A few years ago, I got into an online argument with a “poly,” or a person who was in a polyamorous relationship. We were responding to a thread in which another person asked whether the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision on gay marriage would open the door for making polygamy legal — which is quite different from making polyamory “legal.”
When I wrote my first response, all I did was agree with another person while adding some thoughts I had about potential legal and personal problems that might result from legally sanctioned polygamy. I didn’t think I was being judgmental of polyamorous relationships themselves, but the other poster took exception to my post. What followed was a pretty pointless argument, but it irked me for some reason.
What I Said
I can’t find the thread, but I remember mentioning how people were using polygamy, bestiality, pedophilia, and object sexuality to undermine the gay marriage debate. I might have expressed an aversion to polygamy, particularly in terms of the history.
Often, when we hear of tales of polygamy, we hear about religious sects where young girls were forced into marriages. There are also rare cases where men have secret families. However, in the thread I responded to, I was just talking about the legal aspects (like how divorce proceedings would work, how property would be divided).
Another thing I brought up was human nature. In so many cases, we have seen couples divorce in such an acrimonious way, especially in states with community property laws, alimony cases, and in states where there are generous laws for women. Families have also fought over inheritances when wealthy people died. If there was a law that made polygamy legal, would there not be petty individuals who would try to get whatever they could?
That’s all I said, but for some reason that got under someone’s skin.
Why the Discussion Bothered Me
The other poster seemed to make assumptions about me and jumped to conclusions. It was clear that this person was being defensive because he or she assumed that I was judging their lifestyle. This person also appeared to tacitly imply that they were more mature or of a higher mind (because of their polyamorous relationship).
To be clear, I was talking about polygamy, which is more specific because it pertains to marriage. It is one thing to be in a multiple marriage and another to be in romantic and/or sexual relationship that involves more than two people. Those involved can have different expectations and polygamy is banned in the United States.
Regardless, this person linked me to a few articles to support his/her points. However, while those sources were informative, they didn’t support the notion that polygamy should be made legal or that polyamory should be legally recognized.
When I think about it, the whole discussion was pretty pointless from a rhetorical standpoint. Still, I decided to look into the into the issue anyway.
What I Learned About Polyamory
From the two articles I was linked to, polyamorous relationships have their benefits and their drawbacks, although more research is needed.
In general, the people profiled in a 2014 article from The Atlantic had open, fluid relationships. However, there were points where participants had twinges of jealousy and misunderstandings. The key to maintaining healthy relationships was honesty and communication. That’s the same thing monogamous couples need, but with polyamorous relationships, there is more of a discussion.
The same is true for gay polyamorous relationships involving men. According to a 2010 report from a research group with San Francisco State University’s Center on Gender & Sexuality, nearly half of the gay male couples studied had open relationships. The men who were involved with more than one person believed that their open relationships made their main relationships last longer.
Regardless, most people gravitate toward monogamous relationships. That might be because of Western norms, but polygamy is also banned in countries like Japan and China. Also, when polygamy is the established norm in certain communities, it may lead to abuse (of the women who are married off and the males who are cast out of the community). Polyamory in the United States is different because people like those profiled in the articles I cited strive to have an egalitarian arrangement.
As you can see, I’m not going to be a person who argues with the information that’s presented just because. I like to keep an open mind most of the time and the issue of polyamory is one such instance. However, I can’t really be moved on the issue of polygamy, and that is one thing I think the other poster didn’t understand.
Why Making Polyamory ‘Legal’ Would Be a Mistake
I don’t see why polyamorous couples would want their relationships to be sanctioned by law. While polyamorous relationships aren’t sanctioned by law, they aren’t exactly illegal, either. Also, these relationships are unique and varied.
If polyamorous marriages were sanctioned by law, they might be defined by the law. If one type of polygamous marriage was approved, it might outlaw other types of polygamy. Most lawmakers are men, so they would likely only approve multiple marriages with one man and more than one woman.
Many lawmakers are also evangelicals, so if they approved multiple marriages (which is a stretch), they would ban polyamorous marriages that include gays or bisexuals. Or they would take the extra step of banning all polyamorous relationships.
Sanctioning polyamory would thus do more harm than good. Lawmakers will find a way to ruin polyamorous relationships in general if pressed on the matter.
Dealing with Divorce
If polyamorous relationships were allowed, who would be given property rights? Would the property be divided based on how many people were in a relationship? Would the common spouse benefit or would he have to pay alimony to his ex-spouses? These are questions proponents of making polygamy legal should ask.
There are currently nine states with community property laws: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin.
All states have alimony laws, but some may still have permanent alimony laws and there is such thing as no-fault divorces. Again, how will this work with multiple marriages?
I was told that people in a polyamorous relationship would just take what they brought with them or what is theirs. Again, if that’s true, why do they need to have their marriage recognized in the first place?
If they were married, there might be some property laws in play because lawmakers would have latitude to define multiple marriages any way they wanted. In that case, I know that some people would try to take as much as they could. People can be incredibly petty and giving them legal recourse to take what they will opens up a can of worms.
Why My Comments Got Under That Person’s Skin
I think it’s pretty clear why. When you look at the history of polyamorous relationships, these have long been frowned upon. Even though there has been a long history of polyamorous relationships (including open marriages) in the United States, most Americans feel uncomfortable about those types of relationships and some might equate them to abusive polygamist cults.
In short, it’s about the stigma. The stigma will not go away any time soon and some people just don’t want to know about polyamorous couples (or any other couple’s business for that matter). The other poster may have been mad about that.
Even if we get rid of the stigma, not everyone wants to be in a polyamorous relationship. There are many people out there who have trouble finding one significant other. And in some cases, some people might gravitate toward monogamist relationships after trying polyamorous ones.
If the other poster equated what I said to some sort of prejudice, that person was mistaken. If anything, I was bristling at how many people have used any and all excuses to continue their discrimination of gay couples. Also, there were genuine legal issues tied to marriage where gay couples were concerned.
I will state once again that I am keeping an open mind about polyamorous relationships, granted that they are egalitarian arrangements with consenting adults. However, I don’t feel that these relationships should be sanctioned by law. If anything, they’re better off the way they are now, but they require consistent evaluations for those involved.
Khazan, Olga. “Multiple Lovers, Without Jealousy.” The Atlantic. 21 July 2014. Web. <http://www.theatlantic.com/features/archive/2014/07/multiple-lovers-no-jealousy/374697/>.
May, Meredith. “Many gay couples negotiate open relationships.” SF Gate. 16 July 2010. Web. <http://www.sfgate.com/lgbt/article/Many-gay-couples-negotiate-open-relationships-3241624.php>.
Perez, William. “Community Property Laws by States.” The Balance. Updated 7 Apr 2017. Web. Retrieved 29 Mar 2018. <https://www.thebalance.com/community-property-states-3193432>.
Pilkinton, Ed. “Leader of polygamist sect forced girl into marriage at 14, court hears.” The Guardian. 23 Nov 2006. Web. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/nov/23/usa.religion>.
Williams, Geoff. “Taking the ‘Permanent’ Out of Permanent Alimony.” US News. 23 Jan 2013. Web. <https://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/articles/2013/01/23/taking-the-permanent-out-of-permanent-alimony>.