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Up Next: Polyamory

Robert P. George points to evidence that polyamory is moving toward mainstream approval [1], though it’s far from it at the present moment. It’s significant, he says, that the LGBT movement is embracing polyamorists. Notice also, he says, the media framing of reporting on polyamory. It’s following the same script they followed on SSM. Once you give up the idea that marriage is founded on conjugal principle, you have no strong moral grounds from which to condemn polyamorist arrangements among consenting adults, says George. How do you tell them that they cannot have what they desire, if sexual and emotional desire itself is sufficient basis for expanding marriage rights.  He expands on that here: [2]

This explains, I believe, why polyamorist groups are welcome at Pride parades, for example. They are regarded from within the movement as the next sexual minority in line for liberation and social acceptance. Indeed, they are already accepted within the movement. It is understood that the appeal they are making is not different in substance from the appeal made by those sexual minorities whose progress has come ahead of theirs. Sure, they had to be pushed into the closet for a while, in order to blunt the arguments advanced by defenders of the conjugal conception of marriage and the moral norms associated with it. But that is no longer necessary. They can be mainstreamed using the same script.

Are polyamorous relationships often unstable? Sure. But so are many same-sex relationships. So are many opposite-sex relationships. Is there any a priori reason to suppose that among people who view marriage as essentially sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership and who construct their lives and relationships in line with that view, polyamorous partnerships will be more unstable than monogamous ones?  Is there any evidence for such a supposition?  And even if there is, what would follow from it for the claims of those who believe their personal fulfillment is to be found in multiple partner unions, even if statistically such unions tend to be less stable than other types?

Nobody has a good answer to this, at least none that I’ve seen. They just say, “That will never happen,” or, dismissively, “Slippery slope!”, as if there were no such thing as slippery slopes.

122 Comments (Open | Close)

122 Comments To "Up Next: Polyamory"

#1 Comment By surly On October 30, 2013 @ 1:44 am

The polyamorists can just damn well register as business partners, as many have pointed out.

The difference between gay partners who want to make a lifetime commitment and the poly community is that the polys are inherently skeptical of lifetime commitment.

It may have escaped many of the pearl-clutchers but the poly community includes both gay and straight, um, mashups. My admittedly white, straight, marriage-centric view is that this is a Venn diagram. One circle is people who think marriage is important. THe members of that circle are both gay and straight. There is another circle that believes that you should mutually and freely allow other partners. Then it gets murky–there are a lot of married couples who call themselves poly and all that means is they have an open marriage. Nobody actually lives with multiple partners.

My guess is that the polyamory push will be driven by polygynous cultures that practice a primitive form of marriage–one male, multiple subservient wives. That’s not going to go over too well in the “poly” community or in the mainstream.

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc On October 30, 2013 @ 5:31 am

” LGBT studies is something I teach at our university. So I can tell you that while I am pleased that you have never yourself beat up a LGBT person, you can rest assured that these assaults do occur.”

Apparently, my lack of intellectual import has failed to place the proper impetus where it belongs. People get beaten up all the time. And they get beaten up for a multitude of reasons. i need not b e rest assured because that assaults of this nature occur. There is scant evidence that heterosexual men get a blank check for doing so.

Now should one not report it. It will remain – just that unreported. And while I sympathize with the awkwardness of reporting such incidents, failing to do so on the assumption that it will not be addressed is one’s failure to report it — not a blank check given from the community at large.

The homosexual community are not the slaves or former slaves who experienced oppression of such that impacted far more than there psyche’.

As for your teaching such courses, I have no comment save this, I don’t have to take a course of that nature to comprehend that an assault is a violation of another person’s body and mind and should be discouraged, prevented if possible, and prosecuted if need be. Nor do I need a course to enlighten me that human beings wrestle with all manner of issues and the rather strange notion there is some unique care that needs to be alloted to teaching such a course is in my view a waste of tax payer dollars.

That the homosexual community has so infiltrated the educational system to garner such courses is a clear sign that such courses need not be invested in. The very suggestion that turning science on its head in the academic arena is just a tad foreign to me in that I was taught biology in the academic community. And without science or biology having a changed one iota the very same now claim that this behavior is somehow normal and warrants my special attention.

