What about three-way marriages?

So last week was pretty exciting for our little blog here.  My new friend and very insightful author, Rachel Held Evans, posted a little conversation between the two of us. The ongoing conversation that has percolated around the original post has been deeply meaningful to me.  Yesterday I saw a new question in the comments that stayed with me all day so I thought I would try to respond here.

Here is the comment to which I am responding:

From “Guest”

Ford1968 [another person commenting on the blog], “Committed same sex relationships are no more inherently sinful than committed opposite sex relationships. Being gay is God’s gift of sexuality to be embraced and expressed through a committed relationship if one so chooses; it is not a struggle to be overcome.”

Kimberly, “When the church constantly demeans gay and lesbian members and requires all remain celibate and without a committed relationship the church actually contributes mightily to driving gay and lesbian members into dangerous, hedonistic scenarios.” [I'm gonna have to blog more about this one eh?]

Ford and Kimberly, what do you say to the bisexual? Do you advocate committed three person relationships? Will you advocate for three person marriages? I do not believe you can stop and say simple, it is a committed opposite sex relationship between two persons, there are other variations that cannot be discounted.

And here is my response, such that it is.  I  learn best in community so I would cherish your contribution to our discernment.

Guest,

I saw your post early yesterday morning before I began the six-hour drive home with my wife.  We were returning from Florida where a family funeral occurred on Friday and I had a great deal of time during our ride to think and talk about your question.  I genuinely I appreciate your asking about bisexual relationships and the opportunity to think more deeply about them.

First let me reiterate that it is my desire to speak from and lift up voices of experience rather than play at hypothetical hopscotch and scriptural silly-string.  It is not my calling to cover issues but rather to speak with people. Furthermore, since I am not bisexual I can not speak from that experience but I can attempt an honest answer. (Bi friends, forgive me if I’m totally off base – and PLEASE correct me at anywhere I miss the mark).

I feel as if your question is asking if three-way marriages should be encouraged or accepted by Christians since bisexual people must always satisfy both sides of their sexual desires.   Maybe I’ve  been drawn into one too many  “slippery slope” conversations (which always turn out to be more of a monologue to which I am subjected than a dialogue in which I participate). Let me see if I can speak to my understanding of your question.  (Please forgive me if I’ve missed your question and know that I am merely speaking from my own experience and faith and in no way mean to be the spokesperson on this matter).

Before we get to marriage lets talk about dating.  See, it all starts with attraction right?  You meet someone, go on a few dates, hold hands, maybe kiss and get all excited about each other.  Maybe on that last date you begin to know that this one not THE ONE so you move on and date someone else and maybe, just maybe the chemistry is right and your soul mate has arrived.  Now, some people are attracted to women exclusively and some people are attracted to men exclusively. (Though Kinsey would say it is not quite that simple). Each of these types would only really be interested in dating and being all moon-eyed over the gender to whom they are attracted.  If the stars align and God blesses them in such a manner, they fall for the person who loves them back and they decide to forsake all others to create a life together.

My bisexual friends speak of being equally and easily attracted to both males and females.  As such, they date (if they are lucky enough to live freely) people irregardless of gender but based solely on those things about the person they find attractive – physical, mental and emotional compatibility and if they are faithful folks, a shared spiritual drive. There is a fluidity in their attractions that I do not share nor completely understand since I am attracted to women.  I would be dishonest if I didn’t tell you I have heard more than one gay friend say, with a sigh and eye roll, “pick a team already.”  But my way of being in the world does not and should not dictate reality for all others just ‘cause I don’t get it.   The Christians I know in the bisexual scenario have the ability to love (physically and emotionally) people of either gender but when they find that ONE person without whom they can not take another breath – then that is the person to whom they pledge their life-long commitment.  I am a romantic who still believes in the whole soul mate narrative.

My marriage, and many of the marriages of which I am aware – gay, straight and even where one or both spouses are bisexual – are NOT based solely on the reoccurring satisfaction of genitalia.  Marriage is in fact a far more beautifully faceted bond that hopefully includes AND transcends our sexual gratification. Thanks be to God for the gift of sexuality lived out with the one you love!  All that said, as a Christian, and really, a traditionalist when it comes to relationships, I strongly favor two-person, monogamous marriages. And hey, not everyone wants to get married, that’s cool too. But me, I was raised in a Christian home where the example of how love is lived out is in a committed, two-person, ’til death do us part relationship.  Anyone who wants that and is blessed to find that should have no barriers to their union.

