Polyamory in the News
. . . by Alan M.

June 30, 2015

US News: "Polyamorous Rights Advocates See Marriage Equality Coming for Them"

A couple days ago a reporter from US News (a decades-old, well-respected mainstream news magazine) wrote and asked for poly spokespeople who would be good to talk to about the Supreme Court's gay-marriage ruling. I suggested Diana Adams and Robyn Trask, and they're among the people he quotes in his article this morning, below.

Missing from the article is his long conversation with Ricci Levy of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation. She described at length why marriage rights are the wrong way to approach poly family rights. Many rights that currently accrue to marriage should accrue to any individuals, she argued, and individuals should be able to design their own families of choice by their own contracts.

Not a word of that got used. Poly marriage is what the media are obsessing about right now.

In my opinion, multi-marriage would be a poor paradigm for poly rights even if it were legally available. But that's another story (to come). Right now we have no choice but to ride the tiger, and try to steer it.

Polyamorous Rights Advocates See Marriage Equality Coming for Them

Justice John Roberts was spot-on about polygamy, advocates say.

Robyn Brown, Meri Brown, Kody Brown, Christine Brown and Janelle Brown from reality TV program "Sister Wives" [sued] to decriminalize polyamorous living arrangements in Utah [and have won so far –Ed.]. Other polyamorous advocates expect lawsuits seeking marriage rights.
By Steven Nelson

Like others across the country last week, a Washington, D.C., couple and their housewarming guests buzzed about the Supreme Court's ruling that legalized gay marriage in all 50 states. But they were far more interested in Chief Justice John Roberts' dissent than the majority opinion that made same-sex marriage the law of the land.

The couple – a husband and his wife – are polyamorous, and had just moved in with their girlfriend. And in Roberts' dissent, they saw a path that could make three-way relationships like theirs legal, too.

“Did you see we were mentioned by Roberts?” the husband beamed as he welcomed guests the day after the ruling. The chief justice wrote that polygamy has deeper roots in history and that the decision allowing gays to marry "would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.”

“If the majority is willing to take the big leap," [Roberts] added, "it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.”

An attorney at the housewarming who works at a prominent Washington law firm tittered at the thought of repurposing gay rights arguments to sue for government recognition of plural marriages. It would be a lot of fun, he told his host, if he wasn’t saddled with corporate law work.

Roberts' analysis wasn't unique. The suggestion previously was made by judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, who in November wrote, “there is no reason to think that three or four adults, whether gay, bisexual, or straight, lack the capacity to share love, affection, and commitment, or for that matter lack the capacity to be capable (and more plentiful) parents to boot.”

Some gay marriage supporters see the analogy as far-fetched. But for polyamorous advocates it’s welcomed as a potential boost for future legal efforts.

Some advocates believe Roberts' dissent will prove as useful to the polyamorous movement as dissents written by Justice Antonin Scalia in gay rights cases were to the same-sex marriage movement. In Lawrence v. Texas, a 2003 case, and in 2013's U.S. v. Windsor, Scalia warned his peers were laying the groundwork for universal recognition of same-sex marriage, which other federal judges pointed to in their decisions knocking down state bans on gay marriage.

"I do think the dissent by Roberts provides a legal foothold for people seeking polyamorous marriage rights," says Diana Adams, a New York attorney who specializes in nontraditional family law. "As Roberts points out, if there's going to be a rejection of some of the traditional man-woman elements of marriage... those same arguments could easily be applied to three or four-person unions."

Adams says she's heard chatter of looming lawsuits now that the same-sex marriage issue has been resolved. She personally is interested in helping extend co-parenting arrangements for three or more people to benefit same-sex couples who cannot reproduce with each other, and she says such cases could ultimately break ground for polyamorous families.

Robyn Trask, the Colorado-based executive director of Loving More, a polyamory support organization, says she believes Roberts’ dissent will prove prophetic.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as far in the future as people think,” she says.

Trask says the marriage issue currently is “debated within our own community, similar to the gay community – there are people who don’t believe we should go after plural marriage, and there are those who do.”

A significant majority within the community appears open to the idea of marriage with multiple partners should it become legally possible. In a 2012 survey, Loving More asked more than 4,000 polyamorous people and found 66 percent were open to plural marriage, with 20 percent unsure.

There are many practical reasons to marry, Trask says, including immigration and medical decision-making rights. She has personal experience with both, marrying a Japanese partner in the late 1980s so he could remain in the U.S. and struggling for the right to speak for a female partner while she underwent surgery.

She says she once knew a married American couple who divorced so one could remarry a Canadian partner who wanted to live in the U.S. Another three-person relationship featured an American, a Canadian and a Mexican who wished to live together.

Despite the real-world benefits of legal marriage, Trask says many people living in polyamorous relationships “are in the closet and being very careful,” with a large number feeling it’s more important to protect their employment, housing and children than to lead the charge for marital rights.

But she says polyamorous partners, particularly younger ones, are increasingly “out” about their lifestyle, and believes change will come with greater swiftness than for gay people. "They blazed the trail, if you will,” she says.

Read the original: Polyamorous Rights Advocates See Marriage Equality Coming for Them (June 29, 2015).