Having worked among the working class poor I can think of far better places to spend my money than on the deconstructive advances that in fact our human sexuality operates on a continuum a notion suggested by kinsey and wholly unsupported by data. The sample size doesn’t make the mustard – not even close. Not to mention how the samples were obtained.
But before I hand out a single penny to to address Sam’s psychological dillemma about why his father pitched a coniption fit upon finding out his son was so engaged and kicked a garbage can across the room in their 450,000 grand humble abode, I would vote to spend it on some childless kid whose parent’s lives fell apart when his father lost his mining and who’s mother worked in a diner but who’s income could not make up the difference and their family collapsed. The sheer numbers of those kids in need of your educational expertise is daunting to Sam’s need to be affirmed about his sexual choices.

And before we get into what an ignorant homophobic backwater slob judgmental hypocritical morally bankrupt evangelical, intellectually eschewing idiot I am, I would add that I have coached, laughed with, spent time, hugged, listened, mourned and supported men so inclined without ever agreeing that such behavior is normal.

Just because I am not credentialing my x thousand dollar education around on my sleeve does in no manner mean — I am not unfamiliar with Keikergard, Barth, Rouseau, Descartes, Darwin, or others, whose primary use is to protect the little boys and girls club of the best and the brightest who have done quite well for themselves as intellectual betters but who governed our unique country into the have and have not society that it is. And whose intellectual goal is to nominate a woman who epitomized nearly everything they despised in the previous President and supported the same. So spare me the lecture on the realities of hypocrisy by pointing out that people get beaten up – no kidding. But few and far between has such been given a blank check for doing so, save our recent history as to black people.

I applaud teaching, but not the subject matter. Would that you consider a larger and more needy population and tell Sam with all due love and respect his opportunities have never been all that much at risk and that there are more desperate that need access to the play pen. But as a person who supports choices in everything aside from murdering children in the womb, and other peculiar notions about justifying cruelty and selfishness, have at it.

My ignorant backwater two cents.

[NFR: The passive-aggressive bookends are a nice touch. — RD]

#3 Comment By BD On October 30, 2013 @ 6:53 am

Annek–I don’t see how the law cannot sort out disputes regarding possessions and rights for a multi-person marriage as it does for two-person marriage. For example, a state could require that a group wishing to enter into a marriage execute a prenuptial agreement to prevent just these disputes (in fact, that wouldn’t be a bad idea for two-person marriages as well. Just think of the trouble down the road that such a requirement would prevent).

But as far as stability goes, it’s not necessarily the case that a three-plus person marriage is less stable than a two-person marriage. It depends on a lot of other circumstances. And the government doesn’t decide not to grant marriage licenses to two-person couples that are more likely to be “unstable”–say, a marriage between two people who met just that day, or between two people who are each on their tenth marriage within the last year. There’s no reason to draw the “stability” line based solely on the number of partners in the marriage.

#4 Comment By Roger II On October 30, 2013 @ 9:40 am

I echo what Charles Cosimano said at 12:43 am. I continue to think it unlikely (or well into the future), but if a polyamorous family seeks recognition of its relationship claiming rights of religious freedom, will those supporting broad rights of religious freedom due to recognition of SSM and gay rights support the polyamorists? If not, what is the distinction between people who want exemption from state laws defining marriage for religious reasons from those who wish to be exempt from public accommodation or non-discrmination laws due to their religious views about gays?

#5 Comment By mrscracker On October 30, 2013 @ 9:52 am

I’m starting to believe that arranged marriages weren’t such a bad idea.Left to our own devices, folks show little sense sometimes.

#6 Comment By Franklin Evans On October 30, 2013 @ 10:20 am

Charles finds an important point, but I’ll first point out to the polyamorous reading this thread that the citations of feminist opposition are laughable at best, and I remain ready to be proven wrong: I’ve never met a woman in a triad with two men who wasn’t also a strong feminist. I have less confidence on the feminist positions of two women in triads, but Occam’s Razor prompts me to make the assumption that they are similar.

Charles, the triads and quads I’ve known demonstrated the wisdom of your observation, on the negative side more than the positive side. Groups of them who socialize (and live in relative proximity to each other) tend to be more stable. Those in relative isolation tend to be less stable. I speculate that this correlation has a causal link.

The religious per se aspect is a red herring. The critical, deciding aspect is the religious practice injuring such women and whether they’ve demonstrated consent to be treated that way. No religion gets a pass if a member of that religion brings criminal charges against a religious practice. Marriage customs is just one item on that list.

#7 Comment By Mont D. Law On October 30, 2013 @ 10:40 am

(But understand that when the case comes, it will come from a religious minority group with the structures in place and it will be a first amendment fight, not a purely marriage benefit fight.)

