On the Morality of: Polyamory

The comments in a recent thread on same-sex marriage have been heading in this direction, so I thought I’d offer some thoughts about polyamorous relationships and how we can view them from a humanist standpoint.

The reason I (and others) advocate full marriage equality for same-sex couples is straightforward. Marriage is a civil ceremony which confers many legal rights on both partners, rights which are either extremely burdensome or impossible to obtain any other way. At present, the law in many states denies certain couples the right to enter into marriage because of the gender of the participants. This is wrong for precisely the same reason as anti-miscegenation laws, which denied certain couples the right to enter into marriage because of the race of the participants. Both of these are discriminatory policies which deny people the equal protection of the laws by treating them differently based on which group they belong to (black/white, heterosexual/homosexual).

However, laws which restrict marriage to two partners are not discriminatory in the same sense, because those laws apply equally to everyone. Unlike with same-sex marriage, therefore, I conclude that there is no straightforward anti-discrimination argument for extending marriage rights to polyamorous partnerships. This is not a case of legal benefits being offered to certain partnerships but denied to others based solely on morally irrelevant characteristics of the partners, like race or gender. Instead, the law is consistent: no one can enter into a legal marriage with more than one partner. One can certainly argue whether this is the most rational policy for society to follow, but it’s not a self-evident violation of anyone’s human rights.

So far, so good. But now the further question: even if it’s not discrimination, is it the most rational policy for society to forbid multiple-partner marriages?

The first thing to recognize, in my opinion, is that once we decide to allow polyamorous marriages, there’s no rational cutoff point at which we can limit their size. Any argument which would permit a polyamorous relationship of N partners would equally well permit a relationship of N+1 partners. (In software engineering, my chosen field, a similar principle is called the zero-one-infinity rule: “When processing input, allow none of X, one of X, or infinity of X.”)

But this presents us with some problems, because there are numerous rights and responsibilities that come with a two-person marriage that simply can’t be extended in a straightforward manner to a multiple-partner marriage. Take the right not to testify against your partner in court, for example, or the death benefits paid to partners of federal employees, or the right to gain residency or citizenship by marrying someone who is already a citizen. Allowing such rights to be extended to an arbitrarily large group of partners could lead to chaos – but having permitted them for two-person marriages, how could we fairly forbid them to larger arrangements?

And then there are the legal issues, which would be orders of magnitude more complex than the already difficult dilemmas that arise in family law. How do you take a new person into a polyamorous relationship – must it be by unanimous consent of all current partners, or a mere majority vote? If such a partnership dissolves, how do we fairly divide up property, or settle on child custody or visitation rights? If you’re married to two or more people and become incapacitated, who would have the deciding vote in matters of care? These problems aren’t insoluble – but they would be extraordinarily difficult to grapple with. (This, again, contrasts to same-sex marriage, where the nature, rights and responsibilities of the relationship don’t change just because we’ve removed one limitation on who can participate. Polyamorous marriage, on the other hand, would truly be a brand-new kind of relationship requiring its own set of rules.)

All these factors would seem to indicate that our current policy is rationally justified. And yet, the libertarian in me rebels against the idea that the state has any business butting into people’s private relationships. Mutually consenting adults should be able to enter into any kind of arrangement they please. I have to admit that I find considerable justice in this argument. If three people rather than two want to share household responsibilities, by what right can we deny them that? A larger family structure might even, arguably, be superior to pair marriages in terms of sharing childcare duties and other responsibilities, and more resilient against tragedies like the death of one partner.

On the other hand, these lofty principles, so clear and simple-seeming in the abstract, inevitably get snarled in the complications of the real world. And here’s one whopping big complication that atheists and freethinkers should be especially sensitive to: in the real world, one of the most common manifestations of plural partnerships is in religious cults that use polygamy as a way to keep women subjugated.

Escapees like Carolyn Jessop and Elissa Wall have written grippingly of their virtual imprisonment in isolated sects like the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints – an extremist offshoot of the Mormons), which force girls into harem-like polygamous marriages with older males whom they’re expected to obey absolutely. (See also this article, or my older posts on Warren Jeffs.)

This is an evil that no society should tolerate – but if we legally permit polyamory, how can we prevent it? Better enforcement of age-of-consent laws would help, but even so, this would not prevent women who feel they have no place else to turn from being coerced into these relationships of subjugation.

With all this in mind, my qualified conclusion is that society should not legally recognize polyamorous relationships. I certainly don’t think consenting adults should be prohibited from doing whatever they want in their private lives, but the full range of legal benefits that come with marriage should be limited to two-person partnerships, at least for now. However, I’m open to counterarguments. Is there a way to treat all kinds of committed relationships evenhandedly without encouraging women’s subjugation or opening the door to legal absurdities?

Other posts in this series:

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    I would like to add that sexual orientation doesn’t seem to be something one chooses whereas whether one practices polyamory certainly is. This solidifies the argument that it’s not discriminatory. And I don’t see enough benefits to revolutionize the legal meaning of marriage when the polyamorous will almost always defy classification of any system that is implemented.

  • mikespeir

    I would like to add that sexual orientation doesn’t seem to be something one chooses whereas whether one practices polyamory certainly is.

    But all one has to do is deny that. What if there are people who are born with a propensity toward having multiple sexual partners? Indeed, there are some who have suggested that humans aren’t so monogamous as we’ve traditionally wanted to believe.

    We frequently argue that nature’s way isn’t always the best way. Maybe, no matter what our natural proclivities, it’s simply best not to sanction sexual relationships between more than two partners.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Maybe, no matter what our natural proclivities, it’s simply best not to sanction sexual relationships between more than two partners.

    As long as that doesn’t mean censuring them. As Ebon says,how people organise their personal lives should be up to them, altough I agree that conferring marriage or civil partnership rights to polyamorous arrangements is probably impractical.
    Personally I find it hard to imagine a polyamorous relationship that would develop as a true partnership of equals (which is not to say it doesn’t happen)as although it may well be true that some (actually I would guess most, given the chance) people are “born with a propensity towards having multiple sexual partners” I doubt we have evolved the emotional equipment to manage them fairly.

  • keddaw

    Ooh let’s not allow polygamy, it’s too complicated…

    So let’s simplify things:

    Health/pension etc. Benefits should not be based on your choice to marry or otherwise. I strongly believe that, as a single person with no wish ever to be married, that I am being unfairly discriminated against. As are multiple partner arrangements.
    Legal Make marriages a legal agreement, massively simplify it, make financial arrangements proportionate to what a person brings to the relationship. Or force pre-nups. These problems are not insurmountable.
    Children The child stays with the biological parent(s), if they split then the child stays with what a court decides is in the best interests of the child.
    Immigration Needs looked at anyway. Why should a person be allowed to immigrate because they got married but not if they simply love someone? Again, massive discrimination against my non-marriage stance.

    This is not simply a pro- or anti-polygamy stance, the singletons (or non-marrying types) are all too often left out of this debate and are routinely discriminated against.

  • Carlos

    Marriage is a civil ceremony contract which confers many legal rights on both partners, rights which are either extremely burdensome or impossible to obtain any other way.

    FTFY.

    :)

  • http://www.joshourisman.com Josh

    However, laws which restrict marriage to two partners are not discriminatory in the same sense, because those laws apply equally to everyone. Unlike with same-sex marriage, therefore, I conclude that there is no straightforward anti-discrimination argument for extending marriage rights to polyamorous partnerships. This is not a case of legal benefits being offered to certain partnerships but denied to others based solely on morally irrelevant characteristics of the partners, like race or gender. Instead, the law is consistent: no one can enter into a legal marriage with more than one partner. One can certainly argue whether this is the most rational policy for society to follow, but it’s not a self-evident violation of anyone’s human rights.

    Um, no. That’s the exact same argument that’s often made against same-sex marriage: it’s not discriminatory because it applies equally to everyone, straight people can’t marry members of their same sex either. This is bullshit when applied to gays, and bullshit when applied to, er, polies(?). You’re creating an artificial boundary and saying that things on one side of that boundary are ok, while things on the other side of the boundary are not. But what is it about a multi-partner relationship that makes it not ok? Just because it is different from what you’re used to?

    (This, again, contrasts to same-sex marriage, where the nature, rights and responsibilities of the relationship don’t change just because we’ve removed one limitation on who can participate. Polyamorous marriage, on the other hand, would truly be a brand-new kind of relationship requiring its own set of rules.)

    Again, this is exactly what’s said about same-sex marriages, and again this is untrue. Mutli-partner relationships have an extremely long history going back as far as recorded history and continue to exist today in many countries, cultures, and religions around the world. This would absolutely not be a new kind of relationship, and if our current laws are incapable of dealing with such relationship then I would argue that it is our laws that are flawed, not the relationships.

    Further, you go on to equate polyamory with the abusive, misogynistic practices of many fundamentalist religionists. The things that go on in ‘religions’ like the FLDS are abhorrent, and the people who practice them should be treated as criminals. However the problem is not that they allow multi-partner relationships, so much as that they force women into unequal relationships. They treat women like chattel. I suspect that were polygamous marriage legal conditions would actually improve for these women as they wouldn’t be forced into hiding out of sight of the law, and would instead have greater access to legal resources and be better positioned to take legal recourse against their oppressors. Instead we criminalize and marginalize them further.

    Legitimized multi-partner relationships are clearly a bad combination with a bigoted culture, it’s easy to see how someone who believes that women are property could turn polyamory into a system of repressions. But in a modern, liberal, equal society, does this have to be the case? I don’t think it does.

  • Justin

    However, laws which restrict marriage to two partners are not discriminatory in the same sense, because those laws apply equally to everyone.

    This is exactly the same thing that conservative Christians say about gay marriage: that we’re all free to conform, so there’s no double standard. If we’re going to be consistent, then we can’t accept it as an argument against polyamory.

    I’m not pro-polyamory, but this bit immediately jumped out at me while reading the post.

  • http://www.dvorkin.com David Dvorkin

    Basing rights on whether or not one is born with a certain propensity is a red herring, and a popular one with the right wing in its attack against gay rights.

