Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

November 27, 2006

"Polygamists Fight to Be Seen As Part of Mainstream"

Washington Post

More breakaway-Mormon polygamists are going public, going to court, and apparently, meeting law-enforcement officials halfway.

By John Pomfret
November 21, 2006

SALT LAKE CITY -- In her battle to legalize polygamy, the only thing Valerie hasn't revealed is her last name. The mother of eight has been on national TV; her photo along with that of her two "sister-wives" has graced the front cover of a glossy magazine dedicated to "today's plural marriages."...

Valerie and others among the estimated 40,000 men, women and children in polygamous communities are part of a new movement to decriminalize bigamy. Consciously taking tactics from the gay-rights movement, polygamists have reframed their struggle, choosing in interviews to de-emphasize their religious beliefs and focus on their desire to live "in freedom," according to Anne Wilde, director of community relations for Principle Voices, a pro-polygamy group based in Salt Lake.

The efforts of Valerie and scores of others like her are paying off. Utah's attorney general, Mark L. Shurtleff, no longer prosecutes bigamy between consenting adults, though it is a felony. Shurtleff and his staff have established an organization, Safety Net, to bring together at monthly meetings representatives from at least five polygamous communities and law enforcement officers.

...Authorities in the state adopted a "don't ask, don't tell" stance, Shurtleff said.... One [historical] reason was that the politically powerful Mormon Church, while officially opposing polygamy, did not want the bad press strict enforcement might bring....

Shurtleff said he decided to confront polygamy's darker side and leave the more mainstream communities alone....

[Polygamous husband] Nat said he needed to be convinced [to marry additional wives]. Far from the stereotype of the patriarch, he appears bookish and perhaps a tad meek. "Usually the women tend to be the biggest advocates of this way of life and men enter it more timidly," he said. "If you are going to do it right, it's a huge responsibility."

Read the whole article.

Also: the New York Times ran an article on November 13th about the re-emergence of polygyny in Central Asia, due to a revival of Islam and a shortage of men (they leave to take jobs in Russia), and also in other Islamic societies:

Miriam Cooke, a professor of Arab culture at Duke University, said polygamy was an emerging trend across the Islamic world, including Indonesia, “where there is a huge controversy about the perceived growing trend in polygamous marriages.” But she warns against treating it as a black-and-white issue.

“It is complicated,” Ms. Cooke said. “There are some women who consider themselves to be feminists who think it’s perfectly acceptable to be a second or third wife and to be a professional woman, a good Muslim and to have all her rights. But I would say that I would agree with the majority of Islamic feminists who consider this to be a setback.”

Read the whole article.

I see any widespread trend toward one-sided polygyny as very bad news. It's not just that where men alone can take multiple partners, women are likely to end up exploited. It's also that for every man with two wives, another man will have none. (Case in point: when I got into genealogy a few years ago, I learned of my own 19th-century Mormon relatives who had two or more wives in the farmhouse — and, apparently, crews of single farmhands who lived out their lives in all-male bunkhouses.)

When any society gets a surplus of unattached males, it's a strong indicator that the society is headed for two things: a major criminal-gang problem and pervasive warlike attitudes: internal gangs and militias, and/or a belligerent military (see for instance den Boer and Hudson’s 2004 book Bare Branches: The Security Implications of Asia’s Surplus Male Population.)

This, incidentally, is one reason why the CIA is so concerned about China in the long term. Due to selective abortion of female fetuses and infanticide of newborn girls, the sex ratio of the upcoming generation is skewed well away from nature's 50-50, toward boys — many of whom will never be able to marry and will devote their lives to other kinds of attachments. Historically, gangs and armies fill this role.


November 17, 2006

Robyn Trask on the Steve Douglas Show (and thoughts on women poly leaders)

KOA News Radio, Denver

As a result of being profiled in her local newspaper, Loving More director/editor Robyn Trask got invited onto the nationally syndicated Steve Douglas radio show for a one-hour interview and call-in (Nov. 13, 2006). She was her usual articulate, voluble, insightful self. You can listen to the show (22-megabyte .mp3 file). Some interesting bits:

"In our national database that we have here at the magazine, we have 13,000 people, and that probably only represents a very small portion of the polyamorous community."