I disagree. The first amendment religious rights case is the least likely to succeed. Both the US and Canada have extensive precedents that restrict religious practices for the greater good.

#8 Comment By M_Young On October 30, 2013 @ 10:53 am

Polyamory advocates in Canada points to a [3]decision that effectively decriminalizes polyamory– at least in their interpretation. They also point out the illogic of decriminalizing de facto polyamory, while prosecuting polyamorous pods that formalize their relationship through ‘marriage’.

#9 Comment By Aegis On October 30, 2013 @ 11:04 am

“I disagree. The first amendment religious rights case is the least likely to succeed. Both the US and Canada have extensive precedents that restrict religious practices for the greater good.”

I don’t disagree in terms of outcome, but I think Charles is right in terms of who is likely to actually bring a case. We are all talking about the merits, but before we even get there we have a standing issue. I personally doubt that many courts are going to find a legitimate “case or controversy” in a >2 partner group being denied a marriage license unless there is an additional hook to it.

The religious angle provides that hook.

#10 Comment By Franklin Evans On October 30, 2013 @ 12:15 pm

My personal view of the First Amendment angle starts with the fact that it (with all the Bill of Rights) defines an individual right, not a group right. I stipulate that as a possible distinction without a difference, but it seems the key point.

I’ll be curious to see a test case that refrains from using FA in its argument.

#11 Comment By Franklin Evans On October 30, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

Sorry for the double post, but I have a Is There a Lawyer in the House question: I’m wondering about the various state-based laws criminalizing bigamy. I’m of the impression that the criminal aspect involves deception and fraud, not the bare fact that a person has more than one spouse. This expands the point of my most recent post to speculate that three (or more) people declaring their marriage in the legal sense could not be subject to the bigamy statutes, because all are both aware of and accepting of their mutual status.

#12 Comment By Aegis On October 30, 2013 @ 12:29 pm

Another thing occurs to me: are we talking about a facial challenge to legal bans on polygamy or an “as applied” challenge? I personally think a facial challenge stands a good chance of succeeding on the merits, but I doubt a court will find standing. An “as applied” challenge stands a better chance of having standing, but because it would most likely be brought by some FLDS or similar group it probably would fail on the merits.

#13 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 30, 2013 @ 12:36 pm

impression that the criminal aspect involves deception and fraud, not the bare fact that a person has more than one spouse. This expands the point of my most recent post to speculate that three (or more) people declaring their marriage in the legal sense could not be subject to the bigamy statutes, because all are both aware of and accepting of their mutual status.

The “fraud” involved in most bigamy statutes is fraud against the state (for submitting falsified marriage paperwork), not fraud against a spouse (for failing to reveal a prior marriage). In most places, if an already-married person applies for another marriage license, such will simply be denied–unless he works to conceal his prior marriage from the clerk, at which point bigamy laws come into play.

One interesting exception is Utah–which is known to actively go after cohabiting people who present themselves as being part of a multiple marriage, and prosecute them for polygamy, even if there is no attempt to register the union with the state. There’s a reason that the FLDS is down in Texas and not in the Beehive State…

#14 Comment By Mont D. Law On October 30, 2013 @ 12:57 pm

(Polyamory advocates in Canada points to a recent British Columbia decision that effectively decriminalizes polyamory– at least in their interpretation.)

The advocates are being overly optimistic. Here is the actual law.

293. (1) Every one who

a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into

(i) any form of polygamy, or

(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,

whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or

(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

The court was not asked and did not rule on polyamorous relationships. The provincial government asked the court to decide if, under the Canadian version of a constitution (which is new), religious plural marriages could still be viewed by the state as criminal under this law. Or if religious plural marriage was protected under the Canadian version of freedom of religion and could not be prosecuted. The judge ruled it was a justifiable infringement of religious freedom and the law could remain. There is nothing in the law or the decision that prevents those in polyamorous relationships from being prosecuted under any section of it.

The marriage equality battle is being fought and won with arguments for the equal treatment under the law for all similarly situated citizens. Which leads back to my original point. Before the polyamorous can make a successful legal argument they are going to need the medical and psychiatric community to agree that polyamory is an identity not a preference.

#15 Comment By EngineerScotty On October 30, 2013 @ 1:26 pm


The BC law in question appears to ban any sort of polyamory, regardless of whether considered a marriage (by the State or anyone else). If two dudes and a girl all live together and sleep together, such would be a “conjugal union with more than one person at the same time”, and thus illegal. (And would a menage a trois be illegal in the Great White North, or is the law broken only when a threesome chooses to cohabit?)