    It’s irrelevant to the question of rights. That argument could be used to justify discrimination based on religion, for example.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    I have some sympathy with Keddaw in that most country’s governments will use tax breaks and benefits as a social engineering tool to promote (heterosexual) marriage. There may be a justification for incentivising some sort of contractual arrangement between partners intending to raise children, but that is the only circumstance that really cuts it for me. Everything else, inheritence, pension rights etc are easily dealt with by other legal mechanisms.So, if the tax breaks etc follow the child and accrue to whoever is the legal guardian under whatever circumstances the polyamorous model gets easier to deal with and the marriage /civil partnership contract less necessary.

  • jemand

    If we required that private and homeschooled students must regularly be tested and their scores track with local public school students in order to remain outside of the public system… and subsidize university education as is done in Europe… those girls in fundamentalist sects *will* have a door out. Well, the boys too. And it would be a really good thing. I don’t think your religious beliefs should allow you to deny your child an education. If you want to do it your way, fine, but the outcome and learning has to be similar to or better than what would have occurred in public school.

    As for the zero one, many… well we already have two in a marriage lol. What if we allowed every individual to enter into two marriage contracts with simple rules for that, with the individual stating which partner takes precedence in child care after death, or medical decisions during illness, inheritance, etc. Then people could manage their relationships however they want, daisy chaining up a vast number of connected partners… or having a complete three way, etc.

  • Maynard

    The main problem with marriage is allowing the government to define it so narrowly in the first place.
    Marriage should simply be a binding partnership, of domestic responsibility, between consenting adults. Terms and conditions may apply (in accordance with the parties involved).

  • Kevin

    Like #6 says, right-wing Christians do not see themselves as discriminating based on which group you belong to. They think that every adult, regardless of group, has the right to marry a member of the opposite sex. This argument only convinces the already-convinced.

  • Quath

    I am all for legalizing polyamory. The real cons to this are just the legal complexities. It would require for society and the legal system to pull apart the reasons for certain laws.

    For example, in the right not to testify against your partner, we need to figure out why we have the right and reapply it. If the right comes from the idea that we want to encourage people in love to be open with each other, then give it to people who are in love. If the right comes from people in a tight household, then give it to all people in a tight household (say like sisters living together).

    I know this has historically been linked to repressive religions, but so has monogamy. We can’t solve that problem just by making polygamy illegal. We have to do what we do with women in repressive monogamous relationships.

    I think polygamy will fall naturallly from the gay marriage movement. The religious right has claimed that gay marriage is a slippery slope because it is based on the idea that consenting adults have a right to be in loving relationships together. This is the philosophy we have been pushing and why gay marriage does not allow for pedophilia or people marrying goats. Drawing a line at 2 people is just as arbitrary as drawing a line at same genders or a line at different races. You can make it sound different, but it goes against the basic philosophy of it all.

    Polyamory/polygamy will change many things. I see an age where people pick out a marriage contract with more care than the bridal dress. I see many people combining households out of love and finances. I see one more arbitrary taboo removed from humanity’s list.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    jemand, I don’t think it would be as simple as all that. For instance, let’s say you’ve got a situation where you’ve got a man with two wives. The wives aren’t in a relationship with one another, but both of them are with the man. Say the arrangements dissolved at the same time, minus a prenup. How would assets be split? Would the man have to give half of his assets to each wife, and each wife half of her assets to him? Would wife 1′s assets count as part of marriage 1′s assets, and thus as the man’s assets, and have to be shared with wife 2, even though wives 1 and 2 aren’t in any legal arrangement with one another? Glossing over these issues doesn’t do away with the fact that the dissolution of such a union would be monstrously difficult, and almost certainly unfair, by any rational definition of the word, to one partner or another.

  • mikespeir

    As long as that doesn’t mean censuring them.

    That’s a good point, too.

  • Jeff

    As an atheist, I have very much enjoyed the majority of your content. The logic and thought and reason that has been put into your posts have made them favorites of mine and I have pointed to them numerous times when trying to make various points. But as someone who is also polyamorous, I must strongly disagree with you on this post and I’d like to present my case in attempt to allow you to rethink your position.

    First off, let’s just tackle the validity of polyamory (just poly from here on). From the content of your post I feel that you do recognize that it is possible for people to be in love and in a committed relationship with more than one person. If I’m incorrect in my assumption, please correct me, to which I would reply that it is indeed possible. It might not be possible for you, but it is possible for a great number of people.

    Next, let’s talk about marriage. What are the purposes of marriage?

    1. To formally perform a ritual that states a set of feelings and parameters shared by all parties involved that they intend to live following in front of friends and family.

    2. To provide legal and financial protections to the parties involved in an attempt to promote a perceived benefit to society in people seeking marriage.

    3. To provide safety and security to any offspring created by the union of all parties involved.

    I would say that 1 stems from the strong emotions involved with people in romantic relationships and the desire to celebrate a union among loved ones. However, I would say that 2 and 3 stem from society deciding over time that the natural instinct of the mammal homo sapiens to not strive for monogamous relationships is an undesired behavior and a perceived better behavior should be given incentives. Regardless, 2 and 3 provide legal protections that are a big component of why homosexuals seek the ability to marry.

    I would also like to discuss your mention of Mormon and other religious polygamy. In my opinion, the reason this is an issue is twofold. One is of course the religious indoctrination and the suppression of reason, logic, and intellectual thought in these communities that leads to women and girls being put in abusive situations. The other issue is polygamy’s illegal status. In countries where prostitution is legal and above board, both the prostitutes and the customers are better protected from abuses and negative issues. In places where it is illegal, disease and abuse are common. I feel the polygamy situation would also benefit by making it legal. Right now you have groups that so strongly feel their religious beliefs should allow them to have more than one wife, that they are willing to live in compounds and hide away from the law and keep everything undercover to fulfill those beliefs. This leads to abuses of both women and underage girls. By making it legal, they would no longer have to hide away which would allow the spotlight of openness to shine on the situation and remove most if not all abuses. At the barest minimum, it should make it easier to spot these abuses and seek legal actions to protect the victims.

    And finally, I’d like to discuss poly and marriage and why it should be legal based on itself. There are as many different ideas and philosophies about poly as there are people involved in it, but I’ll discuss how I personally see it as I feel it is a good encapsulation of the main issues. I know this is a great oversimplification, but let’s say there are two types of bisexuals. There is the bisexual who falls in love with the person despite the outer shell. They could fall equally in love with a man or a woman, but it’s the inner person they actually fall in love with. This is the type of bisexual that could easily enter into a monogamous relationship. But the other type of bisexual is the kind who feels that having sex with both men and women is a strong part of their sexual identity and inner self. For this person, monogamy is truly impossible or at worst, an emotionally painful situation to try and attempt. They literally need that connection with both sexes to feel whole and happy. So what happens to this person who has found both a man and a woman that they are deeply in love with and committed to? Obviously they can perform some unrecognized ritual that fulfills purpose 1 of marriage, but they are forbidden from fulfilling purpose 2 and 3. This is a problem in the same way that not allowing homosexuals to be married is a problem. Let’s say that partner A and B are the ones who got legally married and performed an unrecognized ceremony to bind themselves to partner C. Partner A is out of town on business and partner B is in a serious accident. Should partner C be denied access to partner B in the hospital because they’re not married? Should partner C be denied making medical decisions for partner B because they’re not married? I personally don’t believe so and I would like to hear any defense of that kind of position that wouldn’t also be usable to deny homosexual marriages.

    Of course the legal issues could be difficult, and even the relationship dynamics might be difficult, but monogamous relationships also sometimes have difficult dynamics and legal issues. Does that mean we should ban those also? To me it’s quite simple: People should be able to enter into any legal agreement of marriage that they desire, with any number and sex of partners, as long as all partners are of age and consent, and the government and public organizations have to be legally bound to recognize the legal agreement. I hope that I’ve presented some things to think about, especially if they are able to change your opinion on the subject. Thank you for this forum to discuss these issues and keep up your excellent work.

  • Alex Weaver

    There’s also the issues of abuse – people possibly “marrying” a bunch of their friends to extend them health insurance benefits, for tax reasons, immigration status, etc…

  • Alex, FCD

    Like #6 says, right-wing Christians do not see themselves as discriminating based on which group you belong to.

    Well there is such a thing as being just plain wrong. In the eyes of the law, in my country anyhow, there is no difference between a marriage between two people of opposite sexes and a marriage between people of the same sex. The only way there could be a difference is if we arbitrarily imposed one (as we did previously).

    This is not, and cannot be the case in a marriage with n>2 partners. I don’t mean that it morally cannot, I mean that there is simply no way to arrange it. The law is going to have to discriminate between two- and three-person marriages – even if it changes to allow the latter – because the two things are simply different legal arrangements.

    This is not to say I’m opposed to granting marriage rights (or equivalent) to multi-person partnerships, I’m just saying that these have to be different rights (and therefore that the arbitrary discrimination argument, which applies to same-sex and different-race marriages, doesn’t work here).

    That said: I think that if we were to implement this sort of thing, there’s a way to get around FLDS-style polygamy: disallow what I called “harems” in the other thread. We would just need a passage in the law that says that if A is married to B and B is married to C, then A is married to C. Under this arrangement, if a woman has two husbands, than those two are also, by law, married to each other. They don’t have to consummate their marriage if that doesn’t happen to be their cup of tea, but it does mean that they are legally equal partners in the relationship. It’s going to be pretty hard to keep your 15 wives under your heel if they all have an equal claim to the household finances.

    This doesn’t really help with any of the other complexities, though). In fact, it probably makes it worse.

  • Quath

    Polygamy would definitely force a change in legalities and assumptions. For example, jobs may offer a certain amount of money towards health insurance instead of basic coverage of an average family. Marriage contracts would have to be spelled out more exactly.

    Currently, a polyamorous family can get most of the benefits and set themselves up for security by drawing up a lot of legal documents. There are a few rights they are not getting like hospital visitation, protection from kids being taken away, and a few others that are used to show why civil union is inferior to marraige.

