Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

February 22, 2006

"I Love You... and You... and You... and You, Too"

Columbia News Service

At the recent Poly Living conference in Philadelphia (February 3-5, 2006), which I attended (see my writeup), the organizers introduced a nice young reporter from the Columbia News Service named Trevor Stokes. He said he was there to observe, listen, and collect background, but could not promise a story. He was discreet and professional throughout, as far as I heard.

He did write a story; here it is (from the Chicago Tribune for Feb. 22, 2006). And a good story it is, even though it bobbles some things. For instance, the number of breakaway-Mormon polygamists has nothing to do with the number of us; the name of the World Polyamory Association is garbled; and awkward phrasing makes it easy to misread Robyn Trask as describing poly "as simply 'monogamy with more people.' " She would never say that; in a conference workshop she was at pains to insist that, on the contrary, we should always tell newbies that "everyone does poly differently" and that polyfidelity is just one of these ways.

A Poly Life: Monogamy with More Partners
Internet makes it easier to find fellow believers

By Trevor Stokes
Columbia News Service

NEW YORK — John and Sue have an offbeat marital arrangement. For the last five years of their marriage, Sue has spent three nights a week with her boyfriend, Fred.

And that's not even the strange part.

As it turns out, John openly shares Sue — and their king-size marital bed — with Fred. Confused? Consider this: During the rest of the week, Fred sleeps at home with his wife, Peggy, and their male lover, Bill.

John, a 71-year-old San Francisco-based researcher, also has relationships outside his marriage to Sue. He has three current girlfriends, Fred has two and John's wife has four boyfriends. He even refers to Sylvia, the sister of one of his wife's lovers, as "my sister in love." Following along?

While John has nothing against monogamy, he said, "You have to spend a lot of energy to be monogamous."

It's hard to imagine a more energetic bunch than John, Sue and their various lovers, who belong to a growing movement of Americans who practice polyamory — intimate long-term relationships with more than two people. (The polyamorous lovers in this story requested anonymity because of fears of discrimination from employers and even friends.)

Believers in polyamory estimate their numbers in the tens of thousands; the attorney general's office in Utah and Arizona have calculated that up to 40,000 Americans practice polygamy, a form of polyamory limited to multiple spouses.

The subject of polyamorous relationships will likely become the stuff of water cooler conversation on March 12, when HBO debuts "Big Love," its new Sunday-night drama...

Not in the dictionary yet

"Poly" has become the umbrella label to describe those who maintain relationships with multiple partners. The word "polyamory" is so new that neither the Oxford English Dictionary nor Webster's includes it. In the last decade, there has been a mini-explosion of "poly" terminology to describe multipartner relationships like polyfidelity (no sex outside of a group), polymono mix (one partner is polyamorous, the other monogamous) and polyfamily (which refers to shared child-rearing).

Monogamists often confuse polyamory with swinging, a practice that gained notoriety in the 1970s. Robyn Trask, managing editor of Loving More, a magazine based in Boulder, Colo., devoted to the poly lifestyle, defines polygamy as simply "monogamy with more people." Other defenders point to the fact that practicing "polys" don't engage in one-night stands.

"Poly is about establishing relationships," said Sasha Lessin, co-founder of the Polyamory World Association, based in Maui, Hawaii.

...While no laws exist to prohibit polyamory, many polys struggle with legal issues such as property co-ownership and child custody. In 1999, April Divilbiss, then a 22-year-old Tennessee resident, lost custody of her daughter after she outed herself as a polyparent on an MTV documentary.

Leaders in the movement insist that polys live all around us and work in mainstream jobs. One female poly practitioner cites a judge, a rabbi and a Nobel Prize-winning scientist as polys. How does the woman know about the scientist? "He's one of my lovers," she said.

Polys haven't yet figured out how to escape the stigma attached to their lifestyle.

"It's easier to come out of the closet as gay, bi, kinky, even Republican than poly because you're challenging the foundation of everybody's relationships," said George Marvil, co-organizer of PolyLiving 2006, a poly conference held in Philadelphia in early February.

