Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

June 21, 2006

Group wedding on the New Yorker cover

The New Yorker, perhaps the most widely respected general-interest magazine in America, decorates its cover for June 19th with a cartoon of a groom and three joyous brides waving goodbye and driving off in a "Just Married" convertible.

This is obviously a "Big Love" reference, timed for the end of the show's first season — but even so, did you think you'd see the day?

(There's no article on the subject inside; the New Yorker just does its covers by whimsy.)


June 17, 2006

"Beyond Gay Marriage"

Village Voice

Here’s another in the recent spate of articles on the attention that polyamory is getting in the gay/queer worlds. It’s from New York’s Village Voice (issue of June 20, 2006).

Watch the news reports on gay marriage and you’d think the queer community had magically morphed into a Noah’s Ark of same-sex couples -- all conveniently packaged two by two. . . .

Now consider this proverbial wrench: a Brooklyn-based group of lesbian, gay, transgender, and straight friends who hang out, make out, and uphold an anything-goes policy on who gets with whom. A lesbian can kiss a gay man, a transgender can sleep with a straight woman -- without fear of the reproach they might receive elsewhere from members of the queer and straight communities alike.

“A lot of queer culture can be hung up on identity,” confesses Jude River Allan, 25, a sweet, cuddly cub who used to bartend at the Hole, where many of the friends first met. “Dykes can be hung up on other dykes if they have sex with men. Fags can be hung up on other fags if they have sex with women. Dykes and fags can be transphobic when there are trannies around.”

In this crew, which is tantamount to a “subculture within a subculture,” explains River, “you can do whatever you want, and none of us are going to have issue with it.”

Several members of the group are quoted at length, including this person who gets polyamory spot-on:

River: Polyamory is something I’ve been really committed to being for about nine years. For me, being polyamorous is about being committed to a different kind of family structure. You really push yourself, and push your lovers. Being in poly relationships has required a lot more as far as trust, communication, and willingness to experience things than in any monogamous relationship I was in. In Philadelphia, I lived in a house with four lovers and four people committed to being polyamorous. And the relationship we formed with each other -- there was more love in that house than I’d ever felt before. We were all there for each other, and truly loved each other.

I feel like the human heart has so much potential for opening up and embracing as many people and as many experiences as it can -- and I feel like being polyamorous is a big part of that.

The process of coming out poly is a lot harder than coming out queer because it’s not in the media, because it’s not looked about highly. It’s seen as corny people wanting to have sex, and it’s not about that, at least not for me. Usually when I see anything that has to do with polyamory, it’s always straight -- a lot of time it’s swingers -- and it’s usually focused around sex and not around commitment and love. To have polyamory be overlooked or misrepresented by the queer community, it’s very odd. Especially by a community that’s been so misrepresented itself. . . .

Read the whole article.

Anita Wagner of the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom notes that she is "delighted" to see growing references to polyamory by GLBTs. "For a long time GLBT media remained generally silent on the subject," she writes, "I imagine so as to avoid the wrath of the crafters of same-sex marriage movement strategy who, in order to defend against the slippery slope argument, chose to deny deny deny. Don't know what has changed exactly, but changed it has.

"The following two paragraphs are taken from an article on the Canadian GLBT website/magazine Xtra.ca. It's also great advocacy for coming out as poly:"

Gay liberation (remember that word?) should be focussed on pressuring fundamentalists, right-wingers and every conservative mom and pop, to think about their own prejudices. The only way to do that is the way the old gay liberationists did it — by flaunting our gender play (male femininity and female masculinity) in their faces, proudly reminding them of the sexual acts which we enjoy (and they hate) and teaching everyone the value of alternative relationships — polyamory, promiscuity and open relationships.

If you're a gay guy, looking granny in the eye and telling her you like to wear dresses may do more to fight homophobia than demanding an apology from the Knights Of Columbus, Margaret Somerville or Ryerson University. If you're a dyke, having a frank discussion of your polyamorous relationship with some straight friends will do more to open minds than a marriage ceremony. Just flaunt it!

You can read the entire Xtra article here.


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June 7, 2006

Polyamory decried in the U.S. Senate

Congressional Record

During the U.S. Senate debate on June 6, 2006, over a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriage, Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) warned of the looming threat that legal recognition of polyamory poses to American civilization.


There is another argument I want to further develop while my colleagues are coming to the floor; that is, this one on “slippery slope.” People say this is one that isn't going to happen. It is not going to develop. Yet I think the legal pedigree is there for a slippery slope to develop. Some will be recognizing different groups that have stepped forward already to say that if two people of the same sex can be married, why can't there be additional people? What is the legal bias against having more than two people in a marital arrangement? This even has a term now, polyamorist. They have already had one court case trying to gain recognition for a marriage of a woman and two men. They say in some of their advocacy that they are waiting for same-sex marriage to pass to begin agitation to legalize more than two people getting married.

If you think that is not going to happen, you had the minority opinion in the Supreme Court case that recognized that, what is your legal basis of stopping that, too, if it can be two men or two women? Why is it only two? That is what this group is starting to agitate for. They are saying that granting same-sex marriage is supported on equal protection grounds. How is the court going to deny them? There are plenty of polyamorists out there.

The problem goes further. We have an advocacy group called the Alternatives to Marriage Project which supports polyamory and other innovations to parental cohabitation. The Alternatives to Marriage Project is quoted frequently in the mainstream media. Believe it or not, some of the most powerful factions of family law scholars in the law schools favor legal recognition of both polyamory and parental cohabitation. Even law review articles have been published advocating for both. Again, they argue that if two men can get married and two women can get married, if this is an equal protection argument, why is it limited to just two? What is the legal basis or foundational basis in society for this?

