Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

June 29, 2013

More fallout from the Supreme Court's DOMA decision

Emblem by Angi Becker Stevens

With the Supreme Court's rulings for gay marriage now three days old, floods of reactions and analyses are filling the media. One hot topic is whether this opens the way to multi-partner marriages.

Among polyfolks, activist Anita Wagner Illig found herself inundated with media requests after U.S. News & World Report interviewed her two days before the court announced its decisions:

...Until recently, [Illig] noted, "the polyamory community has expressed little desire for legal marriage," but now more options seem possible in the future. "We polyamorists are grateful to our [LGBT] brothers and sisters for blazing the marriage equality trail," Illig said.

Illig believes there is indeed a "slippery slope" toward legal recognition for polygamy if the court rules in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage, an argument typically invoked by anti-gay marriage advocates. "A favorable outcome for marriage equality is a favorable outcome for multi-partner marriage, because the opposition cannot argue lack of precedent for legalizing marriage for other forms of non-traditional relationships," she said.

But Illig concedes, "there will be quite a lot of retooling of the legal system necessary to establish marriage equality for marriages of more than two people. A marriage of two people of the same sex requires a lot less in terms of adapting today's systems, such as Social Security, for example, to accommodate it."...

See the whole article: Polyamory Advocate: Gay Marriage 'Blazing the Marriage Equality Trail' (June 24, 2013).

Her quotes were widely picked up by conservative media, for instance the Washington Times, owned by the Sun Myung Moon religious cult: Polygamists hope Supreme Court rulings will pave way to decriminalization; the UK's Daily Mail: Polygamists welcome Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, predicting relationships with multiple people will be next; and at the Christian Institute. Posts Anita, "The conservative print and online media have me on their radar now for sure. [My] website hits are smokin'." She turned down an invitation from Glenn Beck, but did an interview with USA Today. The paper ended up not using it and instead stuck with an actual polygamist for its article yesterday:

Polygamists find promise in Supreme Court decisions

Molly Vorwerck

Polygamists view the Supreme Court's repeal of DOMA and Prop 8 as a step towards wider social -- and in turn, legal -- acceptance of polygamy. Legal scholars, on the other hand, are not as optimistic.

Wednesday's landmark Supreme Court decisions on gay marriage have ushered in optimism for more than just the gay and lesbian community: Polygamists are also reading hope into the fine print.

...Anne Wilde, a Mormon fundamentalist and founder of the polygamist rights organization Principle Rights Coalition, is hopeful that these decisions represent movement towards the decriminalization of polygamy.

"I think it's a step in the right direction," she says. "As consenting adults, we have a right to form our families as we see fit as long as there are no other crimes involved."

Despite their contrasting opinions on other issues, advocates both for and against polygamy view these two rulings as instrumental in opening the floodgates for plural marriages.

Tim Wildmon, president of the Christian-values centered American Family Association, says that striking down the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman delegitimizes the moral argument against polygamy.

"It opens up Pandora's Box in how you define marriage in this country," he says."Why not have three men and two women marry if they love each other? Why limit it to two people?"

But the trajectory towards legalizing polygamy is not so simple, legal scholars say.

David Cohen, a professor at Drexel University who specializes in family law, says that the lack of mainstream acceptance for polygamy does not bode well for its legalization.

"There is no political movement in this country that is anywhere near making the same gains for polygamy that have been made for gay marriage," he says.

Judith Areen, law professor at Georgetown University, says that the outcomes of these two cases are more telling of state's rights than the potential for polygamy....

Unlike others in his field, Mark Goldfeder, a law professor at Emory University, thinks that the two rulings had significant impact on the future of polygamy in the United States. Goldfeder, who specializes in the intersection of law and religion, says that the courts will need to find other justifications to keep anti-polygamy statutes in place.

"It's one hundred percent likely that these polygamist cases will come, but they will no longer turn on whether a relationship is immoral," Goldfeder says. "The court will look at whether these relationships cause third party harm."

Whole article (June 28, 2013).

The most immediate polygamy/polyamory case in the pipeline that could be affected is the "Sister Wives" challenge to Utah's anti-cohabitation law, which makes polygamy, or even living in a multiple relationship with no claim of marriage, a crime. The case is likely headed to the federal 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and then possibly the Supreme Court. The Brown family's lead attorney is the renowned constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley of Georgetown Law School. Regarding the effect of a positive gay-marriage ruling, National Public Radio talked to him last March:

TURLEY: Really, what [the Sister Wives] case reflects is where the gay and lesbian community was almost exactly 10 years ago, before the ruling in Lawrence v. Texas. That was the ruling where the Supreme Court said you could not criminalize homosexuality. The polygamists are a decade behind that. And when we talk about polygamists, you have to remember that cohabitation statutes really apply to a vast array of plural families that are often ignored.... [Yes, he's been informed about us.]

...You cannot defend a new civil liberty by denying it to others. I think that there is a grander, more magnificent trend that you can see in the law, and that is this right to be left alone. People have a right to establish their families as long as they don't harm others.

Read or listen to the whole interview (March 28, 2013).

The Salt Lake Tribune's polygamy-beat reporters have published several articles, most recently Utah polygamists celebrate, but will rulings help them? (June 26), and Internet brims with polygamy comments after DOMA ruling (June 27).


Conservatives everywhere are expressing mixes of outrage and I-told-you-so's. In the Moonie Washington Times, editor emeritus Wesley Pruden tells us, "Justice Kennedy's... nose for the law detects the hint of orange blossoms when the rest of us only smell the sewer." In head-shaking marvelment over Deborah Anapol's book Polyamory in the 21st Century, he says Anapol "calls herself one of the founders of the polyamory movement, which is sort of like a bowel movement without the inconvenience." Does this guy have a scat fetish?

