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



March 16, 2021

Major New Yorker article: "How Polyamorists and Polygamists Are Challenging Family Norms" ...and family law.


"For years, Andy, Roo, Cal, and Aida envisioned creating a utopian place where people like them—queer, trans, polyamorous—could feel completely safe and welcome." Fire and music at the Rêve, their home.


An important article just came out: a 10,000-word piece in The New Yorker, How Polyamorists and Polygamists Are Challenging Family Norms (online March 15; in the March 22nd print issue with the title "The Shape of Love"). It's especially timely right now after the new multi-domestic-partnership law was enacted in Cambridge, Mass.

Author Andrew Solomon switches back and forth between profiles of patriarchal Mormon polygamist families and egalitarian, genderfluid modern polyamorous families, such as in the group above. Connecting these two very dissimilar groupings are their estrangement from conventional marriage law and what they are trying to do about it. Solomon presents deep profiles of activist families in each camp, some of them well known, interspersed with many legal developments in recent years — all with typical New Yorker thoroughness.

Go read it. It's registration-walled, but registration is free.

Some excerpts to get you started:


...As many as sixty thousand people in the United States practice polygamy, including Hmong Americans, Muslims of various ethnicities, and members of the Pan-African Ausar Auset Society. But polygamists face innumerable legal obstacles, affecting such matters as inheritance, hospital visits, and parentage rights. If wives apply for benefits as single parents, they are lying, and may be committing welfare fraud; but if they file joint tax returns they are breaking the law. ...

Polygamists have become more vocal about achieving legal rights since the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, in 2015. So has another group: polyamorists, whose lobbying runs in parallel but with scant overlap. ... In the years I’ve spent talking to members of both communities, I have found that it is usually the polygamists who are more cognizant of common cause.

...In an anti-poly paper in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, John O. Hayward wrote, “Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the only remaining marital frontier—at least for the Judeo-Christian nations of the West—is polygamy.” Another law professor, Jack B. Harrison, wrote that state bans against plural marriage were sure to be challenged, and that anyone who wanted to maintain them would have to “develop a rationale for them, albeit post hoc, that is not rooted in majoritarian morality and animus.”

This is no longer merely a theoretical matter. ...

In February, 2020, the Utah legislature passed a so-called Bigamy Bill, decriminalizing the offense by downgrading it from a felony to a misdemeanor. In June, Somerville, Massachusetts, passed an ordinance allowing groups of three or more people who “consider themselves to be a family” to be recognized as domestic partners. Last week, the neighboring [city] of Cambridge followed suit, passing a broader ordinance recognizing multi-partner relationships. 

The law has proceeded even more rapidly in recognizing that it is possible for a child to have more than two legal parents. In 2017, the Uniform Law Commission, an association that enables states to harmonize their laws, drafted a new Uniform Parentage Act, one provision of which facilitates multiple-parent recognition. Versions of the provision have passed in California, Washington, Maine, Vermont, and Delaware, and it is under consideration in several other states. Courts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Texas, Arizona, and Louisiana have also supported the idea of third parents.

American conservatism has long mourned the proliferation of single parents, but, if two parents are better than one, why are three parents worse?

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...Andy Izenson, Roo Khan, Cal T., and Aida Manduley envisaged creating a utopian place where queer, trans, and polyamorous people could feel safe and welcome. For years, they had told one another stories about the property they would build. At the end of 2017, when Andy and Roo lost their lease, in Brooklyn, the time had come; Cal, who had been living in New Hampshire, was ready to move in, and Aida, a psychotherapist in Boston, planned to relocate as soon as possible. They found a house with fourteen acres and some outbuildings in Ulster Park, on the Hudson. They called their ménage the Rêve.

Living the dream: Andy Izenson, Cal T., Aida Manduley, and Roo Khan.

When I visited, last year, everything seemed to be a work in progress. Unfinished projects around the house gave a feeling of relaxed chaos. Andy, wearing a loose white dress, offered me drinks and snacks. Andy is Jewish; Aida is Puerto Rican; Roo is mixed race and Muslim; Cal is Black and mixed race. Their ethnic and religious backgrounds have prepared them for the marginalization they have experienced as polyamorists. Like the others, Andy goes by the pronoun “they” and described themself as “gender ambivalent.” A lawyer in their early thirties, they spoke in long, hyperactive paragraphs, their eyes wide with passionate focus. ...

‘Polyamorous’ is a close enough description of my practices in the same way as ‘trans-masculine’ is a close enough description of my gender.” Roo said, “I like the word ‘caucus.’ We caucus with polyamorists, you caucus with trans-masculine folk, I caucus with trans-feminine folk.” ... There are various romantic configurations among the four partners, but only Andy is in a romantic relationship with all three of the others. In addition, they all have “comets”—lovers from outside the group who blaze through and then are gone. “It’s a more stable structure with more people,” Andy said.

...The members of the Rêve have thought deeply about what many people characterize as divided love. ... Andy said that the idea was... a conscious rejection of two things: first, “dividing relationships into two categories—one category being people with whom you have sex and the other category being people with whom you don’t have sex,” and, second, “saying that those categories are defined by some deeply operative distinction that changes the fundamental nature of a relationship.”

