Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

July 30, 2011

Matt Bullen tells of his poly awakening, and so do others

Several remarkably good how-I-came-to-poly stories have been published in the last few days, while I was digging out from under the work that piled up when I was away at the Network for a New Culture's Summer Camp East. Kick back for a good read.

1. Matt Bullen in Seattle was the co-writer with his girlfriend Terisa Greenan (at far right) for her poly web-TV series "Family" (2009–10). Matt and Terisa are part of a tight poly cluster of five-plus, some of whom have have been very out to the news media as the prototypical successful Seattle poly bunch. For instance, they were the centerpiece of the important and influential Newsweek online article two years ago. Now Matt, a transplanted Brit and proud of it, has just published his story of how he and his wife Vee (at left) originally came to poly.

It's in The Idler for 2011 — a well-regarded, annual British hardbound book-magazine "that campaigns against the work ethic and promotes liberty, autonomy and responsibility.... The title comes from a series of essays by Dr Johnson, published in 1758-59 in the Gentleman’s Magazine."

The More the Merrier

...In the centre of the fenced front garden of a cottage in New Zealand is a lemon tree. It yields big, contented lemons all year. My wife and I would chase our little boy around and around it, evening after evening, ducking down among the giggles to pick up a fallen fruit.... It was a welcome plateau of stability....

But geography was about to split me from Vera for several nights each week. She was set to spend a lot of time teaching at a university in Auckland, almost three hours to the north. She would be staying by herself, an attractive woman going through a time of excitement and stress, surrounded by thousands of bright, cute people. I would be alone in the countryside, looking after our boy.

She and I, it seemed to me, should talk. Any sensible couple would: even we, who had been married and utterly monogamous for well over a decade, could see that logistics might now open a sustained fracture into which sexual desire and the plain need for company might creep.

We had our talk, and then several other talks on the heels of it. Result: for the first time in our relationship, we gave each other permission to have casual sexual encounters with other people. As the odds for such sport were heavily in her favour, and I was doing little paid work, I had plenty of evenings alone after our lad went to sleep to think further about what our new arrangement might mean for our relationship. Two-thirds thrilled and one-third lonely, down among the dark paddocks of dairy country, I thought about how she might be spending the night in the city. Why were we okay with our agreement? How okay were we? Why was I mentally cheering her on, agog to hear any good war stories when she returned?...

Here’s what happened about our sex deal: neither of us did anything, at all....


...Then we met Terisa, Scott and Larry. They came to one of the cheap and cheerful cocktail parties we threw each month at our North Seattle apartment. Terisa lives with the two men, who are both her partners of many years. She met Scott first. Later, he introduced her to Larry. The guys are not involved with each other.

...Once Terisa and I had established our shared professional interest in writing, we soon started dating and making love. We also found that we were able to get on well as pals. These strands interplayed, wove in and out, curveting off each other or muttering along famously.

Soon afterwards Vera started going out with Larry, Terisa’s husband. At first this led to a couple of classic quasi-farcical moments, such as Vera and I texting each other at daybreak from respective bedrooms at the triad’s house, asking politely who was going to pad downstairs to make the coffee.

This state of affairs was, in Terisa’s phrase, all very convenient....

But something else was starting to develop. As months passed, we found that the core romantic liaisons were sprouting other relationships and benefits: other kinds of love, if you like. Vera and Terisa became good pals, lunching and doing dance class together. Our seven-year-old learned editing skills sitting on Terisa’s knee at her computer suite; editing that was valuable not just in the filmic sense, but as a general ability critical to crafting all manner of creative work. Larry and Scott would also pitch in with our lad, helping with math homework or bantering. Vera and Larry toiled hard to develop produce patches at the triad’s home: as I write there is a huge bowl of their ripening cherry tomatoes a few feet from my desk. I baked bread and made soups for the group. And “Family” continued to act as a cementing force for all of us. I helped to write it, our son had an acting role in it, Vera catered and assisted. Larry was already executive producer, Scott a director of photography. Terisa directed and orchestrated the whole thing on a shoestring budget, with a cast and crew of up to 20 people per episode. It was a relentlessly creative time, an awful lot of fun, and cost little. We also began to attract the attention of media from Newsweek to Canal+ TV France. (Egoistical side note: can you imagine my satisfaction, as a skinny English boy, in talking to the French nation about how to love women?)

More recently, Terisa has started to collect our boy from school once or twice a week to take care of him for a few hours, giving Vera more freedom to earn part-time cash teaching ballet. This childcare arrangement was, in turn, made possible by our moving to an apartment three minutes from the triad’s house.... We can nip to each other’s home to drop off a loaf or to pick someone up on the way to the huge local charity shop where we buy most of our clothes....


...People tend to want to know if there really is as much joy involved as I have begun to outline. The answer: yes. The context: polyamory also takes pretty much constant maintenance, and involves the occasional flashpoint scene that could strip the paint off the eyes of Mars. Living polyamorously is a bit like getting into the SAS: myths aside, and above all, you have to want to do it and to be able to focus way, way beyond initial illusions. To stretch this simile further, you have to be able to function well as your own person and as part of a group, sometimes parachuting into one of these two camps when you’d far rather be left in peace in the other.

Do we fight, do we get on each other’s nerves, do we get jealous? After all, Dr. Pepper Schwartz opined in a recent KOMO News piece that "it is not in most people's capacity to love multiple people at the same time, much less all live together as a happy family," The answer is: certainly there are tensions and jealousies. For example, as a family we all tend to be a little over-solicitous of each other’s feelings. This can lead to problems....

A good tip, if you are contemplating how you might deal with jealousy, is encapsulated in a section title of Dossie Easton and [Janet Hardy's] book The Ethical Slut. That is: ‘Go For The Ick’. In other words, cut to what is really making you feel anxious and queasy. Is it the thought of your partner looking into someone else’s eyes, or a fear of being dumped, or giggled about, or what? The nearer you can get to the core, the more clearly you can see yourself: and that is a good – though scary – place to be. Moreover, I advocate sharing your exploration with your partner....

...So, is polyamory enviable? Put it this way: when I go through our challenging times, I usually ask myself whether I would want to be living any other way or spending time doing anything else. No. Our son is happy and healthy. We all get on, even when the six of us descended on the UK for a hectic vacation....