I can't tell whether this writer at The Daily Caller is an actual get-the-government-out-of-marriage guy or a traditionalist bewailing the end of everything.

On the other hand, this columnist in USA Today last March presents the perfect type specimen of the now-all-good-people-must-recognize-polygamy snark.

And much more.

(Courtesy Cyanide and Happiness)


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June 28, 2013

Season 2 of Showtime's Polyamory: Married & Dating will start August 15th

Just got word from Natalia Garcia, creator/director of the Showtime network's Polyamory: Married & Dating:

"Alan! Season 2 premieres August 15th. More info on the cast to come soon."

Meanwhile, reruns of Season 1 began last night and will continue late every Thursday night through August 8th; see schedule. In addition, Showtime subscribers can now watch the seven Season 1 episodes online anytime.

Trailer for Season 1, Episode 6: "Radical Honesty." 

More about the series and Season 1.


June 26, 2013

Supreme Court poly fallout

Los Angeles Times

The U.S. Supreme Court has just overturned the Defense of Marriage Act; the federal government must now recognize same-sex marriages as equal to any other marriages. The court also let stand a lower-court ruling that California's Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, which means California will become the 13th gay-marriage state.

These new victories for marriage equality will push forward the discussion of whether legal recognition of group marriage will, or should, come onto the table.

Debate about this is under way in the Polyamory Leadership Network and elsewhere. PLN member Dave Doleshal, activist and conference organizer, argues that maybe now it's time. This will surely be a topic at the Poly Political Summit that he has been organizing for July 21–22 in California. Loving More put out a press release day before yesterday saying (in regard to its recent survey of the poly community), "the research shows that many polyamorists would choose to marry multiple partners if it were legal... As to whether we will take up the cause of multi-partnered marriage, it is not clear at this time. The polyamory movement is still working toward basic acceptance and fighting discrimination. Housing, job security and child custody are at the forefront as these are the challenges most people have experienced."

Emblem by Angi Becker Stevens
Jessica Karels of Modern Poly also argued for addressing these more immediate concerns, perhaps starting with a proper community-needs assessment. Modern Poly itself editorializes, "The case may be made to expand the pool of families eligible for this privileged legal status, or to eliminate it from the purview of the state altogether.... We need to have many conversations at once."

Ricci Levy of the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Alliance suggested addressing poly rights in the larger framework of family rights, as in Woodhull's Family Matters Project. My own opinion is that legal recognition of multi-marriage is not worth pursuing because 1) it's a political non-starter, 2) the actual demand for state-recognized group marriage is very low, and 3) the new legal structures and precedents needed to accommodate group-marriage realities would be far more complex than, for instance, the structural simplicity of gay marriage.

U.S. News & World Report, two days before the rulings, spotlighted the opinions of my friend and fellow PLN activist Anita Wagner Illig:

Polyamory Advocate: Gay Marriage 'Blazing the Marriage Equality Trail'

Supreme Court decisions on marriage unlikely to directly impact status of polygamy, other multiperson relationships

By Steven Nelson

The U.S. Supreme Court could rule any day on challenges to two laws blocking legal recognition for same-sex marriages – the federal Defense of Marriage Act and California's voter-approved Proposition 8 – but advocates for polyamorous couples say "marriage equality" for that minority group is unlikely in the immediate future.

Anita Wagner Illig, a longtime polyamory community spokesperson who operates the group Practical Polyamory, is unsure of the direct impact of a ruling that would legalizes same-sex marriage nationwide.

Until recently, she noted, "the polyamory community has expressed little desire for legal marriage," but now more options seem possible in the future. "We polyamorists are grateful to our [LGBT] brothers and sisters for blazing the marriage equality trail," Illig said.

Illig believes there is indeed a "slippery slope" toward legal recognition for polygamy if the court rules in favor of nationwide same-sex marriage, an argument typically invoked by anti-gay marriage advocates. "A favorable outcome for marriage equality is a favorable outcome for multi-partner marriage, because the opposition cannot argue lack of precedent for legalizing marriage for other forms of non-traditional relationships," she said.

But Illig concedes, "there will be quite a lot of retooling of the legal system necessary to establish marriage equality for marriages of more than two people. A marriage of two people of the same sex requires a lot less in terms of adapting today's systems, such as Social Security, for example, to accommodate it."

"It is hard to predict" the possible legal side-effects of the Supreme Court rulings "since [the cases are] about official recognition rather than criminalization," George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley told U.S. News.

Turley is representing the polygamist Brown family, which has four wives and one husband, in their challenge to Utah's cohabitation law.... "Our challenge is about the criminalization of plural relationships, not the recognition of such relationships."

...Unlike the Brown family, which belongs to a fundamentalist Mormon denomination, the basis of Illig's relationship is nonreligious. She has a husband who also has a girlfriend.

"I would absolutely want to seek multi-partner marriage," she said. "It would eliminate a common challenge polyamorists face when two [people] are legally married and others in their group relationships aren't part of that marriage."

Read the whole article (June 24, 2013). Conservatives seized on it, for instance at NewsBusters.


At Sex and the State, a libertarian site, Cathy Reisenwitz asked (two days ago) the legally and politically pertinent question, Is Polyamory An Orientation?

Polyamory has been in the news lately, with one Slate writer assuring readers it’s fine for the children and should be legally recognized. Then on Thursday my good friend, and Reason writer Matthew Feeney pointed me to a CNN op-ed with the combative headline: "Face it: Monogamy is unnatural."...

...After much consideration, I believe “non-monogamous” is an orientation, based mostly on three of its similarities with gender-preference orientations. Like gender-preference orientations, non-monogamy 1. has biological bases, 2. exists on a sliding scale and 3. faces some of the same barriers to widespread acceptance. All this leads me to the conclusion that the more comfortable we can get with people living out their own variations on strict monogamy the happier, healthier and more honest we’ll all be....

