Polyamory

April 22, 2004 | 10 comments
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As is often the case, Matt Evans was way ahead of the curve when he discussed polyamory back in January with the post, “The Conservative Case for Group and Sibling Marriage.” But here is a new angle (at least to me): some Unitarians are now actively promoting polyamory. The money quotation:

It’s the new polygamy, and according to the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness, their relationships are at least as ethical as other marriages — gay or straight.

At least as ethical? The implication, of course, is that they may be even more ethical. How so? Consider this from Jasmine Walston, president of the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness: “Polyamory is not an alternative to monogamy. It’s an alternative to cheating. For some of us, monogamy doesn’t work, and cheating was just abhorrent to me.”

As Meg Ryan said (often) in Joe Versus the Volcano: “I have no response to that.” But I am sure someone else here does.

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10 Responses to Polyamory

  1. Clark Goble on April 22, 2004 at 3:44 am

    Nothing to do with the topic, but can I just say I love the Joe Versus the Volcano reference. One of those classic bad movies I love. We used to quote it all the time in the physics department at BYU when I was there.

  2. Adam Greenwood on April 22, 2004 at 9:07 am

    Some of the plausible and specifically Christian arguments for socially sanctioned gay unions–I think Kaimi’s advanced it on this board–is that an irreducible core of the homosexually inclined simply do not have the choice to be chaste. Under the circumstances, perhaps its best that society encourage them to refrain from the sin of promiscuity even if they can’t be discouraged from the sin of homosex-uality.

    Looks like this is a variant of the same argument: we should give legal sanction to “promiscuous” arrangments since some people simply are biologically stuck on being promiscuous. For the sake of argument I’m willing to grant that for some people promiscuity is not a choice. Certainly infidelity has a long, long pedigree and numerous practitioners.

    The other interesting parallel is to the Mormon arguments in defense of polygamy–men are lustful creatures, so a city’s only choice is to practice polygamy, in which second wives have a respected role in a sisterhood, or to practice degrading prostitution. I’m inclined to think, however, that this argument was more an attack aimed at exploiting Gentile thinking than it was a real justification for polygamy. At the time, many Gentiles thought that men just couldn’t help themselves, so a little mistressing, whoring, and sowing wild oats was no big deal, if a man did it.

    I don’t like that thinking, and it’s the reason I don’t like the justification for polyamory or gay unions either. I’m willing to concede that some men just can’t help themselves. I do believe that the sexuality of men is more difficult to control than that of women, even when the social factors are filtered out. Fine, and so what? I can conceive of nothing more dangerous to the souls of men than occupying public space with messages with the acceptability, even inevitability, of their failure. A man tries because he thinks he can succeed. Some can’t, I’ve already conceded that, and yes, I’m therefore conceding that some men might well go through life feeling like failures, forced to do what they have no choice to do in furtiveness, shame, and sometimes scandal. I concede that some will benefit from maintaining the norm and others will suffer and the groups won’t overlap. I can only say, and it sounds harsh to say it, but if God can let infants die I can say harsh things, that it is better for some men to die than that a nation dwindle and perish in unbelief. Better that some men suffer in promiscuity than many be feated for it.

    I draw this consolation: I think of the resurrection day. I think of these miserable men, brought despite themselves to face the throne of Grace. I see the King there, asking them if they have any desire to end their sins. They turn their heads, thinking they are mocked. Of course they do! but its hopeless. He asks again. Some answer. And all in an instant the chains they thought were as integral as bones are lifted from them, they stand in wild surmise and freedom, can it be, can it be, and now for the first time they look up and see the tears in the Face. Then their eyes are opened and they see a great concourse of Saints, of the holy and mighty ones, who are praising them and giving thanks, and they know that these Saints are those who were able to overcome the flesh while in the flesh, and they know in an instant that these Saints were saved because they, the chained ones, bore the burden of the sin on their own backs. Now the chains are broken. Now the backs are straight. Now they join the Saints.

  3. Kristine on April 22, 2004 at 9:32 am

    Adam, that has a certain appeal, though I’m not sure if it’s the idea that’s appealing, or just your prose.

    How do you square your vision with believing that “all men will be punished for their own sins”? It seems to me that you have invoked some sort of collective guilt, where gay people, by accepting shame and censure, take on the sins of people so weak that they couldn’t resist sin if it were not so strongly taboo. Am I misreading you?

  4. Adam Greenwood on April 22, 2004 at 9:33 am

    Well, that comment got so long I decided to make it a post.

  5. David King Landrith on April 22, 2004 at 12:23 pm

    So in simple form, this defense for polyamory goes like this: Marriage among multiple persons is preferable to traditional marriage plus cheating. (Incidentally, I tend to agree with Adam that this is a false dilemma.) But isn’t an assumption here that there is something innately more ethical about marriage? I’m not sure that I agree with this. It’s not clear to me that the term ‘marriage’ means the same thing before and after it includes polyamory–if it doesn’t then the defense equivocates. There is, inevitably, a limit to what can be done in the name of marriage; the sticky question is exactly where this limit is.