  • jemand

    @Fargus, well, basically I was saying at the time of signing the second marriage certificate, something resembling a prenup is *required* at that time. So you would have been required to plan for that contingency.

    As for all those people who brought up health benefits, we need to scrap the employment linked system ANYWAY, and hopefully we will, so… I’m hoping by the time there’s a big push toward legalizing some multipartner contracts that particular aspect will be a COMPLETE non-issue.

  • Alex Weaver

    However, laws which restrict marriage to two partners are not discriminatory in the same sense, because those laws apply equally to everyone. Unlike with same-sex marriage, therefore, I conclude that there is no straightforward anti-discrimination argument for extending marriage rights to polyamorous partnerships. This is not a case of legal benefits being offered to certain partnerships but denied to others based solely on morally irrelevant characteristics of the partners, like race or gender. Instead, the law is consistent: no one can enter into a legal marriage with more than one partner. One can certainly argue whether this is the most rational policy for society to follow, but it’s not a self-evident violation of anyone’s human rights.

    A more precise way to express some of this might be to observe that laws prohibiting marriage to more than one person at a time do not discriminate against any person on the basis of any characteristic of that person.

  • http://betapwned.com Tanya

    While there are many in the Poly community that would passionately disagree with me, I don’t feel the restriction of legal marriage to two parties is discriminatory toward multi-partner relationships like my own. Yes, the legalities of multi-partner families can be messy, especially when there are children involved, but there are ample legal structure already in place to cover most issues and let’s be honest – multi-partner families can be messy regardless of legalities. Any successful poly family has a clear understanding of each partner’s role, responsibilities, and boundaries that translates fairly easily into a legal structure.

    Most poly families have at least one “primary” couple, for whom marriage can offer protection in regards to property and children born to the couple. Children born to “secondary” partners benefit from the same custodial protections unmarried parents receive. Property and assets shared between primary and secondary partners can be allocated in contract the same way they’re allocated in corporate structure – including the option for buy out should one of the partners choose to leave the family. (Some families actually incorporate for legal simplicity.)

    The system isn’t perfect, of course, but the widespread laws that restrict the rights of poly families ultimately restrict everyone’s rights – hospital visitation restrictions, restrictions regarding who can be appointed to make medical decisions, laws that criminalize adultery regardless of marital consent, custody judgments based on “moral fortitude”, lack of regard for non-relation caregiver visitation rights, etc… This obviously can’t be said for same-sex marriage – the laws that preventing which apply only to same-sex couples and are therefore clearly discriminatory.

    Certainly, it can be argued (and often is in the poly community) that any legal system that favors monogamy for purely moral reasons is necessarily discriminatory, but I honestly see such restrictions as merely practical. Aside from the superficialities of numbers and gender mix, I’ve yet to meet two poly families with the same structure. I don’t believe the high degree of customization necessary to accurately protect the interests of poly families is suited to a simple marital contract.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Wow, loads of well-informed opinions here! Let’s see if I can add something. Ebonmuse, I agree that polyamory will be difficult to hash out right now. Like a one-world government, we probably can’t handle it yet as a people. However, I think that there are two simple things which, if rigorously applied, will show clear paths to sorting out the weighty issues you pointed out: education, and informed consent.

    Teaching people how relationships work, how to be patient and wise, how to treat each other well, is a tough row to hoe. No doubt. But I think we can all agree on the role of education in this and other matters. Informed consent is perhaps a bit more difficult.

    As my father said, “Getting divorced ought to be a snap. You should have to go to court for years to prove why the state should allow you to marry anyone in the first place.” Now, that may sound really trite and platitudinous, but I grew up watching my parents go through the second-longest divorce in state history, so he’s a kinda-sorta expert on just how bad these things can get. The point is that the worst-case scenario (i.e., exorbitantly drawn-out legal proceedings that profoundly fuck up the lives of the participants and/or any children) already happens. More partners just adds awful frosting to an already horrid cake, in this sense.

    It is therefore in the best interest of lawyers, says I, to make sure that their clients know exactly what they’re getting into when they tie their Gordian Knots of affection. In order to consent to a contractual agreement, parties will need to know exactly where they stand with one another. This will take time and effort, it will seem boring and frivolous to idiots who think they can get by on love alone (that’s infatuation, not actual love), but it will be for the good of all. And maybe people will realize that legal contracts need to be treated as legal contracts. For starters, two-party marriage can be treated as a template, and brave self-aware pioneers can hash out multi-partied agreements for precedent, and starry-eyed romantics can lead the way by negative example at great personal expense. It will be messy at first – everything is – but gradually, it will be normalized and it will get better over time.

    Or, if you don’t feel like bothering with all of that, then just don’t get married and do what you like anyway. Or find someone to marry you anyway if you can leverage common law to your advantage, and tell people you’ve been living as husband and husband and wife and wife for ten years, and dammit, the hospital will be facing a huge friggin’ lawsuit if they don’t let you visit your dearly beloved third spouse in the ICU (or whatever).

  • Roi des Foux

    I am appalled that people are making the argument that it’s not discrimination because the law applies equally to everyone. This is the exact same argument put forth by the defense in Loving v. Virginia: it doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, the law prohibits anyone from marrying outside their own race. Today, right-wingers say that the current law applies equally to gays and straights: men can marry women and women can marry men. And I think that’s technically true. In neither case is the law discriminating against someone based on their characteristics. Black, white, gay, straight, everyone has the same restrictions under the law. These laws are wrong not because they discriminate against individual blacks, whites, or gays, but because they discriminate against interracial or same-sex couples.

    I see a huge parallel here between gay marriage and polygamy. I’ve been saying for long time, “Yes, everyone has an equal right to marry a man if they’re a woman and vice versa. But that’s not the important part. Heterosexuals can marry the person that they love. This is the right we’re denying to gay couples.” What you’re saying is that it doesn’t matter if there are two people I love who love me, and we all want to start a family and spend the rest of our lives together, everyone has an equal right under the law to marry exactly one person.

    The “what about the Mormons?” argument rings hollow. As others have already stated, the more a religion emphasizes monogamy, the more it emphasizes oppression of women, but this is not an argument against recognizing monogamous marriage.

    I know this is going to sound rather harsh, but I think the bulk of your legal arguments can be summed up with, “It would be REALLY hard to come up with a legal system for polygamy, and they’re such a small minority that it’s not worth the trouble.” A couple months ago, there was a situation where a woman wasn’t allowed to see her dying wife in the hospital. They had made the legal arrangements so that they could do so in an emergency, but the hospital refused them because they weren’t legally married. If I had two spouses, I could pick at most one of them to legally marry. If the other one was in an accident, I could have the same problems getting in to see them. If my legal spouse was away on business and I suffered a major accident, I might end up dying alone because my non-legal spouse wouldn’t be allowed in to see me. We may be a tiny minority, and silent (as atheists and gays were in decades past), but I think we’re worth the effort.

    And as an aside, I was misled by title of the article. I’ve been wondering what you thought of polyamory itself, and had been thinking about asking you to write an “On the Morality of…” post about polyamory, so I was rather disappointed when you talked only about the legal status of polygamy.

  • Caiphen

    I haven’t had a chance to read all the posts so I hope this hasn’t already been mentioned.

    To use a heterosexual example, no insult intended to homosexuals. How about the current male/female population ratio? You’d have either a very lucky man with 7 wives, he can have one on each night of the week. Or a very unlucky man who has all his potential partners married to the lucky man.

    How about the children only having the male role model 1 night of the week? Dad will be too busy the other nights of the week with his other 20 kids. It sounds like a recipe for social disaster to me.

    This is ridiculously irrational and I might add, quite degrading to each of the multiple partners of the same gender.

  • http://www.blacksunjournal.com BlackSun

    Sex confuses everything.

    A properly constituted poly family would be little different on a legal basis from a limited partnership or corporation. People get all squishy when it comes to relationships, but as long as rights and responsibilities are well-defined in advance, I see no reason for the law not to recognize almost any family constellation, whether living in the same house or not.

    Kids need unconditional love and support. As long as it’s defined who’s doing which part of the loving and the supporting–the more the merrier.

    Having said that, nothing can stop abuse, just like nothing has stopped abuse in the more “traditional” configurations of nuclear families, single parent families etc. There’s plenty of pathology to go around. Adding more people with close family ties (and sex) makes things exponentially more complicated. But illegal? No.

  • Roi des Foux

    Caiphan,
    1) You’re talking about polygyny, that is one man having mutiple wives. We’re talking about poygamy, where one man has mutiple wives, or one woman has mutiple husbands, or one woman has a husband and a wife who each have a wife, or three men who are all married to each other, etc. but NOT one or more persons and one or more box turtles.
    2) We are talking about whether or not it should be legally recognized. You can argue that it’s immoral, and thus should not be given legal status, but if you mean that, say it explicitly rather than just saying “POLYGYNY BAD!”
    3) Like many anti-gay-marriage advocates, you’re saying that we shouldn’t legally recognize a marriage between two adults because THINK OF THE CHILDREN! Like gay couples, lack of legal recognition of their marriage probably won’t stop them from having kids, so it’s not really relevant to the discussion at hand.
    4) Are you seriously saying that lesbian parents are a recipie for social disaster?

  • jemand

    caiphen, you’re crazy. Are you male? Wanna be my 20th husband? Gender ratio won’t be a problem for non-religious polyamory, it just won’t. Why do you assume it’ll be guys who “can’t find a partner”? The heck. Why doesn’t that “unlucky guy” just marry in as the 9th partner to the family he’s idolizing, immediately transforming him to “lucky guy”? Do you oppose homosexual marriage until it’s proven that it won’t “poach” too many of a single sex of bisexual individuals from the heterosexual pool? Do you oppose transexuals under the same argument?

    You’re stance is really pretty idiotic I think.

  • jemand

    @Roi des Foux… just to be explicit so that caiphan doesn’t go off the deep end with unfounded assumptions… we’re *ALSO* talking about where one man has several husbands *and* several wives, or one woman has several wives *and* several husbands. And pretty much any possible combination of the above with legally adult and consenting partners.