Critics call it by another name

And that's exactly why others find polyamorous relationships objectionable. Critics know it by a different name: cheating. In 2002, the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 15 percent of wives and 22 percent of husbands admitted to having sex with someone other than their spouses.

Those statistics feed the poly defense. "Monogamy is ideal as a standard, but if you look around you, it's not the end result," said Justen Michael, 32, founder of Polyamorous NYC, a social group in New York.

...It may sound like fun, but even its biggest defenders admit that the poly lifestyle isn't for everyone.

"There's a lot of roadkill on the road to polyamory," said Ken Haslam, a 71-year-old full-time poly activist from Galena, Md.

Still, some younger participants disagree. Birgitte Philippides, 38, a poly activist from New York, says "Poly's about having choice that can be a beautiful self-expression."

Her friend Sydney agrees. "It's not about having sex with my friends," she said. "It's about having the option to have sex with my friends."

Here is the article with photos (and a diagram of one Poly Living attendee's 14-person network) as it first appeared on the Columbia News Service site on February 14th.

Of course, this offers a chance to write a letter to the editor commenting on the article or telling your own poly tale! To send a letter to the Chicago Tribune, e-mail it to ctc-TribLetter@Tribune.com .


February 11, 2006

"The Cuddle Puddle of Stuyvesant High School"

New York magazine

If you want to know where our next generation is coming from, New York magazine for February 6, 2006, offers one picture. Among some of the city's brightest, most ambitious high-school kids, an easy, proto-polyamorous ambisexuality is the comfortable norm. "Researchers find it shocking that 11 percent of American girls between 15 and 19 claim to have same-sex encounters," says the magazine. "Clearly they've never observed the social rituals of the pansexual, bi-queer, metroflexible New York teen."

...Alair is headed for the section of the second-floor hallway where her friends gather every day during their free tenth period for the "cuddle puddle," as she calls it. There are girls petting girls and girls petting guys and guys petting guys. She dives into the undulating heap of backpacks and blue jeans and emerges between her two best friends, Jane and Elle, whose names have been changed at their request. They are all 16, juniors at Stuyvesant. Alair slips into Jane's lap, and Elle reclines next to them, watching, cat-eyed. All three have hooked up with each other. All three have hooked up with boys — sometimes the same boys. But it's not that they're gay or bisexual, not exactly. Not always.

...It's... true that the "puddle" is just one clique at Stuyvesant, and that Stuyvesant can hardly be considered a typical high school. It attracts the brightest public-school students in New York, and that may be an environment conducive to fewer sexual inhibitions. "In our school," Elle says, "people are getting a better education, so they're more open-minded."

That said, the Stuyvesant cuddle puddle is emblematic of the changing landscape of high-school sexuality across the country. This past September, when the National Center for Health Statistics released its first survey in which teens were questioned about their sexual behavior, 11 percent of American girls polled in the 15-to-19 demographic claimed to have had same-sex encounters — the same percentage of all women ages 15 to 44 who reported same-sex experiences, even though the teenagers have much shorter sexual histories. It doesn't take a Stuyvesant education to see what this means: More girls are experimenting with each other, and they're starting younger. And this is a conservative estimate, according to Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor of human development at Cornell who has been conducting research on same-sex-attracted adolescents for over twenty years. Depending on how you phrase the questions and how you define sex between women, he believes that "it's possible to get up to 20 percent of teenage girls."

...Go to the schools, talk to the kids, and you'll see that somewhere along the line this generation has started to conceive of sexuality differently. Ten years ago in the halls of Stuyvesant you might have found a few goth girls kissing goth girls, kids on the fringes defiantly bucking the system. Now you find a group of vaguely progressive but generally mainstream kids for whom same-sex intimacy is standard operating procedure. "It's not like, Oh, I'm going to hit on her now. It's just kind of like, you come up to a friend, you grab their ass," Alair explains. "It's just, like, our way of saying hello." These teenagers don't feel as though their sexuality has to define them, or that they have to define it, which has led some psychologists and child-development specialists to label them the "post-gay" generation. But kids like Alair and her friends are in the process of working up their own language to describe their behavior. Along with gay, straight, and bisexual, they'll drop in new words, some of which they've coined themselves: polysexual, ambisexual, pansexual, pansensual, polyfide, bi-curious, bi-queer, fluid, metroflexible, heteroflexible, heterosexual with lesbian tendencies — or, as Alair puts it, "just sexual." The terms are designed less to achieve specificity than to leave all options open.