    On the other hand, perhaps it’s fruitful to rephrase the defense in the terms of traditional marriage: Making cheating an integral part of marriage is preferable to forcing it underground. Presumably, if cheating is an integral part of marriage it is more likely to take the form of a long term affair rather than serial affairs. I suppose there are reasons for choosing to have a few long term affairs instead of many serial affairs (e.g., health), but is one substantially more ethical than the other? And if the cost associated with this new form of cheating is such a high one (institutionalized long term commitment), then have we really solved the cheating problem?

  6. clark on April 22, 2004 at 2:44 pm

    I think the problem is that infidelity often isn’t due to a lack of sex but simply the desire for the chase, a lack of respect, and many other facets. i.e. I’m not at all convinced that polygamy would reduce adultery.

    Now perhaps in some cases where women don’t like sex or there are incompatible sex drives. However I think in those cases counseling probably would help better. i.e. perhaps the woman can’t achieve orgasm via intercourse, perhaps there is a background of abuse that’s affected her ability to act sexually normally, perhaps the husband isn’t a considerate (or knowledgable) lover.

    Trying to simply deal with this by legitimizing multiple partners seems fundamentally misplaced. I recognize that this was an argument used by Mormon apologists in the 19th century. However I think it was fundamentally informed by Victorian notions of sexuality which were rather warped.

  7. clark on April 22, 2004 at 4:05 pm

    Just to add to the above. If polygamy entails (presumably) dating *before* marrying an other woman, then I think polygamy often will entail or risk adultery *more* than monogamy. (For reasons why, during dating, there is always the risk of fornication) In a way, if the dating issue isn’t considered carefully, all that polygamy does is allow men to continue to date and play the field. For instance, what is to prevent, in a world of polygamy, from a husband going out on a Friday night and simply making out with some woman he likes?

    Now in monogamy, while that isn’t adultery it is darn close. It is certainly infidelity by most of our standards. Yet in polygamous cultures I’m not sure how to say that is wrong, without putting severe limits on dating. (i.e. having marriages arranged with no dating) But if marriages are arranged, then I don’t see how that resolves the adulterer’s “cause” in the Victorian mindset.

    I’d add, that in 19th centuy history I see many of these issues coming up with old men courting young women while married.

    I’m willing to say polygamy was of God. However I’m also convinced that as lived it was typically horrible and raises all these troublesome issues. If we allow full on polyamour (i.e. both polygyny and polandry) then it seems the dating issue fundamentally reduces *what* marriage actually is. It becomes barely one step above full “open marriages.” (Marriages where there is an agreement that adultery is OK for both parties)

  8. lyle on April 23, 2004 at 5:12 am

    The good folks at BCC had a thread that discussed something similar; i.e. re: ‘dating’ in a marriage/polygamy/polyamory (or whatever) relationship. fyi

  9. Storman on March 30, 2005 at 5:00 pm

    I certainly enjoyed your discussions on polyx. But you have been, as others in the history of humanity, looking for a simple specific solution to the ” marriage problem” . But, there, I believe lies the real problem. Starting with the assumption that there is a grand “one size fits all” law, which can be used to edict the “the proper behavour” for all the vast permutations that we human ants can intentionally and randomly devise. A daunting task even if the variables were kept constant, but we and technology and keep changing the possibilities…

    It is interesting that, discussions start with a particular event then we all try to find the universal truth. I suppose that is part of being human. Then again, maybe the most complicated is the simplist.

    Jesus said: love God and; love your neighbor and yourself.

    Translation: Believe that you are not “god” and respect that truth; Believe in your goodness and do only good to others. Sin is doing otherwise.

    Open truth, will set you free and will allow others to be free as well. We will all have an opportunity to do our free will.

    So can these principles apply to this debate?
    Perhaps if we think of these principles as we try to make a point, then if the principle is violated, then the point is to be voided.

    For example, should two women be allowed to marry?
    Do they get to do their free will, does it really harm anyone specifically ? Is the act based on love, is it
    doing good for the doer and doee.

    Good Luck.. storman

  10. annegb on March 30, 2005 at 8:18 pm

    I think we must accept that, for whatever reason, polygamy was ordained by God in Joseph Smith’s time, therefore it was for a righteous purpose. The fact that guys perverted the doctrine did make it any less valid at the time. I personally believe that many–hell, maybe millions, of us, wouldn’t be here today, without the doctrine of polygamy. Well, maybe hundreds of thousands.

    Any doctrine can be twisted, it happens all the time. That doesn’t mean it didn’t come from God.

    That said, I’m sort of glad we don’t do it today, but I could accept it, maybe. If I could be the head wife, ie boss wife, if they didn’t live with me, I could accept it. I sort of do because my husband is very good friends with his (married) ex-wife, to whom (who–this is the last time I will correct grammar or spelling, what’s a little misspelling among friends, you know what I mean) he is sealed. And who I expect to be with in the celestial kingdom. I love her, she is one of my dearest friends. There are a few others I could tolerate.

    Now sex, that would bother. Except as I get older, it gets less important, and I assume we’d all be duffers. Ten years ago, I would go all Emma on any woman who set eyes on my husband, now as I near 60, more blase, but still, it might bother. Give me ten years, and I’ll say, “what the hell.”

    I just think this is much ado about nothing, and I think it’s because of those old goats who didn’t live the law as they should have in the early days. Plus thos old goats today who are all messed up.

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