See also this earlier roundup on the orientation topic, and Ann Tweedy's University of Cincinnati Law Review article, "Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation": abstract; full paper.

Expect more.


P.S.: Conservatives call the route from gay marriage to poly marriage the "slippery slope." Don't accept that framing. As I've said before:

If you accept the framing of civil rights and social acceptance as a slippery slope down, you've lost the debate before you open your mouth. Slipping on a slope is a painful accident that leads downward. Instead, reframe it as a stairway up. Each step is a deliberate, effortful, carefully chosen advance toward a more humane, just, enlightened world.

With that framing, you can consider which steps are actually upward, and which ones to take.

Or as Tree of Polycamp Northwest 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."


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June 25, 2013

Results from the new Loving More survey

Back in 2000, Loving More magazine collected detailed personal survey information from 1,011 of its readers and other poly people. Although the sample was self-selected and the project had other limitations, results from it have been cited ever since: for instance the very high rate of bisexuality among polys (more than 10 times the rate claimed by Americans generally), and polys' very high levels of education (four times as many had advanced graduate degrees as the national average). Adam Weber summarized the 2000 results in the Summer 2002 Loving More (issue #30), Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli summarized the parenting aspects in the Fall 2002 issue (#31), and you can look through the statistics themselves courtesy of the Kinsey Institute.

But in retrospect the questionnaire was not well designed (despite having 52 questions), some of the material on the paper response sheets went unused, and the response sheets themselves are now lost.

It was high time to do it again, better.

Self-reported happiness among polys in the Loving More 2012 survey (LM) and in the general U.S. population (GSS).
So in 2012 Loving More — no longer a print magazine, now a nonprofit educational organization — sponsored a new survey of poly people, recruited on the internet. This time it garnered 4,062 participants. Although the sample was again self-selected, researchers Jim Fleckenstein, Curtis R. Bergstrand, and Derrell W. Cox II cast their nets as far as possible beyond the Loving More mailing list to round up participants from among today's wider world of self-identified polys. The researchers also designed most of the survey questions to match questions in the General Social Survey of the United States, to enable direct comparisons with the overall population. A few questions duplicated some that Loving More asked in 2000, to look for changing trends.

Jim gave a preliminary PowerPoint report on the project's results at Loving More's Poly Living conference in Philadelphia last February (2013). "This is the largest survey of the polyamory community ever conducted," he told a room of 45 people, with just over 4,000 self-identified poly respondents. The full results will not appear until they're published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. But among the preliminary findings:

● Polys continue to show much higher levels of education than average, though not as greatly so as in the 2000 results; this probably reflects the widening of the poly movement in the intervening 12 years.

● Polys are "slightly but significantly happier" than average Americans, especially women.

● Polys stay healthier than average as they grow older, "a very robust finding" statistically; "being poly is very good for you as you age." Jim said this trend is even more pronounced than the well-known tendency of married people to be healthier than aging singles (and the famous "marriage effect" tends to fall apart when you control for the fact that unhealthy people attract fewer potential marriage partners to begin with). You might wonder whether the health-and-happiness results merely reflect polys' high education levels, which correlate with health and happiness among people in general. But, says Darrell Cox, "We find very different drivers of health and happiness for the LM [Loving More] folks versus the general population."

● Not surprisingly polys have more sex, and with more people, than their peers, especially over age 50. Jim speculated that having more sex contributes to polys' better well-being. Darrell now says that a linear regression analysis has found signs that a cause-and-effect link runs in both directions here.

● Polys have been found to earn less than their equally well educated peers. Coincidentally or not, far more people in the LM survey said they have been discriminated against than Americans in general say they have been. However, I wonder if the wealth gap instead just reflects the difference between geeky independent thinkers and mainstream careerists. And Darrell notes, "Many have suggested that well-educated poly folks tend to be in the helping professions, where incomes are significantly less than in other professions or vocations."


Now, four months later, the survey authors have finally put out a public summary of some of what they've found, with lots of graphs. Read it here on the Loving More site (June 21, 2013). Academic publication of the whole thing still awaits.

One bit:

[Loving More 2012] respondents were significantly more likely (28.5%) to report having experienced some form of discrimination compared to the general US population (5.5%) and more than twice as likely than African Americans within the US population (12.8%). These results were similarly significant when analyzed by gender and sexual behavioral orientation. Ambiguity about [whether people have] experienced discrimination is far more common among the LM population (18.4%) as compared to the general US population (0.13%)....

When the LM respondents were asked specifically about discrimination for being polyamorous, 25.8% answered “yes,” 53.4% answered “no,” and 20.8% answered “not sure.” Polyamorous women (28.9%) were significantly more likely to state that they had experienced discrimination for being polyamorous than were men (20.6%).

This study is only the first in a series the authors plan. In the discussion period after Jim's talk at Poly Living, several people challenged the wording of various questions and asked for more next time about poly-specific matters. Jim said the authors were constrained by their design of mostly using questions in the GSS. He said the 2012 survey was "only the first round," and that the three authors are eager to delve into new issues —— such as degree of out-ness and relations with families of origin, the degrees of sexual satisfaction among multiple partners, getting to the root of "the [apparent] prophylactic effects of poly on the unmarried and divorced," religious beliefs, and perceptions of equality and fairness within poly relationships.

Jim asked for suggestions from the community. You can write to him at Jim(AT)affirmativeintimacy.com or to Derrell at derrell.cox(AT)ou.edu .



June 24, 2013

"Will Polyamory Come
Out of the Closet Next?"


This week the Supreme Court should issue its long-awaited rulings on two landmark gay-marriage cases. Right, left, and center are wondering, and sometimes ducking the question of, what comes next?