To some it may sound like a sexual Utopia, where labels have been banned and traditional gender roles surpassed, but it's a complicated place to be....

Read the whole article.

The article prompted a fair amount of chatter on the poly lists, with people comparing high-school memories. Recent graduates often said groups like this existed in their schools. Older graduates (like from the 1980's) tended to say "I wish!" One skeptic asked, "Where's the poly?" To which I responded, "They're on their way. As they grow up and get more serious about relationships, it will be an option they know."

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February 10, 2006

The 2006 Poly Living Conference: Notes and Impressions

As I write this I'm riding home on the train from the Poly Living gathering in Philadelphia, held February 3-5, 2006. With each mile I'm leaving farther behind the warmest, liveliest, friendliest community I've experienced since... well... since the Loving More East conference six months ago!

The two were very much alike, though superficially poles apart. Loving More East took place in a rustic summer-camp setting (Ramblewood in Maryland). Poly Living has been held, for each of its two years now, in a well-appointed high-rise convention hotel in downtown Philadelphia. But the format, the types of folks attending, and many of the workshop presenters were very much the same. After a keynote get-together Friday evening, three tracks of simultaneous workshops ran all day Saturday and half of Sunday (you had to miss 2/3 of them). Topics focused on improving the functioning of your poly family, how to find and choose partners, legal issues, safe(r) sex -- but mostly, emotional/psychological topics: such as building romance, overcoming sexual blocks, managing jealousy, exploring bisexual tendencies, and understanding relationship dynamics.

There was a workshop on how to build a local poly group and one on cohousing and intentional communities. There was yoga for early risers, lively conversation and informal get-togethers all day, an official, nonsexual Cuddle Party (registered trademark) Saturday evening, and more intimate private gatherings through the night. Here's the program booklet.

For a while it looked like the conference might not happen this year. Poly Living's founder and organizer, George Marvil, has been struggling with major health problems; he put in an appearance, but the conference could not have been pulled off without a lot of the local community pitching in. As it was, publicity was poor and the website went unattended until the day before the event. (There's nothing like an inactive website to make a whole outfit look dead.) No doubt this is why only about 100 people came, compared to 150 last year.

But what aliveness you missed! Here are fragments from my notes and experiences.

A Brightening Spotlight

The Friday keynote was given by Nan Wise, relationship counselor and one of our sharpest and boldest public spokespeople, on the state of polyamory today. "What we are up to is of interest to an increasingly large number of people," she began. We are becoming more widely noticed. She noted the explosive growth in the Google count of web pages containing the word "polyamory," as well as other signs of a big reservoir of interested people whom the organized community has not yet reached. "There's a great deal of response to what we're doing."

Wise said she is getting "flickers of interest" from Hollywood and TV producers about doing something with polyamory. And, say what you will about the new TV show "Big Love" (a portrayal of quasi-Mormon polygamy that will debut on HBO March 12th), the show is certain to draw wider public attention to non-monogamy and turn spotlights onto us.

So what's coming over the horizon? "The best way to predict the future," Wise declared, "is to invent it" (quoting computer pioneer Alan Kay). "My challenge to you guys this weekend is to imagine what you would like to create. What ways of being would you like to develop here this weekend? How do we empower each other to do this? Go for it -- go ahead and risk."

She ended by having everyone get up, wander among each other, latch onto someone, and exchange what you hope to get from the conference. This was followed by a challenge to eyeball a stranger, look them over, and tell them some observation that you appreciate about them -- then do this with every person in the room. If taken literally, this would have resulted in about 100 squared = 10,000 appreciations between strangers; corny, but it broke the ice effectively for the hors-d'oeuvres reception that followed.

