives up to the ideals of ethical polyamory, any more than every monogamous relationship lives up to the ideals of ethical monogamy.

“But every intimate relationship has the potential to bring joy, spiritual growth, and mutual support in daily living.”

Meanwhile, the head office of the other denomination in this thing, the Unitarian Universalists, has long been skittish about polyamory in their midst — despite the UUs' highly liberal reputation — ever since 2004 when media glommed onto the poly presence at the annual national UU General Assembly. The group UUs for Polyamory Awareness was created way back in 1999 when there was maybe an excuse for the denominational headquarters not knowing what this was about. But that stopped being an excuse long ago. UUism has a reputation among its ranks for feisty local churches and a timid (or perhaps consensus-hobbled) national headquarters: the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), based in Boston.

For decades the UUA has led boldly on LGBTQI+ rights and inclusion and many other progressive issues. But other sexual and relationship minorities? The UUA has sometimes seemed embarrassed by them, scared of ridicule from outside, and maybe wishes we would just go away. However, poly activists at the 2015 General Assembly did get the UUA to formally add "family structure" to its list of non-discrimination clauses. 

Opinions differ among different congregations. If your triad or quad walk into your local UU church of a nice Sunday morning, you may be warmly welcomed as such, or not so much. To find out, ask. Each UU congregation is self-governing (the UUA explicitly exists to serve them, not govern them), and direct questions are respected and encouraged.

So I wrote to Christopher Walton, editor of the UU World, the UUA's official denominational magazine, pointing out this nice article about a UU endeavor on a different denomination's homepage. I suggested he consider reprinting it on World's website.

He wrote back with thanks for the idea and says they'll discuss it. I'll update here with any developments. 


The UCC (formerly the Congregational Church) and the Unitarian Universalists are perhaps America's two most liberal churches arising from mainline Protestantism.1 The difference between them is that the UCC is explicitly Christian, while the Unitarians are a "covenantal" rather than a "creedal" church, meaning they leave theological questions open for personal discernment rather than requiring members to pretend they believe things they actually find implausible. Thus the UUs are a healthy mix of Christians, atheists (including me), Jews, Buddhists, neo-pagans and others, happily getting along.

But like anywhere else, a lot of people carry past trauma over cheating — whether by partners or their own divorced parents — and are triggered by the idea of poly regardless of their other social attitudes. 

P.S.: Mainstream and conservative Christian churches, meanwhile, are having all sorts of internal polyamory ferment of their own — even the doctrinally rigid evangelicals. A boatload of examples from an earlier post. And more, and especially more.

P.S.2: The UUs for Polyamory Awareness collected a self-selected survey of 170 of the people who came by their booth at the 2017 General Assembly. The results. The tl;dr: Most knew and understood the concept, 14% were polyamorous, 39% gave some degree of positive answer to whether they knew of poly people in their congregation, and 64% gave some degree of positive answer to whether they thought their congregation would welcome openly out polys. 


1. The UU and UCC churches are direct lineal descendants of the original New England Puritans, those grim, furious theocrats and witch-hunters. Some of us UUs here in Massachusetts still occupy original Puritan church properties. Say what you will about the Puritans, they did believe in congregational self-governance, both in deciding doctrine and in running their everyday matters. This self-governing habit of mind helped lay the ground for the later American Revolution -- and also for moral re-evaluations that led ever farther away from Puritanism. We modern UUs provided many of the ally boots on the ground for the Civil Rights movement including some of its martyrs, we were marrying gay couples 20 years before Massachusetts first said we could, and you'll find some UU presence in almost every peace and justice thing going today. The Puritan ghosts up in our churches' attics must be furious indeed, except that most of us no longer believe in ghosts either human or divine, and in any case neither kind have given us any trouble.

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May 11, 2021

"The Nonmonoga-Moms Next Door," and other polyamory news

Let's start with the parenting magazine Romper, which has just put up a 4,000-word feature with the arresting title The Nonmonoga-Moms Next Door (May 9). It's full of interesting bits.

Not everyone has their needs met in a single relationship, and the only avenue for satisfying those needs within monogamy is cheating. What if there’s a much better way?

Kid-quad: Adam, Mike, Kelly, and Max are raising two young children.