On PolicyMic ("amplifying excellent unheard voices... the first democratic online news platform to engage millennials in debates about real issues"), recent law-school graduate Kjeld Lindsted looks at us face-on. Expect more like this coming soon.

Relationship Status: It's Complicated. Will Polyamory Come Out of the Closet Next?

By Kjeld Lindsted

...I hear more and more about how we are about to win the battle for marriage equality. As a legal scholar I'm not entirely convinced that the court is going to do anything truly paradigm changing, but I'm cautiously optimistic. So, with gay marriage tentatively "in the bag," the big question on my mind is "what comes next?" I propose polyamory.

...The polyamory movement didn't gain real steam until the late 1990s. Since then it's made a surprising amount of progress, perhaps in part because of the space created by the junction of secularism, LGBT campaigns, and the sex-positive movement all of which embrace a more open and individualized approach to sexuality and romance.

For anyone new to the term, polyamory comes in as many varieties as there are participants.... If there is any sweeping feature defining polyamory it's probably communication. In fact, while very little research has been done (though this is starting to change) the available data strongly suggests that polyamorous individuals are actually better at maintaining (and navigating) relationships than most monogamous people; and herein lies the golden egg behind the movement's growing success.

The failure of monogamy as a social construct is perhaps conservatism's worst kept secret....

Ironically, however, there is something of a disconnect in the LGBT community when it comes to recognizing polyamory. Standing on the edge of success (or perhaps tipping into success) the gay rights movement has been hesitant to embrace other forms of relationship freedom for fear of tossing free ammunition to conservative opposition. While there is some merit to these fears, giving into them ultimately undermines the legitimacy of both movements. Some LGBT proponents have even gone so far as to suggest that polyamory is a "choice" while being gay is genetic. Oh how the tables turn....

...The gay-rights movement has sought to liberalize our culture with the understanding that alternatives exist and that these alternatives bring much needed new life to our romantic encounters. Polyamory is the next step in the right direction. Build your-own-relationship models are here to stay and this is a good thing.

The polyamory movement signals a new and profound change in our understanding of sexuality and romance. While the Feminist and LGBT movements each brought new sexual definitions into common usage, thereby expanding romantic conventions enormously, the polyamory movement is, even if unintentionally, seeking to blow the box wide open....

Read the whole article (June 24, 2013).



June 18, 2013

Poly as "the relationship status of a totally fabulous future"... And from long-timers, warning signs.

Ever more articles and postings are calling polyamory an emerging relationship model of the future, or even America's next romantic revolution. As someone who dreamed for decades of moving the poly-awareness bandwagon so much as an inch, I find this enormously heartening. Within our lifetime I think we may see a Mission Accomplished, at least for my own personal mission: helping make the world aware that successful multi-loving relationships, families, and networks even exist. And that this life can be a surprisingly realistic option for some people who come with the right motivations, attitudes, and values, especially if they learn the skills and best practices that the poly world has accumulated from hard experience.

But as I've also warned, when any small, specialty niche thing starts to become cool and widely popular it moves downmarket, where it can turn ugly and start to stink. More on that in a bit.

First, some recent, diverse straws in the wind.

This article appeared at Dazed & Confused magazine, "at the forefront of youth culture, defining the times" for a claimed 550,000 readers:

Polyamory is the new monogamy

Why loving lots of people at once is the #relationshipstatus of a totally fabulous future

By Pinar & Viola

Every year, we, Pinar&Viola ["Dutch artists and brand creatives"], launch a... collection inspired by the desires of that year that also reflects the trends and cravings for the year to come. The subject of each collection is kept secret till the last moment, yet we'd like to make an exception this year for the Sex issue of Dazed & Confused. Recently, we were introduced to something which we believe is in the the air; it's not even avant-garde yet, but we believe it will rise in five years' time, and be accepted by openminded people in about ten years.

This new fascination is polyamory, the philosophy and practice of loving more than one person. Our contemporary-culture scanner instincts tell us that polyamory will be the next sexual liberation and sensual sensation. The collective, deep, committed, long-term loving relationship is slowly rising up from the underground, emboldened by the success of gay marriage.

...It's an ideology [for] people who would like to love more than one person in a way that is sexual, emotional, spiritual or any combination thereof. Bien sûr, this multi-love setting is a game changer for the mono-love deal referred to as "monogamy". Yet when you think about it, why is it perfectly fine for us to have sex with multiple people but the setup becomes creepy when it's about loving multiple people. Weird. IKR!

...Polyamory is like welcoming a new friend in your circle. You don't think who you should drop when you have a new friend. It's the introduction of honest, larger-group dynamics into what we define as a love couple....

...Judith Butler gives good insight in her interview over gender trouble, and makes a prediction on the future uncrowning of monogamy. It's obvious that the idea of leaving monogamy behind will scare people, shake them up and make them question their world-view. Now let's begin....

Read the whole article, with its sometimes fractured Dutch English (May 11, 2013).


In a very different context, the website of a church-based health-care network in Nebraska offers this informative briefing in the Sexual Medicine section of its website for the public:

Polyamorous relationships becoming more mainstream

By Brier Jirka, Sex Therapist

Polyamorous relationships. What are they? Who do they involve? Are they common?

Research says that as many as 5 percent of Americans are currently in polyamorous relationships, or consensual non-monogamy — which involves permission to go outside of the relationship for romance or sex.

This population has been around for a long time, but it’s just now popping up in mainstream culture as society becomes more accepting of alternative lifestyles....

...These relationships can be hard to define because each has its own set of rules, boundaries and structure set by the various people involved. Keep in mind these people can be any number of sexual orientations — heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transgender.

Poly relationships are not to be confused with bigamy (marriage to more than one person, which is illegal), “wife swapping” or “swinging” — which are usually based on sexual activity... there is an emphasis on the emotional relationship, as opposed to just sexual pleasure. Communication is what makes poly relationships stable. The focus should be on honesty and a basic set of rules....