Actually, lots of attendees knew each other from past conferences or from real life. I became tolerant (compersive?) toward repeated cases of someone I was talking to suddenly letting out a whoop and hugging/tackling a new arrival. I'd say a majority of people were couples and singles, but with quite a few larger poly groups and networks too (more than at Loving More East last summer). I'd guess about 1/4 were conference newbies.

I moved among different tables and groups. People's relationships to polyamory seemed to run the gamut -- from a lady in deep distress over her newly poly husband; she was eager for the advice of the more experienced -- to exploratory couples and their partners -- to happy, confident, cuddlesome, radiant networks of long-timers who have this thing nailed; the kind who give rise to the talk that, for some, this can indeed be a more evolved way of life. Conversation groups continued till midnight, long after the waiters had removed tablecloths and cleaned up around us.

Black Belt Relationship Training

As a lifelong earlybird I was up for yoga at 7:30 Saturday morning. After overpriced breakfast in the hotel cafeteria (note: pack your own rations to save time and money), the workshop schedule got under way -- concentrated in the small part of the hotel that we had to ourselves. (There were a couple other conclaves in progress, most visibly a big tattoo convention whose roaming members in leathers, face jewelry, painted hair and chains made us polys look ridiculously normal.)

I started with a session by Michelle/Michael Zee on releasing sexual blocks -- not a hands-on practical (shucks!), but an exercise in dredging up past experiences and hangups to blurt out and let go of, facing off with a partner with whom mutual secrecy was pledged. So, 'nuff said.

My next workshop was "Creating Partnerships Within Relationships," led by Marcia Baczynski, co-founder with Reid Mihalko of the Cuddle Party franchise business. She started with the often-forgotten obvious: "Being a partner to your partner means getting up and doing something, not just being there and expecting it to happen." She dwelt on the metaphor of a single-person kayak versus a coupled, two-hulled catamaran. A single kayak is tippy and vulnerable but maneuverable; it can head straight toward a goal. A catamaran has more stability, redundancy, and strength, but it is less maneuverable and has to tack back and forth to make headway. "When you enter a partnership, you're giving up your right to go directly toward your goals." Instead you're going to have to tack this way and that toward them, "to places you wouldn't have gone by yourself." Accept this and enjoy it.

If you want to be a first-rate partner, you first have to build yourself well -- build your kayak. Among her points on this:

"Know thyself:" who you are, what you want, what's important to you. No illusions.

"Practice being fearless. Look for where your fears are, and go there." Don't try to climb out of life's roller coaster. "Step into your fear; become familiar with your fear process."

"Look for what is so, not for what you wish were so." This was most refreshing to hear in a gathering with more than its share of New Age woo woo sympathizers.

"Cultivate curiosity;" what side of your partner have you not seen?

"See the world with fresh eyes; drop the past behind." Be with the person your partner is right now, not with who he or she was some time in the past.

"Love thyself. If you can't love yourself, how can you recognize somebody loving you?" This includes creating a support structure for yourself independent of your partner(s) -- so that whatever happens, you'll be solid in yourself.

"Expand your integrity. Strive always to be in your word." When something comes up, handle it. "Your integrity and your fears are closely related."

Interestingly, I was struck by how many of her points resembled the best military values. I'm an antiwar person through and through, but I married into a military family and I have a hunch that she was raised in one.

As examples for designing good catamarans -- solid, aware partnerships that can master the challenges out on the open seas of polyamory -- she analyzed the differences between several closely related concepts: compromise versus sacrifice, for instance. In both, despite their subtle differences, "it's important to keep checking your course. Goals and compromises and sacrifices are not permanent or unquestioned." Write them down, and come back to them. And, "Rather than compromise on old things, try to make something new."

Another pairing: reliance versus dependence. "Dependence is more like not being able to do for one's self. Reliance is being independent, yet ready to rely on another." Make clear distinctions between these when formulating agreements.

Support versus participation: "You do not have to participate in what your partner does in order to support them."

Honor versus respect: "Respect is cerebral; honor wells up from within." Nevertheless, these two come can from opposite cultural places: "Honor can be imposed by external codes," which may be ancient, ugly, and wrong; "while respect is a choice that you yourself make; it is more democratic, liberal, and modern."