...The four of them saw the Rêve as a home to a core of residents and as a sanctuary for a wider group. The house has room for nine—“more if people are willing to cuddle,” Andy added. At present, some fifteen occupants can arrive at the house at any time and stay as long as they like. “As we build more structures, as we have more beds, we can have more people living here full time,” they went on. “We want to be able to say, This is what we’re doing for the rest of our lives, so, if you aren’t so stressed about bathroom proximity but you want to fuck a little further off into the woods, this is where you can do it.” ...

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No family in America has done more for the image and legal standing of polygamists than the Dargers: Joe, his three wives—Alina, Vicki, and Valerie—and their twenty-five children, who live in and around Herriman, Utah. In 2011, they published a book, “Love Times Three,” about their polygamous life, even though their marriage was a felony at the time, and they tirelessly worked to persuade other polygamous families to come out. Utah’s [2020] decision to decriminalize polygamy was in large measure the result of a lobbying campaign that the Dargers had pursued for two decades. Their house is in a relatively new subdivision, with wide views of nearby mountains. Joe, who works in construction, has built additional houses on the property for two of his adult children. “Anybody else, they’d say it’s a nice estate,” he said, when he showed me around, in June. “If you’re polygamous, it’s a compound. We’ve taken lessons from the L.G.B.T.Q. community, being very deliberate about language, because how you let people define you has an impact.” 

...Many Mormon polygamists were more than happy to make common cause with the gay-marriage activists. “A lot of our first allies were L.G.B.T.Q., and that was brave of them,” Alina Darger told me. “I’ve come to an appreciation for their struggle, and I am a very firm champion that rights are for every person.” 

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Tamara Pincus is a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., who works with clients who are exploring alternative sexualities, including polyamory, kink, and L.G.B.T.Q. relationships. She defines herself as a bisexual woman who has sometimes dated genderqueer people. Her husband, Eric, is cheerful and geeky and talks about his apostasy from conventional marriage with a nearly religious fervor. ...   

...Within a few years, Eric had established a relationship with a woman who had two children and was separating from her husband, who is himself polyamorous. Four years later, she and her children moved in. “I love her and wanted her to be part of us,” Eric said. “And Tamara was very happy with her.” Tamara has a boyfriend of nine years. Eric said, “When I was supportive of her doing things, it came back much stronger, because she was, like, ‘Thank you, you made that possible.’ I’m not a very jealous person.” “The sexual relationship is just easier with newer partners,” Tamara said. “A lot of children of the eighties and nineties saw our parents split because of affairs. We are finding more sustainable ways of doing family. Often, monogamous married people feel like ‘This is what I have to do,’ not ‘This is what I choose to do.’ Every day, Eric and I make a choice to keep this relationship together.” 

Another partner of Eric’s, whom he has known for three years, stays over occasionally, with her child. Tamara’s boyfriend stays over at least once a week and has a child who regularly stays over with him. The children in the house all regard one another as siblings. Every Friday, Tamara and Eric host a big dinner for everyone, including ex-partners and close friends. 

...So far, the children have encountered only tolerance [in the larger community], but they have an awareness that tolerance does not necessarily run deep. After the shooting at the Pulse night club, in Orlando, in 2016, one of them asked, “Do people hate us like they hate gay people?” Tamara and Eric are out as polyamorous in most contexts, but Tamara’s long-term boyfriend is not. “If he came out at work, he would likely be fired,” Tamara said. ...

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Diana Adams, a family lawyer in New York, has become the leading figure in the conversation surrounding the application of existing laws to polyamorous and other unorthodox arrangements. In 2017, Adams, who uses the pronoun “they,” founded the Chosen Family Law Center, which undertakes many such cases pro bono. They work with polyamorous clients who would marry if they could, helping them craft a legal dynamic for their shared life.

Adams believes that the establishment of gay marriage produced a backlash against expanded relationship rights, and they encourage their clients to consider other options. “An L.L.C. model is not related to romance, but it’s related to how they can share finances,” they said. “It’s an option I have realized with polyamorous triads and quads. ... You don’t need to get married to become a social-welfare state of two or three or four.” 

...[Adams] went on, “We’re seeing a movement away from parenting being defined by DNA and toward its being defined by intention. Getting out of the model of a two-person monogamous marriage as the basis of family is the next frontier.”

They note that in earlier eras monogamy was expected of women but not of men. “When we were deciding to make this more equitable, it could have gone in a different direction,” Adams said, adding that they wished society, instead of pushing men toward monogamy, had allowed women nonmonogamy. They went on, “Divorce specialists will tell you we have an epidemic of people saying they’re monogamous, then breaking up families with lies and infidelity. What is harmful is that that infidelity breaks a covenant. What if we think about what [covenant] we would actually like to create?” 

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...Polyamorous behavior exists across social groups, but the terminology is of the chattering classes. Elisabeth Sheff, the author of “The Polyamorists Next Door,” speaks of people who are “safe and privileged enough to come out as polyamorous.” Texts on polyamory have tended to focus on the concerns of white, middle-class, college-educated readers, and skate over historical and cultural boundaries that constrain individual choice. Sheff, noting that Black people are already burdened by stereotypes that depict them as sexually voracious and unable to form stable family relationships, describes “perversity” as “a luxury more readily available to those who are already members of dominant groups.” ...



Update: Here's a 50-minute interview with author Andrew Solomon on the RadioWest show ("wildly curious") on KUER, Salt Lake City's NPR radio station: Polygamy, Polyamory And The Changing American Family (online April 1, 2021).

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