See the whole article (June 4, 2013). It goes on to quote at length Stephanie Pappas's excellent LiveScience article, "5 Myths About Polyamory", which was also published on the Scientific American site and elsewhere.


In yet another context: a columnist in the Colorado gay magazine Out Front writes,

‘Monogamish’ and the gray area between monogamy and polyamory

By Lauren Archuletta

...Is monogamy going out of style? Maybe it is to an extent. But maybe there are just many more legitimate options now, which we’re more open to talk about as parts of human nature, relationships and curiosity....

The whole article (June 5, 2013).


And maybe you remember "In our progressive, forward-thinking college town it’s becoming almost a faux pas to be monogamous", from a Western Massachusetts alternative paper.

And "Polyamory is Boring as, in some places, it becomes normal".

And Laci Green, the popular young sex-ed vlogger, saying "Polyamory is quickly becoming this generation's sexual revolution".

And there was that episode of Fox's New Girl sitcom in which Schmidt, a 30ish Gen Y-er, thinks he's getting old and un-cool. To dramatize this, the screenwriter has four hip, cool Millennials move in across the hall. Schmidt laments, "They’re the future of humanity! A pan-ethnic, pansexual hive mind and they want nothing to do with me!" His roommates try to explain: "Brory, Sutton, and Fife are in a triad, and Chaz is a floater." Schmidt wails, "They’re polyamorous?! Dammit!", feeling even older and more out of it.


All good, right?

Well, anything is likely to go bad if it becomes too cool too fast, says my glum conservative side. As I was putting together the stuff above, other straws in the wind appeared on the Polyfamilies Yahoo list (an old favorite of mine, with its sharp minds and ascerbic bullshit-killers). There, longtime poly advice writers Franklin Veaux and Goddess of Java (the Polyamorous Misanthrope) shared an ominous observation. Quotes are by permission. Franklin:

I get a lot of email from my poly website. About two or three times a week, I'll get requests for advice, almost always from folks who are new to polyamory. I try to answer all of these....

In the past six months or so, the nature of many of these emails has changed. I call them Sudden Left Turn emails.

They start out ordinary enough — someone says they're in a poly relationship, they describe a bit about the relationship, they start to talk about the problem they want advice with. And then the email takes a sudden left turn into horror, with some situation that totally blows my mind.

A couple of weeks ago a woman wrote who's in her first poly relationship, partnered with another woman who has a long-term boyfriend. It was ordinary enough; the existing couple has a rule that the woman's girlfriend is forbidden to spend the night with the woman, and that was something that bothered her… and then she said "Oh, yeah, my girlfriend and her partner have decided they want me to have her boyfriend's baby. They told me about this last night."

Or another email I received yesterday from a woman who's been in a monogamous relationship for years, and then her partner told her that he wants to explore polyamory, and he'd like to start dating another woman he's become close to… and then she added that he thinks if he has other partners, she should have other partners too, but he doesn't want her dating any other men, only women. Catch is, she's straight, so he told her that if poly is to work, she has to become bisexual.

Almost always, these emails end with "I've never been poly before, is this how all poly relationships are?"

I'm not sure what's going on.... Is it the inevitable consequence of polyamory becoming more visible in the public sphere? I mean, who tells a partner "By the way, we've decided you have to have this guy's baby," or "By the way, you have to become bisexual now"? I really feel bad for the people in these situations, being asked to do things that are so far outside the bounds of reason that you can't even see reasonableness from where they are without a telescope…and I'm starting to see a LOT of emails like this.

...I definitely think that poly being in the public eye has opened it up to more people, some of whom are doing it more or less badly (and/or without adequate basic relationship skills). I have noticed an uptick in the visible "poly means I get to do whatever I want" contingent lately, too.

To which Noel replied,

I've been getting them. I went off on this ranty tear in some recent Misanthrope articles about treating people as things and asking where the fuck the love was, in reaction to the same shit. I've been getting them at least that long. I haven't answered an email in the blog in several months because some of 'em made me cry
in pity and frustration, and I just didn't want to plow through it to answer.

...I think there is this idea that if poly is an option, the newly poly can start ordering their partners to put up with some heinous shit. They're missing the important part: ***LOVE***.

So please, people — to repeat a speech I delivered five years ago:

People who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move.... Unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions. And then it wrecks itself spectacularly in a ditch. Survivors loot the wreckage and disappear, and onlookers nod their heads knowingly and say they saw it coming all along.

Think of what happened to the psychedelic drug movement a generation ago....

So maybe it’s time for us to pay less attention to just pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it. As it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be taking every opportunity to:

1. Keep stressing that successful polyamory requires high standards of communication, ethics, integrity, generosity, and concern for every person affected;

2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many;

3. Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";

4. Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of polyamory, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented, or even as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends or acquaintances for whom you genuinely wish good things. And beyond that, of course, there's no limit to how close you can become. This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of the magic of romantic love — into something wider, and more widely applicable, than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.

And, 5. Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through courage, hard relationship-honesty work, ruthless self-examination, tough personal growth, and a quick readiness to (as they say in the Marines) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong."

Please — with the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless or trivial, or less than what we know it to be.



June 13, 2013

"The case for polyamory. And while we’re at it, let’s privatize marriage."


My friend Richard Gilmore is the leadoff character in this article that just went up on Slate.

Richard and a partner, by the way, are writing a book on forming line families: the Heinlein-inspired model of a multigenerational group marriage that can, in principle, last for centuries — with new people marrying in as the old die out.

Marry Me. And Me.

The case for polyamory. And while we’re at it, let’s privatize marriage.