By Margaret Wheeler Johnson

...This time the comments filled with women, often mothers, often married, admitting — before God, their employers, and brands that pay influencers — that they, too, were nonmonogamous. Some of them had been for years. “My ex and I started exploring poly in the last few years of our marriage. I realized how much I had overlooked my needs and wants to keep things calm. I realized that ‘good enough’ wasn’t good enough,” wrote one woman. [Wrote another,] “The thing is, it's not really my husband that's super non-monogamous — it's me. It always comes from me.”

...Between 4% and 5% practice [consensual non-monogamy], which is way less than you might think if you live in Massachusetts or Northern California, where it can seem as if at least one kid in every class hails from a polycule [I'm in Massachusetts, and yes, that's an exaggeration –Ed.]. ... There is no published data on how many parents are openly nonmonogamous.

...For consenting adults, [CNM] makes a lot of sense. When you have children, some mothers are discovering, it makes even more sense. While the risks are considerable — researchers have found that stigma against nonmonogamy is “robust,” not all forms of nonmonogamy are equally satisfying, and all seem to require NASA-level organization and communication — for the women who have embraced it, the upside is higher. [Many] say it makes them better primary partners and better mothers.

Polyamory (being in more than one committed, romantic relationship simultaneously), in particular, offers a pressure valve for the untenable two-earner family structure that finally broke during the pandemic. According to the women I spoke with, nonmonogamy works — even better than advertised. It works so well, you might find yourself asking: Why don’t more of us try this? Why haven’t we all along?

The story profiles polycules and CNM couples and gives an early report on some upcoming research news:

...In another paper, soon to be published in Archives of Sexual Behavior, [Terri] Conley looks at the ways that different types of ethical nonmonogamy yield different levels of happiness.

Polyamorists, those who are in love with more than one person at a time, have the greatest overall relationship satisfaction. The next happiest are swingers — couples who together seek out sex with others. People in open relationships, who seek outside partners independently with the expectation that these extracurricular liaisons will not interfere with the primary couple, come in last.

The study doesn’t ultimately draw conclusions about this hierarchy of contentment, but Conley has theories. Open relationships ironically involve the least openness, which can turn them into minefields of blurry parameters and perceived betrayals. Also, such relationships often open not out of a desire to expand or enhance an already good thing, but as an attempt to fill a void. "I think sometimes they would actually prefer to be monogamous, but circumstances dictate that they're adopting this approach,” says Conley. “They're in a long-distance relationship, or their partner is in some way physically not able to do the type of sex they want to do.”

Swingers are happier because their extracurricular encounters are not just known to their partners, but they constitute a shared hobby that couples do together. (Golf isn’t for everyone.) Plus, swinging is associated with the highest sexual satisfaction — the entire activity is organized around seeking excellent sex — and couples who find sexual satisfaction together are generally happier. Polyamorists win because the near-constant open communication and honesty that polyamory requires is associated with better relationships of any kind. ...

As for the photo above,

Another of Woolf’s commenters was Kelly Knight, a 39-year-old marketing executive who lives in a house in the Bay Area with her spouse, Mike, a software engineering manager; her other partner, Adam; and Mike’s other partner, Max. Mike and Knight are legal parents to a daughter Knight gave birth to in 2016. In September, Knight had her second child, conceived with Adam, who is on the baby’s birth certificate. All four partners are raising the two kids.


If this sounds complex, it is. ... Parenting by committee can be especially challenging — all resentments must be talked out at a weekly meeting, "otherwise the passive aggression can kind of get out of control” — but Knight has noticed distinct benefits.
Kelly Knight and her partners.

In her household, not only are responsibilities divided between four trusted adults, but because they are coordinating four work schedules and eight date nights even before factoring in household chores and child care, tasks are allocated only according to who is free. “Nobody can just assume, 'Oh, the moms [Max is non-binary but was assigned female at birth] are doing this or the dads are doing this.’ It has allowed my male partners, who have always been really feminist, to view my work as just as important as theirs and view their involvement in parenting as just as important, too.”

In the pandemic, when many professional women have seen their careers vanish as child care options evaporated, this has been even more valuable to Knight. ...

...Last but definitely not least, Max and Mike (Knight’s partners who aren’t her younger daughter’s biological parents) take the baby for three nights a week, giving Knight uninterrupted sleep those nights. How sexy is that?