So when I talk about marriage equality I am talking about the legal rights of TWO people to get married; to be protected under the law the same as any other couple.  And yes, the word marriage matters a great deal.  As a citizen of a country that has actually codified the separation of church and state I do not believe it is any human or institutional right to define marriage as only between one man and one woman.  Any claim that biblical marriage is clearly and only between one man and one woman is simply a lie that chooses to ignore more than a page or two of our Text.

I feel like I need to say this again: I am not, now or ever, interested in coercing people, churches or denominations to affirm marriages they find abhorrent, I am asking them to get out of the business of telling the government who can and can not be lawfully joined. There are churches who DO affirm same sex marriages so I have a holy place where such lives are wholly affirmed.  And I am asking the others, especially the haters, to prayerfully consider the fact that they are wounding people deeply and turning them away from God with their pit-pull like obsession with sexuality.   There are a few more things in the world that need our attention.

So, even though I’m not personally for three-way++ marriages I don’t think my biological, cultural and spiritual constitution and  should dictate the laws of the land.  And yes, I realize this opens a whole can of red wigglers but I am not responding to the whole can, just the one who got out today.  So for now I will just keep thinking, praying and talking with people to better understand.

Grace and peace,

Kimberly

About Kimberly Knight

Kimberly has a long history of back-pew sitting, Wednesday night supper eatin' and generally trying God’s patience since 1969. She's lucky enough to have made her technology addiction a career and serves as both the Director of Digital Strategy as a southern liberal arts college and Minister of Digital community with Extravagance UCC.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Kimberly- this is a really interesting post- I’m really glad I found this blog! Your response is very well thought-out. This is an issue I’ve never even thought about before, and it’s interesting to hear your perspective and the perspectives of commenters.

  • http://www.treehenge.org Themon the Bard

    Kimberly, I applaud you for wanting to hew to experience rather than “hypothetical hopscotch.” But experience is limited. I’m rather richly experienced compared to most Americans — my wife of 17 years came out as gay, I’ve been in the polyamory movement, and I’m now monogamously married and expect I’ll stay that way until one of us dies — but my experience is so limited that I feel uncomfortable making generalizations.

    Read something like Reay Tannahill’s Sex In History if you want some eye-opening perspectives. The American/Puritan take on sex (as reflected in your thoughts as “normal”) is extremely narrow, and is fairly perverse and dysfunctional when viewed in the full historical context.

    Some considerations:

    Polygamy is far more common through world history than monogamy. The general rule in polygamous societies is that the man can have as many wives as he can shelter, feed, and keep happy. Islamic law restricts this to no more than four wives, regardless of how rich you are. The default, of course, is one wife, or none at all, since most men in most times were too poor to afford more than one wife, if that. Even as late as the 1930′s in the US, people would put off marrying (and having children) until the husband had the means to support a wife.

    Asymmetric polyamorous relationships have been common in all times and places. Well-to-do men would typically have a wife and a mistress. The wife was a permanent fixture in his life, while the mistress would be changed from time to time if he grew bored, or irritated, or the wife became too jealous. Poorer men kept the brothels in business. Bored wives often take lovers, even now. Cuckolding was very nearly a competitive sport in Renaissance Europe, and there is a whole tradition of “dawn songs” — whistled or sung by a man’s best friend to warn of the coming dawn (or other intruders) while he was engaged in stealing the virtue of another man’s wife.

    In Thailand, it was once part of a father’s traditional duties to see that his son had a proper first sexual experience, typically with a professional sex-worker — I understand that HIV has changed that a bit, but that’s very recently. It is still the custom for the second daughter in rural families to enter the sex trade in the cities and send home money to her family. This is a family decision, and the daughter accepts this as her responsibility to her parents. After a few years of very good money, she moves back home and usually settles down and marries and has children.

    In Taoist China, the “yin” energy that a man was believed to receive from sexual congress with a woman was highly regarded as a medicinal treatment, and medical texts recommended frequent sex with many women — as much as ten women in one night. The “brothels” of Taoist China were places where a man could go to get a little relief from all this relentless sex, and instead enjoy the company of an educated woman who could read poetry, or play chess, or discuss politics.

    When I read discussions about oneman/onewoman, it mostly makes me sad.

  • Em

    First, I’d like to note that I’m not Christian, so my beliefs on marriage and sexuality might be quite different that most others’ here.

