The views expressed in this article at those of Robyn Trask and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Loving More Board or the organization as a whole.
I feel overturning DOMA is a step in the right direction and I am thrilled for the many same sex couples that will be positively affected by this decision.
Is it a step toward plural marriage? I am skeptical as it is a complicated issue and begs the questions should marriage be regulated at all? I know many polyamorists would choose to marry more than one if it were legal and that, by the laws of some states, many are violating the law since co-habitation is in some states considered common law marriage. I think individuals should have the choice of who they love, how they commit and to how many. That said, in reality much of the marriage advantages are built into our system to support families and children and DOMA clearly violated that for same sex couples.
The right to family of choice is really what is at stake and the same legal protections should extend to people in multi-partnered marriage. Unfortunately too many of us in the polyamory community have been afraid to even bring up the subject; we are still afraid of job discrimination and other issues like child custody. Many people are in the closet and most are not willing to support an effort to demand equality and recognition of polyamory as an orientation and a viable choice in relationships and families. We as a movement are in our infancy with nothing acting as a catalyst to bring us together in a cohesive way. Too many of us simply stick our head in the sand and are not willing to take the risks needed to gain acceptance and recognition. We can’t even agree on the definition of polyamory and some will throw fits when someone dares to define polyamory as loving relationships with multiple people.
As my partner and I move forward with our own marriage next week, it is not without trepidation. We do not want to close the door to other loves or committed partners, and we know that the perception for many will be just that. We want the ability to have the same level of commitment with other people. We are trying our best to make the ceremony a positive, to reflect us as polyamorists with other loves and to create an example of new traditions around commitment, family and marriage. Much of this is really important to me on a personal level right now. It is my hope the DOMA decision will open up the conversation in the polyamory community about plural marriage and other important issues that negatively impact polyamorous families. Ideas of plural marriages are complicated but we still need to open the door and speak up for what we want.
Part of that conversation must include how we respond to the ideas and beliefs people have about polygamy. By pure definition, polygamy is a person with multiple spouses. What most people in our culture think of as polygamy is actually polygyny, a man with multiple wives. It conjures images of abuse and subjugation of women, and people seem to have a great deal of challenge separating the practice of polygamy from the abuses. Polygamy is so equated with abuse that in a recent Canadian case it was cited as being detrimental to society as a whole. If we take a deeper look at the history of marriage as a whole, we could make the same conclusions about marriage in general based on the issues cited in the Canadian Court case; that children and women are abused in polygamous marriage due to the inequality. Marriage as an institution started this way, as a way to pass ownership of women from one man, her father, to another, her husband. Women and children until recent years, and still in many parts of the world, were treated as property, abused, second class citizens with no rights. Some in the deeply religious sects practicing polygamy treat women as less than and subservient, but not all polygamous arrangements are coerced and abusive.
Modern marriage has changed the landscape of what marriage is: women are no longer property; they have rights, can vote and seek divorce in abusive situations, at least in most of the western world. Modern marriage is based in equal partnership between spouses. Polyamory and the people who align with it, for the most part, come from a modern and egalitarian frame of mind, but most people outside the polyamory world are not aware of that. People still often believe that women would never want an open relationship and have been coerced into polyamory. For many, they see polyamory as the same as religiously driven polygamy. How do we as a community support polygamy for ourselves and others while distancing our movement from the abusive misogynist religious sects? And how do we help the culture at large understand the difference?
Like it or not, the polyamory community needs to step forward and deal with this issue. Where do we stand and what, if anything, should we do? It is my belief that taking away the restrictions against polygamy/multi-partnered marriage would actually help heal the abuses we see in the dark side of religious cults based in polygamy. Legalization would help lift the veil on the communities who shroud themselves in secrecy because they fear prosecution. It would also allow the world to see another possibility of multi-partnered marriage where both men and women can marry more than one. We can be an example of how expanded families can be healthy and good for both individuals and for society.
What is at stake is our right to form families as we want them, whether we choose to marry or not. To raise my children in a supportive environment without looking over my shoulder in fear they will be taken from us simply for who we love. To earn a living and not worry my boss will find out I live with two men and fire me. That I can live where I choose and share property with my partners without fear I am violating some obscure law against unrelated adults sharing a home. These are real issues that our community needs to be talking about and taking a stand on.
Last year a close call in a natural disaster made my partner and me aware that we needed a legal bond to protect our family and property so we decided to make our commitment one of legal standing. Civil marriage is a way to choose your family and protect joint property, wealth and take care of each other in emergencies. It does not change the love we have for one another or make the years we were committed without marriage less important or relevant. It simply gives us a legal contract, one we have written and agreed to, that simplifies our lives when it comes to medical decisions, insurance and inheritance. When you share your life, finances and family with another there is a need for certain legal connections and recognition of those connections to protect children, money, health and property, and this should extend to all we choose to be family with.
I know many in our community have a disdain for marriage, even me. I also know that marriage is what allowed my first husband to come to the US and for us to have two children from that union. It allowed me some protection for my financial stability when we divorced and that stability allowed me to work full time with Loving More for the past six years. Legal obligations with family and children do have an impact. I believe marriage needs to change and grow with the changes in society and culture. I have often mused that civil unions with agreed upon contracts between two, three or more adults would be a better form for all and leave marriage as a private religious ceremony. We could actually spell out contractual agreements at the beginning and let the individuals define the terms.
This is doubtless a complex issue fraught with emotional baggage and personal preferences, but we need a dialogue to begin. That is my hope, and if I have triggered you, then let’s talk; let’s all delve in deep and look at the complexities, issues and possibilities for polyamory, for choices, for families and for love.