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Is polyamory a social justice issue? August 21, 2012

Posted by Shaun McGonigal in Polyamory.
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In reading about this new Atheist+ issue generated by Jen and others around her (especially Greta), I have seen various social issues included in the list of causes that people want to support.  Women’s issues, POC issues, trans issues, LGBT issues, neuro-atypicality issues, etc have been enumerated, for good reason, but I have seen no mention of issues related to polyamory.
So here is my question; am I being irrational in thinking that polyamory should be included in such lists, or are many people behind in not including this as a social justice issue?

As a quick note for those that don’t know; I live in a house with 4 other polyamorous people.  One is my wife, another my girlfriend, and the other two are my girlfriend’s husband and his girlfriend.  So these questions are not merely academic for me; they are real questions with potential serious significance.

There are real-world fears around being polyamorous.  Coming out at poly has consequences similar to coming out as gay, for example.  Parental rights can get complicated with polyamorous families.  Visitation and end-of-life rights, afforded to legal spouses, becomes problematic when you have more than one serious long-term partner.  In short, all of the rights that one gets as a spouse cannot easily be extended to other partners, which can create problems.

The foundation of this problem is the cultural lack of familiarity with what polyamory is about.  We are not the same as swingers (although there are often overlaps).  We do experience some forms of social discrimination, stereotyping, etc.  I have been told that I have chosen this lifestyle, but I cannot choose how many people I love any more than I can choose what genders I love.  I have discussed my view on the issue of choice, or orientation, in terms of polyamory here, but I will briefly sum it up in saying that I do not choose my desires and my feelings, but I can choose to act on them or not.

And why would I repress my actual desires? Would I do so for the sake of cultural norms which make no sense? No.

I am not aware of large scale cultural campaigns to react against polyamory comparable to reactions against ‘the gay agenda’.  There are not common stories of poly people being beaten, fired, or killed.  There is a persistent social stigma against it, and it is presented as the conclusion of the slippery-slope for things like gay marriage (” if you allow anyone to marry, the next thing that will happen is 3 people getting married!” The horror!), and there are the many legal issues briefly mentioned above.

And I will briefly mention that advocating for polyamorous rights and protected status in society is made more complicated in context with polygamy and its relationship to fundamentalist Mormons, Islam, and the patterns of abuse against women, and young girls, in those communities.  So it is a complicated issue, but I do think it is a social justice issue.

I think that we need to keep that in mind during these discussions about adding social justice issues to our atheist activism.

 

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Comments»

1. Dave Churvis - August 21, 2012

I think polyamory is definitely a social justice issue, if only because we exist as part of the social fabric but do not reap the same benefits that others do. Our stigmas are different than many others and in some ways less (I would never claim that the stigma of being polyamorous is comparable to the stigma of being trans or suffering mental illness), but there is a stigma nonetheless.

I think that’s why many of us keep it under wraps, and I know that particularly for us gay folk, there are a lot of cases where there’s the “official” couple and then the third “single” person who is nonetheless a vital part of that relationship. I know that’s the situation I’m in right now.

2. Jess @ Modern Poly - August 21, 2012

I’m personally aware of someone who was denied a job because they were polyamorous (potential employer found they wrote on our site), and another person was denied entry into a retirement community because he’s openly polyamorous. Loving More, a nonprofit for polyamory education, has also noted discrimination in housing, jobs, and child custody due to being openly polyamorous (http://www.lovemore.com/blog/?p=1391).

3. shaunphilly - August 21, 2012

@dave Churvis,

Thanks. I have seen some of this in my own life. Just recently, in terms of being invited to a wedding, my wife’s husbands girlfriend was told that she could bring her date too. We had to explain that she already had one.

Even liberal people who are aware of polyamory don’t seem to get that the unit of a relationship is not necessarily a couple.

@Jess,

Yes, i have heard about such occurrences, but don’t know anyone personally that has dealt with this. I am familiar with Loving More, but had not seen that post.

One of my peeves recently is that polyamory is not discussed as a social justice issue when other issues are brought up. The cynical part of me wants to say that this is because there is something about polyamory which is intimidating even to skeptics and atheists who know about it, but I think it’s more just that such stories are not known by most people.

Thanks for the comment.

4. Dave Churvis - August 21, 2012

I think you hit the nail on the head that it’s because such stories aren’t known by people. We stay quiet for many different reasons, and as a result, people don’t know we exist. It’s the same thing that happens with GLBT people – until we started coming out, people didn’t even consider us. It’s a consequence of their privilege.

I think one of the best examples of our lack of visibility is with the way Facebook handles its relationship statuses. You can be “in a relationship” without naming the other party/parties, or you can be in many different kinds of relationships with a single other person… or you can say “it’s complicated”, which is a phrase I wish I could never hear again. But there’s no way to represent *my* relationship to its fullest. It may seem like a small thing to some, but it’s just one example of how we are marginalized.

And seriously, it’s not complicated. I love person A… and I also love person B! That’s it! To my mind, it’s far less complicated than “I love person A, but person B is super hot, but I can’t do anything about that because I would be cheating on person A if I did…” :)

5. Gina - August 21, 2012

@Dave – What I will say about Facebook is that you can list people as partners under the “Family” section. My marriage to Wes is privileged there as it shows up on my main page as my relationship status, but Shaun, Jessie, and Ginny are labeled as partners. It’s subtle, but it’s something.

6. Kelly - August 21, 2012

My vote, polyamory is a social justice issue, just not exactly time to be in the forefront. Once LGBT gets more/better support, we can become even more viable.

7. Dave Churvis - August 21, 2012

@Gina: I did notice that. I think it’s a decent start, but it still leaves the third person as single, unless everyone just goes for “In a relationship”. Maybe that’s best way until FB gets around to being a bit more progressive :)

8. Joe - August 22, 2012

I believe that polyamory is a social justice issue. My reason may be too simplistic for some but here it is. In The Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Before I continue I feel like I need to mention that Jefferson was a Deist, not a Christian like most people I talk to assume. So the Creator he mentions is the Creator of the Deist philosophy/religion. Therefore, the pursuit of happiness is intended for all people regardless of what their beliefs on religion are.
When people get in the way of other’s pursuit of happiness I feel that it goes against what this country was founded on. It doesn’t matter whether the topic is polyamory, LGBT, ect. If consenting adults face discrimination for their pursuit of happiness then an injustice has occurred.

@Shaun + Dave,

I find it funny that you both mention that polyamory has a lack of visibility and isn’t known by most people. My wife and I practiced polyamory before we knew it was a “thing”. We just called it an open relationship. We looked into swinging but it didn’t seem to fit right. We don’t have anything against casual sex but we just wanted more of a connection with our partners. Eventually, we heard of polyamory and it seemed to be describing us.

9. honestlyopen - August 23, 2012

Of course it is a social justice issue!


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