...Polyamory is great, and it is tempting. But polyamory (or even swinging) is not something to be tried lightly. Ducks need to be corralled into a row, and anyone involved has to be searingly honest about what is likely to please or to disturb them. Otherwise, I almost guarantee shock and/or sadness. Indeed, I would advise not trying just in order to try, but to try with the full intention of succeeding. And that takes preparation and compassion. And courage.

The full, 3,000-word piece is not available online; you have to buy or subscribe to The Idler. It claims a circulation of 33,000. "The magazine is known for attracting opinion-forming contributors such as Toby Young, Louis Theroux and David Hockney," writes Matt. "So the readership, though small, probably reflects that."

P.S.: Matt has just started a polyamory blog about his life.

He and Terisa are working on a new web-TV series, "VNN Nicely News", that's supposed to be out later this summer.

Here's a two-part audio interview they did on poly parenting: Part 1; Part 2. These are episodes #249 and #250 of Cunning Minx's Polyamory Weekly podcast (which I haven't been promoting nearly as much as it deserves).


2. Mystic Life is the author of the small book Spiritual Polyamory (2004) and other works.

My First Exposure to Polyamory: The Witches of Eastwick

By Mystic Life

Back in college I went to a party with some friends who were visiting from out of town, and apparently one of the women at the party had noticed me. She called and asked if I’d like to go to a movie with her... The Witches of Eastwick.

...“Julie” wasn’t very attractive to me. However, she was nice, she liked me, and I had low self-esteem… so we ended up dating for over two years. She was only my second sex partner, and the first partner I ended up cheating upon. At the time, I truly believed “what they don’t know won’t hurt them” though of course it was very disrespectful and created distance between us.

...Instead of recognizing that monogamy wasn’t working for me, I thought I could get by on flings. Besides, since I was living in mid-Michigan, I didn’t see myself as having any alternative to monogamy. Also, I had some karma around the issue of infidelity since my father was a cheater as well. I didn’t see the connection at the time, but I’ve come to believe that if we’re not conscious of our stuff, we can “act out” the issues that hold an emotional charge from our family of origin.

So… back to our first date. I LOVED The Witches of Eastwick, though I didn’t know why at the time.... Jack Nicholson’s character, Daryl Van Horne, appealed because he spoke to a part of me that had yet to emerge. When asked early on in the film if he is married, he replies:

“The answer is no, I don’t believe in it. Good for the man, lousy for the woman. She dies, she suffocates. I’ve see it! And then the husband runs around complaining that he’s fucking a dead person, and he’s the one who killed her!”

From where I stand now, I feel this deadening effect is not correlated with gender.... I would later realize how marriage (or any traditional relationship) can deaden the participants’ sexuality. Later on I would read Sonia Johnson’s The Ship That Sailed into the Living Room in which she suggests that the best way to enliven a sexual relationship is to begin telling the truth. Reading Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton would further enhance my understanding of the importance of living transparently....

Read on (July 29, 2011).


3. At The Frisky:

Girl Talk: My Adventures In An Open Marriage

By Rachel Rabbit White

...So far, I’ve found a way to make my relationship with my husband, Edmund, keep its charm, passion, intimacy and commitment. And it has happened by opening the gates.

...The night of our [first] date there was a storm. The lights were out and we found an Ecuadorian restaurant lit by candles, where we drank tequila with mango and hot sauce. When we got back to his apartment, a tree cracked with lightning and fell in the street. I felt equally intense. When Edmund asked me to marry him a year later, it just made sense. Like our first date, our relationship was emotional and passionate but more than anything, it was a meeting of minds.

We had talked about non-monogamy once, when we first started dating. It was during the “getting you know you sexually” phase, where weekends are spent entirely in bed, save for meals out. We learned that we were both bisexual and enjoyed porn. “Who knows what the future holds for us. Polyamory?” he half-joked. The thing we agreed on about monogamy and marriage is that it should be open to change, fluidity. How can you make such a serious a decision once in your life, and never go back and evaluate it? Monogamy or divorce was just so black and white.


...While marriage had taken its toll, making us feel at times a little like brother and sister, we feared non-monogamy might break the beautiful relationship we had. But soon, Edmund stopped seeing it as sharing me, and started to view it as us exploring together....

I couldn’t guess how I would feel about my partner’s sexual conquests — until it happened. It was my birthday and a female friend came home with us. I poured some white wine, but it wasn’t long until her honey-blonde hair whipped to the side, and she writhed her body onto my lap, as our mouths touched. Soon, the three of us fell into bed together. As I pulled back watching the two of them, I could feel myself beaming. I felt excited for him, happy with a surge of “Yeah my husband is hot!” I also learned that having sex with people outside your marriage makes you want more sex with your husband. For weeks, Edmund and I couldn’t keep our hands off each other....

I still don’t know where we are headed or what our future will look like. But I trust the flow of it. I get it now, it is just me and him. You make the rules in your own relationship.

Read the whole article (July 28, 2011).


4. By a bi-guy columnist for AfterElton:

Snails & Oysters: Kelly, a Bipolyamorous Love Story

By Chris O'Guinn

In 1993, just after the death of my mom, I got a best friend — which was a big deal because I hadn’t had one of those since I was five....

At the time I was basically feral. I had long hair and a leather jacket, loads of anger and more issues than a magazine rack. I was timesharing groups of friends — that is, I had two distinct groups of people I spent time with, none of whom was I very close with.

Kelly picked her way through the briar patch of my defenses with an ease that I found alarming. She knew what it was like to put up a wall of hostility to keep the world out because she had done the same thing....

We started to really connect through our writing. She was always a better writer than me — such a consummate perfectionist. I was awed by her stories....

Then, in the course of a conversation with Kelly’s BFF I learned that Kelly was, in fact, bisexual. I absorbed that knowledge without much drama, so I was a little surprised when Kelly freaked out and begged me to meet her for a talk.

She tried to downplay what her BFF had said, panicking that I would reject her because I now knew this secret about her. The only response I could think to give her to calm her down was that I was bisexual too.

I had never told anyone that before.

...Yes, of course I developed a crush on her. There was a small hitch, though — she was dating one of those guys I nominally called "friend." I think this might have been the first time the words “F**k my life” had ever been spoken.