"Our hope is to reach out to and educate as many people as we can about choices in relationship, no matter what those choices are.... My relationships are certainly healthier [than before embracing polyamory nine years ago]. I say that because I have more intimacy and more honesty in my relationships. I can be more authentic and more real. I can be honest that yeah, I'm attracted to somebody, I can speak about that, I don't have to hide it or pretend that it's not happening."

"We [Loving More magazine] had a survey a few years ago, and one third of the community identified as Christian" in some form.

"We're very afraid of jealousy in our culture. Instead of running away from jealousy, in this community we have a tendency to face it — to look at it, and see what is it about. Is it about the relationship? Is it about insecurity in myself? And what can I do to resolve the problem? Rather than run away from it, or blame...."

With jealousy "It's not a matter of getting rid of it. Rather than 'getting rid of it,' you 'move through it.' For me, it's a process of looking at what it's telling me about myself. Jealousy is like any other pain. When we feel a physical pain it's telling us there's something wrong — our hand is burning and we need to move it. Jealousy may tell us there's a problem in the relationship, or we're feeling insecure in a relationship and need to talk to the person, and say, 'Here's what's going on for me.' It may be that we just need to speak about our feelings and be heard. And then again it may be — like for me, about seven or eight years ago, I really didn't like the person I had become, because I wasn't being authentic and honest about who I was to myself, or living my life the way I felt from my heart — and that was where the jealousy was coming from — that I didn't like myself. And I went on a whole quest to learn to love myself again."

"More men are open to the idea [of polyamory] in the beginning. More women handle the dynamics and the emotional part of it better."

After hearing from such a good spokeswoman, that last comment about men and women brings to mind a big shift in poly sociology that's happened in the last 40 years. I'm certainly not the first to point it out.

When the modern era of multipartnering emerged in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, it was pretty much led by men. Think of Oberon (Tim) Zell, founder of the Church of All Worlds; Bro Jud (John Presmont), founder and leader of the groundbreaking Kerista commune (to which we all owe a debt); and any number of other counterculture gurus. The two key writers in creating the movement were very male: science-fiction author Robert A. Heinlein (no counterculturalist!) and Robert H. Rimmer (The Harrad Experiment, Proposition 31, etc.). We can't skip — admit it — Hugh Hefner and the Playboy Philosophy. The free love of that era sometimes had male-entitlement overtones that put women off. In fact, female reaction against it played a key role in the birth of modern feminism, which gestated in the counterculture around 1969-70.

By contrast, today's polyamory movement, which got going in the 1980s and 1990s, has been a remarkably female enterprise. A good majority of its creators, leaders, authors, and spokespeople were and are women.

Think of Deborah Anapol (Love Without Limits); Loving More founder and powerhouse Ryam Nearing and her successors Mary Wolf and Robyn Trask; Dossie Easton and "Catherine A. Liszt"/Janet Hardy (The Ethical Slut); Wendy-o Matik (Redefining Our Relationships), Celeste West (Lesbian Polyfidelity); Morning Glory Zell, creator or popularizer of the word "polyamorous"; Jennifer Wesp, creator of the original alt.polyamory usenet newsgroup; Janet Kira Lessin, Polyfamilies Yahoo group founder Noel and her successor Julie; Polyamory Weekly podcaster cunning minx; Northwest poly event organizer Theresa Brennan; Anita Wagner; Unitarian-Universalist poly leaders Jasmine Walston and Valerie White; academics Elizabeth F. Emens, Elisabeth Sheff, Serena Anderlini-D'Onofrio, Geri D. Weitzman, Joy Davidson, Elaine (Cascade Spring) Cook, Leanna Wolfe, Meg Barker, Barbara M. Foster; and on and on. (Apologies to folks I missed.)