    And… I think what probably needs to be done is increase the teeth of the legal contracts you can write with multiple partners so that hospitals will be required to follow them. And sure call those contracts marriage if you like, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to have a *legal default* contract for multiple partners. For the very reason mentioned above, there are *all* possible numbers of participants… maybe have legal *defaults* for the commonest form, dual marriage, but allow for additional binding paperwork for more than that?

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    Caiphen, love is irrational. So is fun. (I don’t mean having fun, that’s perfectly rational; what I mean is that what is fun – or what is loved – is a non-chosen and non-rational contingent fact of individuals that varies wildly.) I recently roomed with a woman who loved many men, very deeply, all at once (two of whom she lived with at one time, and they got along great, and were bi themselves). One of those guys had a kinda-sorta harem himself. These were all responsible adults who regularly checked themselves for STDs.

    I could turn the argument around on you and say that wanting to have a whole person all to yourself is excessively selfish, and it’s irrational to think that you could possibly satisfy all of a person’s desires. If you so happen to find such a relationship, well, good for you! (Really and truly – that is awesome!) But what about those for whom one just isn’t enough? Would you deny them simply because of your arbitrary preconceptions of what’s “normal?” I say that the more permissive we are, the more advanced we are, so long as nobody’s getting harmed (“broken arm” or “picked pocket” harmed, not just emotionally hurt because that’s inevitable in any scenario).

  • jemand

    @D, well, not just picked pocket, but when someone is taught to believe they are *less than* others and therefore shouldn’t even be able to work for any income to *put* in that pocket.

    Yes, a certain amount of emotional hurt is inevitable, but there are some ideologies which can be imposed on children while impressionable which cause as much injury later as “broken arm” or “picked pocket” and we should separate those from simple “heartbreak” which will eventually occur whenever anyone loves.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    I think BlackSun hit the nail on the head. The ideal setup for a polyamorous relationship would be a corporation. Except where the participants sleep with each other in various arrangements. There’s no reason that it has to stem from marriage, because as has been pointed out, there are a whole lot of ways in which it is not analogous to marriage at all.

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  • Roi des Foux

    @Fargus,
    We’re talking about polygamy, which is the practice of multiple concurrent marriages. That’s “not analogous to marriage at all” because it IS marriage.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    That’s a really good point, jemand. Culture really matters, and this is why education is so important. We’re all products of our environment, and where exactly to draw the line between upbringing and an individual’s own responsibility is a sticky matter. And yeah, BlackSun seems to make this all look easy.

    Perhaps a little too easy…

    :)

  • Danikajaye

    Following on from Tanya at comment #22 I wonder whether it would be possible to legally recognise different types of relationships to allow for the large variations of family structure in poly relationships. For example, like a limited partnership in a business where one partner provides finances but has no input into the running of the business, similarly you could have a recognised relationship partner who would have certain rights (hospital visitation etc. etc) that did not extend to finances. You could use these “relationship particles” to come to a customised legally recognised arrangement where the role of each person is clearly defined and recognised. I’m kind of envisioning “legal lego”. A build your own kind of arrangement if you like which would have the flexibility to allow for many different types of poly relationships.

  • jemand

    OK, I think I’ve completely changed my mind. I don’t think there really should be such clear hierarchies legally imposed into multiple marriages. That is unfair and discriminatory. In a dual marriage… there is no legal imperative for one partner to have “veto” power over the other, and that I think is an absolutely marvelous thing and I think it would lead to all sorts of trouble if it were a mandatory requirement to designate a “leader” or “tie breaker.” Of course, that may lead to legal fights when it comes to, say, medical decisions for children, but it sure hasn’t seemed to have ruined our society yet. I think any push to force poly marriages to *define* every interaction and hypothetically solve every possibility in a legal contract before even getting married would set a dangerous precedent for inequality in all marriages. We just recently moved away from ‘husband has veto’ in the marriages that are currently recognized as legal, and we really don’t need to go back when we’re trying to expand access… and face all the blowback as conservatives press for that to be replaced in the “default” contract.

    So I no longer see any problem with a three way marriage, at least not to the point where we would legally force them to pick one partner with power to break a tie with respect to, say, the medical decisions of an unconscious third partner. It should just be marriage. With three people.

    I’m still wondering though… because obviously to me, there is no way you could have a relationship with 1,000 others and have it be remotely like the close emotional connection of what we understand as “marriage” but yet it is totally possible with three or four people. Even 100 would be excessive and you really couldn’t carry on a close emotional bond in that situation.

    But I don’t know where the line should be drawn. Should there be any limit?

  • Alex, FCD

    I’m still wondering though… because obviously to me, there is no way you could have a relationship with 1,000 others and have it be remotely like the close emotional connection of what we understand as “marriage” but yet it is totally possible with three or four people. Even 100 would be excessive and you really couldn’t carry on a close emotional bond in that situation.

    But I don’t know where the line should be drawn. Should there be any limit?

    I think it’s fairly obvious that if we try to set any arbitrary limit we’d be setting ourselves up for a legal nightmare, but if we allow a cast of thousands, so to speak, we’re opening up the possibility for abuse. I can think of a few ways out of it, though:

    1) Hope that the legal hassle involved in adding hundreds of additional spouses to the arrangement will discourage the dishonest (that is a lot of paperwork, friends).
    2) Require the written, unanimous consent of all parties involved before another spouse is added to the contract. That doesn’t set a hard limit, but it makes it increasingly likely that somebody will object as the number of marriage-partners increases, and it’s probably a good idea anyway if we decide to do number three, which is:
    3) Apply the transitive property: if A is married to B and B is married to C then A is married to C. I discussed this above as a way to prevent FLDS-style abuses, but it could work here too. Having a few hundred spouses might not sound so hot anymore if they all have the legal right to your finances.

  • Caiphen

    Jemand

    To quote you.

    Do you oppose homosexual marriage until it’s proven that it won’t “poach” too many of a single sex of bisexual individuals from the heterosexual pool? Do you oppose transexuals under the same argument?

    Huh? What has this to do with my argument? I believe the relationship should be 1 on 1 no matter whether it involves a homosexual, transgender or whomsoever. You can hardly call a homosexual or a transgender poached.

    My wife and I enjoy a wonderful marriage of 13 years thus far because of our faithfulness. Actually, we are passionately in love. Also, my children are thriving because of our faithfulness and the sole focus I give them.

    From what I’ve seen, a relationship where there is more than 1 partner, especially if kids are involved, only results in complete calamity. I’ve seen many.

    Tell me, how is that idiotic? How am I crazy?

  • http://www.gowingoa.blogspot.com madbull

    “I would like to add that sexual orientation doesn’t seem to be something one chooses whereas whether one practices polyamory certainly is.” Secular Plant

    What about the bisexuals then ?
    I know about the difficulties of enforcement of polyamory
    This is just a thought.

  • bbk

    Very interesting thread. I also have a background in software engineering, yet my conclusion would be that the correct solution to the zero-one-infinity guideline is zero. The question of the allowable members in a relationship can go the other way – if you are to grant marital privileges to polygamous groups, then why not to single people? Outside of social engineering efforts by church and state, is there any moral argument for disallowing single people from sharing the same benefits?

    Let me give an example. If I have a great job with outstanding employee benefits, but I have an unemployed friend who is in urgent need for a life-saving surgery, what moral argument is there to be made to prevent me from being allowed to claim this person as a dependent and extend my health benefits to him or her? In fact, I have yet to hear a reason why I should not be allowed to do so that is anything short of fully immoral.

    In fact, the argument that I would make is that not only should I be able to extend my health benefits to this single friend, but that this person deserves these benefits whether or not any individual decides to extend those benefits to them. That is universal healthcare in a nutshell.

    If we merely extended the rights of married couples to everyone else, we would have a better society. It would be great if single mothers received the same childcare benefits as those married to well-off husbands. Immigration laws were already mentioned. It would be great if young people struggling to get by were offered the same tax credits for having to share apartments that married couples get just for being married. It would be great if single people in the military could have the same pay and housing allowances extended to them to care for a sick mother as married service-members receive just because they have a spouse.

  • Alex Weaver

    From what I’ve seen, a relationship where there is more than 1 partner, especially if kids are involved, only results in complete calamity. I’ve seen many.

    The plural of anecdote is not data, particularly if you’re lumping in adultery (IE, nonmonogamy without spousal consent), “Responsible Non-Monogamy,” etc. with polyamory as it’s generally understood.

  • Caiphen

    Roi de foux

    To quote you

    ‘We’re talking about poygamy, where one man has mutiple wives, or one woman has mutiple husbands’

    I was only using that scenario in my first comment as an example, that’s all.

    D

    I understand your point,however I don’t agree. I’m sure I don’t satisfy my wife in all areas, but the satisfaction that we give each other because of our monogamy I believe is unparalleled by any other structure. We know each other so intimately as a consequence. Don’t you think that would be lacking if I or my wife were to have more than 1? One more point, the ultimate STD protection is by only having 1 wife/ husband and being faithful. Don’t you think?

    Q) Am I just being a romantic tragic?

  • http://friendlyhumanist.blogspot.com Timothy Mills

    On what grounds is it “abuse” when two people marry primarily in order to obtain benefits for one of the members? By that definition, a common form of traditional marriage (which still occurs today) could be considered abuse: it provides economic security for the woman, as well as (frequently) economic/political alliance between families. I understand that the tacit “intent” of marriage is to express love. Or is it to raise families? Or is that, in fact, at the crux of the whole same-sex marriage debate in the first place? You see where I’m going with this – by calling one use of marriage “abuse”, people implicitly accept a particular model of what marriage is “for”. And it is our disagreements about this central question that we’re currently fighting over in the first place.

    As a solution, I like the line of thought above that treats marriage as a legal contract. In my experience of these debates, the most rational solution seems to be taking “marriage” out of the legal system entirely. Leave family law (custody, etc) as a matter of consanguinuity (biological parents), and do everything else with contracts. I predict that a standard format would emerge for marriage-like arrangements, which would vary slightly depending on the political and religious stance of the participants. Let churches, ethical societies, humanist celebrants, etc worry about “marriage”.