Well, their dating became their getting married and I just learned to deal. I still had a best friend in Kelly and that was all sorts of awesome. We wrote together, we laughed together. I even got invited to her parents’ house for special dinners. It was there that I learned that families could be about something other than tearing you down. Who knew?...

Read the whole article (July 28, 2011). It becomes very moving; no spoilers here.

Update Sept. 6, 2011: At The Experience Project, there are currently 141 experience stories in the section "I Am Polyamorous."


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July 23, 2011

"Sister Wives" stars challenge anti-polygamy law

You may remember Kody, Meri, Janelle, and Christine Brown and Robyn Sullivan — they're the showpiece family of Mormon polygamists on TLC's reality TV show "Sister Wives". Since the family went public with the show in September 2010, they have faced a threat of prosecution under Utah's anti-polygamy law and as a result, one wife lost her job. They moved to Nevada to avoid being charged.

Now the five have brought a challenge in federal court to the Utah anti-polygamy laws, and by extension to all similar laws in the US.

The Browns may have a better chance in court than their generations of predecessors — and not just because a top-flight constitutional expert, Jonathan Turley, has signed on as their lead attorney.

Past attempts to legalize polygamy were based on arguments of religious freedom. Originalist Mormons, such as the Browns, hold to the Mormon Church's original doctrine that a man should take three wives. Courts have shot down that approach; the Constitution, as usually interpreted, allows wide leeway for laws to prohibit supposedly harmful religious practices (as opposed to religious beliefs or worship).

Now, however, the Brown family argues that it has a right to be left alone under the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision, which struck down laws against gay sex. Lawrence's language powerfully upheld the right to choose one's intimate relationships[1]. Conservatives, starting with the three dissenting justices, have warned ever since that after Lawrence, laws against polygamy and other supposedly objectionable relationships cannot stand.

Particularly relevant for polyamorists, Kody Brown is legally married only to his first wife, Meri. The others are just girlfriends in the eyes of the law, and they file their taxes and everything as single people, though they consider themselves divinely married in the logbooks of Heaven. However, Utah law defines the crime of "bigamy" broadly, to include merely living together while married to someone else.

From the Associated Press:

"Sister Wives" clan challenging anti-bigamy law

SALT LAKE CITY — A polygamous family made famous by the reality TV show "Sister Wives" plans to challenge the Utah bigamy law that makes their lifestyle illegal, a Washington-based attorney said Tuesday.

Attorney Jonathan Turley... represents Kody Brown and his four wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn. Brown is only legally married to Meri Brown.

Originally from Lehi, the Browns, who have 16 children, has been featured on the TLC reality show since last fall. They moved out of Utah to Nevada in January after police and Utah County prosecutors launched a bigamy investigation. No charges were ever filed.

...In a statement posted on his blog, Turley said the lawsuit will challenge Utah's right to prosecute people for their private relationships.

"We are not demanding the recognition of polygamous marriage. We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs," the statement reads.

...Turley said he believes the case represents the "strongest factual and legal basis for a challenge to the criminalization of polygamy" ever filed in the federal courts.

Utah has not prosecuted a polygamist for bigamy since 2001. Tom Green, who was married to five women and drew the attention of Utah authorities after promoting his lifestyle on national TV talk shows, was convicted on bigamy, criminal nonsupport and child rape charges. He spent six years in prison and was released in 2007.

Polygamy in Utah and across the Intermountain West is a legacy of the early teachings of Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons abandoned the practice of plural marriage in the 1890s as a condition of Utah's statehood.

An estimated 38,000 self-described Mormon fundamentalists continue the practice, believing it brings exaltation in heaven. Most keep their way of life a secret out of fear of prosecution, although over the past 10 years an advocacy group made up mostly polygamous women has worked to educate the public and state agencies in Utah and Arizona about the culture.

The Browns have long said they believed making their life public on cable television was a risk worth taking if it helped advance the broader understanding of plural families. The lawsuit appears to be an extension of that belief.

"There are tens of thousands of plural families in Utah and other states. We are one of those families. We only wish to live our private lives according our beliefs," Kody Brown said in a statement released through Turley. "While we understand that this may be a long struggle in court, it has already been a long struggle for my family and other plural families to end the stereotypes and unfair treatment given consensual polygamy."

Read the whole article (July 12, 2011).

From a New York Times article (July 11, 2011):

The connection with Lawrence v. Texas, a case that broadened legal rights for gay people, is sensitive for those who have sought the right of same-sex marriage. Opponents of such unions often refer to polygamy as one of the all-but-inevitable outcomes of allowing same-sex marriage. In his dissenting opinion in the Lawrence case, Justice Antonin Scalia cited a threat to state laws “based on moral choices” against “bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity.”

A discussion has been bubbling in the Polyamory Leadership Network (PLN) for the last couple weeks about whether polyamorists should seek to involve themselves in this case, or give patriarchal, male-ruled polygyny a wide berth. Said one commenter, "This is being filed directly in federal court, and the legality of the statute is being put squarely at issue. There are not a lot of other issues [such as underage marriages or alleged coercion] clouding up the case. This is just about a best-case scenario for challenging a law's constitutionality."

From a press release issued by the Loving More nonprofit (July 27, 2011):

Robyn Trask says, “Our big concern in the Brown case is that if he can be prosecuted for polygamy, so can many polyamorists. I know of several polyamory families where a woman lives with two men and considers both men her husbands though she is only married to one legally, and families where a man considers himself married to two women. This is no different from Mr. Brown. Where do the intrusions into personal choice about love, emotions and sex stop?”

You can read the Browns' full complaint as filed (39-page pdf document). Some highlights in it relevant to polyamory:

Paragraph #

49-51 Discussion of polyamory.

59-60 The recent Canadian test case (currently awaiting judge's decision).

92-94 Summary of how polygamy was criminalized in Utah.

Recognition of the role of community in polygamy or polyamory.

110 Another recognition of polyamory, in the context of family.

123-148 The Brown family's personal history with the Utah governor's press secretary and the sheriff, which appears to be one of mutual recognition and respect.

149-156 The family's involvement with Utah's Safety Net program (for dealing with actual abuse in polygamist communities).

163-171 How the investigation of them was spurred by the "Sister Wives" show.

Notes PLN member Anita Wagner, "Jonathan Turley is widely interviewed and quoted on constitutional law, and I believe is or was a syndicated columnist who writes on constitutional law issues. I can't think of a more perfect, powerful attorney to take this on; his media visibility is huge."