Male poly leaders have certainly accomplished a great deal, but there are fewer of them.

Any theories why?


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November 16, 2006

"Husbands And Wife"

CBS4-TV, Miami

A local TV news show in Miami does a dippy and breathless report on the poly trend. Never mind the eye-rollers here; at least it gets the concept out and shows someone reading Google results, which is the sane way to start learning more.

From the station's website (Nov. 15, 2006):

...Varela reports that while the threesome embraces their lifestyle and share the same bed, they know what they're doing is a big taboo.

"You can come out and people freak out," Cat told CBS4.

Amidst all the controversy, polyamory seems to be a growing trend. A Google search produced more than a million references, including a polyamory newsgroup credited with starting the movement in 1992.

...CBS4 did manage to find an active group here in Florida and went undercover to get a feel for how polyamorous individuals live.

Varela reported that the meeting took place in the conference room of a public library, where a dozen Florida polys meet once a month. Men, women, husbands, wives and lovers gathered, all who feel monogamy is monotonous.

The group conversed amicably, talking about their unions and how fulfilling they felt their lifestyle is.

Read the transcript; watch the video.

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November 15, 2006

"Love by the numbers"

Daily Camera (Boulder, Colorado)

Robyn Trask, director of Loving More magazine and its conferences, is profiled by her regional newspaper along with several other local polys:

On Thanksgiving, Robyn Trask will get together with a large group of friends and family for a potluck in her Broomfield home. There will be turkey with all the trimmings and plenty of side dishes. All 40 or so will participate in the belt-straining meal, laughing, talking and piling food on their plates. The only difference: If someone says, "Honey, pass the mashed potatoes," more than one person may reach for the dish....

Trask estimates that about 500 people in Colorado belong to a polyamory group, although she says many more likely could be polyamorous....

Read the whole article.

The state of Loving More. While we're on the subject, Loving More seems to be getting its act back together after several years of disruptive ownership changes and lack of funds. In particular, Robyn has worked out plans to get the magazine back onto its quarterly publishing schedule. Looking to the future, Loving More recently became a non-profit organization, established a board of directors, and applied for 501(c)3 tax-exempt status. It is trying to raise $30,000 by the end of the year for a variety of projects, a much-needed website overhaul (volunteers welcome), and to keep the magazine afloat.

If the tax-exempt status goes through, your donation now will become tax-deductible retroactively. Mail it to Loving More, PO Box 4358, Boulder, CO 80306, or by PayPal. I have given heavily, so I feel fine asking you to. Robyn is dedicated and energetic, and this is the only credible national poly awareness and education organization that I see anywhere on the horizon. Read the appeal.

The new board of directors consists of Robyn; her mother Jimi Phillips, a retired business owner; poly counselor and public spokesperson Nan Wise; Jesus V. Garcia of Santa Cruz, California; and longtime poly activist Akien MacIain of San Leandro, California.

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November 12, 2006

"Revelations of love triangle involving murder victim"

Daily Mail (London)

Great Britain continues to gossip over the case of a couple in Scotland who came out as poly after the tragic murder of their third. In this new article on the website of London's Daily Mail, the wife in the grieving couple does a fine job of getting across what polyamory is all about and how she came to believe in it.

The article just went up (early Sunday morning, Nov. 12, 2006) and if you're quick, you can be the first to post a comment at the article's end.

Also: on November 14th The Scotsman followed up with an article about a very monogamous lady who tells how her husband's interest in polyamory wrecked their marriage.


November 8, 2006

Poly 101 radio interview

Nobody's Angel, a columnist for the Polyamorous Percolations main website and a regular on its forums, was asked by her city's college radio station to discuss her exploration of poly. After some debate (and urgings from her online friends) she summoned up the courage. Here's the very nice result (20-minute .wma audio file; may require Internet Explorer). Congratulations!


November 6, 2006

"Wife defends husband's relationship with murder victim"

The Scotsman

A poly family in Scotland decides to come out following a terrible tragedy.

