When prompted about the idea of legalizing poly marriage some people simply shrug it off as not being a big deal. In my experience these people fit into one of two categories. They are monogamous OR they are not politically motivated.
If they fit into the latter group, then there’s nothing more to say. They don’t vote, don’t concern themselves with the idea of justice (social or otherwise). All that they know is their day to day life. These are the people that believe discussions of grandeur – involving topics such as politics, philosophy, sociology, psychology, etc. are a waste of time. So, am I offended when they shrug and change the topic of conversation to the latest episode of their favorite comic book series or what a co-worker said that pissed them off? Nope. Irritated but not offended.
Now, onto the former group – the monogamous types. I give them credit that not all of them are vehemently opposed to a different-looking marriage. Some of them are. Standing on their soap boxes reciting verses from the bible or their own personal moral code, saying that marriage is between one man and one woman. Your god tells you this is wrong … alright, then you probably should do it. That doesn’t mean you have the right to stop me from doing it or to force me to believe what you believe. The arrogance of these people offends me. I will firmly defend anyone’s right to believe in whatever they choose, to say whatever they want to say because I don’t believe that everyone should live their lives as I would live mine – even if that means their choices offend me. So, it offends me when I’m not given the same consideration in return.
I’m also reminded of a certain quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Inequality should never be allowed to stand regardless of who it affects and who it doesn’t or if some people think it doesn’t matter. I’m reminded of the Holocaust. And the adage about the individual that watched as they came for her neighbors, friends, co-workers, family members, and did nothing. She simply watched. And then when they came for her, she realized there was no one left to stand up for her.
Some people may ask, what harm does inequality in this fashion do? So what, some people can’t express their love through marriage. Most marriages end in divorce anyway today.
If you’ve heard of something called human rights, then you will be familiar with the argument I’m about to make. Everyone, regardless of citizenship, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, race, or any other label has certain rights just for being human. We can argue exactly about what those rights are but they do exist. I’m not sure if the right to marry is a human right, but the right to love certainly is and by outlawing some forms of relationship you’re are effectively putting limits on how people can love each other. We should be able to love as we please. Love as our hearts or minds dictate.
Only today, you better make sure your heart leads you to someone of the opposite sex. One person of the opposite sex. If your heart has other inclinations then you’re just going to have to tell it to be still. To do as it’s told. To do as the law tells it to. To hide in dark corners and lie and hold its breath in fear that someone might find out exactly where your heart lies.
In fact, it would be much easier if your heart could change its mind. Marry appropriately. If you are a man, then marry a woman. You can still have sex with other men if you want … that’s not problematic at all! You can still have sex with other women, fall in love with other women and have children with them, sure go ahead. No one is harmed in that situation! You just can’t live with your other family. Can’t provide for them as we all believe you should. Can’t acknowledge them in certain social circles or pragmatic ways, but that’s not really harmful is it?
Let’s break it down even further. Children in preschool are playing with toys and each other. They’re having a ball. The teacher walks over and points to three kids out of the group and tells them to stop. They are not allowed to play with each other. They can play with the other kids but not each other. Why? Could there ever be a reasonable explanation for this or does every child have the right to decide who they will play with? And is it fair that those three kids are singled out? To have separate rules for some people?
All over the world equality is challenged. But YOU probably have the right to believe whatever you want and do as you please, just as the majority does. Well, as long as you are not gay. Or lesbian. Or Muslim. Or a woman. Or black or Latino.
My first dating experience was with an easy going pagan triad (MFM). The guys involved had been best friends for years and the relationship just kind of evolved over time from friendship to poly. As I was told, his fiance/wife realized one day that there was an attraction between herself and his best friend. The three of them talked it over and decided to pursue it. She loved both men but referred to the first as her husband while his best friend was her secondary. The three of them lived together and shared responsibility of a young toddler.