Indeed, day before yesterday Turley published an op-ed article about the case in the New York Times:

One Big, Happy Polygamous Family

Since the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, Americans have enjoyed unprecedented freedom in their lifestyles and private relationships. The decision held that states could no longer use the criminal code for social engineering, dictating the most intimate decisions of citizens in their choice of partners and relations. But even as states have abandoned laws criminalizing homosexual and adulterous relations, they have continued to prosecute one group of consenting adults: polygamists.

Last week in Utah, one such family filed a challenge to the state’s criminal law. That family — a man, Kody Brown, and his four wives and 16 children — is the focus of a reality program on the cable channel TLC called “Sister Wives.” One of the marriages is legal and the others are what the family calls “spiritual.” They are not asking for the state to recognize their marriages. They are simply asking for the state to leave them alone.

Utah and eight other states make polygamy a crime, while 49 states have bigamy statutes that can be used to prosecute plural families. And they’re not a small population: the number of fundamentalist Mormon or Christian polygamists alone has been estimated to be as high as 50,000. When Muslim as well as nonreligious plural families are considered, the real number is likely many times greater.

...While widely disliked, if not despised, polygamy is just one form among the many types of plural relationships in our society. It is widely accepted that a person can have multiple partners and have children with such partners. But the minute that person expresses a spiritual commitment and “cohabits” with those partners, it is considered a crime.

One might expect the civil liberties community to defend those cases as a natural extension of its campaign for greater privacy and personal choice. But too many have either been silent or outright hostile to demands from polygamists for the same protections provided to other groups under Lawrence.

The reason might be strategic: some view the effort to decriminalize polygamy as a threat to the recognition of same-sex marriages or gay rights generally. After all, many who opposed the decriminalization of homosexual relations used polygamy as the culmination of a parade of horribles. In his dissent in Lawrence, Justice Antonin Scalia said the case would mean the legalization of “bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity.”

Justice Scalia is right in one respect, though not intentionally. Homosexuals and polygamists do have a common interest: the right to be left alone as consenting adults. Otherwise he’s dead wrong. There is no spectrum of private consensual relations — there is just a right of privacy that protects all people so long as they do not harm others....

Ultimately, the question is whether polygamy is allowed under the privacy principles articulated in Lawrence....

Civil libertarians should not be scared away by the arguments of people like Justice Scalia. We should fight for privacy as an inclusive concept, benefiting everyone in the same way....

Read the whole article (appeared in the July 21, 2011, print issue).

And here's an article Turley published in USA Today in 2004 about a previous case:

Polygamy laws expose our own hypocrisy

By Jonathan Turley

Tom Green is an American polygamist. This month, he will appeal his conviction in Utah for that offense to the United States Supreme Court, in a case that could redefine the limits of marriage, privacy and religious freedom.

If the court agrees to take the case, it would be forced to confront a 126-year-old decision allowing states to criminalize polygamy that few would find credible today, even as they reject the practice. And it could be forced to address glaring contradictions created in recent decisions of constitutional law.

...Individuals have a recognized constitutional right to engage in any form of consensual sexual relationship with any number of partners. Thus, a person can live with multiple partners and even sire children from different partners so long as they do not marry. However, when that same person accepts a legal commitment for those partners "as a spouse," we jail them.

Likewise, someone such as singer Britney Spears can have multiple husbands so long as they are consecutive, not concurrent. Thus, Spears can marry and divorce men in quick succession and become the maven of tabloid covers. Yet if she marries two of the men for life, she will become the matron of a state prison....

Read the whole article (Oct. 3, 2004).

A correspondent for The Economist, writing on the magazine's blogsite:

...Indeed, [current law] law positively encourages de facto polygamous families to organise into multiple households lacking the cohesion and economies of our culture's idealised single-household family.

Imagine the family of a twice-divorced, thrice-married woman with one child from each union. Let's say she's a stay-at-home mom who has custody of all the kids, and gets child-support payments from her first two husbands. So, children with three different fathers live together in a single household, supported by a portion of three different mens' income. How is this not de facto polyandry? How significant is it, really, that her first two husbands don't happen to live with their kids and her third husband? Suppose they move in. What then? Is it okay as long as they pay rent? As long as they no longer love the mother of their children, or vice versa? I say it's okay as long as everyone involved says it's okay.

...I would add that conventional monogamous marriage was in fact an abusive, exploitative, patriarchal arrangement [as polygamous marriages are alleged to be] until very recently.

Read the whole article (July 22, 2011).

This will certainly be a case to watch in the coming months and years.

Updates: On September 2nd the State of Utah filed a motion to dismiss the case. The supporting memo and affidavits.

News article Sept. 18, 2011: New Court Dockets show Utah unlikely to press charges on 'Sister Wives' family. The publicity that the Browns' challenge is bringing to Utah is probably not something the state wants, and reducing the apparent threat of prosecution may reduce the family's claim to have standing to bring the case. But county (as opposed to state) authorities are still said to be looking into bringing bigamy charges.

Oct. 18, 2011: Responses to motion to dismiss, with summary by vrimj of the PLN.

The Sister Wives show continues to be successful; its third season began Sept. 25th. Looks like the move from rural Utah to Las Vegas wasn't good for the family, however. The show is on Sunday nights on TLC, 9 p.m. eastern time, 8 central.

A sign that Kody can think beyond Mormon doctrine: “If there was going to be a brother husband, I would ask [friend] Brad [Pitt] to join the family,” Brown tells the Huffington Post (Sept. 23, 2011).

Lucius Scribbens, on his blogsite Bigger Love, posts a rundown of Utah's various anti-sex and -relationship laws: Why Utah's Anti-Polygamy Laws Need to be Abolished (Sept. 21, 2011).


1. The majestic language of Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion ought to be more widely known:

...The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. Their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. "It is a promise of the Constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter." The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual.

Had those who drew and ratified the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth Amendment or the Fourteenth Amendment known the components of liberty in its manifold possibilities, they might have been more specific. They did not presume to have this insight. They knew times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.

And he quotes himself from an earlier landmark decision which he co-authored, Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (1992):

In explaining the respect the Constitution demands for the autonomy of the person in making these choices, we stated as follows:

"These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State."