    That way, the state has no power to define “marriage” in opposition to anybody’s strongly-held beliefs, and the legal protections can be maintained in a way that also respects individual approaches. (This does not address the problem of the social evils often accompanying polygamy – but I don’t see that the current system provides much help there either.) I think this would also effectively solve the “discrimination against singles” issue that was raised (legitimately, in my opinion as a married father of two).

    The only problem with this is that it would involve a large-scale revamp of laws relating to marriage, as well as a culture-wide re-evaluation of the place of marriage in society. So it’ll probably never happen. But still.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Caiphen

    our monogamy I believe is unparalleled by any other structure

    If there is one thing that the Theory of Evolution tells us it is that within all species, Homo sapiens included, there is a large amount of variation. It appears to be true that the modal position for humans is some kind of heterosexual monogamy (although this may be a culturally re-inforced artifact), but that does not mean that other family structures cannot co-exist and be just as effective for the people that choose them. Like you, I can’t conceive of myself coping in a polyamorous relationship (probably would feel very insecure)but for people who are genuinely attracted to that kind of relationship it can work just fine.

  • Chris

    @#45: More generally, people unconsciously assuming that everyone else feels about something the way that *they* would feel in the same situation cause a great deal of mischief. It’s a surprisingly easy thing to unconsciously do, given how quickly it collapses on rational examination. Whatever personal satisfaction Caiphen derives from monogamy is clearly not shared by everyone in the world, so why should the family relationship structure Caiphen finds most suitable be imposed on the rest of the world? Once you put it that way it’s obvious that it shouldn’t.

    ISTM that everything in the parade of horribles in the OP has already arrived with two-person marriages (definitely including sham marriages to obtain legal benefits attached to marital status and oppression of women) and is therefore a lot of red herrings. This seems to me to indicate that our host is emoting about this subject more than thinking about it. (Although maybe that’s inevitable in a post on morality. What’s morality anyway other than a dressed-up expression of approval or disapproval?)

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    See, as others have said, I have no problem with people’s arrangements, and I don’t want to force any type of arrangement on anyone. If someone wants to live with and love 4 other people, that’s absolutely fine to me, and I don’t think that they should be viewed differently by society for it. It’s just still not immediately clear to me that the analog to such an arrangement is marriage.

    I’m by no means any kind of marriage traditionalist, trying to protect the definition from infringement. I simply mean that, for the practicality of the poly arrangement, it seems like something that would be better addressed by more of a complex business-type contract than anything else.

    As for complexities, the transitive marriage idea is interesting, but ultimately too restrictive, I’d think, for some. What if I have no problem with my wife having another husband, but I have no desire to have anything to do with the guy? With transitive marriage, neither of us would be able to simultaneously meet our desires, but without it, we’d be fine.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com/ D

    @ Caiphen (#43): What I’m saying is that the kind of relationship you have is great – for you. And if you don’t want to have a polyamorous marriage – or a homosexual one, or an interracial one, or one with a big age gap, or whatever – then for love’s sake, don’t enter one. But telling other people that you know them better than they know themselves is just finger-wagging nonsense. I believe I just described a healthy and happy polyamorous relationship in #30. The fact of the matter is that people come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, and saying that they “ought” to love each other in thus-and-such a way is stupid.

    Ultimately, the point is that restricting anyone’s freedom “for their own good” is condescending bullshit, with the sole exception of your own child. Doesn’t matter whether it’s with drugs, porn, fashion, love, food, anything. Who cares even if monogamy turns out to be the very bestest kind of relationship for 95% of people? What about that other 5%? Should they be denied the ability to live their dreams just because they’re unpopular? I’m happy for you and your wife – really, what you have is great – but your stance on this issue stands directly in the way of others’ happiness at no benefit to you (and no cost, should you let them have their way). If your wife doesn’t want to be in a polyamorous relationship, there’s no risk of her being “poached.” The very idea of “poaching” full-grown adults with “things they want to do anyway” is just absurd. It’s like calling the Devil out on “temptation” for offering people what they want.

    Oh, and abstinence is the ultimate STD protection. Two completely monogamous and healthy partners can still infect each other if they’re not – how can I put this – “thorough” in their hygiene. Or if they’re into the right sort of kinky stuff. And there’s nothing “tragic” at all about your stance, you’re just different from some people. Do what you like, but don’t complain that others like to do things differently from you.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    But all one has to do is deny that. What if there are people who are born with a propensity toward having multiple sexual partners? Indeed, there are some who have suggested that humans aren’t so monogamous as we’ve traditionally wanted to believe.

    If science produces such strong evidence, I’ll reconsider, but I don’t expect it to happen. Everyone has the potential to love more than one person at a time, and I don’t think it’s really similar to orientation. If people want to love multiple people, OK, but I don’t think we need to completely change legal marriage to accommodate those who don’t want monogamy.

  • jemand

    How were you possibly talking about that as “only one example”? You were talking about a *culture wide* dearth of single females to single males. That means you are talking pretty much only about polygyny, and describing it’s wide scale effects to say polyamory is bad. But there are *other* activities that also could possibly have an effect of creating a net surplus of single males to single females, and it really doesn’t take any more unsupported assumptions and leaps to conclusions to determine that those other effects actually would create that situation as to say the polyamory does. None of them do I think would *actually* result in that disaster, except the currently seen example of demeaning and discriminating against women, which results in sex-linked abortions. Or on the other hand, demeaning and discriminating against women, so only men can have multiple partners of the other sex. Or demeaning and discriminating against women so they feel it is their moral duty to be second or third wives even though they don’t want to be… Or, do you see the common factor here? And does it have *anything* to do with polyamory? Nope. Just misogyny. Destroy that, and you’ve destroyed your problem.

    You were NOT talking about a single example. You were talking about wide scale cultural effects after assuming *only* polygyny and *ignoring* all other poly forms of relationships.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    My wife and I enjoy a wonderful marriage of 13 years thus far because of our faithfulness. Actually, we are passionately in love.

    28 years for us. The last 4 though have been… tumultuous. Unusual. Complicated.

    If there is one thing that the Theory of Evolution tells us it is that within all species, Homo sapiens included, there is a large amount of variation.

    Some are near the extremes of the Bell-curve too.

    In 1985 I was diagnosed as an Intersexed male. In 2005, after some rare metabolic events, and many thousands of dollars in co-pay of tests, the diagnosis was changed to Intersexed female.

    Most such changes go the other way, from apparently female at birth to apparently male later, and they’re rare enough. A few thousand in the USA.

    Both my partner and I are straight. I used to be asexual, but having what can be called simplistically a female puberty at age 47 gave me a libido for the first time in my life. That happens in about a third of such cases, an apparent change of sexual orientation. How much was neural re-wiring due to the anomalous hormones, and how much was “re-programming” of the software, the reification of a pre-existing potential, I don’t know, and it happened to me, so I doubt anyone else does either. Too bad I didn’t have dynamic MRIs during the process.

    Theologians prefer to ignore the existence of people like me. Lawmakers too. The effect on my marriage was profound, and the resultant legal complications immense.

    Because of my situation, should we divorce, we could not re-marry, as I can only marry a man in the country I live in. But should I return to the UK, where I was born, I could only marry another woman. Because both countries are strongly against same-sex marriage, they just differ in the definitions. Had I been transsexual, I could have had my UK birth certificate altered, But I’m intersexed, so cannot.

    So pardon me if I’m unable to take the objections to same-sex marriage seriously.

  • Alex, FCD

    As for complexities, the transitive marriage idea is interesting, but ultimately too restrictive, I’d think, for some. What if I have no problem with my wife having another husband, but I have no desire to have anything to do with the guy?

    Life’s tough.

    Less glib answer: I realize that the arrangement might not be ideal for some, we need to have some way of stopping FLDS-types from accumulating a few dozen slaves wives. Enforcing transitivity does that while still allowing for polyamorous cohabitation arrangements. If there’s a way to do that while still allowing arrangements like the one you suggest, I’m open to it. Otherwise: life’s tough.

    Oh, and #40, we don’t really have to explain the difference between bisexuality and polyamorousness again, do we?

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    Disallowing polygamy is discriminatory in a sense, but only in the sense that every law ever made is discriminatory. Not allowing people to marry minors, animals or the deceased is discriminatory, too, but that’s not the dispositive factor. A tax break for solar power is discriminatory against those who want to open a coal power plant. A smoking ban is discriminatory against people who want to smoke in public. A speed limit is discriminatory against those who want to drive fast. An anti-discrimination statute is discriminatory against those who want to refuse people service based on certain qualities. A statute of limitations is discriminatory against people who want to wait ten years (for example) before filing a lawsuit.

    If the argument is that polyamory is something we should not discriminate against, then let’s have that discussion. But I’m not at all conducive to the argument that insists that we must change the law solely because it’s discriminatory or we’re all despicable bigots. One has to show why we shouldn’t discriminate against some choice, not simply state that we do.

    The big difference between same-sex marriage and polygamy in my view is that (1) orientation is not a choice and polyamory is — I could decide I want two wives in an instant, but I can’t make myself gay in a lifetime — and (2) allowing same-sex marriage requires almost no truly complicated changes to the law. Please note that these are not arguments against polygamy, but factors that support same-sex marriage that are absent from polygamy.

    I’m not saying that we must not allow polygamy. I’m saying that we don’t have to in order to be consistent if we favor same-sex marriage. The case for same-sex marriage is much clearer in my opinion.

  • Roi des Foux

    @ Caiphan,
    You talked about the effect that widespread polygyny would have on society. Several of your objections in that case are pointless because they don’t apply to the situation at hand. There are certainly problems in communities which practice polygyny of having too many men and not enough women, but that’s not an issue when you have a small number of people taking part in a wide variety of relationships.
    The argument you seem to be making is that you can’t form a deep emotional relationship with more than one person at a time, and that these relationships are harmful to children. I disagree with you on both points, but even if you’re right it doesn’t matter. Do we refuse to issue marriage certificates to monogamous couples unless they can demonstrate that they have a deep and abiding love for each other and would make good parents?
    And yes, the ultimate STD protection is abstinence. Your partner could be cheating on you, or injecting heroin with dirty needles, or have an asymptomatic STD from years ago.