Margaret Johnson says she was inspired to write this piece by the huge popular response to longtime mom-blogger Rebecca Woolf — who posted on Instagram about how, after her husband died, she embarked on a life of abundant solo non-monogamy (insulated from her kids) and realized that this was the life she was meant for. The mail flooded in. Woolf wrote, "After speaking candidly to many [readers] via DM, I have come to realize how … women are often assumed to desire monogamy in our relationships when that isn’t necessarily the case. At all."

Yesterday Woolf published an article explaining her new life: I Married Young. I Was Widowed Young. I Never Want A Long-Term Partner Again (May 10, at Refinery29).

...We assume that one great love story is more powerful than a dozen shorter ones ... But, forming emotional attachment with short-term partners is actually an incredibly expansive feeling. In fact, I’ve arguably grown more from the relatively short relationships I have been in since my husband died than I did in my 13 years of marriage, because now I can be honest with myself. I can live shamelessly within the boundaries of my own construction while destroying the societal boundaries I have always felt uneasy within. 

● In other recent poly in the news — 1 in 6 Single Americans Report a Desire to Try Polyamory, comments consensual non-monogamy (CNM) researcher Justin Lehmiller on his Sex and Psychology blog (May 5).

He's writing about a new study titled Desire, Familiarity, and Engagement in Polyamory: Results From a National Sample of Single Adults in the United States by Amy C. Moors, Amanda N. Gesselman, and Justin R. Garcia, published in Frontiers in Psychology (online March 23). The study also includes new information on the prevalence of polyamory as loosely defined, and finds the interesting statistic that only 1 in 3 who have tried it wish to do so again. It includes a handy review of previous research on consensual non-monogamy numbers. 

But the study comes with two limitations. It surveyed only single Americans, omitting those partnered or married, because of the availability of a demographically representative data pool of 3,438 single American adults to work from. In this pool, the number with a lifetime history of CNM was only about half that reported elsewhere for Americans generally. That makes sense: After people leave the singles pool to marry or otherwise partner long-term, some will go on to have their first CNM experience as the years pass, adding to the lifetime incidence of CNM overall.

Secondly, the researchers defined "polyamory" in their questionnaire as merely being "in a committed, sexual and romantic relationship with multiple people at the same time," leaving out a crucial part of the standard definition: "with the knowledge and consent of all involved" — even though the authors include that in their definition of polyamory in the paper's introductory parts. Thus, the questionnaire also swept up secret cheaters and informal bigamists: people having two partners with neither aware that the other exists.

That includes quite a bit of what goes on in the world and contaminates the data in the survey about polyamory as commonly defined — even by the authors of the paper. It's surprising to see such seasoned researchers in this field making such a basic mistake, which is bound to result in confusion over the results and popular misreporting.

● Next: A gorgeous polyam wedding, and other poly wedding resources.  Group-marriage ceremonies have no legal standing in the US and you can get in serious trouble if you pretend they do. But that doesn't stop triads, quads and more from holding their own commitment ceremonies with all the trappings but the certificate. Offbeat Bride has published another in its long series of these events, with lots of gushing and lavish photography, just in time for the wedding season: How to have a romantic polyamorous triad wedding (April 30).

Creatrix Photography

David, Jolene, and Stephani had their polyamorous triad wedding in Austin, TX. The three partners have been together for six years, functioning as an open triad. This means they have other partners, and they practice what's known as kitchen table polyamory — the philosophy that all partners communicate openly, and that everyone could sit around a kitchen table and get along.

"We always have our other partners and other metamours together," Stephani explained.

The triad's wedding was a celebration of these ideals, with a very special first look and a carefully designed ceremony…. 

How was it planning a polyamorous triad wedding? Stephani explains:

It was hard. You can't just Google how to plan a polyamorous wedding. [Sure you can! –Ed.] After I got past the 'Oh shit, how do I do it," it got better… I realized I could still plan a 'regular' wedding by just adding a person!

...The triad's photographer, Jenna Avery from Creatrix Photography, explains how she coordinated the first look photos:

In order to capture the magic of each separate relationship, each pairing had their own moments first. Stephanie with David, Stephanie and Jolene, and then Jolene with David. Finally, all three of them came together! The same was done for the “couples” portraits and how they planned the actual ceremony and first dances. As the photographer, I was very careful to honor each dynamic and shoot each pairing as uniquely as possible. As a wedding photographer with a strong polyamorous background, I knew that regardless of their own chosen dynamic, my job was to make sure I treated every relationship as equally as possible. It’s tricky, but it all worked out!!