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July 22, 2011

Advice columns, mainstream and alt

The Guardian (UK)

The Guardian is one of Britain's (and the world's) leading daily newspapers, known for its liberal voice and best known lately for breaking the Rupert Murdoch "hackgate" story.

Every Friday in a back section it prints a reader's love-and-life question, with the best answers that other readers have provided for it online. Below is the question it published today, July 22nd (paper issue only).

Interesting that our problems are being treated so normally these days.

Should I tell my parents about my polyamory?

My husband and I are polyamorous; we are both in multiple sexual relationships. My family (apart from my siblings, who are bemused and fascinated) are unaware of our arrangement. Given that it has been a feature of our relationship from the start, and isn't going to change any time soon, I would like to tell them. My parents are fundamentalist Christians and will not understand. I want to be honest about the way I live and the people that I love, but I know that telling them will be upsetting, and that they may cut off contact for a while, possibly for ever. My mother will also blame herself, despite the fact that my polyamory is as innate as my bisexuality. Should I bite the bullet, or stay quiet for the sake of family harmony? My husband's family know about our other relationships, as do some of the families of our other loves.

Here's the original query, with all 70 reader responses. I wonder which the editors chose to print? Can someone in the UK let us know? (Look in the G2 section.)

Update next morning: That was quick; a reader has sent us the five excellent replies the Guardian printed. See the comments at the end of this post.


Elsewhere in advice columns... Atlanta's alt paper Creative Loafing recently offered this less-than-inspired item:

Does feeling poly mean marriage has failed?

by Michael Alvear

My husband and I have been married for four years and we have two children younger than 2! Within the last year, we've begun exploring an open relationship. I am bi-sexual. Recently, I've found myself seriously falling for a woman I'm seeing. It has been a struggle to determine if A) My feelings are just part of the excitement, B) It is a symptom of something larger in my relationship with my husband, or C) Maybe I should just be single and give the marriage thing a rest. Thoughts? Suggestions? How many poly couples have you seen that survive in the long run? I guess I'm just questioning the nature of our choices and whether it is truly freedom or rather a patch for underlying issues. Or if I'm just overthinking it and should revel in the fact that I can have my cake and eat it, too.

— Bi-fuddled

Dear Bi-fuddled,

OK, a woman walks into Van Cleef & Arpels and falls in love with a diamond necklace. It's expensive: $400,000. She tells the jeweler, "I know how I can buy this at your full price, but I need you to play along....

...My point, and I do have one, is that sometimes a wife needs a lover to get what she really wants. In your case, the "jewelry" is sexual and emotional fulfillment. And the only way you're going to get that is through your husband and your girlfriend.

If you're in a mutually agreed-upon open relationship, I'm not exactly sure why you're writing. Seems to me you're feeling a little guilty that you put the keys into that shiny new Vulva and drove it off the lot, leaving your husband wondering what the hell happened.

I think you have a bigger concern than deciding between your husband and your girlfriend: Your kids. Your guiding principle should be to maintain a stable home. It doesn't matter whether you do it in a hetero, homo or bi relationship — or whether you do it in a monogamous, nonmonogamous or poly setting. Your sexual and emotional fulfillment should not come at the cost of a stable home for the kids.

That said, my first question is whether everybody involved knows who's involved. It's worth remembering what "polyamorous" means: having more than one intimate relationship at the same time with the full knowledge and consent of all parties.

Can poly couples survive? Yes, if they adhere to the defining characteristics that mark long-term viability: ethics, honesty and transparency.

I have a feeling you've not been totally honest with either your husband or your girlfriend. You need to take each of them (separately!) to a sexy cool restaurant like Buckhead's Tantra and have a sensible convo to get the poly ball rolling....

Why "separately!" I ask? So you can tell each of them something different? Preventing this likelihood — and preventing the suspicion of it — is exactly why to have discussions as a group. The whole difference between polyamory and just having affairs is in closing the loop!

Read the original (July 18, 2011). It's not too late to leave a comment (and remember, late comments are important because they stay visible longer).



July 21, 2011

"Love Like an Ocean: Diving Deep into Polyamory"


You may recognize Kendra Holliday, also known as The Beautiful Kind, as the kink/poly/fetish writer in St. Louis who lost her job at a nonprofit and faces a custody challenge from her ex because she accidentally outed herself in a Twitter slipup.

Having been outed will'er-nill'er, she picked up the ball and ran with it. On her substantial, sex-positive website The Beautiful Kind, she now says she

writes for SexIs magazine, does video reviews for EdenFantasys, and is the author of The Book of Goddess: Elevating Your Desirability to Mythic Proportions. She is co-founder of Sex Positive St. Louis and is an Alternative Lifestyle Advisor and Gynecological Teaching Associate for Washington University School of Medicine. Featured countless times in the local alternative weekly The Riverfront Times and winner of 2011 Web Award for Best Sex Blog, she also has a monthly advice column in The St. Louis Sinner.

Her life experiences include monogamous marriage, divorce, sex work, parenthood, as well as being fired and sued for her sexuality. She is currently in a polyamorous BDSM relationship with her long-term partner, Matthew. More about Kendra can be found on her consulting website.

She recently posted a fine piece that has just been picked up by the major feminist site BlogHer. Says poly activist Anita Wagner, "She elegantly expresses a perspective that practically guarantees a successful, happy polyamorous life. Read on!"

Love Like an Ocean: Diving Deep into Polyamory

My partner and I have the perfect relationship. For us, anyway. We’ve been together for four years. We’re not married, but are in a long-term relationship. We do not live together, preferring to keep our households, finances, and families separate. Autonomy suits us well.

To top it all off, we are polyamorous; meaning, our relationship is open, allowing us to experience intimate relationships with other people, such as dating, loving, and exploring sexually. Sometimes we do it together; other times, separately.

We don’t fight. We have amazing chemistry and enjoy an incredibly satisfying sex life. We can’t get enough of each other. Our relationship is based on mutual worship and respect, and our number one rule when it comes to dating other people is they need to respect both of us.

Before I knew of polyamory, I thought I was defective and unfit to be in a relationship. After years of disappointing my partners, a series of men who enjoyed playing with the girlfriends I brought home but freaked at the mere mention of another “sausage in the room,” I resigned myself to remaining single.

