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|
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.
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."