Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

January 27, 2006

"A Marriage of Many?"

Southern Voice

"Is gay marriage a slippery slope toward legal polygamy, or are conservative warnings a red herring?" asks the Southern Voice, a gay newspaper in Atlanta. This long article (dated January 27, 2006, on the paper's website) looks at the tension between some gay-rights activists and advocates for other sexual minorities, polyfolk in particular:

Each time Dani Eyer attends a forum to advocate marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples, she knows the first question to expect at the end of her speech.

"What about polygamy?" an audience member inevitably asks Eyer, executive director of the ACLU of Utah. "Will gay marriage lead to legalized group weddings?"

Each time, Eyer answers affirmatively.

"The ACLU of Utah has traditionally advocated that personal relationships between consenting adults are protected by the Constitution, and that freedom of religion and freedom of expression are fundamental rights," Eyer says, citing the her ACLU chapter's official stance on polygamy since 1989.

"Criminal and civil laws prohibiting the advocacy or practice of plural marriage are constitutionally defective," she adds. "Neither the polygamists nor the proponents of same-sex marriage are wild about the analogy, but we do see the two as similar concepts."...

...Harlan White understands why Wolfson and other gay rights leaders don't advocate on behalf of him and his dozen intimate lovers, but he's disappointed that they claim not to see the link between gay rights and the acceptance of polyamory.

"What is kind of sad is the impression some gay leaders can give that they believe somehow monogamy is inherently better than polyamory," says White, a heterosexual Seattle resident who has been in polyamorous relationships with women and male "co-lovers" since the early '90s.

"I notice when people of one minority group try to relate to the mainstream, there's an unfortunate tendency to point to another minority group and say, 'We may be different from the mainstream, but we're not like them,'" White adds. "... we shouldn't have to sell ourselves to society by being better than other people."

Other interviewees note that the poly community is making no push for legalized group marriage — the community is too poorly organized, and many members don't want state regulation in any case.

I particularly like the article's closing quote by Theresa Brennan, organizer of PolyCamp NW and known on the internet as Tree:

"The slippery slope argument is overused," she says. "Giving blacks the vote, women the vote, contraception — it's all a slippery slope to a place of better social justice and acceptance."

Read the whole article.

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January 25, 2006

Sexplorations: "Thoughts for Another Day"

Columbia Spectator

A lot of polyfolk are middle aged and up; I've heard it suggested (by them) that it takes several years as a grownup to learn to handle just one serious intimate relationship well, much less two or more that are in complex interaction.

Nevertheless, semi-polyamory of a sort is the rule among many college students, as this writer describes (a bit confusedly) in the "Sexplorations" column of the Columbia University Spectator for January 23, 2006:

Monogamy, or the lack thereof — otherwise known as polyamory, non-monogamy, and my personal favorite, the "open relationship" — is the hot issue of the day.... So naturally the whole world is confused. Redbook strongly believes "being open and honest means acting responsibly and maturely, not like a self-indulgent kid who wants to have his cake and eat it too!" New York lauds the "new monogamy ... as a sign of the times and our evolution." Betty Dodson, "the mother of masturbation," just possibly the queen of sex, and my latest personal hero — and undoubtedly in the public eye — has been happily involved in an open relationship for the last five-plus years....

...In a sense, monogamy is the framework within which sex gains its emotional value: after all, monogamy goes hand in hand with the "college-marriage." Non-monogamy often has the reverse effect: we often sleep with several people at once simply to convince ourselves we're not developing feelings for anyone in particular.

It's hard to say which is the greater social construct: monogamy or the open relationship. Monogamy is certainly no longer guaranteed. But is monogamy merely a social ideal that would otherwise not exist? Is the open relationship the true and honest commitment? Or does the open relationship, "the notion that being with others is acceptable as long as you're truthful with each other afterward, grossly [disregard] the fact that it will still be hurtful," as Redbook blindly preaches? If monogamy doesn't signify commitment anymore, then what does?

Read the whole article. There's a form at the end to submit a letter to the editor. They need to get some letters from good poly people setting them straight about the need for honesty and integrity beforehand, not "afterward" — and about what "signifies commitment."


