"Challenges to Marriage Continue"
Free Inquiry magazine is a lively and increasingly successful publication of the Council for Secular Humanism. Its August/September 2005 issue has an article by noted sexologist Vern Bullough (California State University, Northridge) on the diversifying future of marriage.
In the past, many Americans have held mixed views about the traditional marriage structure (one man and one woman), and the ranks of doubters have continued to grow. When nineteenth-century Americans challenged traditional views of marriage and the family, they did so in the context of religious belief. John Humphrey Noyes established a religious colony in Oneida, New York, in 1848 to practice his idea of "complex marriage," under which everyone in a community loved each other equally well.... In nearby Palmyra, New York, Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in the 1830s and soon introduced the idea of polygamy as it had been described in the Jewish scriptures....
Groups and movements focused upon marriage, love, and sex that dissent from the traditional model still exist. If anything they are increasing....
The most recent espouses what is known as "polyamory" and has both religious and secular roots. The term was coined by Morning Glory Zell in an article in an obscure neopagan publication to describe a lifestyle that embraces multiple, simultaneous, and openly conducted romantic relations that generally, but not always, include a sexual component. As the movement grew, it distinguished itself from swinging by not being couple-centered and from other free-love groups by emphasizing the emotional and romantic aspects of relationships. Polyamory claims to transcend physical intimacy and insists upon a philosophical approach to relationships. Sex is only part of the agenda.... It is the emotional attachment that counts, and the movement seeks to replace and expand the concept of families with a new form of "intentional family." In a sense, it represents a resurrection of the communal experiments of the 1960s and 1970s in that it sees the group as a family.
The leaders of polyamory are influenced by science fiction/fantasy as well as by religious and spiritual concerns. Inevitably, conflicting developments have arisen within the movement, some emphasizing the spiritual or sacred, while others accent the familial aspects and the importance of parenting. Polyamory has been the subject of discussion in some Unitarian churches, and many polyamorous groups seen to feel at home in Unitarian congregations.
The movement is not confined to the United States. It has spread to at least Europe and Australia. Rarely has a new term, or a new social movement, caught on so rapidly.... there and hundreds and hundreds of Web sites.
What does all this mean? When we consider the rise of polyamory alongside older alternative movements in light of the high divorce rate in the United States and indeed across much of the Western world, it would seem to indicate that the traditional concept of marriage remains in crisis. Domestic partnerships are growing in number among straight and gay couples.... It is not gay marriage that is threatening traditional marriage but rather the dissatisfaction that many have with the concept of traditional marriage.
It is hoped that the result of these movements will be a rethinking of what marriage should mean. The form that marriage takes and the role it has in society has been revisualized many times before. For example, matrimony did not become a sacrament in the Catholic Church until the twelfth century. Its meaning has continued to change, and... the the concept of what marriage means demands rethinking again today. Marriage is an important institution that in my opinion should be preserved, but each generation must define anew what it means. Religion can interpret marriage, and so can the state. Their results might well be different from one another as they have been in the past but that should not stop any rethinking. Divorce, for example, is legal, no matter how churches feel about it. We should not be surprised if state and church views on what marriage is differ in the future as well.
The article is not online, but the above is most of it.