I'm glad I took good notes.

I attended a later relationship workshop, "Breakdown, Breakthrough, and Intimate Encounter" by Nan Wise, who has been married to her legal husband longer than Marcia has been alive. Here too a theme was bursting through fear and inertia. "If it's not growing it's dying," she stressed. "After NRE, you've got to work on Renewed Relationship Energy. You've got to keep breaking new ground." And polyamory is "an excellent way to keep breaking new ground."

Much of her talk was on the interaction of four dynamics: masculine and feminine versions of active and passive. A few quotes:

"Every symptom is an attempt at change -- a change that is trying to happen."

"Behind every behavior is a good intention. Only if you understand the map of the person's mind will you understand the good intention behind the behavior."

"Polyamory is great, but it can also be a place to hide;" it's possible to "spread yourself too thin" to try to avoid trouble with deep relationships. Don't bet on it; poly should mean "the back door is shut," to "close the possibility of an easy out. You need to be ready for pressure to build until you have to deal with it. If you have an issue in a committed relationship, deal with it." Push forward to make the relationship sustainable.

A reporter was present for part of the conference, Trevor Stokes of the Columbia News Service; he wrote a decent article that first appeared in the Chicago Tribune a couple weeks later (you can read it here). He remarked at one point on how appropriate much of the weekend's material would be to ordinary couples. Yup.

Legal Issues: Eyes Front

Valerie White, lawyer and executive director of the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund, gave a session on Polyamory and the Law. While polyamory per se is not explicitly illegal most places (though Utah defines "bigamy" as merely cohabiting with someone while married to someone else), some states retain laws against fornication and adultery. "These crimes are very, very rarely prosecuted, but if they're out to get you...." She noted that the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision overturning gay sodomy laws sets out, in broad, clear, powerful language, the right to self-determination in private relationships. Valerie urged people to read it for its strong and moving language.

Of more immediate concern to poly families are property ownership, child custody, zoning regulations, wills, and other practical matters. Some mortgage lenders may find your group arrangement odd and turn you down; others may like the extra financial security of a third (or more) person and give you a break. Know the difference in your jurisdiction between holding title to a house as Tenants in Common (the default) and Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship (which you have to specify). "Courts may be unwilling to get involved in property distribution if you break up. So you need detailed written agreements;" get a lawyer. Also, everyone needs a will. "There are forms for wills online for free, but take your finished document to an attorney"; the signing of a will or other such document "is a very exact process" that must be followed to the letter.

Zoning laws often restrict the number of "unrelated" people who can live in a house, as well as certain property improvements such as adding new bathrooms or bedrooms. "Investigate this before buying" or starting construction. You don't want to face a court order to break up your household or to tear out an expensive new addition. If you want to create a family corporation (an LLC) to hold property, be diligent about the niceties of maintaining the corporation -- filing annual reports, holding an annual meeting, electing officers, etc. -- or it will fail in the eyes of the law. "Be scrupulous." Her overall advice: "Be careful, be vigilant, and find out the facts before you act." Did I mention getting a lawyer?

Why Venus Doesn't Get Mars, and Why Mars Is Totally Clueless

Reid Mihalko gave a funny and insightful talk on romance -- and communication about it -- between the sexes. He began by warning that he would be dealing in stereotypes, un-PCness, and humor, and the kernels of truth they contain, based on the vast numbers of friends who have unloaded onto him. "Men and women talk and think about love and romance differently." For instance: "Men are goal oriented; women are listening oriented." An example of this was later discussed: A man who decides to fix the leaky faucet that she's talking about may think he's being romantic and showing his love, but she won't think so when he gets up and goes down cellar looking for tools. "Why are you ignoring me like that?" "What do you mean? You asked me to fix your faucet!" "No I didn't!"

Women love to be romanced and -- listen up, guys! -- this is what romance is for a woman: "Anything that proves you were thinking about her before she walked into the room." Whether it's buying her flowers before you arrive, arranging something special for an anniversary, cooking or getting food before you get together, or planning out a date beforehand. Women are hard-wired (for good evolutionary reasons) to get heart-flutters for a man who shows signs of thinking of her when she's not around.

