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

October 23, 2009

Will gay marriage leave relationship radicals in the dust?


Interesting question: How much of polyamory's appeal comes from its stated purpose — being able to share love among several people — and how much comes, instead, from the joy of breaking out of old social molds and creating a pioneering way of life?

Right now, it's often hard to separate the two. But they are not the same thing.

Imagine, for a moment, the freedom-seeking pioneers who carved homesteads out of 19th-century wilderness areas, and how those same areas are now covered with safe, bland suburbs. If, in maybe 50 or 100 years, polyamory becomes similarly commonplace, ordinary, and normal — with legal group weddings happening in churches and courthouses every weekend — what will poly look like?

Maybe we see a preview in what's happening among gays, at least in liberal places like my home state of Massachusetts. Married gay couples are respected members of my church, with conventional looks and clothes and jobs, and kids, and single-family houses with for all I know picket fences. It suits them well. But is gay culture losing its zing? The annual Pride Parade in Boston has become almost respectable; banks, insurance companies, and mainstream politicians jostle for visibility, while Pride Day outrageousness seems on the decline. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe.

I became a relationship radical as a teenager via the science fiction of Robert Heinlein and some of his enthusiasts who inducted me. Much later, in his novel Friday, I was interested to see Heinlein's first portrayal of a dysfunctional poly family. They lived in New Zealand in the far future when group marriage was routine; and they turned out to be, under an attractive surface, as conventional, small-minded, and socially-bound as your Limbaugh-listening relatives in Burned Shed, Kansas.

Yesterday, a columnist on the website of the Houston Voice (one of a chain of gay newspapers) discussed the concerns in the gay world that "the relationships of lesbians and gays who opt to stay in domestic partnerships or in alternative arrangements... such as polyamory... will be deemed inferior to those of married couples."

“I don’t know about this marriage business,” Dick Leitsch muttered half-jokingly. “I don’t feel so special anymore.” The former Mattachine chief and Stonewall activist was expressing a concern some in our community have about how marriage is beginning to change us — how we are losing our edge and identity, and becoming “heteronormative.” How we are selling out.

Actor Rupert Everett was far less gracious. “Marriage? Babies? Please. I want to be illegal. I want to live outside the mainstream.... These awful middle-class queens — which is what the gay movement has become — are so tiresome.”

...The time will come when all Americans can marry if they so choose. But how the act and institution will change us is an interesting question.

In her recently published book, When Gay People Get Married: What Happens When Societies Legalize Same-Sex Marriage, economist and LGBT researcher M. V. Lee Badgett asks, “Will marriage change gay people?”

She writes that “Some hope so, arguing that gay men will be more monogamous and gay relationships more stable if same-sex couples can marry, and gays and lesbians will be better assimilated into the larger culture.... Others in the gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities fear that distinctive features of gay life will be transformed in negative ways.”

At a book reading last week, she added that there are those who fear that the relationships of lesbians and gays who opt to stay in domestic partnerships or in alternative arrangements (such as polyamory) will be deemed inferior to those of married couples....

The columnist, Erwin deLeon, describes other such discussions (with links), and he concludes, “Perhaps it’s not too bad after all to no longer feel so special. In 'selling out,' we stand to gain a whole lot more. Equality, for one.”

Read the whole article (Oct. 22, 2009).


Here's another take on the same topic: Queer Culture vs. Gay Marriage, on the blogsite of a gay paper in Australia.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This article illustrates the nature of the human condition more than a poly or gay marriage issue in my opinion. The point is simply, what's your motivation? Do you want attention or to live your life as you want? If it's attention you want, then, in this case, you'll have to find another way to get it besides using your relationship status or sexual orientation. If you want to live your life, then assimilation is good because then you can just live.

Personally, I think most polys these days fall in the second category. It's why you don't see huge parades and all that. It's not about the attention, they just want to live their lives and love whoever they want to love.

The gay marriage community is in a different place right now. They are in a mode of politically advocating for their lifestyle. That work is important and I completely respect the effort. Acceptance is hard to come by in a society that works hard to try and keep everyone in the same pigeon hole. Breaking that mold is good in my mind. However, by the nature of that advocacy, the community is attracting some that really want attention more than anything else.

Furthermore, I can see a time when the poly community will be politically advocating, specifically with younger generations getting involved. I believe the fairy tale of happily ever after with one person filling your every need is dying a rapid death. The young see this very clearly. All that energy and desire to be able to live as they please will eventually come to a boil, especially if there is significant social effort to squash the way they feel. You can see this cycle throughout history for many social issues in every part of the world, it's only a matter of time. When that happens, again the attention seekers will flock to the issue getting the attention.

But ultimately, the effort and issue has to be about something meaningful. What is different is always changing. For any given issue, gay marriage, polyamory, or what have you, the ones that were after the attention rather than the issue will be left without what they wanted. Hopefully the meaningful part is what stays and for those seeking it, happiness will follow.

And the cycle will continue.

October 23, 2009 10:32 PM  
Blogger Clarisse Thorn said...

Reminds me of a post I wrote a while back:

There will always be ways to be radical, for those who want to be ... and I don't think it's fair to force others, who don't want to be radical, into the same mold without their consent.

October 24, 2009 3:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the root issue here is that legal marriage inherently creates unequal status. Does the government have a valid interest in promoting long-term partnerships? Does that interest outweigh the rights of those who don't get married, for whatever reason?

October 25, 2009 9:11 PM  

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