A women whose businessman husband had a love affair with Angelika Kluk, the Polish student murdered in Glasgow in September, has spoken for the first time about how she supported the relationship.

Anne Macaskill, 35, revealed that she and her husband Martin, 42, practised "polyamory", which advocates multiple relationships.

She said Miss Kluk also accepted the situation and was planning to spend Christmas holidays at the couple's Renfrewshire home after returning to Poland to resume her studies.

The couple keep a picture of Miss Kluk — or "Angela" as they knew her — in their living room.

The student's mutilated body was found stashed beneath the floorboards of a Catholic church where she was working in September. Peter Tobin, a loner and odd-job man, has been charged with the murder.

"My husband and I have an unusually honest relationship," Mrs Macaskill said. "Angela was not my rival or my competitor. What the three of us had was all about love. It was not sleazy. It was not about casual sex."

Mrs Macaskill said she had not planned on having an open relationship with her husband and that when he confessed to the affair she was initially reluctant to accept it.

"But then I started thinking about it and searching on the web and I found there was a term, 'polyamory', that described the situation perfectly," she said.

"I realised I had no right to tell my husband what to feel. Love was what he felt for Angela — and for me as well. Love is not a finite emotion."

Read the whole article (The Scotsman, Nov. 6, 2006). Also, the reader comments at the end could really use some poly input.

Update May 4, 2007: The church handyman was just found guilty after a trial that held the attention of Scotland for weeks. Extensive coverage.


November 4, 2006

"The Confession"

National Review Online

Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center is one of the nation's chief anti-gay-marriage writers. A week before the midterm elections, he publishes new proof that gays are conspiring to use polyamory — that's right — to abolish marriage for everyone and destroy western civilization.

The proof that "lets the cat out of the bag" is the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement, issued last July by a large coalition urging recognition for a variety of family and household structures (see our previous report and discussion).

That hundreds of gay-marriage supporters, including big names like Gloria Steinem, Cornel West, Rabbi Michael Lerner (of Tikkun Magazine), and Barbara Ehrenreich have signed onto a statement openly demanding recognition for polyamorous families is important enough. But the really big news is what’s been happening in the months since the release of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement. The ongoing discussion of that manifesto on popular blogs, and particularly in the gay community’s own press, confirms that even many prominent mainstream advocates of same-sex marriage support a radical family agenda — and plan to push it when the time is right. In other words, a careful look at the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement — and especially at its public reception — indicates that the above “confession” does in fact represent the plans and convictions of the greater part of the movement for same-sex marriage.

...Calls for polyamory and other forms of family radicalism may be nothing new to those already familiar with the history of the gay community’s internal debates, or with the quiet plans of legal academics. Yet a collective and very public declaration of the family-radical platform, endorsed by scores of prominent scholars and other nationally known figures, signals a new phase in the struggle. Once again, as in the early 1990s, the radicals are out in the open, unwilling to silence themselves for the sake of a united front.

In the aftermath of the Beyond Same-Sex Marriage statement, it was easy to see that the “‘official’ marriage equality line” has served to disguise the views of many same-sex marriage supporters. Numerous reports in the mainstream media, and in the gay community’s own press, described the censorship and self-censorship that has kept the reality of marriage radicalism out of the public eye. The New York Times reported that gay family radicals “say they have muffled their own voice by censoring themselves.” Yet now, said the Times, these radicals “increasingly feel that they have nothing to lose [by speaking out] given ‘that there has been defeat after political defeat.’”

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Kors, a leading California gay-marriage activist, noted that the movement’s silence on polyamory is not necessarily a matter of actual opposition to the practice, but simply about “not allowing the right wing to steer the conversation.” Molly McKay, media director of Marriage Equality USA, spoke of the need to limit some conflicts and conversations to “internal dialogue.”

The real agenda behind the plot, of course, is

to dissolve marriage, not through formal abolition, but by gradually extending the hitherto unique notion of marriage to every conceivable family type.

Read the whole article. And here is Part II.