This, on the other hand, is unnatural for men. Romantically, men tend to live in the moment. As in, "Hi! I'm here! Let's think of something to do! What do you wanna do? Why are you yelling at me?"

Women, nevertheless, can indeed romance guys -- "it just looks a little different," Reid said. Romance of a man equals, "You approve of him. Tell him, 'You rock. I give you my endorsement and approval.' Most of us guys just want to be told we did a good job." While women don't want to be ignored, men don't want to be made wrong. Especially in relationships.

Reid is a good actor/performer and got laughs as well as shocks of recognition (on my part, anyway). He began the workshop by getting up and writing on a whiteboard the take-home message for guys about romance: "What did you do today to earn a blow job tonight?. And he ended with the take-home message for women on how to romance guys: "Tell him what he did to earn that blow job."

Dare to Lead

There was so much more. I went to a workshop by Robyn Trask of Loving More on how to set up and run a local poly support/discussion group and build it into a community. The internet has made advertising and recruiting very feasible. Items from my notes: Meetings can be at either a public place such as a restaurant or in someone's home; each has advantages and drawbacks. There must be a make-things-happen person; nothing happens without leadership. But eventually leadership should come from a core group; one person isn't enough. Consistency is key; meetings should be at the same time every week or month. Establish rules of the meeting, such as "What gets said here and now stays here and now." Reach out to new people at the meeting, get them talking, ask what their questions are, and acknowledge that everyone does poly differently. (For instance, Robyn observed, right now "poly singles are really growing in the community.") Avoid cliquishness; "In our group [in her home town of Boulder, Colorado] we're very good at pulling people in and making them feel welcome." Note: "People who speak at their first meeting always come back."

Many people came to the conference for fun, for the shared love and camaraderie, and/or to meet up with old friends. Some came specifically to work on relationship skills. But others were there with larger ideas: to help build the movement and to refine a new way of living. At a poly conference a few years ago, Brad Blanton, the author of the Radical Honesty books (popular in the poly world), reportedly said in his keynote address, "You guys are the research-and-development arm of society." Some at the Poly Living gathering considered themselves just that -- as pioneering a generalization of romantic love beyond its little socially prescribed niche into a wider principle for organizing life. I sensed an excitement that this thing works well enough -- at least some tantalizing fraction of the time -- that we really may be laying the foundations for some new part of future society.

Cuddle Party

I'll end on a high point for me: the Saturday night Cuddle Party. This was a paid extra, $20 per person. Cuddle Parties are the two-year-old invention of Reid and Marcia, who have made an ongoing business of it. The idea is that many people in our alienated culture are eager for warm, gentle human contact without it having to be a sexual overture. "Skin hunger." You can read more about the Cuddle Party phenomenon in many articles such as this one and at the Cuddle Party web site.

Of course, a cuddle party at a poly conference sounds redundant. The first 15 of each sex who got our names onto the signup sheet jammed into a large suite, all dressed in pajamas, and Reid and Marcia led things off. They apologized for going through the whole orientation procedure required for the... what to call them... general public ("Muggles," someone offered. "We're the magical people"). But they led us through the entire drill in case anyone needed it, and to demonstrate to us how a Cuddle Party is run. Most of the drill consisted of ensuring boundaries, safety, and security, so that one can be intimately affectionate safely. No hands under pajamas. Erections happen; they're no big deal, ignore them and they'll go away. Each person was asked to state ways that he or she did and did not feel comfortable being touched. No touching without first stopping and asking. We then paired up and practiced stopping and asking; part of the exercise was replying "No, thanks" to a person's face. There was a safe room where people could retreat if they broke down or got overwhelmed. Apparently this happens among the touch-deprived.