I raise that as a point because this area of law is starting to develop. Even the influential American Law Institute came out with proposals that would grant nearly equal recognition to cohabitation. So this is developing in the law.

I raise these items as issues knowing that some people will scoff at it. You can look at what happened in the world in the past year or so as well. Sweden passed the first same-sex partnership plan in the world and had serious proposals floated by parties on the left to abolish marriage and legalize multipartner unions. So this is out there and it is one of those things we should watch.

I love that part, "There are plenty of polyamorists out there." (Depends what you mean by "plenty," I guess.)

Regular readers here will notice that everything in Brownback's speech came from recent writings of the anti-gay-marriage/ anti-polygamy/ anti-polyamory polemicist Stanley Kurtz, of the Hudson Institute.

Activist Anita Wagner commented to various lists: "Polyamory discussed on the Senate floor -- now that's visibility, even if we are being exploited as a scare tactic. Kudos also to our friends at the Alternatives to Marriage Project for the work they do in getting out the message that there are legitimate alternatives to traditional marriage."

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June 5, 2006

"Polygamy Versus Democracy"

The Weekly Standard

Stanley Kurtz, our favorite anti-gay-marriage "slippery slope" polemicist, has a major new piece in the June 6th Weekly Standard. It was timed for the debate in the Senate on the anti-gay-marriage amendment to the Constitution (which failed to pass). The article is about why legal polygamy would destroy democracy -- which is, of course, the gay-marriage movement's secret goal.

Aside from the fact that the article depends on sudden leaps of non-logic (if you place two statements next to each other, they're logically connected, right?), it's actually a worthwhile and valuable read -- if only to see what the most important writer for the opposition is saying.

Most of the article describes how traditional, patriarchal polygyny is incompatible with a free society. Muslim and African immigrants to Europe are a major focus here. So are the 19th-century Mormons.

He has less to say about modern polyamory, but his grasp of it is getting better; he no longer lumps it with traditional polygamy, but now sees it as the opposing extreme. Instead of being too closed, rigid, and authoritarian for a free society, polyamory is too free, loose, and make-it-up-as-you-go to provide the family stability required by children.

Here is most of his section on polyamory:

Far from offering a democratic solution to the problem of multipartner unions, egalitarian polyamory simply reveals another face of the polygamy dilemma. It is inherently difficult to keep multipartner unions together. The traditional solution [to make patriarchal polygamy work] is to rely on rules, clear lines of authority, the suppression of emotion, and a sense of obligation to kin. Collective solidarity is the material and spiritual payoff for all the sacrifice. Yet the polyamorists cultivate love, resist authority, dispense with organizational rules, and try to wish jealousy away. Once all the stability-inducing sacrifices have been dispensed with, impermanence is the inevitable result.

Polyamory is a cover-all term for a bewildering variety of relationship forms--everything from open marriage, to bisexual triads, to a man with multiple women, to a woman with multiple men, to large sexual groups, and many more. The "rules" governing these arrangements are entirely flexible. There might be three "primary" partners who actually live together, and several additional "secondary" partners (collectively shared or not) to whom the three "primaries" are less committed. The levels of commitment, and the range of partnership and mutual involvement, are subject to continual change and renegotiation. Open and honest communication is the only rule. Polyamorists emphasize that multipartner unions take intense and constant work. Yet this need for a higher level of monitoring and negotiation only highlights the forces pushing against stability. . . .

This might not matter were it not for the problem of children. Family stability is highly desirable for children. Not only would legally recognized polyamory be unstable, but the legitimization of polyamory would also be incompatible with one of our core reasons for giving marriage the backing of law at all: to reinforce monogamy as a cultural value.

You can't send the message that marriage means fidelity when even a small portion of recognized marriages are polyamorous. The reliance of Western marriage systems on monogamous companionate love for stability is all but ignored by the advocates of polyamory, who have little or nothing to say about children. . . .

Democratic culture depends on monogamous marriage. The alternatives are either too authoritarian to be adapted to our society or so hyper-individualist that they cannot perform the work of families.

There you have it: expect the case against us from here on out to center on that last line.

Do read the whole article.

(For an informative actual history of marriage and its functions, see Julian Sanchez's Marital Mythology: Why the new crisis in marriage isn’t in the June 2006 issue of the libertarian magazine Reason.)

For the record, June 2012: Academics in Belgium publish a paper claiming to show that that polygyny is compatible with democracy.

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June 1, 2006

"Big Gay Love"

The Advocate

As the cover story of its June 6th issue, one of the nation's leading gay magazines reports on the "unknown" extent of polyamory in the gay community:

HBO's Big Love has ignited debate about hetero polygamy, but polyamorous relationships are not news to the many gay men with multiple long-term partners. How do they fit in to our fight for visibility?

By Greg Hernandez

When Pete Chvany feels like kissing his partner Alan Hamilton on the front lawn of their home in Somerville, Mass., he doesn't really care what the neighbors think. And he doesn't mind if Hamilton then gives a kiss to his wife of 22 years, Pepper Greene, or to Hamilton's other male partner, Woody Glenn.

"Anyone who's watching is getting an eyeful," says Chvany, who has been involved in the polyamorous relationship for nine years. "We are out to people in our neighborhood. In effect, Alan has three partners, and we are all his family."

The quartet are among an unknown number of people in the gay and lesbian population who are in a relationship with more than one partner. . . .

A longer excerpt of the article is on the Advocate's web site.

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