The key to understanding this mindset, I'm convinced, is the "scarcity model" of marriage, freedom, and human worth in general. In the scarcity model, it's a zero-sum game: for someone to gain value, someone else must lose value. In particular, the validity and worth of a traditional family depends on keeping other kinds of families from having validity and worth. Because if someone new gains validity and worth, someone else has to lose them.

I've said this before. The key fear driving conservatives is "legalize gay marriage, followed by multi-partner marriage, and pretty soon the whole idea of marriage will be meaningless" (as Kurtz put it in an earlier article). This stems from — stick with me now — a core assumption that many conservatives hold: "If everybody is somebody, then nobody is anybody."

This quip began as a snappy comeback to Jesse Jackson leading chants of "I am somebody" among his ghetto constituents. Quite a lot 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 adopt another, better, post-feudal idea, one that modern conservatives ought to know: "My freedom is not diminished by your freedom."


On another note: Kurtz and other anti-gay-marriage leaders claim that European countries which recognize nontraditional relations have suffered a measurable collapse in the institution of marriage since they did so. Not true, according to the new book Gay Marriage: For Better or For Worse? What We've Learned From the Evidence by William Eskridge and Darren Spedale (Oxford University Press, 2006). This is from a writeup by Dale Carpenter (on Eugene Volokh's influential blog):

[Eskridge and Spedale] have looked at marriage rates and other evidence of the social effects of recognizing same-sex relationships in the 17 years since Scandinavian countries began doing so.

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, (subscriber only) they summarize their findings as follows: Seventeen years after recognizing same-sex relationships in Scandinavia there are higher marriage rates for heterosexuals, lower divorce rates, lower rates for out-of-wedlock births, lower STD rates, more stable and durable gay relationships, more monogamy among gay couples, and so far no slippery slope to polygamy, incestuous marriages, or "man-on-dog" unions. From their op-ed:

"[T]here is no evidence that allowing same-sex couples to marry weakens the institution. If anything, the numbers indicate the opposite. A decade after Denmark, Norway and Sweden passed their respective partnership laws, heterosexual marriage rates had risen 10.7% in Denmark; 12.7% in Norway; and a whopping 28.8% in Sweden. In Denmark over the last few years, marriage rates are the highest they've been since the early 1970s. Divorce rates among heterosexual couples, on the other hand, have fallen. A decade after each country passed its partnership law, divorce rates had dropped 13.9% in Denmark; 6% in Norway; and 13.7% in Sweden. On average, divorce rates among heterosexuals remain lower now than in the years before same-sex partnerships were legalized."

In addition, out-of-wedlock birthrates in each of these countries contradict the suggestion by social conservatives that gay marriage will lead to great increases in out-of-wedlock births and therefore less family stability for children....

Eskridge and Spedale also find benefits to gay relationships:

"Our research has also uncovered additional social benefits. In dozens of interviews with partnered couples and through other sources, we found that marriage rights had an important beneficial effect not only on the couples themselves, but on their local and national communities as well. Couples reported that their relationships were stronger and more durable, that relationships with family members had deepened, that co-workers had become more tolerant and supportive, and their children felt greater validation by having married parents. Many couples reported a greater emphasis on monogamy, which may be reflected by the fact that national rates of HIV and STD infections declined in each of the Scandinavian countries in the years after they passed their partnership laws."

Read the whole interesting thing. (And thanks to Polyamorous Percolations webmaster Chias for turning this up.)

P.S. added November 12: If you're mentally filing away good talking points for dealing with Kurtz-type people, note this comment from cunningminx:

My not-terribly-respectful response to Mr. Kurtz in this week's Polyamory Weekly podcast.

My comments, along with Genevieve's (my lover's wife's) are during our "Poly in the Media" segment at about 25:15 in. To summarize, his article basically seems to be saying, "Admit it! You want marriage to change!"

Um... yeah, we do. Just like people wanted to change it being legal to beat your wife or marry someone of a different race. We do think that things should change. My questions to Mr. Kurtz are, "Why is that bad?" and "What exactly are you afraid of?"

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