With last week’s Supreme Court decision to make same-sex marriage legal across all 50 US states (or, as I’ve heard it said, “Fifty States of Gay!” 😉 ), we of the Poly Leadership Network have been deluged with questions, most asking some variant of “Is plural marriage next?”
Poly people have long known that we’re “the bottom of the slippery slope” according to the conservative right. Lumping the right to marry multiple spouses in with child abuse, marrying livestock, and other extreme and unwelcome cases has been a favorite tactic of those trying to shut down the push toward “gay marriage.” But now that we’re here, and the “unthinkable” has happened, is legalization of multi-partner marriage actually “next on the agenda” for poly people in the US?
As usual, if you want to become more educated about what’s happening on this topic, you can find a lot of excellent links in Alan M’s Poly In the News blog:
- In Chief Justice Roberts’ dissent: Route now wide open to multi-marriage
- After Supreme Court decision, “It’s Time to Legalize Polygamy”
- US News: “Polyamorous Rights Advocates See Marriage Equality Coming for Them”
- Jessica Bennett talks back to Roberts regarding her *Newsweek* poly article, and other developments
- Clueless denials that the poly-marriage issue exists
In those many articles, there are a lot of people seeing plural marriage as the next logical step, and pointing to Chief Justice Roberts’ dissenting opinion as opening the door to removing the limitations based on number, which he describes as “arbitrary.”
Additionally, some folks definitely feel — with a lot of justification, I think — that the current conflation of marriage with individual rights, freedoms, and protections is discriminatory. For example, Sara Burroughs writes in The Federalist that:
Government incentives for marriage — gay or straight — discriminate against single and polyamorous individuals. […]
This is discrimination, plain and simple. It discriminates against single people who have no formal romantic relationships and a growing number of people who identify as polyamorous, who maintain multiple romantic relationships at once. The government has no business incentivizing any type of romantic or non-romantic behavior. It has no business rewarding us or penalizing us based on our relationship status.
I heartily agree! Unfortunately, leaping directly to “poly marriage rights” — or even more so, to “we should just abolish marriage!” — is unlikely to be a winning strategy, as far as building strong coalitions and being able to enact true social change. It’s likely to feel very divisive, and ungrateful to those who just won this long battle, to turn around and say that “we” (whoever that is) would like to dismantle the very rights for which they just fought! So we need to find ways to build bridges, and to emphasize connections and shared values. I think the best way to do that is to focus on recognition of diverse families.
One very important point, in my view, is that this decision was based in part on the idea that children should have the right to protection without reference to the sexual orientation of their parents. I think that’s a strong lever for future positive change: no child should be discriminated against based on any characteristic of their parent/s, whether that is religion, color of skin, sexual orientation, or number of adults in their household. Therefore, the focus of our collective efforts should be on the right to have one’s family recognized, no matter what that looks like, and for the individual — not the state only — to determine whom they recognize as “family.” I think this strategy has a greater possibility of success, in part because it does allow for stronger bridge-building, given that the concepts of “individual rights” and “Family” are both ones with which many conservatives as well as liberals will naturally align.
So it is after much reading and discussion that I am with those — e.g., Woodhull and the Family Matters project (see also http://www.woodhullalliance.org/2015/sex-and-politics/marriage-equality-step-one/) — who are calling for a redefinition of “family” and family protections, rather than specifically moving towards “poly* marriage legalization” at this time. Therefore, today I am celebrating in solidarity with our LGBTQ* allies; I feel strongly that this recent Supreme Court decision is a step in the right direction: a step towards recognizing ALL families as valid and worthy of support, no matter what their shape, size, or color.
Because, of course…
PS: Are you seeking support for your polyamorous family? If you’d like help dealing with polyamorous/open issues such as communication, coming out to friends or family, or discrimination at work, school or elsewhere, I’d be happy to talk to you. I offer a free 1-hour PolyAGONY to PolyAMORY consultation, during which I can help you get clear on your own particular situation and issues, and suggest some powerful tools to support you in having your own best lives and loves. Contact me today for your free session!