Stephanie:  "How do you stand with three people and the person who is officiating? How can everyone see all of us while sitting? Where does the wedding party stand? Who walks down first? So many questions."

We decided to have three sections for the guests. My husband walked down first, then me, and finally our wife. We stood in a triangle with the officiate off to the side. The bridal party was mixed up and standing off to the sides. Little details like that stressed me out! Of course, by the end of the day, it didn't matter.

When we asked Stephani if she had any advice to share with other polyamorous folks, here were thoughts on how to have a polyamorous triad wedding:

I would say, be open to all ideas. Focus on what you want and just make it happen. This doesn't happen every day, people won't know the difference. If you want a traditional feel, you can still have that. If you want the full wedding experience, hire the DJ, the photographer, the photo booth, and Bar. Just because it's more than two people doesn't make it less of a wedding.

...We have a deep archive of poly wedding planning posts, but here are a few you might enjoy….

And some more readings from elsewhere:

When Your Partner Is Getting Married to Somebody Who Isn't You, by Andre Shakti. "Helping my boyfriend and his fiancé plan their wedding has been one of the more bizarre aspects of polyamorous living." (Mel, a men's magazine, 2017)  

– Polyamorous Wedding Ceremony: The Ties That Bind, by Page Turner (Poly.Land, Oct. 24, 2016)

Polyamorous wedding rings, including ads for them. 

That's all for this time! Next up: the United Church of Christ opens to polyamory on its national website.

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April 29, 2021

Third Massachusetts locale approves multi-domestic partnerships

Arlington, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston adjoining Cambridge and Somerville, has just joined those two cities in offering legal recognition to domestic partnerships of three or more people.

Arlington had no domestic partnership provision at all. Last night (April 28, 2021) its Representative Town Meeting voted to enact one — and also voted to amend it by adding the language "two or more" people, thanks to heads-up work by local poly activists.

The amendment with the key wording, from the sponsor's powerpoint video presented last night at Arlington Town Meeting. The amendment also included removing Section 10 from the proposed bylaw because that section's language paralleled domestic-partnered families to married families. Some feared that this wording might give the state attorney general grounds for finding a conflict with the state's anti-bigamy laws.

The "two or more" amendment, offered by local polyfamily member Amos Meeks, passed Town Meeting by a lopsided vote of 192-37. The entire bylaw as amended then passed 221-11.  

Because this is a new town bylaw, it does not yet go into effect. The town has 30 days to submit it for approval to state Attorney General Maura Healy, who then has 90 days to vet it for any conflict with state law. No problem is expected. (Somerville and Cambridge did not have to go through this procedure because they are cities, not towns, and passed city ordinances, not bylaws.)

Here is the full bylaw as passed. Here is Meeks's full "two or more" amendment

Congrats, folks! Who's next?

Update: Three days later there has been practically no media attention to this event. That's also what happened after Cambridge passed its ordinance in March, and totally unlike what happened when Somerville set the precedent last June; that event made headlines nationwide and even overseas. I guess that's normalization.

The two exceptions I find are in the local Patch.com, which had this brief mention, and in the Arlington Advocate, which ran a longer story: Town Meeting approves domestic partnership for relationships with more than two people (April 30, by way of WickedLocal.com). Here's most of it. As always, the boldfacing is mine:

By Jesse Collings

In what could be a watershed moment for multi-person relationships, Arlington became the first town in Massachusetts [Somerville and Cambridge are cities] to approve domestic partnerships of more than two people when Town Meeting approved an amendment to a warrant article Wednesday, April 28. 

The motion states the town will recognize domestic partnerships containing two or more people, which is more inclusive of people in polyamorous relationships or other non-traditional family situations. The town recognition helps people in those relationships achieve the same kind of civil rights permitted to married couples, including visitation rights at health care facilities and access to children's school records. 

Somerville and Cambridge are the only communities in Massachusetts recognizing domestic partnerships between more than two people. However, those were proposed through city ordinances, which can only be removed if appealed by private residents. Because Arlington is a town, the motion approved at Town Meeting is subject to review and approval from the state  Attorney General's office, and without any town having approved this type of motion before, Arlington will be in unprecedented legal ground when the AG reviews it. 

