Given some recent media coverage conflating polygamy and polyamory (see article in US News, covering some of the legal proceedings around the Brown Family, aka “Sister Wives.” and other forms of multi-partner relationships), I decided to create a Page of this table highlighting some of the similarities and differences between polyamory and polygamy. If you, dear reader, identify with any of these groups, and you find areas that you feel need improvement, please do bring the matter/s to my attention. I wish to provide this list as a starting point for thought and discussion, not as a prescription for division. I myself am not a social scientist and do not claim to be an “academic.” The references and suggested readings listed are also not meant to be an exhaustive list, but instead a starting place for further research.
Polyamory and Polygamy: Compare and Contrast
(as popularly understood in US;
aka religious polygyny) (1)
Multiple adult partners Multiple adult partners Deserving of human rights Deserving of human rights Stigmatized and misunderstood Stigmatized and misunderstood Lack of governmental or social recognition of family status Lack of governmental or social recognition of family status
Egalitarian (shared power in relationship) Patriarchal (decisions and responsibility reserved to male head of family) Structure not based in organized religion (though practitioners may be religious and/or spiritual) Structure originates in religious doctrine or belief Any combination and number of genders in relationship structure Relationship structure limited to 1 man, multiple women Mostly not prohibited in the US (2) Mostly prohibited in the US (3) About love/romantic relationships About marriage relationships Long-term commitment optional Long-term commitment a requirement May be sexually open (individuals in the relationship may or may not have additional sexual relationships outside of the polyamorous relationship under discussion) Always sexually closed (individuals within the relationship may only have sex within the relationship) Same gender sexual relationships may be allowed Heterosexual relationships only Allows for gender fluidity and other non-normative gender expressions Binary gender expression only Relationship focused (May or may not consider themselves part of a family) Family-focused
© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson
(1) Other forms of polygamy exist worldwide that are not based in religious doctrine or belief. This table does not address those and is not meant to imply that they either don’t exist, nor that they are the same as the religious form of polygamy discussed here. This table exists primarily to clarify the most common misperception of polyamory being “the same as polygamy,” as represented by, for instance the TV shows “Big Love” or “Sister Wives.”
(2) Cohabiting polyamorous groups may be prohibited by bigamy laws in some states, e.g., Utah. See also http://non-monodiscourse.blogspot.com/
(3) Some Christian polygamy groups advocate marrying and then getting a legal divorce in order to create a “spiritual marriage” only. This form of polygamy (in essence, a form of serial marriage) would be legal in the US. (Source: http://www.christianpolygamy.com/)
For more information, see also:
“Polygamy and Polyamory” a brochure by the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness: http://www.uupa.org/Literature/PolygamyComparison.htm
Do you have anything to add to this table? Any great references, important line items, or any comments or questions? As always, feel free to contact me on my Love Outside the Box webpage, to comment below, or to visit my Facebook page, LoveOTB. I welcome your discussion and feedback.
May you always love boldly, safely, and well,
∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥
[© 2013 Dawn M. Davidson]