    @Fargus,
    I think the confusion here is that you recognize that there are a wide variety of polyamorous relationships (good on you! a lot of people have a very narrow view of what polyamory means), most of which don’t involve multiple committed partners. I think you’re right to say that these relationships don’t all deserve legal status. But I would maintain that this is the exact same situation as monogamy. We don’t give all monogamous relationships legal status, because they don’t all involve the long-term commitment that we associate with marriage. However, I think that whatever criteria you put forth for what should be recognized as marriage between two people can be also be satisfied by at least two pairs in a group of three people, unless you make “exclusivity” a requirement, and I think that’s as arbitrary as saying that the people getting married have to have different genitalia.

    As for people’s intrinsic inclination to polyamory, I think there’s more to that than people realize. I’ve been polyamorous as far back as I can remember. Even before I hit puberty, whenever there was a TV show or movie where someone had to choose between two loves, my response has always been “Why?” It seemed obvious to me then, as a small child, that the best arrangement for everyone would be for that person to be with both of the people who they love, and for both of the people they love to be with them. I thought I was the only person in the world who felt this way until I read Stranger in a Strange Land when I was 17, but during all my years growing up in our incredibly monogo-centric culture, I never wavered from my belief that that’s how I should live, even though I assumed it meant I’d never have a long-term relationship. To me, the belief that you should only have one romantic/sexual partner makes as much sense as the belief that you should only have one friend, or one child.

    The analogy here would be if the world only had heterosexuals and bisexuals. The argument against same-sex marriage would be “Yeah, they want to marry someone of the same sex, but there’s no reason to change the law because they can get married anyway, to someone of the other sex.” “Sure they want their lifelong commitment to two people to be treated the same as someone’s lifelong commitment to a single person, but there’s no need to change the law because they can get a monogamous marriage just like anyone else.”

  • Roi des Foux

    @Secular Planet,
    We need to make a distinction between what people want and how people live. Orientation is not a choice, and lifestyle is. This is true if you’re talking about wanting someone of the same sex, and I believe it’s true for wanting to be with multiple people at once. Many gays forced themselves into straight marriages because they thought that was their only option. They WERE homosexual, but they forced themselves to LIVE heterosexually. I think that it’s the same with polyamory. I know that the plural of anecdote is not data, but I’ve read many testimonials that agree with me: monogamy just feels wrong, to the core of our beings.

    To clarify, I’m not talking about the state of being with only one person, but the state of only being allowed to be with one person. I’m perfectly happy being with just one person. The problem arises when I meet someone else and develop feelings for them. Not being able to explore those feelings just because I’m with someone feels like a violation of my autonomy as a person. It feels worse than how I imagine I’d feel if my partner said they’d leave me if I became friends with someone I’d just met. I recognize that being with every individual you want to be with is an unreasonable ideal, but we aren’t talking about an exploratory carte blanche here. There have been times where I held back from getting close to a new person because, in those circumstances, it would have been extremely hard on my current partner. However, I don’t accept that the automatic cutoff in all situations is at one.

  • http://fargazmo.blogspot.com Fargus

    @Alex,
    If “Life’s tough” is the answer for the particular polygamist relationships that would present thorny issues, why is it not an answer for the entire question in general? It seems needlessly reductive of you to be so glib. I know you give a bit more detailed answer afterwards, and the question of how to end oppressive LDS-style multiple marriages is a good one indeed, but if the basic point is about discrimination against people’s choices, how is it not similarly discriminatory to deny people non-transitive multiple marriages? For that matter, how would transitive marriages necessarily end LDS-style arrangements?

    @Roi des Foux,
    Obviously part of people’s issue with these arrangements is that they associate polyamory with a free-wheeling swinger lifestyle, and not any sort of responsible, settled, long-term commitment. That’s certainly not the case in all instances, though it certainly is in some. Another issue people have is the totemic power of sex in their minds. You can’t have a committed relationship with more than one person because sex is magic and binds you to one person in some fundamental way. Most people, I think (and I think they’re absolutely wrong), view sex as some fundamental contract seared into people’s souls, rather than something people do, sometimes for procreative purposes, more often for fun and love/lust.

    But as far as multiple marriage goes, I don’t think that it’s necessarily strictly analogous to marriage between two people. If you’ve got 3 people in a multiple marriage, do each of the three pairwise relationships between those three people have the same weight as individual pairwise marriages would? Or if there were 5 people, would those ten pairwise relationships have the same weight as individual pairwise marriages would? Or would the ten threesomes contained in that group of 5 have the same weight as individual three-way marriages?

    Perhaps I’m being too reductive in evaluating pairwise relationships, but I think that’s what it really breaks down to. A relationship between three people is really three relationships, between A and B, B and C, and A and C. It may be that, for A and B, C acts as a catalyst which enriches their relationship, but it doesn’t stop the fact that the fundamental relationships are one-on-one, I think.

    Again, I don’t have any problem with these type of arrangements. I just have a hard time seeing marriage as the direct analog, especially since the arrangements generally do cut pretty hard at the traditional cultural idea of marriage in the first place (I discount things like LDS polygamy, since as Alex pointed out, that was more about oppressing women).

  • Alex, FCD

    If “Life’s tough” is the answer for the particular polygamist relationships that would present thorny issues, why is it not an answer for the entire question in general?

    Because it doesn’t have to be. If we can allow the arrangements we’ve been discussing without leaving ourselves open to FLDS-type abusive relationships, we should totally do that. But if, as I suggest, allowing non-transitive marriages is going to result in people being abused we can’t allow them. Yes, it’s discriminatory, but it’s better than the alternative. This is the principle of maximum liberty at work: we should allow people as much freedom as possible bearing in mind that there are some rights we cannot grant because it would restrict the freedom of others.

    Again, if there’s a way to allow intransitive marriages but not FLDS harems, I’m all for it. I just don’t know what it is.

    For that matter, how would transitive marriages necessarily end LDS-style arrangements?

    Because it corrects the power imbalance. If all my wives* have the legal right to make marital decisions as a block it makes it much harder to keep them under my heel. If they have nothing, legally, to do with one another except for their marriage to me, I’m going to have an easier time of playing patriarch.

    I’d like to emphasize that I’ve now been thinking about this issue for slightly more than 12 hours. I’m sure somebody who’s had it on their mind a bit more might be able to come up with a better solution. Again, I want to hear it.

    *My hypothetical wives.

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  • Caiphen

    D

    You seem to be right. I was fingerpointing without realising- sorry.

    I think I’ll just stick to the scientific threads. I can see why I studied engineering and never ventured into social science.

  • Roi des Foux’s ex

    “I understand your point,however I don’t agree. I’m sure I don’t satisfy my wife in all areas, but the satisfaction that we give each other because of our monogamy I believe is unparalleled by any other structure. We know each other so intimately as a consequence. Don’t you think that would be lacking if I or my wife were to have more than 1? One more point, the ultimate STD protection is by only having 1 wife/ husband and being faithful. Don’t you think?”
    It might well be lacking if *you or your wife* were to have more than one. All I can say is I’ve known people in the context of polyamorous relationships far better than I have known my partners in monogamous relationships. Not that knowing people intimately is the end all be all of relationships.
    Personally, I think the ultimate STD protection is for science to eradicate all the STDs. We’re working on that.

  • Norm

    The author has confused polyamory with polygamy. Polyamory includes relationships outside of marriage and therefore is simply the wrong word to use in this essay.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Glad I could bring you around, Caiphen! But please don’t run away just ‘cuz you made a mistake – use it to make yourself a better person. “Error” is, like, half of “trial and error,” and that’s the best way to improve (it just means getting embarrassed from time to time – happens to me all the time!). For my part, I still have a pretty strong “yuck” factor to man-on-man sex, but I’ve managed to get over my bad self and realize that I don’t have to like something for other people to like it.

    Oh, and for the record, I would totally concede that a whole lot of people are not well-suited for polyamorous relationships. We tend to be a jealous lot. It’s just that those who are able to handle themselves shouldn’t be held back by the inabilities of the majority, for the same reason that most people’s failure to play hockey well doesn’t mean that nobody should play hockey.

  • Caiphen

    Actually, come to think about it, I may have been brainwashed by the christian influence on our society. Maybe I’m just being rational or perhaps grossly irrational. I’m confused. I don’t know what to think, at the moment anyway.

    I’m not running away because I made a mistake. I think I’ll just focus on the scientific type threads because they seem to be less complicated! In science, as in engineering, you’re either right or wrong which is just the way I like it.

  • http://www.daylightatheism.org Ebonmuse

    I’m really enjoying reading these comments – thanks to everyone who’s participated so far. I know I’ve taken a bit of heat, but that’s par for the course. :)

    Alex, FCD and Secular Planet both saw the heart of my argument: a multi-person marriage is – would have to be – a fundamentally different legal entity than a two-person marriage, which is why the straightforward anti-discrimination argument just doesn’t work here. Consider this comment from Josh, #6:

    That’s the exact same argument that’s often made against same-sex marriage: it’s not discriminatory because it applies equally to everyone, straight people can’t marry members of their same sex either.

    But that argument is false. Laws banning same-sex marriage (or interracial marriage) create a situation where the law applies unequally to different people. If I want to marry a man, I’m allowed if I’m a woman, forbidden if I’m a man – even though my gender has no bearing on my ability to carry out the legal rights and responsibilities granted to the members of a marriage contract.

    This is not the situation with poly marriage. In this case, the law applies evenly to everyone – each person may marry at most one other person – and does not impose any restrictions based on arbitrary characteristics of the parties like race, gender or religion. This denies no one the equal protection of the laws. If, say, males could legally marry many women but no woman could marry more than one man, then there would be a good case that the law was discriminatory.