Polyamorists engage in “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.” (Photo by Mark Bowden/Thinkstock)

By Jillian Keenan

Twelve years ago, Richard Gilmore walked into a party and laid eyes on Vicki for the first time. It was like a scene from a 1940s Hollywood romance.

“If you were to film it, it would be so sappy and saccharine, you wouldn’t believe it,” recalled Richard, now 60. “There was a crowd of people, but all I could see was her.” Vicki, now 63, noticed Richard too, and began to stare back. The chemistry between them was immediate and irresistible. They say it was love at first sight.

“Oh my God,” Richard thought at the time. “It really happens.”

But this is where the old Hollywood romance ends and another kind of love story begins. A few weeks later, after her magical first date with Richard, Vicki went home — to Jim, her husband of almost 20 years. “Why didn’t you want to come with us tonight?” Vicki asked Jim, after she told him all about the date. “I wanted you to have a chance to get to know Richard one-on-one,” Jim told her.

“Wasn’t that cool of him?” Richard recalled.

So as Richard and Vicki started dating, Jim and Vicki happily continued their marriage. Nine months later, Jim met a woman named Maria. Jim and Maria began to date, and then Richard and Maria started dating, too. Finally, in 2002, as the group of four piled on coats and scarves to go out one chilly evening, Richard stopped at the door and looked back at everyone.

“We’re really a family now, aren’t we?” he asked. They were — and they have been ever since.

...And despite the stereotype of polyamorists as sexual anarchists who wouldn’t be interested in legal marriage anyway, Robyn Trask, the executive director of polyamory support organization Loving More, said the group’s forthcoming survey found that 65 percent of poly families would choose to legalize their unions if they could, and an additional 20 percent would at least consider the option if it were available.

But seriously — is legal recognition of plural marriage just too complicated to ever be realistic?...

So let’s start with the fundamental question: What is marriage — and what do we want it to be? Is marriage a government program, meant to incentivize certain social goods? Is it a religious institution that should be separated from the state entirely? Is it a personal romantic choice?

In response to these questions, an alternative suggestion has emerged from an unlikely alliance between the far right and far left: Why not take the government out of marriage entirely? The list of people who have called for marriage privatization is long....

And they make a compelling case....

“I’m not his dad, I’m his Artie,” said Arthur, a 32-year-old polyamorist who has lived with his girlfriend, her husband, and their son for the past eight years. “But from the outside, you wouldn’t see a difference. When he was born, all three of us were there. When he cries in the middle of the night, all three of us are there. We’re as much of a family as anyone, just without the legal status.”

In either a public or private marital system, extending marriage access to plural families would obviously be very complicated. Why should we even care? Polyamorists are a minority, and they, unlike same-sex couples, arguably choose their lifestyle. It’s easy to ignore or marginalize them. But their families raise fundamental questions about how our government interacts with our sexual and romantic lives....

Read the whole article (June 13, 2013). Comments are flooding in.

Update June 15: The article has been getting reprinted in a lot of places, including in the major news-roundup magazine The Week. (June 13, 2013).

Another article on poly and the idea of separating civil and religious marriage, by Martin Hine, appeared in The Chattanoogan in Tennessee, and an expanded version is printed at ModernPoly.com: Straight, Gay, or Poly - Should Government be in the marriage business?



June 9, 2013

"How polyamory is saving some couples"

Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, maybe others

Maybe I'm grumpy today, but I've got a bunch of problems with this nice, well-meaning article:

Let's start with the headline.

1) "Marriage in trouble? Add more people!" is an eyeroll snark in the poly world. (It's even a Poly Bingo square.) Yes it occasionally works — maybe in an otherwise good, companionable marriage where one person has strong special desires, or sexual dislikes or inabilities. (As a friend of mine in a 16-year triad says, "Some people get into poly so they can have more sex. Some get into poly so they can have less sex.") But more often, the add-more-people cure for a troubled marriage bombs spectacularly.

The newspaper writer might have done a little more research and said, "The standard advice you hear in the polyamory world is to get your present relationship into excellent condition before even thinking of opening it."

2) Even if the poly cure works for a couple, what about the third party? If it's about saving the couple, is the third just some kind of kleenex to come into? Some secondaries seek out the role because it fits their life they way they want it: as a solopoly free agent. Many don't. Either way, secondaries have feelings too.

Unicorn's Dilemma, by Kimchi Cuddles (used with permission).

3) All of this exposes issues of couple privilege and polynormativity that most readers of the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal (in Canada's red provinces) probably haven't seen discussed much.

But on with the story:

Modern love: How polyamory is saving some couples

Going outside of a monogamous relationship is far from the norm, but experts says such arrangements can work if everyone involved is committed and communication is kept up.

By Shani Krammer, for the Calgary Herald

Two years into their marriage, David and Alyssa were struggling with their sex life. Alyssa felt unsatisfied and David felt he couldn’t meet her needs. Rather than break up, however, the couple decided that Alyssa would start having sex with other men.

That was six years ago. The couple, whose names have been changed in this story to protect their privacy, says their new arrangement may seem strange, but it works for both of them. Alyssa’s sexual needs are fulfilled, and David says he finds it sexy to think about his wife with other men.

“We keep things creative and we’re always trying new things,” he says. “Alyssa wants to push it further to see what happens. A lot of people just do the same things (sexually) over and over and it gets boring.”

This kind of relationship, sometimes called polyamorous, is far from the norm, but relationship experts says such arrangements can work if everyone involved is committed and communication is kept up. Those involved say their lives are proof that not everyone needs to adhere to society’s traditional approach to monogamy to be in a happy relationship.

David says he and Alyssa’s relationship takes jealousy and conservatism out of the equation. He knows this might seem strange to an outsider, but he and his wife are happy with their current agreement.

“We talk about things we want to do beforehand, and question it, and try things out to see what the person likes, and then we do it,” he says. “Our relationship is messed up in comparison to what other people do, but we’re happy. To me it’s fine.”