Here are Ricci Levy's remarks as posted on the Polyamory Leadership Network (quoted by permission):

Steven Nelson is a generally fair reporter and I spent quite a bit of time on the phone with him. I gave him a great deal of information about our human right to family, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and various international treaties since, as well as the refusal of the United Nations Human Rights Commission/Committee to limit the definition of family, stating that we must recognize the diversity of family today.

For the first time in the history of our country there are fewer than 50% of married households (per the census). I answered every push for a statement about whether the next battle should be for poly marriage by stressing that we should shift the conversation to our right to family, and that rights should accrue to the individual rather than be based on a relationship structure that, historically, favors marriage above all other relationships. I also stressed that I believe anyone who wishes to celebrate their relationship, no matter how many are involved, by get married should be able to do so.

As you'll see in the article, there is no mention of this conversation at all. My feelings aren't hurt. :) I suspect the frame will be poly marriage in the media for some time to come. And we will end up, I fear, if we don't push back to shift the conversation to the right to family, fighting for one "marriage" configuration after another.

Steven asked me, by the way, how we separate out the rights from the relationship. My suggestion is that rights accrue to the individual rather than being based on a relationship.

The quotes in the article are good and favorable, by the way.

And I would encourage all of you to check out a document that was drafted in April 2006 by a wonderful group that came together in response to the movement for (what was then) Same Sex Marriage: www.beyondmarriage.org.


Some other items:

● Many right-wing voices agree with how we see Roberts' dissent. For instance, blogger Amy Hall substitutes "polygamous and polyamorous groups" for "same-sex couples" into swing-justice Anthony Kennedy's landmark ruling. Sounds good to me: Justice Kennedy’s Arguments for Polygamy and Polyamory (June 27, 2015).

● Keith Pullman reposts his Why Polyamory Will Gain Acceptance Faster than gay rights (April 20, 2015).

● An enthusiastic article in South Africa's Independent Online:
Let’s legalise polyamory next?
(June 29, 2015). It's been republished several other places.

More coming.


Labels: , , ,


Blogger Douglas Moran said...

Of *course* the pic associated with the article is a one man, multi-woman group. Sigh.

June 30, 2015 2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a polyamorous, pansexual woman, I am of the opinion that government should not be granting rights, privileges and benefits on the basis of marital status. Since we live in a world where marriage does accrue benefits, let's not deny people those rights and benefits as they form the families that are most conducive to their and their family members happiness and wellbeing.


June 30, 2015 6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anita Wagner Illig said...

I, too, am disappointed that Ricci Levi's input was not included in Nelson's article, especially since I referred him to her. I agree with you, Alan, that clearly the media wants to focus on multi partner marriage just now. My quotes were contextually skewed in some cases, to say the least. I have never conflated polygamy and polyamory when speaking to the media, and my statements about letting the same sex marriage movement do work that would facilitate our achieving a strong desire for legal marriage is also a bit misleading, since I also told him that there is very little call for it from within the community. I also said that many of us aren't interested in traditional marriage as a model for our poly relationships. I do wish that had been included as well.

June 30, 2015 7:25 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

It helps to remember that the Brown Family never advocated for, asked for nor lobbied for plural marriage. In fact what they did fight for, and win, was the decriminalization of polygamy. If they were to come out for plural marriage rights that would be awesome, but as of recently they have not.

Ideally it would be fantastic for both secular and non secular poly families to speak out for plural marriage but sadly I don't see that happening. With Millennals growing up in disfavor of the institution of marriage itself, we are definitely going to have a long road ahead of us. ("Us" Meaning those that are seeking legally recognized plural marriage)

As I see it, the next logical evolution and battle would be more wisely spent on redefining the legal definition of "family" to include all of members that contribute to a single household. This would open the doors to families such as the Hartford CT family (that recently lost their home) to plural marriage (poly) families.
Such a change in legal wording would eventually create an undeniable framework for the "logistical nightmare" politicians anticipate social and legal recognition of plural marriage would create. Thus leaving little to no argument against it.

July 01, 2015 3:42 AM  
Blogger Poly Wanna Answer? said...

Alan, thanks so much for posting this! The article and the background are both great.
Be aware, however, youve double posted Ms Levy's comments. Please fix?

July 01, 2015 8:55 AM  
Anonymous Dawn Davidson said...

Hey Alan: Great post as usual. However, the Permalink to this post goes to "Beyond Marriage" rather than to the actual post itself. You probably will want to fix that ASAP. Also, there's still a duplication in the section quoting Ricci Levy, as mentioned above.

As you know, I am with those who are calling for a redefinition of "family" and family protections, rather than specifically moving towards "poly* marriage legalization." I am celebrating and in solidarity with our LGBTQ* allies, and I feel strongly that this recent Supreme Court decision is a step in the right direction -- towards recognizing ALL families as valid and worthy of support, no matter what their shape, size, or color.

July 01, 2015 3:45 PM  
Blogger Alan said...


Fixed both! Thanks.

July 01, 2015 8:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ricci Levy has it wrong. Marriage rights are exactly what needs to be won.

As for the legal details of how it would work, they're right here:


July 02, 2015 9:11 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home