While I knew from the first date that we had similar sensibilities about love and family, we didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the possibility of me joining their household. Because I also knew pretty much from the beginning that it wasn’t going to work. While I have nothing against pagans (and they were full-fledged, passionately pagan) it’s not for me. Just as most organized religions turn me off, so did this. There were other incompatibilities as well – choice in music, television, movies … which may seem like a small thing but consider how often we make reference to popular culture to get our points across. And to their credit, they were ALL on the same page there. They had their inside jokes based on this anime series or that comic book. I can’t honestly tell the difference because that’s not my scene.
But anyway … Paganism, from what I understand of it, involves worshiping more than one god. Think Greek Mythology. There’s also a strong interest in potions, teas, spells, the cycles of the moon, and that sort of thing. Not all poly people are pagans but I was asked once if there was a predominant religion within the poly community. I said, “Not really, everyone is there because they believe in love not any one religion. We don’t even talk about religion. Well, except for those of us that are pagans …”
Here is a collection of articles and blog posts that explore the intersection between both worlds.
- Poly Family = Pagan Tribe?
- “I have been polyamorous probably my whole life,” says a pagan woman. And the discussion that ensues.
- A Defense of Pagan Polyamory
- An Interview with a pagan triad.
The perfect accompaniment to my previous post about the criminalization of poly households.
Polygamy is legal in 50 countries around the world. Most of these countries exist in Africa, southeast Asia, and the Middle East. They are represented by dark blue on the map to the right. Another 15 African countries accept polygamy as part of their culture and it continues to exist even if it has been outlawed. This phenomena is due to differences in customary law (history and culture) and civil law. South Africa is an example of this. In some cases, civil law is reflective of colonization and not the temperature of the people.
An interesting note – some countries make the legality of polygyny contingent upon the first wife’s approval.
In the Past
Regional differences accounted for the disparate popularity of polygyny and polyandry.
Historically, in regions where resources were scarce sharing one wife was very common. This was seen as a practical solution. The costs of maintaining a family were distributed amongst several men and the number of offspring was limited. On the other hand, some matriarchal societies chose polyandry not out of economic necessity but because it reflected their cultural beliefs. And still other regions chose polyandry because men largely outnumbered women in their societies.
Polygany was seen as an extravagant display of wealth or blessings. If a man was important or wealthy, then he was more likely to have many wives.
Jewish law forbids polyandry but not polygyny.
Muslim law forbids polyandry but not polygyny.
Christianity (with the exception of Mormon Fundamentalism) forbids both polyandry and polygyny, strongly advocating for monogamous relationships.
Hindu text looks favorably upon polyandry but does not advocate in one way or the other.
Buddhist text advises followers against committing sexual misconduct but leaves it up to them to decide exactly what constitutes misconduct.
Paganism openly accepts all forms of polygamy/polyamory.
In Canada …
In USA …
In Turkey …
In South Africa …
Polygamy is illegal in all 50 states as indicated by the map to the right. The law does not distinguish between polygamy and bigamy. By law, you are guilty of both if you marry OR cohabit with more than one person that you claim as a spouse. A ceremony is NOT required to prove either the 1st marriage or those that follow. A marriage license is also NOT required. Law enforcement simply has to prove marital intent. They may use common law marriage standards, cohabitation, or any other activities to prove their case for polygamy.
In some cases poly people/families are at risk for related infractions as well. For example, they can be charged with adultery, fornication, and cohabitation.
BIGAMY (A misdemeanor)
These states have minimal criminalization (akin to driving without a license). They characterize bigamy as a misdemeanor and require all those convicted to pay a fine.
- Hawaii ***30 days in jail***
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island *** $1,000 fine***
If you are poly in the following states and the relationship falls apart you may be at risk for violating laws against adultery. The ramifications of these violations vary from one state to another. For some states adultery is grounds for divorce only. In other states, the “cheating” spouse forfeits all rights to the marital property. And still in other states the spouse that was “cheated on” can file criminal charges against their ex. This is obviously only a problem if the poly relationship falls apart.