...“We are monogamous as far as the relationship is concerned,” David says. “She’s only having sex … She doesn’t have relationships with other guys, it’s just sex.”

4) So, that means their marriage is "open" rather than "polyamorous." Sex on the side with touch of cuck, rather than multiple love relationships. I wish sloppy journalists wouldn't gum up our defining word! Two OKCupid commenters nailed it a few days ago. Said one:

Open = can fuck outside of relationship.
Polyamorous = multiple people inside of relationship.

To which another added,

"Or deep relationships with multiple people. Someone can have a deep and intimate relationship where their other partners are not really involved." Journalists please take note.

5) Anyone who says out loud that jealousy is "out of the equation" steps into the crosshairs of the Karma Fairy's bombsight. I say this as a low-jealousy person who didn't get whammed with it until 13 years into my poly life.

...Kate Nielson, a Registered Psychologist at the private practice of the Family Psychology Centre, says society has slowly begun to embrace what she refers to as “alternative relationship styles.” Some spouses she has encountered are bisexual and they allow one another to have sex with both genders, while some couples agree to allow sexual relationships with others.

While some of these relationships work, they take constant work to maintain, she says — it isn’t two people working on a relationship, it is two people working on multiple relationships.

...She says that, to be polyamorous, there must be ample communication, and both spouses have to agree on the openness of the relationship.

...She says that monogamy and polyamory are both valid relationships styles, but it takes a lot of communication to figure out which style works the best. In polyamory, she says both members must agree on the terms and rules; for instance, there is full disclosure of all extramarital sex, and the who, the when and the where of these encounters. These types of couples have a sense of openness and honesty, so they don’t consider it cheating.

...Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, the founder of the website Ashley Madison, a dating site for people looking for extramarital affairs, says the success of the site shows that cheating is more natural for people than society has traditionally allowed.

Biderman founded his website on the principle that humans are not naturally monogamous. He says that, based on research done by his company, married people are more comfortable lying to their spouse and keeping extramarital sex a secret, and he doesn’t think polyamory is a realistic idea.

“About one to two per cent of people (surveyed) were into the polyamory,” he says. The rest of them said they were more comfortable cheating without consent, because there was less likelihood of judgment or possessiveness on the part of their spouse.

Biderman says that sometimes experimenting with new lovers illicitly can rekindle the original love within a relationship, and actually cause people to appreciate their souse even more.

“The majority of marriages survive infidelity,” Noel Biderman says. “There’s this myth that you should pick up and leave.”

Psychologist Kate Nielsen, however, says that, given the choice, polyamory is a better option than cheating because it promotes honesty.

“There is always the possibility that cheating could bring a couple closer together, but usually that’s an exception. Usually, that trust is broken (when a spouse cheats). It can be very hard to regain trust once it’s been broken,” Nielsen says....

Read the whole article (June 7, 2013).

Later.... by Kimchi Cuddles (used with permission).



June 6, 2013

Showtime's "Polyamory": Rerun of Season 1, then a new Season 2

Showtime network

    Trailer for Season 1, Episode 1

Last summer's breakthrough reality series Polyamory: Married & Dating will rerun on the Showtime network starting Thursday night, June 27th, at 11 p.m. Eastern time. At least five of the seven episodes will appear weekly late at night; see schedule. In addition, Showtime subscribers can now watch all seven episodes online anytime.

Season 2 is in the works, as we announced last January. No word on when it will air, but it won't be until after the summer rerun is over. Nor do we have word on who's going to be in it — everyone's mum until the official announcement. But there will be new people, and it's a reasonable guess that we'll at least see some followup on people from Season 1.

The series was controversial in the poly community, especially for the brief sex and nudity in most episodes. I thought this was handled tastefully and shown as what it was: a normal, significant part of the relationships among the featured quad and triad. Ditto the human imperfections in some of the relationships. Producer/director Natalia Garcia is passionate about showing the concepts of modern polyamory for what we know them to be. She also searched hard for a more diverse cast for Season 2, though I don't know whether she succeeded. The show certainly boosted Google searches for the word "polyamory" (and hits to this site) and familiarized a lot of people with a once-unimaginable concept.

One little leak: I was asked to sign a release allowing Showtime to display pages from this website. Apparently the Season 2 cast reads it!


June 3, 2013

"Polyamorists strive for future legal recognition as national convention wraps up"

The Canadian Press (press service)

This banner appeared in a Pride parade in Canada a few years ago, but the CTV News website uses it this morning to illustrate its coverage of PolyCon.

Here's Monday morning's media coverage of PolyCon (#polyconvan), which just ended in Vancouver.

Get in there early with the comments, folks. And check back here for any further updates.

Polyamorists strive for future legal recognition as national convention wraps up

By Vivian Luk, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER - While Canada's polyamorists — people with multiple partners outside a religious context — do not face criminalization as do polygamists, it is not enough for them to be considered "just not illegal," they said on Sunday.

As the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association wrapped up its three-day convention, the first of its kind to be held in Canada, the association's director and conference chairwoman Zoe Duff said polyamorists hope to one day gain the same legal recognition as other couples.

"It would be nice...to have households where our spouses are equal under the law, and moving forward in terms of pensions, and inheritances and property division," she said.

...Polyamory came to the forefront in 2011, when B.C. Supreme Court upheld Canada's polygamy law after the province launched a constitutional reference case to clarify the law.... The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association was an intervenor in the 2011 case, and saw the B.C. Supreme Court decision as a victory because the decision also concluded that anti-polygamy laws shouldn't apply to polyamorous couples unless they decide to get married.

Duff said the judge was unclear on what he meant with regards to marriage, however she added that striving for that clarity, and eventually for legal status, won't be happening anytime soon. For the time being, the polyamorous community is focusing on raising awareness about the movement, connecting people within the community with each other, and providing people with resources such as legal advice or counselling.