    As it is, the law doesn’t discriminate against anyone in particular, but it does specify what kinds of partnerships may or may not be legally formed. And you certainly could argue that the current rules are poorly drawn and should be changed. As I said, the libertarian in me rebels at the notion that the state has any business in what kind of private arrangements consenting adults make amongst themselves. (I think Alex, FCD’s idea of having all the women in an FLDS marriage have an equal say in the relationship is a wickedly clever idea, even though it doesn’t work unless we set a uniform standard which all such marriages would have to adhere to.)

    But the complicating factor is that the state has decided that a certain kind of arrangement, marriage, deserves special protection and encouragement, and grants special rights and privileges to those arrangements that can’t be obtained any other way. And even if we decide that other kinds of agreements should also have these privileges, the rules and benefits that attach to a two-person marriage simply can’t be straightforwardly applied to a marriage with an arbitrary number of partners. Some just wouldn’t be applicable, others would potentially cause all kinds of problems (like the example I brought up of gaining citizenship through marriage), and still others would raise difficulties that don’t exist in marriage as it stands now. This is not the case with same-sex marriage or interracial marriage, where all you have to do is cross out an arbitrary restriction on who can participate without otherwise changing the nature of the institution.

    I’m not saying that polyamorous relationships are in any way bad or wrong for people who freely choose to participate in them. I am saying that society’s formally recognizing these relationships would require a brand-new category of legal partnership, one that doesn’t currently exist, and this can’t be done by judicial fiat.

  • Alex Weaver

    I understand your point,however I don’t agree. I’m sure I don’t satisfy my wife in all areas, but the satisfaction that we give each other because of our monogamy I believe is unparalleled by any other structure. We know each other so intimately as a consequence. Don’t you think that would be lacking if I or my wife were to have more than 1?

    I don’t think it’s at all obvious that it would have to be lacking for every relationship with more than two partners, even if it would be for yours. People aren’t all alike.

    One more point, the ultimate STD protection is by only having 1 wife/ husband and being faithful. Don’t you think?

    If all participants are clean and don’t have sex with anyone outside the marriage, the same result is obtained.

  • Polyamma

    Roi des Foux – I envy you for the knowledge of yourself that you had from a young age, and for living your life honestly. I wish that I had recognised and had a name for this aspect of myself 20 years ago, when asking my girlfriend to marry me. It would have avoided a lot of heartache in the intervening years.

    I totally relate to your comments in #54. I am at a point in my life where I have to decide whether to stay with the love of my life, monogamously, forever; lie; or leave the marriage and live honestly.

    It’s not a black and white decision, unfortunately.

  • aoi

    As already noted, this entry discusses legality instead of morality and polygamy instead of polyamory. This isn’t the first time a legal issue has been the focus of the “On the Morality of” series. Why the misleading titles?

  • http://www.montgomeryfreethought.org/ Jeremy

    I would like to add that sexual orientation doesn’t seem to be something one chooses whereas whether one practices polyamory certainly is.

    I am polyamorous and it isn’t a choice I made. I guess, in a way, I’ve chosen to act on it, but if you’re going to think that way, you can make the same argument about sexual orientation. You can be gay and choose not to act on it. I didn’t chose to fall in love with two people, but I am, and they are both very much in love with me and each other. Love is not a zero sum commodity. There isn’t “so much of it to go around.” The fact that would never be able get married bothers me from a legal standpoint, but not a moral or personal one. We can live as though we are without the legal recognition, but it bothers me that we would never be able to get that recognition if we ever had the desire.

  • Polly

    The more I think about it, the less I think the government should be involved in the “marriage institution” at all. It’s an attempt at social engineering. I don’t think the government should be encouraging or incentivizing giving benefits to people becuase they live together or even for having children. Why not just treat every individual as an individual and let everyone make up there own minds about how they want to live? Marriage is social and cultural. Why not leave it that way and stop getting money and laws involved? Note that this would immediately end a huge source of discrimination as well as a lot of abuse of the system – immigration, tax breaks, etc.
    Single people demonstrate that none of the benefits of marriage are indispensable.

    Love is not a zero sum commodity. There isn’t “so much of it to go around.”

    I think for most people it actually is! I find myself torn between giving my spouse the attention she wants(NEEDS) and pursuing my own interests after work. So, even if my emotions weren’t limited (which they are), my time and energy definitely are. Consequently, the idea of an additional relationship, to me, would be an impossible burden. Then there’s the jealousy instinct.
    If it’s not that way for you and your partners, that’s great.

    I saw a comment above about how telling someone they SHOULD only have one spouse is like saying you should have only 1 kid or 1 friend. Well, I don’t subscribe to “should”s, but that sounds right for me. I guess I’m just not big on relationships – 1 really is all I need or want.

  • Quath

    For the most part polyamory is legal. The exceptions are places which have criminal adultery laws. As an analogy, gay marriage does nothing for homosexual love or relationships. It just gives society acceptance of it along with some legal rights.

    From a morality view, the question is should adults in romantic love have similar privileges or rights to those married? So far most of the people against this idea seem to suggest that it is not something they would choose or it is very different from standard marriage. The first argument should be easily seen as bad since it has been used against gay and interacial marriage.

    It is the second argument that is the most interesting. One one hand, it has been used against gay marriage because it is nonstandard. So that makes me want to reject it as a bad argument. But on the other hand, it does add a lot more complexities to the current system. But are the differences enough? If so, maybe they are similar enough for N=3 but not so for N=5.

    For example, in a “simple” triad of three people romantically involved with each other, would it be very different from a standard couple? In that case, I could see a lot of the standard marriage analogies working. For example, they should not have to testify against each other. They should be able to see each other in a hospital. Instead of 1/2 in a divorce, thet get 1/3.

    But in a quartet made of two couples coming together, that seems more like a corporation. But in a quartet where each person loves each other romantically, I see it as being similar to the “simple” triad.

  • http://www.montgomeryfreethought.org/ Jeremy
    Love is not a zero sum commodity. There isn’t “so much of it to go around.”

    I think for most people it actually is!

    I’d argue the opposite. For evidence, I present friendships. Making a new friend doesn’t mean that you love your existing friends less and it doesn’t mean you spend any less time with them. On the contrary, you quite often bring your new friend into your group of existing friends. In the end, you’ve increased the net sum of friendly love that you give. Why must romantic love be any different?

    Then there’s the jealousy instinct.

    Jealousy is a different issue. I think jealousy is learned, not instinctual for most people. Jealousy can occur, but I think in poly, most people confuse envy for jealousy, and they are different emotions. Jealousy stems from fear of loss. Envy, on the otherhand, stems from a desire to have what someone else does. It can be as simple as time you don’t have with someone that someone else does. Jealousy is a completely negative emotion, that is quite often, probably usually, irrational. Envy is still rooted in negativity, but it is often a rational emotion, and dealt with properly, can lead to positive. Learning to deal with envy is part of accepting poly as a lifestyle, but it is far from an insurmountable hurdle for the vast majority of people.

    Subject change here. Humans are not naturally monogamous creatures. It’s something that requires a lot of work and dedication, and in the end, doesn’t work for many, many people who claim it does. If it did work for everyone, there would be no cheating. Poly doesn’t eliminate cheating. Every relationship has rules and breaking those rules is cheating, regardless of the type of relationship you’re in. Being poly doesn’t mean your a swinger and it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can have sex with whomever you want whenever you want. If the whole of society would get that idea out of their heads, I think we could make headway on acceptance of poly as a valid lifestyle.

  • Polly

    On the contrary, you quite often bring your new friend into your group of existing friends. In the end, you’ve increased the net sum of friendly love that you give.

    Geez Jeremy you must be a helluva nice guy. I don’t make friends easily and I’ve found that the few friends I had almost always didn’t know each other or didn’t get along. So I had to choose. Sometimes I’ve even put forth conscious effort to keep “worlds from colliding.”

    Of course, I don’t think most people are like me, either.

    I think most are in-between. Seems that the deeper the relationship the more it has the potential to take out of you. It may even be that te ability to BE polyamorous might be different at different ages of the same person. Career-obsessed 30 year olds aren’t the same as established, calme 50 year olds.

    I readily admit that some can handle poly and shouldn’t be derided for accommodating their expansive relate-ability with other like-minded people.

    One thing that I’ve often wondered about is whether the til-death thing isn’t completely unnatural for most people – i.e. people other than me. People grow throughout their entire lives. It seems silly to stick it out with one person if that person doesn’t grow, say, out of their late twenties when you’re in your 40′s. Or, if you find that you and your partner no longer have the same values, priorities, ideals, whatever. Decades can do that. Should two+ 20-somethings really be expected to be the same, compatible people in their 50′s? Seems ludicrous. I’m not even the same person I was 5 years ago. Certainly serialamory DOES seem to be the norm for most. Again, not to me, but I can see it in others.

    Imagine a culture where this very human tendency were recognized and marriages came with implicit optional-renewal clauses every decade or so. Imagine all the acrimony of divorces that could be avoided, all the sense of failure and false guilt. I’m talking about cultural norms and societal expectations, still absolutely no governmental involvement.

  • DSimon

    Here’s my initial proposal for a polyamorous marriage system:

    1. People may enter into marriage conglomerates. These conglomerates can include any arbitrary number of people. When entering a conglomerate, one signs a contract regarding redistribution of wealth, child custody, visitation rights, etc. etc. Standard contracts would probably arise, but each conglomerate could use whatever contract it chose.

    2. People may enter into more than one such conglomerate, with each such conglomerate remaining distinct. This allows for both “glob” type polyamorous relationships (where >=3 people are all in a relationship with each other) and “graph” type polyamorous relationships (where A’s relationship with B and B’s relationship with C does not necessarily imply a relationship between A and C). Also, it allows for arbitrary combinations of “glob” and “graph”.

    Would these contracts and arrangements be a freakin’ legal hassle when problems occur? Hell yeah. But we already have overcomplex legal systems for businesses. These systems, for all their warts, are better than forcing any business above a certain complexity level to operate outside the legal system. The same applies to interpersonal relationships.