Then I met Matthew, who was recently divorced from his wife of ten years. What had started as a happy, traditional monogamous union with Matthew left his wife stifled and miserable. Determined not to repeat those same mistakes again, he took a leap and partnered with me, a renegade female who was in charge of her sexuality and knew what she wanted....

The unusual details of our relationship dynamic sometimes leads people to believe our relationship is not serious. On the contrary, it is very serious. I hope he’s there with me when it is my time to die.

Sex with him can be so fierce and fantastic. He’s larger than life, outweighing me by 180 lbs., a Beast to my Beauty. I get a contact high from his testosterone just being in the same room as him.

How could I possibly keep all that man to myself?

Ironically, he is the first man I feel I could be monogamous with; after all, our kinks and libido match perfectly and we’re both so sexually creative.

Honestly, just having the permission to sleep with other people — the FREEDOM — is enough to keep me content for months at a time....

My friend says, “Love is like an ocean, not a bathtub. One person doesn’t need to get out in order for another to get in.”...

Here’s a little secret: polyamorous relationships often include sex (some joke that is should be called polyfuckery), but not always. I’ve had several people contact me describing their unusual situation: for example, the wife’s best friend has been living with them for over five years. There’s no sex involved, but they do everything together, they consider her part of the family, and they even joke about her being “his other wife.” They ask me, is that poly?

I say yes. The poly groups I’ve polled agree with me....

...Before you dive in, however, please take note: Regardless of the relationship style, the following traits are desirable for ANY healthy relationship: agreeability, confidence, conscientiousness, and, the trickiest one -- being emotionally stable.

In order to be emotionally stable, you need to embrace honesty and love yourself and others for who they are....

That is how my partner and I have chosen to do things, and it is leading the two of us to self-actualization and full integration. I don’t think there’s anything more liberating than being fully integrated.

...As for our friends and lovers, our love is fluid. They come in town, we love them for the weekend, and then we release them back into the ocean like a message in a bottle. The respect and acceptance is there, and so is the glorious freedom.

Read her whole article (July 18, 2011).


July 20, 2011

At U.S. Senate hearing, big day today for poly threat to America

Near the top of the news this morning is President Obama's announcement endorsing the repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages performed by the states. Today the Senate Judiciary Committee holds a hearing on the Respect for Marriage Act, a measure to repeal DOMA. The committee is chaired by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), a hero of mine for 30 years. It will hear from a variety of people pro and con — and on the con side, the threat that polyamory poses to the nation will be front and center, by name.

Testifying about this will be Ed Whelan, president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center. From his planned testimony:

...Further, the principles invoked by advocates of same-sex marriage in their ongoing attack on traditional marriage clearly threaten to pave the way for polygamous and other polyamorous unions, especially via the judicial invention of a state constitutional right to polyamory. If the male-female nature of traditional marriage can be dismissed as an artifact and its inherent link to procreation denied, then surely the distinction between a marriage of two persons and a marriage of three or more is all the more arbitrary and irrational.

I've long argued that legalized polyamorous marriage is not on the near horizon partly because of low demand but mostly because, unlike gay marriage (which maps directly onto the legal structures that exist for straight marriage), multiple marriage would require courts to develop a vast new body of law and precedent.[1] Whelan addresses this point directly:

The administrative burden of allocating the benefits of marriage among the members of a polyamorous union so that they would not exceed those of a two-member union is surely insignificant in the face of the polyamorists’ asserted right (in the language of Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992)) “to define [their] own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Indeed, it’s doubtful that any further sliding down the slippery slope would be necessary to get to polyamory: unlike the novelty of same-sex marriage, the polygamous version of polyamory has been widely practiced throughout history (and is therefore arguably up the slope from same-sex marriage)....

Read Whelan's whole post (July 19, 2011).

Put polyamory senate into Google News in the next several days and you'll probably get lots more.

Conservatives have stepped up their play of the polyamory card since New York State enacted same-sex marriage last month. (The first gay marriages there begin this Sunday, July 24th.) For instance, from Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson:

...In the same-sex marriage debate, there were some stupid slippery slope arguments, for example, that eventually you would have a right to marry your dog.

But when it comes to polyamory, the slippery slope argument had a sound footing and went something like this: Once society moves away from the traditional definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman, why stop at one-and-one? If loving each other and having a healthy household in which to carry on one’s life, and in some cases to raise children, is the standard, then on what basis does one deny three or more people who meet those qualifications the right to legal recognition by the state as a marital unit, with all the benefits that accrue?

The polyamory slippery slope argument was met with derision precisely because it raised a legitimate point....

Read his whole article (June 26, 2011).

Once again, as I've said before about the slippery slope argument:

If you accept this framing you've lost the debate before you open your mouth. Slipping on a slope is a painful accident that leads down. Reframe the scene as a stairway up — in which each step is a deliberately chosen advance toward a better, kinder, freer, more humane world.

Or as Tree (of Polycamp Northwest fame) once put it, awkwardly,

Giving blacks the vote, women the vote, contraception — it's all a slippery slope to a place of better social justice and acceptance.

P.S.: Slippery slopes work both ways (cartoon).


[1]. As I've written before:

Same-sex marriage is simple and, from a structural point of view, not legally innovative. That is, it maps exactly onto the vast legal regime that's already well developed for straight marriage. (This has been true ever since courts started regarding men and women as equal parties in marriage.) By contrast, state recognition and regulation of poly relationships would require many new legal structures, precedents, and policies.

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 sorting out complicated personal realities.

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 circles 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 other's testimony?

In polyfolks' discussions that I've been in, the talk 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 any number of people. (Though they have to be maintained properly, with formal annual meetings and such, or they lose their validity.)

Looking further 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 body of law will have grown up 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.


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July 19, 2011

Beyond Polyamory: Where is the line between optimism and denial?

Psychology Today blogs

Deborah Anapol, one of our movement's earliest spokespeople, posts another retrospective article and describes some of where she's at now.

Beyond Polyamory

Where is the line between optimism and denial?

When I first began consciously thinking about non-monogamy in the early 80's, I thought of my direction as going beyond the limitations of monogamy. I was not alone. An earlier generation of pioneers, inspired by Robert Rimmer and Robert Heinlein, had been producing articles, books, and newsletters entitled "Beyond Monogamy" since the early 70's [sic]. One of my first moves was to adopt the term responsible non-monogamy, to differentiate my area of interest from what I regarded as the less noble variations on monogamy. I think all of us on the scene in the mid 90's heaved a big sigh of relief when the word polyamory caught on and we could liberate ourselves at last from the shadow of monogamy.