    I am bisexual and have desire to be in a relationship with more than one person. Currently I am interested in dating a male/female couple. However, I do not see my bisexuality and my desire to be with more than one person to be inherently linked (many people of all orientations desire and participate in polyamorous relationships). I feel that I would have this desire even if I were straight or gay. For me, wanting to be with more than one person is not about the sex. If I wanted I could have sex with more than one person without being in a relationship with any of them. I desire to connect with and love more than one person.

    I agree that relationships and marriage are about more than being sexually satisfied. Even I would not support a three way marriage based solely on the sexual desires of one partner (or even all of them) in the relationship. Heck, I’d feel the same way if only two people were getting married for sex. Marriage involves love, connection, trust, respect, commitment, work, communication, and many other things besides sex. When these are present, and if all the partners are consenting adults, I do not see any reason to place any restrictions on the gender or number of those getting married. (I mean this in terms of legal marriage. Religious groups should be free to decide what kind of relationships they will accept.)

    I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the non-sexual aspects of plural marriage.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Em,

      I think you have done a better job than I could in beginning to address the non-sexual aspects of plural marriage. I can only authentically speak from the perspective of a one-to-one marriage since that is my experience. While I do not fully know how the dynamic plays out – I imagine there are some overlapping aspects that look something like the one-to-one, like “whose turn is it to take out the trash?” and “did you feed the dogs yet?” sort of life partner, just plain old living daily life things. Since I carry the burden of a green-eyed monster I can not entirely say I understand what you in your experience can better elucidate around the non-sexual intimacy that is shared in plural relationships.

      As I mentioned, it’s not my cup of tea but that does not mean I should get to set the rules or laws that govern such relationships :)

      Thanks for contributing to the conversation.

      K

  • Jace

    Great post, Kim, but I wish you had addressed his assumption that all of us bisexuals are polygamous a little more directly.

    Also, not all bisexuals are equally attracted to both sexes… I’m bisexual, but I prefer women to men.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Jace,

      I do understand your desire to address the Guest post’s assumption that “all bisexuals are polygamous” more directly but for me, a lesbian, to address it any more directly would feel inauthentic. I can only speak from my own understanding and that gleaned from my bisexual friends. Of course I realize that not all bisexual folks are exactly 50/50 on their attraction which is why I mentioned the Kinsey scale, although very briefly. In the space I had, and I was very long winded already, I wanted to be a little bit simplistic at first then hope more authentic voices like yours would enrich the conversation – which you have :)

      Thanks,
      Kimberly

  • Steve Swope

    I agree with Dave N; I would’ve answered much more snarkily than you did, Kim. Good for you for your self-discipline and sensitivity – but I also believe that sort of “slippery slope” question needs to be cut off at the knees. Nobody, for instance, expects “The Bachelorette” to marry both guys at the end, just because she moans about being in love with both of them. We heteros don’t expect to marry more than one person (at a time); why should we validate the erroneous logic of those who don’t put in the effort to really understand bisexuality?

    Leslie put it well: “there is no one person who fulfills all my wishes.” That’s not just bisexuals, Leslie! Why do we all need friends outside of marriage? Why do counselors routinely suggest that one’s marriage partner shouldn’t be “everything”? The relationship dynamic works comparably for heteros, bis, and lesbians/gays; as the childhood rhyme goes, “two’s a couple, three’s a crowd.”

    As Kimberly put it in her interview with Rachel Held Evans, all of us are more than our genitals, more than our sexual practices and partners. To validate this question is to say “some of us are different” therefore “less than.” Ultimately, I think we all need to stop lending credence to this kind of intentional distraction and shut it down hard. There’s plenty of information out there for people who really want it and aren’t trying to derail discussion with faulty logic and hidden agendas.

  • Leslie

    Kimberly, I’m grateful for your response to the question of multiple partners for bisexuals.

    I’m a bisexual woman and recently married my female partner. We’ve been together for 7 years and during that time I have wrestled with the notion that I can and do choose to be in this relationship given my bisexuality. Being bisexual means that there is no one person who fulfills all of my wishes, but I hardly believe that this is unique to bisexual people. Nor do I believe that marriage is about fantasies or finding the perfect person.

    Early on in our relationship, I did fantasize about finding a third person to round out our relationship and to round out my fear about “choosing” to be with a woman. The problem with this idea, in addition to the dismissal it communicated to my now wife, is that it formalizes a triangulated relationship, one which would likely need to center on one person in the triangle and potentially facilitate a fairly narcissistic dynamic. Yes, it’s true that bisexuals don’t find “everything” they’re looking for in one person. But then again, there’s no such thing as a perfect match in any relationship if we step back objectively.