    Oh, another advantage: we’d be creating lots and lots of jobs for lawyers, helping to ease the unemployment problem. :-)

  • http://www.purpletempest.blogspot.com/ purpletempest

    I gotta echo aoi @#67 and the couple of other folks that said it. Ideally, what is moral and what is law would match up, but that’s not the case, so please keep them separate. It is clear, Adam/Ebon, you don’t consider polyamory to be immoral at all, and that should have been at the top of your post. I tend to agree that, legally, polygamy would be a morass of complicated laws and not worth the time it would take to get some piece of paper justifying three or more folks’ love for each other. If it’s a mess some folks feel is worth fighting for, more power to them, and good luck.

    I tend to agree with Polly in that ideally, the government wouldn’t be involved in marriage at all. Then no one is being discriminated against, because the taxes and benefits would be the same as those offered to single folk. A relationship should not have to be legalized for a kinship status to be recognized. So, I should be able to say, these are my partners, they are allowed to be on my health plan and to visit me in the hospital, regardless of some bureaucratic rigamarole the state put us through. Domestic partnerships, but extended.

    I say this as a married woman who is very devoted to her spouse, but who also sleeps with other people from time to time. My devotion to him has nothing to do with the fact that we can file taxes together. I agree that the civil contract of marriage should be open to any couple for as long as it exists, and if it can be extended beyond couples in a practical way, awesome, but that is secondary to my desire to banish the stupid thing altogether.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    As for mixing law and love, there’s kind of a problem insofar as people make arbitrary divisions between who is “family” and who is not. Often, the person or persons you choose to share your life with will know you better than those who happen to be genetically similar to you, but the latter category will sometimes see you as a resource and do some really awful things to people in the former category for no good reason at all.

    I come from a family that has split and recombined over and over. My parents divorced when I was very young, my father ended up getting custody of my brother and me, then he became the third husband of a woman who also had a son of her own (who stays in contact with both of those other father figures, too), and they had two children of their own while I was a teenager who I continue to play a role in raising (and people wonder why I don’t want kids!). My mother married another man and ended up driving him away after a decade or so, too. My step-mom’s sister is gradually isolating her part of the tribe from the rest of us for some unknown reason, my father’s parents have pretty much isolated themselves from everyone (and good riddance, they’re far-right arch-conservative Authority junkies who mainly just complain that my father doesn’t force me to behave the way they want me to behave and call that “growing up”). My step-mom is realizing that she’s gay and is currently trying to figure out which of her college friends she loves “the most” (I’m trying to get her to realize that the social patterns she has been told she needs to fit all her life continue to hold her back), while one of them has stepped in to help raise the kids and keep the house in order. My dad & step-mom stay married for the kids’ sake and because they’ve still got a fantastic partnership, but they have different jobs in different states now (bad luck & necessity, it’s complicated), and even live in different houses for a bunch of complicated and not-even-love-related reasons.

    The point is this: in my travels, I’ve come to the conclusion that “family” means two things. The first sense is something you do, the second sense is something you are; these two senses don’t always “go together,” and the former is way more important, way more binding, way more fulfilling than the latter. Genes don’t matter, we’re just genetically programmed to think they do. Social patterns don’t matter, we’re just socially programmed to think they do. But then when something awful happens to someone and they can’t make a decision for themselves (for example), other people need to decide what to do. What happens when people who think they have a claim to make decisions for another person disagree amongst themselves? This is why the law needs to get involved. There’s no keeping the government out of love, it’s a huge complicated not-really-awesome system precisely because people are huge complicated not-really-awesome messes, and we can’t always agree with each other, so part of the civilization game is that we allow the law to be the arbiter of these otherwise insoluble disputes. And we use legal ideas like “marriage” and “will” and “DNR orders” so that we can know (let others know) just what we want done and where we stand with other people.

    Ebonmuse, I’m thinking it might be most productive to just make another post on this, as much ground has been covered in the comments alone. If you want to talk about the ethics of legalized polyamorous marriage, I think Denmark allows for marriages with multiple partners, so you could do some research there to see what the consequences have been.

  • Timothy Baldwin

    There seems some confusion between not banning polygamy, and of granting the same rights and privileges to polygamy as to monogamous marriage.

    State defined polyamorous marriage won’t work, marriage should be dismantled.

    Healthcare and immigration shouldn’t depend on marriage, Healthcare should be universal and immigration controls abolished.

    As for hospital visitation, what happened to the wishes of the patient?

    The exemption from Income Tax on money transferred between spouses is useful in preventing an extra tax burden on couples where one person does paid work. It would need to be limited to prevent it being used just to avoid tax that a single person would pay.

  • JulietEcho

    I haven’t commented here before, but I’m in a longterm polyamorous relationship, and I’ve written about it over at Friendly Atheist in the past. I haven’t read all the comments, so this may have been covered before, but I don’t think it can be repeated too often, so I’ll go ahead and say it:

    Objections to polyamory (whether objections to granting marriage privileges or to its ethical status) that incorporate the example of human rights abuses are completely bunk. Yes, certain groups that have traditionally practiced plural marriage are *also* traditional abusers – guilty of rape, child abuse, forced marriage and all sorts of crimes. This has nothing to do with group marriage and everything to do with the beliefs of the cultures/religions that are involved.

    It’s sort of a non-sequitur to equate, compare or even address plural marriage with the practice of human rights abuses like that. There’s no causal connection. It’s the equivalent of bringing into question the right of all women to wear items on their heads simply because some cultures/religions force women to cover their heads/faces with certain items. The answer isn’t to ban head-wear for women – the answer is to criminalize/prohibit/penalize the act of forcing someone to wear something they don’t wish to wear.

    I hear lots of comments about polyamory along the lines of, “I’m totally okay with it, as long as it doesn’t involve child marriage.” That’s akin to saying, “It’s cool to allow street performers, as long as they aren’t allowed to rob stores.” OF COURSE we shouldn’t allow child marriage, child rape, forced marriage, etc! Whether we’re protecting one girl from being forced to marry one man or we’re protecting multiple people, it’s something that we should be fighting. It’s an unfair, lazy cop-out, however, to argue against plural marriage on the basis that some people force others into the arrangement. There are arranged monogamous, straight marriages that involve unwilling partners as well, and like forced plural marriages, they’re a result of cultures and religions that encourage them.

    All that said, I agree with the consensus that legalizing plural marriage would be a long, difficult and complex road. Even so, I fully believe that we’ll someday (perhaps long after I’m dead, but someday) find a way to make it work. And hopefully that won’t be impeded by offensive and fallacious arguments that conflate the failure of our legal system to address forced/child marriage with the issue of plural marriage.

  • DSimon

    As for hospital visitation, what happened to the wishes of the patient?

    Timothy, the problem is what default to fall back on in the common event that the patient has no pre-specified visitation rights wishes, and is not awake.

  • Dee

    In our triad, we went to a lawyer and had him draw up documents that allow the non-married partner to have visitation rights at the hospital. While the legal wife has the ability to make medical decisions b/c of the marriage, the partner was given those benefits as well through the legal document. The three of us talk frequently to affirm where we stand on major life issues so we all know what each other feels. I’ve seen more than one married couple who has no clue what the wishes of their spouse is.

    Personally, if you’re in a poly relationship, there’s a darn good chance your level of communication is WAY OVER what normal couples are doing – or there wouldn’t be such a huge divorce rate where people grow apart.

    Unfortunately, an affair while married seems to be much acceptible.

  • Wayne Essel

    The point was made earlier that legality and morality are two different subjects.

    I can’t see the immorality in either polyamory or polygamy. Inconvenience for governing and philosophical entities does not equate to immorality.

    We are a nation devoted to the idea that the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable. Who am I to try to define another’s happiness?

    This also falls into the “give ‘em enough rope” category. As was also said earlier, deriving true happiness from these relationships may be extremely difficult for all but the most accomplished human relater.

    By the way, it would be possible to manage benefits for these folks. My wife is a dependent for purposes of medical insurance. But we pay for that coverage. The insurance companies would figure it out, and do it in a way that they make money at it.

  • http://angryatheist.net Alexander Blake

    Wouldn’t permitting legal multiple-partner marriages have a huge chance for abuse with benefits, etc?

  • jaimesbeam

    Question:

    We seem to be assuming that Poly Marriages have to be… what is the word… Everyone in the relationship *has* a relationship with everyone else in the marriage, sexual or no, and has equal rights as any other person in the marriage? And that everyone in the marriage is in the marriage, not half in and out, and can’t have the same kind of relationship with any person outside the marriage, or with people in another poly marriage?

    I think all poly member should have equal ?legal? rights. This may not work for some people.

    I also think poly people shouldn’t have commitments to outside groups or people.

    Actually I disagree with myself, but I thought I’d pose the question anyway.

    JaimesBeam

  • Jason

    First off, I’d like to point out that only a relatively small subset of the full poly community is even interested in a contractual agreement such as marriage (barring things like visitation rights).
    Further, as others have pointed out, every poly arrangement tends to be different. It wouldn’t just be impractical to create a general template, it would be impossible. This adds support for normalizing a contract-*forming* process instead of normalizing a particular set of pre-written contracts.

    Certain rights should also probably be easy to obtain independent of larger scale contracts, such as visitation rights – such rights are important, but comparatively minor. Many of these kinds of rights should be of a modular nature rather than tied to the entire marriage contract conception, regardless of number of partners.

    Finally, as others have pointed out, and I would like to emphasize, polyamory and polyfidelity does not mean that there is a relationship between each member with each other member. In fact, such cases are relatively rare, especially with larger groups (which frequently resemble a web-like network of people). For example, for three people a common arrangement is a simple ‘V’ – two people each have a relationship with a third person, but not between each other (if they did, it would be a full triad). Thus adding further evidence that emphasis on the *process* of forming the contract should be added, and pre-written contracts avoided.

    Even monogamous relationships set different kinds of boundaries, especially among the better informed or the well-experienced.

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