- Maryland ***Results in a $10 fine and is grounds for divorce***
- New Jersey
- South Dakota
ADULTERY & FORNICATION
In the following states, poly people can be charged with adultery and fornication. Both are treated as misdemeanors.
- Illinois ***must be “open and notorious”***
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
These states have laws against cohabitation.
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
- West Virginia
ADULTERY (A felony) & COMMON LAW MARRIAGE
In these states, common law marriage is recognized and adultery is not only illegal but a felony.
- New Hampshire ***Recognizes common-law marriages, but only for inheritance purposes after death***
- Rhode Island
- Texas ***Recognizes common law marriage if registered by County Clerk***
- Washington D.C.
THE AS-GOOD-AS-IT-GETS STATES
These states have NO laws against adultery, cohabitation, or fornication. And they do not recognize common law marriages, although 4 of the 5 treat polygamy as a felony.
To summarize, if you are active in the poly lifestyle you are at risk for legal action either by the state or your partners. Aside from the obvious consequences – spending time in jail, fines, and criminal records, there are other things to consider. A conviction that mandates jail time can also result in a loss of employment and/or benefits. It can also result in the loss of child custody. In some states felony convictions are automatic grounds for losing a number of rights and privileges, including voting rights, student loans, etc. The criminalization of this lifestyle attempts to push adults, children, and families into the shadows, making them fearful, ashamed, and ultimately vulnerable to discrimination, persecution, and generally unfair treatment. And for what? Where’s the harm?
I began this blog unsure about whether or not a week was enough time to adequately cover certain topics. Last week our focus was on domestic violence and at the end of the week I was hesitant about moving on. This week I’m certain that I’m not ready. I still haven’t gotten around to the politics of poly, resources for those involved in the lifestyle, and a lot of other specifics. So … POLY WEEK HAS BEEN EXTENDED!
Sorry this is late everyone, but better late than never right? I was very fortunate to connect with Jasmine Peterson, who has been very open about her journey to polyamory. Here’s the interview.
ME: I read your article and it’s great! I felt the same way 🙂 You didn’t mention your family/friends and I know you said that you hadn’t gotten around to really having the poly conversation with them. I was wondering if that’s still the case. I’ve been lucky to find a poly community here in Chicago so I have friends who are poly or at least poly friendly, lol. But they are all new additions to my life. Everyone who knew me before has trouble accepting that I’m poly. So, I was wondering how long time friends/family have reacted to you.
JASMINE: I have since divulged to my family and friends that I am polyamorous. I actually told my closest friends as I was making the discovery about myself. I have wonderful friends, and they’ve been incredibly supportive and positive. It wasn’t much of a shock to them, as they’ve sort of seen this inclination in me for years. Telling my family was a different story, however. My father doesn’t understand it; he thinks it was a situational thing and was only because my ex and I were pretty incompatible. He thinks polyamory to be immoral or wrong (‘disgusting’ is a word he’s tossed around), and doesn’t at all understand why I would identify thus, or how someone could want to carry on multiple relationships. He’s got some pretty antiquated ideas about love, relationships, and marriage. But, in spite of that, he accepts that this is just who I am. I’m not sure how that would work in the future were I ever to have multiple partners, though. I can’t really imagine bringing more than one partner home to meet my father. I’m sure that’d be an uncomfortable situation. Bringing one man home to him is uncomfortable enough. 🙂
ME: I’m 9 mos pregnant and I have this vision of a family/community that I’d like to make happen for my daughter. I was wondering if you had a specific idea of what kind of family life or structure you’re looking for or if you have already found it.
JASMINE: Congratulations on your pregnancy and impending birth! I think that community is a wonderful thing, and I think raising a child communally is simply a beautiful way to raise a child. My daughter is eight, and when I realized that I was polyamorous, I told her almost immediately. She’s used to being the daughter of an activist, so she took the news in stride. I asked her how she would feel if I ever dated more than one person at a time, and she was rather nonchalant about the prospects. I would absolutely love to raise my daughter within the context of a healthy, loving poly relationship.