Are similar laws on the books and in force (particularly post-Lawrence in the US? The only anti-polygamy laws I’m aware of strike at those who present themselves as part of a plural marriage, or who attempt to register such).

#16 Comment By Franklin Evans On October 30, 2013 @ 1:44 pm

Scotty and Mont, excellent and informative posts.

I wonder how the identity/preference argument might apply to an existing de facto preference I’ve seen many examples of (including personal participation) within the same general cohort over the last few decades (I’m 57): 21 to 30 (or so) year-olds forming a cooperative living arrangement with legally shared financial obligations (all sign the lease, all agree orally or in writing to shared expenses like food, utilities, etc.). Some of them (not including mine) included close personal relationships including sex amongst more than two of the participants.

#17 Comment By Mont D. Law On October 30, 2013 @ 3:25 pm

Scotty and Franklin;

It’s hard to say because AFAIK this law has not been enforced in 60 some odd years. Even with the decision that hasn’t changed. Though with the decision I suspect it will at some point.

The reason the province sent the question to the court was twofold.

First there is a large Warren Jeffs type religious group metastasizing in the province.

Secondly there was a growing consensus among lawyers and academics that the law we are discussing was unconstitutional under the Charter of Rights. So any charges would be dismissed, at some point, as a violation of the Charter’s religious freedom guaranty.

As to why this law is not being enforced on these populations. The province was not moving on the religious group because the last time they did it was a complete sh-tshow that the province is not excited to repeat.

As for the polyamorous, well so far they are mostly in the closet and, unlike the religious group, are not making demands on the state. No child brides being smuggled in from the US, no escaping women with tales of abuse, no teenage boys being dumped.

The polyamorous are also not causing their neighbours to make demands on the state. The religious group makes their neighbours nuts. They control the schools, local law enforcement and local government and the complaints are deafening.

If someone could prove a relationship was polyamorous and complained to the police that could change. Certainly there is nothing in the law or the decision that would prevent that.

#18 Comment By Mont D. Law On October 30, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

Well look at that.


#19 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 31, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

There is good cause backed by centuries of precedent for a community, and a representative government, to license and regulate the primary human sexual bond, that between a man and a woman. There are sound reasons to limit this contract to one of each, which is even hinted at by Muhammed’s restriction on polygamy: a man can have up to four wives IF he can SUPPORT them all. There is ample rational basis to find that no man can do that, or to factor in emotional, psychological, inheritance, and other considerations.

Anything else, while perhaps not a crime, is a private contract at best. Some private contracts may be enforceable at law, as such, while others, not unlike racially restrictive real estate covenants, might have to rely on the good faith of the contracting parties, as the courts may not have jurisdiction to enforce them.

Now, can we move on to something important?

#20 Comment By J Eyre On October 31, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

While its true accepting conjugal principle means no moral objection to polyamorous marriage (I think the practical legal issues are still a problem) I fail to see how this is inherently a bad thing. Assuming churches are not forced to anything they don’t want to, that those involved are consenting adults then I don’t see a way in which society is necessarily harmed in any new way.

#21 Comment By Mont D. Law On November 1, 2013 @ 11:16 am

(There are sound reasons to limit this contract to one of each, which is even hinted at by Muhammed’s restriction on polygamy: a man can have up to four wives IF he can SUPPORT them all. There is ample rational basis to find that no man can do that, or to factor in emotional, psychological, inheritance, and other considerations.)

So your argument is that a guy who had eleven wives and told everybody else they could only have four didn’t approve of polygamy. It also didn’t stop a significant minority of Muslims from having more than one wife. In parts of Africa lots don’t stop at four.

(Now, can we move on to something important?)

Sure. As soon opponents of marriage equality stop writing breathless pearl clutching opinion pieces that need refutation.

#22 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On November 1, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

Mont D, you’d make a lousy lawyer.

My argument IS, that if Mohammed could see that more than four wives might be too much for a man to support, if he could also see that some men might not be able to support even four, however hypocritical he may have been in his own marital relations, it provides anecdotal illustration of why it might even be perfectly rational to establish as law and conventional standard, that a man can only pay his marital debt adquately to one woman, and a woman to one man.

I believe monogamy is superior to anything Mohammed had to say on the subject, but then, he was a product of his time and culture. I’m not. Neither are my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great-grandparents…

You haven’t mentioned anything remotely relevant to “marriage equality.”

Everything clear to your clever little mind now?