Originally, the article proposed at Town Meeting was to solely recognize domestic partnerships of two people. Town Meeting member Amos Meeks proposed the amendment extending the definition of recognized domestic partnerships to people who are in polyamorous relationships. Meeks said he worked with Town Meeting member Guillermo Hamlin and the Rainbow Commission, who helped put together the original article, as well as the Polyamory Legal Advocacy Coalition, an organization promoting the rights of people in polyamorous relationships. 

Meeks, who said he lives together with his two life partners, said the formal recognition would help him and anyone else in a similar relationship achieve certain civic rights, such as getting onto the insurance plans of their partners. 

"I wanted to get dental insurance through one of my partners' employers, but they required proof of a domestic partnership. Registering a domestic partnership that would not exclude a member of my family only became an option when Somerville passed their domestic partnership ordinance this past year, and I'm excited to be able to register our domestic partnership with Arlington once the bylaw goes into effect," Meeks said. 

Meeks said that childcare can also be a legal challenge for people in polyamorous relationships, and further legitimacy of their domestic partnership can make that process easier.

"I can't speak directly to anyone else's experiences, but I think legal barriers around childcare and parenting are a challenge for many people. By providing some legal recognition of the family relationship for domestic partnerships with children and by providing rights that make co-parenting kids and interacting with schools easier I think that bylaws like this one are a big step towards helping families with children," Meeks said.

...Meeks said that future measures, such as introducing protections for people in polyamorous relationships in the workplace and in child custody situations, are important improvements to be made. However, the approval at Town Meeting and the potential approval from the AG is a big step forward. 

"We are a family by any reasonable sense of the word, but not in the eyes of the town or the state. I think a really important part of laws like this is just recognition and external validation," Meeks said. "(When the amendment was approved) I felt welcomed and accepted by my neighbors. I felt proud to be part of this community, and I felt extremely grateful for the support of my fellow Town Meeting Members, especially those who helped craft the article and those who spoke up in favor of it."


●  In other legal news... The ten-year-old Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association has put out a Canada-wide call for polyam people and households to declare themselves as such for Canada's national Census Day, May 11. Personal census information (such as this) is kept private.

The CPAA Encourages Polyamorous Individuals to Participate in Canadian Census Day (May 11)

April 22, 2021 –  Statistics Canada conducts the census every five years. This study is essential for maintaining an equitable distribution of electoral boundaries, estimates the demand for services (and allocation of government funding), and provides information about the population and housing characteristics within geographic areas. This supports planning, administration, policy development and evaluation activities of government at all levels.

Why should Polyamorous Individuals Complete the Census?

We strongly encourage all polyamorous individuals residing in Canada to complete the census. We view this year’s census as an opportunity to demonstrate the importance of advocacy for the needs of polyamorous individuals and families in Canada. Data pertaining to multi-adult households, multi-parent families, and the prevalence of non-nuclear family structures is important for regional districts in terms of future planning for housing capacity, schools, and essential infrastructure.

The current census options do not allow for the inclusion of polyamory or data about multi-partner relationships, families, or other forms of open relationships. In order to advocate our need for inclusion, we need to demonstrate our numbers. Our hope is that in areas with a high concentration of polyamorous individuals and families (such as Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal), the responses we suggest below will be statistically significant enough to warrant polyamory-inclusivity by Statistics Canada studies in the future.

As more data is gathered about the numbers of polyamorous individuals within Canada, we at the CPAA will be better resourced with data that demonstrates the importance of our legal advocacy work, including working towards legal and cultural changes that permit multiple parents to be listed on birth & adoption certificates, and that allow for polyamorous partners to be legally recognized as family, common-law, and next-of-kin, without contracts of marriage. 

The census asks for basic information about your age, your relationships with the people you live with, your sex assigned at birth, your gender, what languages you speak, and a few other pieces of biographical data. If you receive the long form census (1 in 5 households receive this) you will be asked for additional information regarding disabilities, employment, and education. All identifying information is kept private, and you do not need to use your legal name to answer (a nickname, for example, is fine).

In both the short and long forms of the census, one resident is asked to complete the census on behalf of all occupants. You will be asked to list the occupants of your home and then describe their relationship to you. We are recommending that all polyamorous individuals who cohabit with any partner (regardless of whether they are married, common law, etc.) choose "Other Relationship" and write in specifics from the following, as appropriate:
Polyamorous Partner
Polyamorous Spouse
Polyamorous Metamour
Polyamorous Co-parent
Polyamorous Family Member

For more detailed information, see the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association website: http://polyadvocacy.ca/polyamourous-2021-census-participation/

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