And soon we were flopped on mattresses, nuzzling and stroking and chatting about anything and everything, simultaneously giving and getting face massages, foot rubs, finger pulls, back rubs, hair brushes, and what have you in a complex, ever-changing web. As time went on the noise level rose as conversations bubbled and rolled. I gather than at most Cuddle Parties, people tend to talk first and break the touching ice gradually, but not at this one. After a couple hours or so, for the closing, we all stacked into one big puppy pile, awash with dopamine and oxytocin, gentleness and smiles, with all being right in our kindly little world.

The next afternoon, bustling with bags out to the taxi stand and the train station, I felt like I was stepping through a time machine back to the 21st-century Dark Ages.

But it was not like stepping out of a dream. A person who posts to one of my e-mail lists uses this signature line: "The revolution is not going to happen tomorrow -- it's never going to happen. It's taking place right now. It is an alternate universe that coexists with this one, and you can step into it any time you like." It is no dream; it is another reality that is up to us to bring more into this world, as best we can.

So: You ask are these conferences worth the time and expense? Folks, save up your nickels and dimes. I hope to meet you next time.

--Alan M.



February 5, 2006

"Dissolving Marriage"

National Review Online

Stanley Kurtz, anti-gay-marriage writer at the Hudson Institute, is on another tear about the looming menace of legalized polyamory (see his "Here Come the Brides" several entries back.) This time (February 3, 2006) it's in Canada; to wit, in recent government reports on how to handle polygamous immigrants to Canada. These studies, Kurtz says, are nothing less than a cover for a secret liberal plot to abolish marriage for everyone!

Canada, you don't know the half of it. In mid-January, Canada was rocked by news that a Justice Department study had called for the decriminalization and regulation of polygamy.... Canadians, let me be brutally frank. You are being played for a bunch of fools by your legal-political elite. Your elites mumble a confusing jargon to your face to keep you from understanding what they really have in mind....

The Plan

It's like this. The way to abolish marriage, without seeming to abolish it, is to redefine the institution out of existence. If everything can be marriage, pretty soon nothing will be marriage. Legalize gay marriage, followed by multi-partner marriage, and pretty soon the whole idea of marriage will be meaningless. At that point, Canada can move to what [Queens University law professor Martha] Bailey [chief author of the report on decriminalizing polygamy] and her friends really want: an infinitely flexible relationship system that validates any conceivable family arrangement, regardless of the number or gender of partners....

What's that you say? You still don't understand how a bunch of liberal-feminist elites could even think about supporting an "oppressively patriarchal" institution like polygamy? I guess you still just don't get it.... Canada's anti-polygamy laws stand in the way of Bailey's true goal: the creation of a modern, secular, "non-patriarchal" relationship system that would allow for marriage-like unions in any combination of number or gender. That would mean the effective abolition of marriage....

Don't you get it? Canada's socially liberal legal elites are just using the gay marriage movement, fundamentalist Mormons, and Muslim immigrants to get what they're truly after: the slow-motion abolition of marriage....

...Long-term prospects for some sort of legalized multi-partner unions in Canada are pretty decent.... In 2003, a survey conducted by Canada's Vanier Institute found that 20 percent of Canadians (25 percent of younger adults, and 33 percent of secularists) were willing to accept some form of polygamy, even if only 4 percent of Canadians personally approved of such unions. Given time, growing public tolerance, increased pressure from Muslim immigrants, incremental court decisions, continued growth in Canada's already burgeoning polyamory movement, and the return of a Liberal government, Martha Bailey and friends may yet achieve their goal....

...According to [an article in Canada's national news magazine] Macleans [blogged here], polyamory "seems increasingly common" in Canada. And as organized polyamory groups proliferate, there has already been discussion "about creating a system of legal contracts around issues such as child custody and family rights."

...The four Canadian polygamy studies are a time-capsule from the future, a preview of the argument we'll be having should same-sex marriage be fully established here in the United States.

Read the whole article.

The piece is subtitled "If everything is marriage, then nothing is." And that is the key to understanding the conservative terror about recognizing nontraditional relationships. The key fear — "legalize gay marriage, followed by multi-partner marriage, and pretty soon the whole idea of marriage will be meaningless" — is rooted in a fundamental, core assumption that drives many conservatives: "If everybody is somebody, then nobody is anybody."