January 22, 2006

"Marriage proposal: Why not privatize?"

San Francisco Chronicle

Here's a proposal for getting the state out of the (more-or-less religious) problem of defining marriage. It's offered by lawyer Colin P. A. Jones in the San Francisco Chronicle for January 22, 2006. People should be able to write marital contracts as they see fit, he argues, the way business partners can. Churches could set their own marriage criteria — but people adhering to other churches or philosophies could do the same for themselves.

A fundamental problem with marriage is that it only comes in one size. As a legal relationship, matrimony is a monopoly product supplied by the government.

At the same time, however, as a personal relationship, the institution has unique, personal importance to those who partake of it. To some it even has deeply felt religious significance.

Thus, there is a mismatch between what is demanded of marriage and what is supplied. It is this imbalance that makes the prospect of same-sex unions a seemingly intractable problem....

As with many things in life, a free-market solution that offers people choice may provide a solution.

Subject to certain statutory constraints, businesspeople have long been free to form whatever sort of partnership they felt appropriate to their needs. Why not make the same possible for marriage, which is a partnership based on one of the oldest types of contractual relationships?

We are already there in some respects — no-fault divorce states such as California already treat the dissolution of a marriage largely in the same way as the dissolution of a corporate partnership.

Couples entering into marriage should be able to use a partnership agreement that is tailored to their own circumstances and aspirations, one that reflects the values and expectations that they themselves attach to marriage.

Of course, it will be impractical to expect everyone to be able to draft a workable partnership agreement that will govern a (hopefully) lifelong relationship. Off-the-shelf marital partnership kits would be developed by lawyers and other private enterprises to fill this need. Customized products would be available, too.

Even greater participation could be achieved through the establishment of marital corporations (MCs), which could have hundreds or thousands of couples as shareholders, all sharing common values about marriage....

Read the whole article. If the article disappears from the newspaper's site, you can read it here on this thread.

See also this website about the idea of poly families forming LLC's (Limited Liability Corporations).

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January 13, 2006

"Legalize Polygamy, Study Urges"

Canadian Press

Here's another polygamy story, from Canada. A government-funded study recommends that immigrants from polygamous cultures not be criminalized. The article was published January 12, 2006. Although it doesn't address polyamory specifically, there are clear implications for it.

..."Criminalization does not address the harms associated with valid foreign polygamous marriages and plural unions, in particular the harms to women," says the report, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.

"The report therefore recommends that this provision be repealed."

The research paper is part of a controversial $150,000 polygamy project, launched a year ago and paid for by the Justice Department and Status of Women Canada.

The paper by three law professors at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., argues that Sec. 293 of the Criminal Code banning polygamy serves no useful purpose and in any case is rarely prosecuted.

Instead, Canadian laws should be changed to better accommodate the problems of women in polygamous marriages, providing them clearer spousal support and inheritance rights.

Currently, there's a hodgepodge of legislation across the provinces, some of which — Ontario, for example — give limited recognition to foreign polygamous marriages for the purposes of spousal support. Some jurisdictions provide no relief at all.

Chief author Martha Bailey says criminalizing polygamy, typically a marriage involving one man and several wives, serves no good purpose and prosecutions could do damage to the women and children in such relationships....

Read the whole article — and leave your comment too. (If the article disappears from the newspaper site, you can read it at the top of this thread.)

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January 9, 2006

"Harem, Scare 'Em: Worrying About Polygamy"

The Wall Street Journal

This article isn't about polyamory but rather old-style patriarchal polygamy. According to Wall Street Journal columnist Naomi Schaefer Riley (January 6, 2006), polygamy seems to be on the rise in second- and third-world societies, including rural Utah.

If marriage to a woman civilizes a man — as some would have it — it does not follow that the more women a man marries, the more civilized he becomes. It seems that the opposite is true. Still, the practice of polygamy is spreading world-wide, even in the U.S....

A new HBO series called "Big Love," debuting in March, will center on a man [living a straight, religious life in Utah] married to three women....