Flash forward another decade. After nearly twenty years of slogging around polyamory land, and watching wave after wave of new explorers stumble through the same jungles I have made my way across, I begin to wonder, what's next? While the freedom to explore polyamory is crucial to both spiritual and cultural evolution, I believe it's a mistake to view polyamory, however you chose to define it, as the destination....

...Certainly there are no ponies without pony poop. Polyamory can bring you face-to-face with exactly what you don't want to see. It takes enormous optimism to continue believing there's a pony around somewhere when you're inundated with horse manure. Where is the line between optimism and denial? The truth may be that there is no pony. Or that you really wanted a puppy. The truth may be that we have not escaped monogamy's shadow after all....

As my first teachers in this strange territory told me many years ago, if you look to your relationship(s) to bring you happiness, sooner or later you're going to be disappointed. Bring your own happiness to your relationship(s) and everyone will thrive....

Most people that I see experimenting with polyamory these days have glimpsed another way of loving and living with more freedom and more love. But they want to take their familiar, comfortable, secure, stable beliefs and behaviors with them into this new world. It doesn't work. You can't mix paradigms. Or rather, you can, but you will end up with the old....

Read her whole article (July 18, 2011).



July 18, 2011

Unhitched: Another new book looks at alternatives to monogamy


Sorry I haven't posted in a while! I've been away for ten days at the Network for New Culture's Summer Camp East in the mountains of West Virginia, while the mail piled up and up.

And just like last year, I come back amazed and bedazzled by the New Culture techniques, values, and processes with which the 80 of us played and experimented, to find poly-related stuff piling up that ties right into what I just experienced.

The mainstream media, you may have noticed, are in a boomlet of flutter about the possibility of honest nonmonogamy in marriage — although in an "old-culture" (i.e. mainstream) context. Often polyamory goes unmentioned and the writers seem unaware of it; the failings of conventional marriage occupy most of their attention. This trendlet seems to have been sparked by two things: the book Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality (which came out a year ago and is now just out in paperback), and the increasingly serious mainstream attention being given to Dan Savage and his influential value system. (Savage is an outspoken alt-sex and relationship writer and creator of the "It Gets Better" project.)

So why does this trend make me nervous?

Because I am increasingly convinced that you cannot overthrow one of your cultural assumptions successfully while leaving the rest of them unexamined and ignored. All pieces of a culture tie into one another. This is why the 1970s' open-marriage movement among ordinary middle-class couples is remembered largely for crashing and burning. This is also why polyamory thrives naturally in the New Culture world, and with unusually little disruptive drama, even though New Culture itself has nothing to do with whether one chooses to be monogamous, poly, or celibate.

Another book recently joined the mainstream trendlet: Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China, by Judith Stacey. This is from an interview with the author at Salon:

Scouring the globe for sex advice

Sociologist Judith Stacey spent over a decade searching for worldly wisdom on alternatives to monogamy.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

This is part of an ongoing Salon series of conversations about monogamy.

Whether in need of examples to bolster the fight for same-sex marriage or boost one's spirits in the face of disillusioning high-profile failures of monogamous marriage, one need only look to Judith Stacey.

The sociology professor at New York University is something of an expert on alternatives, having spent more than a decade studying everything from "monogamish" arrangements among gay men in California to polygamy in South Africa to nonmonogamous, matriarchal households in southwest China. The result is her fascinating book, Unhitched. It doesn't simply offer a mind-bending cross-cultural perspective -- you can find that in any Anthropology 101 textbook. Instead, Stacey uses her observations to underscore just out how stifling and unstable the Western romantic ideal of marital monogamy can be for some people, as well as the vast array of romantic arrangements that are already out there in the world.

She isn't recommending a break from tradition for everyone and, while she may have utopist leanings, she doesn't actually expect Americans to suddenly reject amorous restriction in favor of free love. She just wants people to be a little more honest, with themselves and their partners, about what they want and need -- regardless of whether that's a "Big Love"-esque arrangement or strict sexual exclusivity. In that sense, she falls right in line with Dan Savage who preached about the same ideal of romantic truthfulness in a much-talked-about piece in last weekend's New York Times Magazine....

I posed this question to Stephanie Coontz last week and now it's your turn: Why do we still believe in monogamy?

Stacy: Well, I think monogamy is a powerful ideal and it appeals to a lot of people. There are a lot of arguments in its favor, but it's obviously an ideal that's honored in the breach. A lot of people are afraid of the alternatives -- for many people, the notion is that if you give up that ideal then no one will make any commitments or no relationship will stay together. There's a strong cultural conviction about that, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Ultimately, it's an ideal that leads to its own undoing, because what's natural is human variation....

...I'll tell you about a very different society that I write about in my book, and that's the Mosuo people of southwestern China, an ethnic minority culture that does not insist on or value monogamy, nor does it care about biological paternity. It's a maternal extended family system in which adult children stay in the mother's extended family compound. They have "night visiting," there's no double standard of sexuality, men and women are each free to have as many or as few lovers as they wish. They can have exclusive long-term lovers, they can have multiple partners, they can be chaste, whatever. And all of the children that are born to the women belong to that family's household; the biological mothers and fathers don't live together. They don't have marriage, and the children are brought up by basically aunts, uncles and grandmothers.

In some ways that sounds like a utopia. What are the downsides to that sort of system?

Yeah, it does sound like a utopia to a lot of people. But it's not really a feasible system if you've got economic and geographic mobility. It depends on a collective family property system without a lot of change. As for downsides, they teach against sexual jealousy, but it doesn't mean sexual jealousy doesn't exist, and there are people for whom it doesn't fit well. I think any family system is better for some people than others. But this is one system that I personally think is better for a larger percentage of the people than a lot of others are.

...I do think we can learn a lot from that culture. One of the things that's interesting is that because you don't have marriage, you don't have divorce or singlehood or widowhood or orphans. Everyone has a family and family security. In a culture that is so divorce-prone, I think there is a lot to learn from being able to imagine different ways of providing childcare and stability.

It seems harder to challenge our notion of romantic love than monogamy.

Absolutely. As I've written in the book, it's curious that the notion of fidelity should come to mean sexual exclusivity when it's really about faithfulness. I think it should mean integrity....

