Goodness! Gay couples will be able to get legally married in the State of Massachusetts on Monday! The usual caveats apply to these marriages and civil unions. They likely won’t be recognized once couples cross state lines. The so-called Defense of Marriage Act ensures that the federal government won’t recognize the relationships for tax or beneficiary reasons. It also gives other states permission to thumb their noses at same sex couples. And even in liberal Massachusetts, orthodox religions like the Catholic Church will be looking down their noses at same sex couples. And these marriages may prove to be temporary. A subsequent Massachusetts constitutional amendment might make them null and void.
Still, the tide is turning toward acceptance of gay marriages and civil unions. Buried deep inside this Newsweek poll is the information that a majority (51%) of Americans now support either gay marriage or civil unions, versus 43% who oppose all legal recognition. This suggests that proposals to create a constitutional amendment to outlaw gay marriages by any state are likely to flounder.
So naturally those of us on the bleeding edge are asking: What’s next? I think we can rule out marriages between people and animals, or with minors. Meanwhile there are plenty of gray areas to be worked out on the same sex marriage business. For example, if a person born male, has surgery and hormone therapy to make them look like a woman and they choose to marry another man is this a legal marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act? Or take the opposite case: this new woman decides to marry another woman. Is that a legal marriage because she has male DNA? The possibilities and permutations seem endless. Given we have fifty states, plus commonwealths and territories, plus federal law, plus city ordinances the combinations of what is and is not legal is in many cases almost impossible to figure out. It also raises a broader question: just what is sex and gender anyhow? What used to be so black and white is now full of shades of gray.
But if all this weren’t confusing enough another community is coming out of the closet: the polyamorous. If you aren’t familiar with polyamory, you have plenty of company. In brief the polyamorous believe they are hardwired to engage in committed marriage-like relationships between three or more people at the same time.
I’ve been tracking the polyamory issue for years. I’ve done so partly out of curiosity and partly because I have some tugging in that direction myself. I’ve never understood the logic that life should be so constrained that I should be allowed to have only one committed relationship at a time. A lot of human hearts, mine included, are not necessarily bounded by exclusivity. I can’t see why if I found someone else whom I loved and it were okay with my wife and with my new partner we couldn’t all live happily ever after. Our Declaration of Independence (an historical document, but not a legally binding one) insists that the pursuit of Happiness is an inalienable right given to us by God.
And clearly we could do this but it entails some legal risk. Since I live in Virginia if I made love to another woman while legally married, even if it were with my wife’s consent, it would constitute adultery. In theory I could be prosecuted and even go to prison. Naturally as a law abiding citizen I would like my behavior to be lawful, so I would feel an inclination to lobby my state legislature to make polyamory legal. Why single me out for discrimination if I am polyamorous?
It’s a good bet that since there are federal laws against polygamy they won’t be liberalized in my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t already an active polyamory community already out there making its case. A polyamory newsgroup I read occasionally pointed me to this article. It seems that the religion I practice, Unitarian Universalism, is already poly friendly. I was aware of this fact, but only dimly. I am not aware of any openly poly triads/quads in my church. But across the Potomac at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Silver Spring the local poly community apparently has found a nice home for itself. While I don’t know how many are UUs, the church is nice enough to allow polys to use their facilities for regular potluck dinners and meetings.
It turns out there is a large network of polyamorists across the country. I haven’t been able to quantify the numbers involved but my guess is that they number in the hundreds of thousands of people. Polyamory.org provides basic information for those inquiring about the lifestyle. And there seem to be many local groups that allow poly people to come together. Locally the Chesapeake Polyamory Network is available and seems to have potlucks not only in Silver Spring, but here in Northern Virginia too. They appear to be incorporated as a not for profit organization, hold regular board meetings and host regular events. It seems that lots of polys embrace non-traditional religions. There are a lot of pagans and wiccans in the movement. But as I have not actually attended any poly events I can’t speak with much authority.
Should polys be allowed to marry? My sense is that while there are lots of examples of long term and stable poly relationships that short-term relationships are more the norm than the long-term relationships. I guess I have to qualify what I mean by short term. We are talking here about months or perhaps a year or two, rather than days or weeks. I would bet that the percent of such relationships that endure ten or more years is fairly small. Since the likelihood of the relationship enduring a long time is fairly remote, I can see why the government might be leery about promoting poly marriages. On the other hand why should the government discriminate? With the average marriage lasting seven years, and with society becoming more comfortable with sanctioning gay marriage, why pick on the polyamorists?
If I did love someone with the same degree of feelings I have for my wife, certainly I’d want him or her to have the same rights and privileges that my wife has. I would want to include them in my health insurance and I would like them to be a beneficiary when I die. I know I am a good person at heart. Why shouldn’t society endorse my individual pursuit of happiness?
I have a feeling that once the gay marriage issue is settled, or possibly long before then, we’ll be hearing a lot more from the polyamory community.