This was once meant as a snappy comeback to Jesse Jackson leading chants of "I am somebody" among his ghetto constituents. Quite a bit of conservatism is based (either unconsciously or overtly) on the feudal-system assumption that your validity depends on a lesser class of people not having validity.

Seen from this angle, the validity of your marriage really does depend on "undesirable" classes of people being denied marriage. And letting them marry really will invalidate the meaning of your own marriage!

Unless, that is, you change to another, better, post-feudal idea, one that modern conservatives should well recognize: "My freedom is not threatened by your freedom."

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February 2, 2006

Deus Caritas Est: "God Is Love"

Papal encyclical

Is Pope Benedict in the throes of NRE? Has Divine Grace actually reached down and touched him or something?

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who spent more than 20 years as pretty much the Vatican's Grand Inquisitor on morals and sex, has just issued his first encyclical, titled "God Is Love." It dwells on the transcendance, wonder, and caring that is naturally generated through erotic love, and that is inherent in erotic love by its very nature. To quote from Canada’s Globe and Mail (January 26, 2006):

Pope Benedict XVI issued his first encyclical to the world's one billion Roman Catholics yesterday, a sometimes poetically steamy discourse on erotic love that left some scholars puzzled and others applauding the lyricism of a celibate 79-year-old....

In particular his objective appears to be to identify a common thread running through the Greek words eros — human sexual love — and agape — spiritual love.

He writes that sexual love "is neither planned nor willed, but somehow imposes itself upon human beings." He says: "True eros tends to rise in ecstasy towards the Divine, to lead us beyond ourselves... [on] a path of ascent, renunciation, purification and healing.

"Even if eros is at first mainly covetous... a fascination for the great promise of happiness in drawing near to the other, it [becomes] less and less concerned with itself, increasingly seeks the happiness of the other, is concerned more and more with the beloved, bestows itself and wants 'to be there' for the other.

"The element of agape [generalized love for all] thus enters this love, for otherwise eros is impoverished and even loses its own nature. . . . Fundamentally 'love' is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly."

...Benedict says sexual love is rooted in every human being. He acknowledges that Christianity in the past was often criticized for being "opposed to the body," and he says: "It is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed.

"Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure sex, has become a commodity, a mere 'thing' to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man's great 'yes' to the body."

He then challenges the conventional opposing definitions of spiritual love and sexual love and argues that they are the same, that even God manifests a love for humanity that is sexual but also totally spiritual — a love that is personal but exists with the aim of healing the whole human race.

Holy kamoley. Take out the literal God part, and this is exactly why I identify as poly!

What a world away from the traditional Augustinian view that sex is an animalistic necessity meant only for reproduction, and that anything beyond that is the Devil's illusion-making. Or even the more modern Catholic view that sexual attraction is only meant for strengthening the bonds of a married couple.

While he still stresses male-female church marriage as the One True Way (is the Pope Catholic?), the encyclical has a lot of discussion about what New Age poly folks call Sacred Sex. Which by its nature doesn't want to be jammed into an institutional box, since it is a direct connection to the divine. A few pieces of the encyclical sound like they could have come from the writings of Janet and Sasha Lessin, the gurus of poly Tantra.

Benedict is surely not about to reverse the Catholic Church's positions on gay relationships, the divorced, and on and on. Nevertheless, the view of sex and love in Deus Caritas Est is surely outside human laws and institutions. Everyone who believes in love's potentially transcendent nature — including in unofficial places such as unmarried couples, gay couples, and poly groups — now has powerful new material to throw back at any who challenge us from a Catholic standpoint. If you have Catholic family or friends, bookmark this.

What was he thinking?! Benedict/Ratzinger is not dumb; in fact he is quite brilliant. Part of me suspects that he is being Machiavellian and somehow setting Catholics up to be smashed with a doctrinal shithammer. But if so, he will be accused of confusion and inconsistency, and his words will be used against him.

I wonder if the papacy has transformed him, as some writers (when he was chosen) said can happen to a pope when he gets elected. Maybe he's in NRE about being pope. Grace happens.

You can read the whole encyclical on the Vatican's site.