...The argument against my position, one that I take seriously, is that without a template or background rules, you leave too much to negotiation and disagreements. I take it seriously, but I still think it's a better alternative to feel an obligation to be honest with yourself and honest with your partner.

Read the whole article (July 9, 2011).

And you can read parts of Unhitched itself.

Audio interview with Stacey on Wisconsin Public Radio (April 11, 2011).


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July 1, 2011

New York Times Magazine on nonmonogamy for stronger marriage

New York Times Sunday Magazine

My last post was about an article in one of New York City's alt weekly papers on how queer and poly partnerships can set a good example for straight marriage. Tomorrow morning, a much bigger fish will land on vast numbers of serious doorsteps: the Sunday New York Times, with its magazine section featuring a 5,400-word cover story on the same topic, but explored in greater depth. The title on the cover: "Infidelity Keeps Us Together."

The article is built around a profile of gay writer Dan Savage and his increasingly influential philosophy of honest marital nonmonogamy. The article's author, a religion writer, suggests that Savage's outlook was shaped by his Catholic roots — with his pro-family sentiments, pontifical style, and stark moral clarity.

Married, With Infidelities


...Although best known for his It Gets Better project, an archive of hopeful videos aimed at troubled gay youth, Savage has for 20 years been saying monogamy is harder than we admit and articulating a sexual ethic that he thinks honors the reality, rather than the romantic ideal, of marriage. In Savage Love, his weekly column, he inveighs against the American obsession with strict fidelity. In its place he proposes a sensibility that we might call American Gay Male, after that community’s tolerance for pornography, fetishes and a variety of partnered arrangements, from strict monogamy to wide openness.

Savage believes monogamy is right for many couples. But he believes that our discourse about it, and about sexuality more generally, is dishonest. Some people need more than one partner, he writes, just as some people need flirting, others need to be whipped, others need lovers of both sexes. We can’t help our urges, and we should not lie to our partners about them. In some marriages, talking honestly about our needs will forestall or obviate affairs; in other marriages, the conversation may lead to an affair, but with permission. In both cases, honesty is the best policy.

“I acknowledge the advantages of monogamy,” Savage told me, “when it comes to sexual safety, infections, emotional safety, paternity assurances. But people in monogamous relationships have to be willing to meet me a quarter of the way and acknowledge the drawbacks of monogamy around boredom, despair, lack of variety, sexual death and being taken for granted.”

The view that we need a little less fidelity in marriages is dangerous for a gay-marriage advocate to hold... But Savage says a more flexible attitude within marriage may be just what the straight community needs. Treating monogamy, rather than honesty or joy or humor, as the main indicator of a successful marriage gives people unrealistic expectations of themselves and their partners. And that, Savage says, destroys more families than it saves.

...Savage is not a churchgoer, but he is a cultural Catholic. Listeners to “This American Life,” which since 1996 has aired his homely monologues about his family, might recognize the kinship of those personal stories to the Catholic homilies Savage heard every Sunday of his childhood. Less a scriptural exegesis, like what you get in many a Protestant church, the priest’s homily is often short and framed as a fable or lesson: it’s an easily digested moral tale. You can hear that practiced didacticism in his radio segments about DJ, the son that he and Terry Miller, his husband, adopted as an infant...

...It Gets Better is, in the end, a paean to stable families: it is a promise to gay youth that if they can just survive the bullying, they can have spouses and children when they grow up....

How, then, can Savage be a monogamy skeptic?... Today, Savage Love is less a sex column than a relationship column, one point of which is to help good unions last....

“The mistake that straight people made,” Savage told me, “was imposing the monogamous expectation on men. Men were never expected to be monogamous. Men had concubines, mistresses and access to prostitutes, until everybody decided marriage had to be egalitar­ian and fairsey.” In the feminist revolution, rather than extending to women “the same latitude and license and pressure-release valve that men had always enjoyed,” we extended to men the confines women had always endured. “And it’s been a disaster for marriage.”

In their own marriage, Savage and Miller practice being what he calls “monogamish,” allowing occasional infidelities, which they are honest about.... “And far from it being a destabilizing force in our relationship, it’s been a stabilizing force. It may be why we’re still together.”

...If you believe Savage, there is strong precedent, in other times and in other cultures, for nonmonogamous relationships that endure. In fact, there has recently been a good deal of scholarship proving that point, including Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá’s “Sex at Dawn,” one of Savage’s favorite books, and Stephanie Coontz’s definitive “Marriage, a History.” Like Savage, Coontz says she believes that “people often end up exploding a relationship that was working well because one partner strays or has an affair that doesn’t mean anything.”

But, she says, we are to some extent trapped in our culture... “I think you can combine a high tolerance of flings with a de-emphasis on jealousy in long-term relationships,” Coontz said, “but usually that is only in societies where friendships and kin relationships are as emotionally salient as romantic partnerships.”

...It was not until the 20th century that Americans evolved an understanding of marriage in which partners must meet all of each other’s needs: sexual, emotional, material. When we rely on our partners for everything, any hint of betrayal is terrifying. “That is the bind we are in,” Coontz said. “We accord so much priority to the couple relationship. It is tough under those conditions for most people to live with the insecurity of giving their partners permission to have flings.”...

Mark Oppenheimer (mark.oppenheimer@nytimes.com) writes the Beliefs column for The Times....

Those are just a few bits; read the whole long article (first published online June 30, 2011). Already there are hundreds of comments, prompting a commentary on them on the Times's own blogsite.

Mr. Trendspotter here thinks he spots a trend. Savage calls it being "monogamish," others call it "the New Monogamy" — but the idea of bolstering a marriage's durability (or hoping to!) by negotiating a degree of openness looks to be an upcoming trend.

Some polyfolks say it's ridiculous to call nonmonogamy "the New Monogamy." But Michael Rios, one of the wisest people I know, has this to say about that:

This is exactly how to get a new idea across to a resistant mainstream population. You simply tell them that it is really the same thing as what they already know, but with an extra accessory that they hadn't known about before.

If we can get the mainstream society to think of monogamy as inclusive of multiple sexualoving relationships, we're there. I could care less what they call it, as long as it incorporates all the elements I care about.

Other media have been commenting on the article; for instance. And there have been counter-arguments, from thoughtful to foaming at the mouth.