    In my opinion a marriage, based on equality, mutuality and respect, is best done with just two people. Three’s a crowd.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Leslie,

      Fantastically said, thank you for bringing your voice to the conversation. I am uncomfortable talking about people who are not even in the room so I hesitated to answer the question that was posed but in the end I felt like not answering just was not right either. Your voice is the one that we needed to hear!

      K

  • Tom34

    Neither the American people nor our elected representatives nor ballot question will decide marriage issues from now on.
    Judges will decide it.
    They think they know better than the American people.

    If judges decide to legalize mutiple partner marriage or marriage between two 13 year olds, they will do you and we will have nothing to say about it.

    • Dave N

      Tom34 — I imagine the folks who opposed interracial marriage felt much the same way in 1967 when the US Supreme Court overturned laws and state constitutional provisions against interracial marriage in 16 states. The parallels to same-gender marriage are striking. Sexual orientation is no more a choice than race. Wanting to marry somebody of a different race is no LESS a choice than wanting to marry somebody of the same gender … except that homosexuals are able to build healthy, successful marriages ONLY with people of the same gender. If laws against interracial marriage were unconstitutional discrimination, laws against same-gender marriage are even more so. So the problem for SSM opponents is largely the same. In order to enact/perpetuate discriminatory laws and have them hold up in court, one must be able to justify them using NON-religious arguments, as per the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment. And SSM opponents have completely failed in their efforts to come up with valid, coherent, non-religious reasons for denying same-gender couples and their families the same treatment straight couples enjoy under current marriage laws. The 14th Amendment, science, and a self-consistent understanding of the reasons we have civil marriage won out in 1967, and hopefully will win again here.

      • Kimberly Knight

        Wow Dave, you said that brilliantly!

      • Frank

        Race and sexual preference are nowhere near the same thing practically or legally.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Civil rights are never granted by popular vote. It does not work that way. I will not address the straw man/slippery slope portion of your comment as it has nothing to do with same sex marriage between consenting adults.

  • Dave N

    Nice job clarifying the fact that being bisexual isn’t the same thing as wanting to enter into multiple romantic relationships at the same time; I’d have been more snarky about it. As for plural marriages in the civil sense, it’s complicated. Civil marriage laws typically aren’t so much about who is allowed to get married and who is prohibited … it’s more about which marriages government will recognize through the granting of certain benefits and protections. And the Constitutional requirement at the heart of the gay-marriage debate is the fair and equitable granting of those benefits and protections. With plural marriages, it’s hard to even define what is fair and equitable as they compare to two-person marriages. Companies that offer spousal health benefits are legally prohibited from denying those benefits based on things like race and creed. Does offering similar protections to polygamists mean that all spouses of an employee are guaranteed health coverage? Would that really be equal? (Certainly it would be a much greater burden on the employer.) Or take Social Security survivor benefits. If they were extended to include polygamous marriages, the payout periods on average would be greater. So is that equal?? It’s a complicated question that doesn’t come up at all in the case of same-gender marriage. One could argue that since a polygamist is currently free to marry any one of his/her partners and obtain benefits comparable to any other married couple (and then free to live happily with the rest of the partners in the relationship), there really is no legal discrimination in terms of how benefits are granted under current traditionalist marriage laws.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Thank you Dave, I appreciate you further shining light on the complexities of talking about marriage equality when the numbers shift from two to many.

  • http://twitter.com/averagewerewolf Jared Beverly

    As a gay man, I know the pain of being forbidden from taking part in legal marriages, and I always want to be very cautious in how I forbid others as well. Kim, I respect that even though you are not “for” three-or-more-person marriages, you don’t want to let your upbringing and comfort legislate what people do. I too have worries about such arrangements, seeing as in the past they’ve existed in the form of polygamy, which typically has been bad for women. If a group of people can love and support each other equally, however, in a way that is not oppressive like polygamy, then far be it from me to forbid them. I don’t think gender matters in marriage, and perhaps number doesn’t either.

    • Kimberly Knight

      Thank you for taking the time to think about and talk about this with me. There are a lot of factors involved and is truly worth continued conversations :)

    • http://www.nature.com Agnikan

      One could argue that, historically, monogamy has been pretty bad for women, too.


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