ME: And what would you say to the nay-sayers that think being poly would be detrimental to your daughter?
JASMINE: I think it’s difficult to really combat these embedded ideas of what constitutes a ‘healthy’, ‘happy’ family. So many people have difficulty seeing the beauty in a child being so loved by several adults, the community surrounding that child, and the wonderful way in which that can function for each of the parents in the situation. But I would tell them that there are innumerable ways to raise healthy children and that a cisgender, heterosexual context isn’t the only, or even necessarily the best, way to do so.
ME: Which brings me to the issue of legitimacy … legal rights (marriage, custody). This is a huge source of indignation for me. I’d love to see a mass movement toward poly equal rights. What do you think?
JASMINE: I am extremely concerned with legitimacy. I think that we really need to push for the same rights as monogamous couples (or any couples, really). I think this is directly related to cultural ideals about monogamy being ‘natural’ or ‘normal’ and everything else being marginal. It is a huge source of contention for me that those who seem to be afforded legal rights are cisgender, heterosexual, monogamous couples, and everyone else has to fight to have their own relationships legitimized and recognized. As if it’s not difficult enough to be part of a marginal group as it is, but to lack legal recognition and rights just maintains that sense of ‘otherness’.
ME: Have you seen the new series on Showtime? Polyamory: Married and Dating? If so, what did you think of it?
JASMINE: I don’t watch television, so I’ve not seen that show. It sounds interesting, though. I may Google it later on. 🙂
ME: Do you think it mirrors your experiences or other people who you know? And I’ve noticed that there are some great benefits to poly relationships as well as some challenges. What would you say they are?
JASMINE: The polyamory thing is still fresh for me, so I’ve not had the opportunity to really experience a truly poly relationship. But, knowing what I want out of life and my relationships, I know that the benefits that I admire about such a manner of relating. For me, it’s like my friendships – I have different friends who meet different needs in my life. I love them all, but we converse and interact differently, and they all do so in unique ways that fulfill my life. To me, that’s the benefit of a poly relationship. In terms of challenges, I see poly relationships the same way I see monogamous ones – the challenges are congruent. It’s really about maintaining honesty, balance, love, and respect. As long as those things are present, I think that when any bump in the road arises (as it is bound to do in any relationship) those involved are equipped to deal with them. Of course, people often mention the jealousy thing, but I am someone who experiences very little jealousy, and I don’t think that jealousy is inherently a part of polyamorous relationships (or at least not any more than it would be in a monogamous relationship). The thing about jealousy is that it’s about insecurity, and fear of loss. If one doesn’t feel threatened in their relationship and its structure, then jealousy doesn’t need to rear its ugly head. A big challenge that I’m actually facing right now as a polyamorous individual is dating – I am new to this whole dating thing as well as the poly thing so it’s interesting trying to date while being honest about my proclivity for polyamory. It’s difficult because I haven’t yet met another individual who identifies as poly… so it’s interesting. Dating is complex enough; the addition of being polyamorous definitely makes it more so.
ME: Have you ever experienced compersion?
JASMINE: I’ve not had the opportunity to experience compersion, but I have had the opportunity to experience forgiveness because of my orientation. When my ex finally divulged to me that he’d been cheating on me, I was able to forgive him because of the irony of monogamy – that many monogamous people are monogamous mainly because they feel it to be compulsory, and in doing so it is difficult to maintain. We were going to reconcile, but in the end I had to extricate myself and he is now with his ‘mistress’. But that’s as close as I’ve ever come to compersion. 🙂
- The Next Sexual Revolution Has Arrived (trinityspeaks.wordpress.com)
- Polyamory: Married and Dating (New Series on Showtime) (theamazonchick.wordpress.com)
- Poly vs. Amory (omgrey.wordpress.com)
How and why brothers share one wife.
Tips on how to make it work.