Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

January 6, 2009

"Why Are Gay Marriage Advocates Not Defending Polyamory?"

Huffington Post

Lee Stranahan, a pro-gay-marriage columnist for the Huffington Post, comments on gay-community extremism following the passage of Proposition 8 in California — and calls out the Marriage Rights movement for not acknowledging that poly marriage rights are every bit as valid... theoretically.

After the passage of California's anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, something shifted in the gay rights movement. The new normal now seems to be that anyone who is opposed to gay marriage for any reason at all is quickly labeled a bigot and a hater.

I fully support gay marriage but don't agree with the bigot/hate labeling. I think there are plenty of people for whom the idea of marriage equality is simply something too new for them to have fully wrapped their heads around....

This is where the most vehement of marriage equality advocates point out that their rights were violated by the passage of Prop 8. Marriage is a right, they say; THEIR right and those who would deny it to them are committing an offense on the level with any serious violation of human rights. Waiting is not an acceptable option, they argue — it's just as cruel as telling a slave they must wait to be free.

On a theoretical basis, I actually agree. I do think that consenting adults do have the right to enter into marriage contracts with the people they love.

So I wonder why I don't hear more gay marriage advocates giving full throated support to recognize the marriage rights of polyamorous people?

If you aren't familiar with polyamory, it's pretty straightforward — it's multiple, simultaneous romantic relationships with the knowledge and consent of all parties. In other words, you have more than one lover and everyone involved knows.

Polyamory recently got an online publicity boost when influential personal development guru Steve Pavlina announced he was going to try poly relationships this year. For those interested in learning more, this Wikipedia article is a good place to start. Another longtime poly resource is the book The Ethical Slut.

...There's no argument you can make against a poly marriage that wouldn't work just as well as an argument against gay marriage....

Read the whole article. Stranahan notes that he has been in a poly relationship himself.

He makes his point well, but in reality, any reasonable state recognition of poly marriages would actually be far more complex and difficult.

Same-sex marriage is simple. It fits exactly into the vast legal regime that's already well developed for straight marriage (at least, this has been true ever since courts started regarding men and women as marriage equals.) But state recognition and regulation of poly relationships would require a whole lot of new legal structures, precedents, and policies, as I've commented before:

How would the law mandate, for instance, property rights and responsibilities in partial poly divorces? What about the rights and responsibilities of marriages that merge into pre-existing marriages? Setting default laws for multiple inheritance in the absence of a will, allocating Social Security benefits, it goes on.

And because there are many different basic kinds of poly relationships, compared to only one basic kind of couple marriage, each would need its own legal regime — and we know how good the state is at regulating complicated personal matters.

Moreover, unlike couple marriages, poly relationships can change from one kind to another kind while continuing to exist. An equilateral triad can become a vee or vice versa, or something in between. The flexibility to adapt — to "let your relationships be what they are" — is a core value in the poly groups I know. How would the state keep up with your particular situation?

I've also heard it argued that opportunities would abound for unscrupulous people to game the system in ways that the law couldn't easily address: for people to pretend that their poly relationship is a different kind than it really is, or that they're in poly relationships when they're not. (For instance, could gang members group-marry to gain immunity from each others' testimony?)

In poly meetings I've been in, the discussion quickly comes around instead to business-partnership models for poly households, such as subchapter-S corporations or family LLCs or LLPs. These are already well developed to handle a wide variety of contractual agreements between several people.

Looking farther ahead: Good law follows reality rather than precedes it. Fifty or 100 years from now when poly households are commonplace and their issues are well understood, I'm sure an appropriate set of law will have grown up organically to handle the issues that arise. At least that's how it works when civil society is allowed to go about its business, free of religious or ideological compulsion.

Poly and Steve Pavlina: In his article, Stranahan mentions personal-growth writer Steve Pavlina, author of Personal Development for Smart People. I'd never heard of him but apparently he has a big following. Several days ago Pavlina announced his intention to begin a poly life in 2009, and this is getting widely noticed and commented upon. Pavlina is treating it as a serious public experiment that he'll be writing about.

In addition to his articles so far, he and his wife have put up a long podcast about their — or rather his — poly intentions.


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Blogger Stranahan said...

Thanks for the mention - I just did an interview with one of the authors of The Ethical Slut today and that will be posted on HuffPost in the next week or so...

January 07, 2009 3:22 AM  
Blogger Adam Zadeh said...

Thanks for the link Allen, I've not heard of him either but it seems like it's going to be an interesting social experiment for him.

I wish him the best of luck.

January 07, 2009 3:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(SINGING) I smell a trainwreck, a-comin' round the bend, 'round the bend.

Steve Pavlina seems like a truly brilliant guy, and he has a lot of novel useful things to say, but he's already coming at this like the guru dispensing wisdom about poly -- before he's begun or even imagined the concept more than briefly.

I think he'd do better take on some humility, switch gears, and assume the learning position rather than the teaching position for a while. Pride comes before a fall.

January 10, 2009 8:13 PM  
Blogger Barbara Ruth Saunders said...

My take - category errors:

-getting married is a choice
-being gay or straight is not a choice
-adopting a polyamorous lifestyle is a choice
-human beings appear to have competing drives for sexual exclusivity, sexual variety, jealousy, freedom, and more that complicates the "monogamy" issue

Gay marriage won't lead to polygamy because polygamy changes the legal structure too much for just a slip down a slope.

That gay marriage advocates don't defend polyamory independent of legal policy is because they seem to have adopted an assimilation strategy that disowns other non-conformers to the old norms.

June 05, 2009 7:36 PM  

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