The three-day convention, called "Claiming our Right to Love," included workshops on how to deal with jealousy within a polyamorist relationship, how family laws affect polyamorist households, and how newcomers to existing polyamorist relationships can be treated ethically.

Tiffany Sostar, a Calgary-based student activist and panelist at the convention, said consensual, non-monogamous relationships have been happening for many years. However, polyamory has gained more public profile recently, and Sostar said the practice is becoming more acceptable within mainstream society.

Last year, Sostar brought home two partners to her family's Easter Dinner, explaining to her mother that she believes polyamory is an ethical alternative to monogamy, and that she loves multiple people.

"Even though she struggled with it, she handled it quite well," said Sostar. "She said, 'I don't understand, but I don't understand a lot of things that you do and I still love you.' "

Still, Sostar says there are those who are not so accepting, and who can only equate having multiple partners with cheating.

"Probably the most negative response I got was when someone said that when they think of that type of person, they think of cesspools of disease, which was pretty awful," said Sostar. "And actually, I think it was grossly misinformed since the poly community tends to talk quite openly about safer sex practices and risk management."

Here's the whole article as it appears at the Winnipeg Free Press site (June 2, 2013).

The article also appears on the sites of CTV News, Macleans (prominent national news magazine), Yahoo News, CBC News British Columbia, MSN Canada, HuffPost British Columbia, The Tyee, and probably elsewhere.


P.S.: Don't forget — 15 other poly conferences, retreats, campouts, and other regional/national gatherings for the coming year are listed at ALAN'S LIST of POLYAMORY EVENTS, with detailed descriptions. Pass it on.


June 2, 2013

"Love as a many-partnered thing. First polyamory convention in Canada celebrates emerging relationship trend."

The Province (Vancouver)

Jen Day, left, and Pepper Mint, a polyamorous couple from San Francisco, spoke about their relationship at Polycon - Claiming Our Right To Love, in Vancouver. (Photo: Arlen Redekop/ PNG/ Sunday Province)

Here's more from PolyCon (#Polyconvan) now underway in Vancouver, courtesy again of the daily tabloid paper The Province. The story is in this morning's Sunday edition, awaiting folks as they wake up, and is by a new writer now. It profiles longtime alt-sex community organizers Pepper and Jen from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Love as a many-partnered thing

First polyamory convention in Canada celebrates emerging relationship trend

By Thandi Fletcher

When Jen Day wants to take in an evening of high culture, she doesn't ask her live-in boyfriend to go with her.

Although she has been dating Pepper Mint (yes, that is his real name) for 10 years, and they recently bought a house together, Day would rather go with one of her other three boyfriends.

"Pep isn't a big fan of opera or ballet, so I have somebody who I go do those things with," said the 34-year-old.

The San Francisco couple practise polyamory, an emerging trend of multi-partner relationships.

The two spoke about their lifestyle choice at Polycon — Claiming our Right to Love. The weekend convention at the Robson Square campus of the University of B.C. in downtown Vancouver saw almost 80 attendees on Friday and another 100 Saturday.

Hosted by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, organizer Zoe Duff said the event — the first polyamory convention to be held in Canada — was a celebration of sorts.

Although the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the law against polygamy in 2011, it didn't put an end to informal sexual arrangements. The polyamory community, which views itself as completely different from polygamists, saw the legal clarification as a victory, said Duff.

...Day currently has four boyfriends, an unusually steep number for her. Her "poly number" - the preferred number of partners she likes to date at any given time — is two.... "I'm having a more playful year," she said. "I'm kind of going out of my way to have a bigger number just for a little while."

Outside of his relationship with Day, Mint, 38, has two serious girlfriends whom he has dated for five years each. He also occasionally takes on casual lovers, the number of which can fluctuate, he said.

Adding a layer of complexity, each of their partners are also dating other partners. At one time, Day and Mint, a bisexual, even dated the same man.

Although the couple are aware their lifestyle choice may seem complicated to outsiders, Mint and Day are adamant they rarely deal with issues such as jealousy.

They have met each other's partners, and Day is even in a book club with one of Mint's girlfriends, Julie.

"Part of it is realizing that there are things that he is getting from his other partners that are very important and make me very happy that he's getting them there," said Day.

...Communication, honesty and a basic set of rules make their relationship work, they said. When one of them starts a new relationship, Mint said it's important all other partners are informed as soon as possible.

With so many partners to please, Mint said simply finding the time to see everyone is a major logistical challenge. "You learn to have a strong emotional connection on a low time commitment," he said.

While the relationships are hard work to maintain, Day said their lifestyle does offer unique benefits. When she's going through a tough breakup, for example, she said she gets to vent to her other boyfriend....


Read the whole article (June 2, 2013), and go establish some good comment threads.

The writer tweeted yesterday, "Today I covered Polycon, Vancouver's polyamory convention. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least."

The article first appeared on the paper's website yesterday evening under the headline Polyamory: Keys to multiple relationships are honesty, communication and some basic rules. It also appears on the site of the Calgary Herald today under that title.

As for the conference itself — word is that Samantha Fraser brought down the house with her Friday night keynote talk. Co-organizer Zoe Duff posts, "Great turnout for PolyCon!! Lots of intense discussions and terrific networking. Final session tomorrow [Sunday] afternoon is the only one NOT sold out. $10 at the door from 2:30 p.m., UBC Robson Square. An amazing weekend thanks to an awesome team of voluntolds."

More to follow, I'm sure.

P.S.: Want to know about all 15 other poly conferences, retreats, campouts, and other regional/national gatherings for the coming year? Then you want ALAN'S LIST of POLYAMORY EVENTS, with detailed descriptions. Pass it on.