Why Polyamorous Marriage Might Happen

Editorial Note: This post was written by Wes Fenza, long before the falling out of our previous quint household and the subsequent illumination of his abusive behavior, sexual assault of several women, and removal from the Polyamory Leadership Network and banning from at least one conference. I have left Wes’ posts  here because I don’t believe it’s meaningful to simply remove them. You cannot remove the truth by hiding it; Wes and I used to collaborate, and his thoughts will remain here, with this notice attached.



In the Stranger this week, Mistress Matisse wrote an article entitled You May Now Kiss the Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Bride and the Other Groom: Why Poly Marriage is Never Going to Happen. She gives three reasons why poly marriage is a pipe dream, none of which are very convincing.

Her first reason:

For starters, poly- marriage organizers would have to agree on a precise definition of what, exactly, poly marriage even is. Explaining the flowcharts and Venn diagrams of poly relationships can be trickier and take longer than a play-by-play of naked Twister. And you can’t just engrave “It’s Complicated” on tasteful ivory card stock and mail it off to however many sets of in-laws.

Sure, it’s complicated… if you make it complicated. So why not keep it simple? Poly marriage can be exactly the same as mono marriage, just repeal the laws against bigamy. Whatever rights one partner has go to the other partner also. Rights that need to be divided can be split equally between partners.

People tend to get bogged down in the details of this sort of thing. Sure, legal rights like insurance, inheritance, property ownership, and the like would get more complicated when there is more than just a dyad, but so what? Those same legal rights get complicated when there is more than one child, also, but our courts can handle it. The law is always complicated. Even when laws are written clearly, courts find ways of complicating them. The fact that it would take a complicated legal framework is no reason why it can’t happen, especially when there is already a framework – mono marriage and parent/child relationships – that can be adapted.

Her second reason:

But let’s say the poly community comes up with a way of defining “poly marriage.” Then comes the price tag: It costs five bucks to file an initiative, but persuading voters to change the law in favor of poly marriage would take a lot of skillful and extremely expensive political marketing… fundraising infrastructure is key—and queers have it, poly people don’t.

Poly people definitely don’t have the infrastructure to fund a mass movement for marriage rights, can’t argue with that. But will this always be the case? There is reason to think not. For one, queers didn’t have the infrastructure 20 years ago either. Arguments for gay marriage like Virtually Normal by Andrew Sullivan were routinely dismissed as unrealistic or even undesirable. It wasn’t until homosexuality became more mainstream that the gay marriage movement started getting taken seriously, and it snowballed from there. Just because polys aren’t there yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Right now, the community’s goals are mostly visibility-related, but there’s no reason to believe that we’ll never get to the point where marriage is on the table.

Queers have another leg up on the poly community that may not persist: numbers. Latest estimates place the number of homosexuals in the United States at 11.7 million, or 3.5% of the population. Reliable estimates of polyamorists are harder to come by, but most estimates place the number around half a million families (which would translate to an least one million individuals) – nowhere near the 11.7 million queer Americans. However, polyamory is growing, and has the potential to grow far larger than the gay community. As poly becomes more mainstreamed (which is happening more and more every day), monogamy will become less of a default and more of a choice. There is every reason to believe that the more people who see polyamory as a viable option, the more people will prefer it as a lifestyle. Unlike homosexuality, which all evidence suggests is an inborn desire, polyamory is not a sexual orientation. There is no limit on the amount of people who will choose polyamory. As our numbers grow, so does our political power.

Mistress Matisse’s third reason:

I’m a polyamorous person who has never yearned for poly marriage…. I think romantic love that leads to deep, committed relationships is wonderful. But the romance of filing a group tax return? I’ll pass. The legal aspects aside, I’ve never been interested in sharing a household with more than one person. Frankly, even one person is a bit much sometimes…. Multiple-partner cohabitation always seemed to me like it would have all the usual relationship difficulties, plus less closet space, more scheduling headaches, and definitely more emotional processing. I am not alone in my opinion. When I remarked to a poly friend that I was writing about this topic, he quipped wryly, “Oh, right. Poly marriage: When sustaining one happy marriage just isn’t challenging enough for you!”

Just… wow. So… poly marriage is never going to happen because Mistress Matisse isn’t interested in it? I hate to be the bearer of disappointing news, but paging Mistress Matisse! You are not the spokesperson for the entire community! Your personal preference on cohabiting is fine, but it’s far from universal. I live in a house with my fiancee and my wife (and her boyfriend and his wife) and we love it! I also know other poly families who cohabitate in more than just a dyad. Your personal preference is just that – personal. It has absolutely no bearing on the likelihood or unlikelihood of poly marriage at some point in the future.

Furthermore, attitude like this (“marriage? Who needs it?”) were common in the queer community 20 years ago, when it looked like marriage was out of reach. You still find plenty of queers these days who aren’t interested in getting married, but you’ll be hard pressed to find more than a handful (aside from closeted Republicans) who don’t support the rights of all Americans to marry the person (if not persons) of their choosing. As poly marriage becomes more realistic, it will become more popular. That’s just the way of things.

Poly marriage may happen and it may not. It certainly won’t be happening in the next five years. But maybe someday. I certainly hope that it does.


4 thoughts on “Why Polyamorous Marriage Might Happen

  1. There are a lot of people out there whom, for religious reasons, follow the custom of polygamy, households with multiple wives (a la “Big Love”). If this issue ever does come to the political fore, it is highly likely that is a group who will be out front. Their interest in the traditional institution of marriage is likely to be much greater than those who would self define as polyamorous. Given that these two groups may share a similar interest in public recognition of their relationship structures, they will either need to ally politically, OR prepare for a public debate wherein a lot of education needs to occur. I think an alliance will be challenging because the groups probably have strong differences in other areas. But I think the most likely outcome would be confusion and public debates over how people interpret “god’s wishes”. I would fear a negative outcome for polyamorous folks just in terms of the public debate.

  2. The other issue that sounds insufficiently addressed is that many polyamorous folks (and I count myself in this group) have philosophical issues with the whole societal (and religious and cultural) conceptualization of marriage as an institution. At the risk of sounding more like a liberatarian than the socialist I am, I personally do not feel like I want or need to register my personal relationships with the state. (although I completely support people who want to do that). I dislike the idea that certain relationship configurations are privileged over others, and I don’t think that allowing poly marriage is the answer to that – it still follows the “till death do you part ” model.

  3. As long as marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are offered by a government, they should also be available to poly people. All of the paperwork issues can be resolved. I like to point out that Americans With Disabilities Act has required all sorts of paperwork and changes (including construction) but all of that inconvenience to people who already had access was not an excuse to deny access to others. No, not every polycule will seek out marriage, just like not every monogamist couple does. But it should be an option.

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