Polygamy today is most popular in cultures that are relatively backward and impoverished. A couple of weeks ago, the Malaysian Parliament passed a law making it easier for men to have multiple wives. Last spring 1,000 Ugandans gathered to protest a bill that would ban polygamy; their government backed down. In Turkey, polygamy was banned 70 years ago but is now on the rise....

In the poorer [Muslim] suburbs of Paris, polygamy is common, if illegal. Bernard Accoyer, the parliamentary leader of the Gaullist Party, blamed polygamy for the recent riots in Muslim neighborhoods. He was denounced for his supposedly racist views, but his theory has much to recommend it. Polygamy not only keeps families in poverty — one man must provide for many wives and children — but also creates a large population of young single men with little to do.

Interesting, if depressing. And it's too bad the author failed to note that there's a modern Western invention called "polyamory" that bears the same relationship to patriarchal polygamy that egalitarian couples in modern society bear to wife-ownership in the Old Testament. Maybe it's not happening among Malaysians and Ugandans, but it is among some of the Wall Street Journal's own subscribers and their friends, families, and neighbors.

To read the whole article, you'll need to find a paper copy or pay the steep price for an online WSJ subscription.

P.S. African cultures really do have a lot of boss-man polygamy; a women with (supposedly) two husbands got this columnist all a-fluster in the Financial Gazette of Harare, Zimbabwe, for December 21, 2005. His attitude is seriously un-evolved, say I.

And another sad item: the acting prime minister of Chechnya proposes that polygamy be legalized there, because the war has supposedly left Chechen women outnumbering men by 10 percent. Read the article that appeared on the BBC website January 13, 2006.


January 3, 2006

Comebacks to "Here Come The Brides"

The Weekly Standard's anti-polyamory cover story (see previous entry) is getting taken apart on various blogs. Right off the mark, The New Republic's Rob Anderson weighed in:

The latest Weekly Standard cover story, "HERE COME THE BRIDES: PLURAL MARRIAGE IS WAITING IN THE WINGS," proves something that its author, Stanley Kurtz, most certainly did not intend it to: The conservative case against gay marriage is growing weaker by the day. Opponents of same-sex marriage have traditionally relied on two strategies to drum up support for their cause: the "ick" factor and the slippery-slope argument. But now, even the staunchest of conservatives must admit that America is becoming more tolerant of homosexuality.... With the "ick" factor heading towards irrelevancy, the slippery-slope argument against gay marriage is all they have left.

Enter Stanley Kurtz and his near-obsession with what he calls "group marriages"....

Anderson, however, bases his argument partly on the fact that polyamory is too small, disorganized, and unpopular to constitute a "menace" of any sort. "There is no meaningful leadership, no agenda, no broad-based organizational structure," he writes, "no PAC, no lobbyists, no fundraising." Unfortunately this is true! Read the whole article. (You'll need to register for free with The New Republic.)

Meanwhile, Sean Bugg at the Metro Weekly ("Washington DC's gay & lesbian magazine") opines:

As anti-gay marriage activists go, Stanley Kurtz is one of the most predictably hysterical and, consequently, entertaining (and I mean entertaining in the sense that watching Elvira, Mistress of the Dark is entertaining).... The whole polygamy argument is going to get louder from anti-marriage activists as time goes on, and it's always helpful to have a few arguments in your pocket and ready to go.

On the respected AndrewSullivan.com, Julian Sanchez takes the piece apart from a libertarian perspective. He also pulls the plug on Kurtz's most breathless legal prediction: that judges will have to grant bisexuals the right to multiple marriage because bisexuality is in their nature:

Consider, for a moment, some other dimensions of sexual preference. Along many of those dimensions, I have no terribly rigidly defined "type". I've found myself attracted to blondes and redheads; to Anglo and Latina and black and Asian women; to lit majors and econ geeks. Kurtz, presumably, would infer from this diversity of romantic tastes that I need some kind of elaborately orgiastic living arrangement to be satisfied. And, come to think of it, that does sound like it might be fun. But it's scarcely necessary — and the assumption that it [legally] would be is about as well supported as Kurtz's parallel assumption in the case of bisexuals. Which is to say, not at all.

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