Monday, January 4, 2010

A word without any meaning

From the "I told you so!" files, comes this story from the Boston Globe. It's a story of forbidden love which breaks social taboos, reconstructs human relationships, disregards traditional morality, and insists it is a brave new way. Oh, and this time it's not gay marriage:

“With affairs, you get sex. With polyamory, you get breakfast,” says Cambridge sex therapist Gina Ogden, citing a well-known poly saying. Ogden is the author of The Return of Desire, in which she dedicates a chapter to affairs and polyamory. “Polyamory isn’t a lifestyle for everybody, any more than monogamy is for everybody,” she says. “Keeping one relationship vital is a lot of work, and if you start adding more relationships, it becomes more work.” Though common descriptors used for monogamy don’t easily apply to polyamory, there is a recognizable spectrum of how open these partnerships may be. On the closed end, you might have a couple in a primary relationship who will then have one or more secondary relationships that are structured to accommodate the primary one. There’s also polyfidelity, in which three or more people are exclusive with one another. On the open end, there might be chains of people where, for example, Sue is dating Bill and Bill is dating Karen and Karen is dating Jack, who is also dating Sue.

“I’m not sure there are as many ways to be poly as there are people who are poly, but it’s close,” says Thomas Amoroso, an emergency room doctor from Somerville and member of Poly Boston. Amoroso, 48, who identifies as straight, has been in a committed relationship for five years with a woman and man who live together within walking distance of his Somerville apartment. Amoroso is only sexual with the woman, who is sexual with each of the men separately, but they all consider the others life partners. “No one has said the words ‘Till death do us part,’ but I think that’s the intent,” Amoroso says. Divorced in 1999 after 15 years of marriage, Amoroso felt unable to express his affectionate nature in the confines of a monogamous relationship. When a woman he had just begun seeing revealed she was polyamorous, the concept, new to Amoroso, resonated. Amoroso and the woman stayed together for five years, while each sustained additional relationships, including -- for her -- one with Sekora that drew Sekora and Amoroso together in a close friendship that they still maintain. For Amoroso, being poly is less about sex than the authentic expression of caring for more than one person. “People tend to harp on the sexual component,” he says, “but the relationship component is just as important.”

It’s complicated, as the poly catch phrase goes. It’s also still surprisingly closeted. Nonetheless, Valerie White, executive director of Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund in Sharon, says we are ahead of the curve in Massachusetts, particularly compared with the South, where teachers have lost their jobs and parents have lost their children for being poly. But she notes there is no push in the poly movement to legalize these relationships, largely because there’s no infrastructure for it. “It was easy to legalize gay marriage. All you had to do was change bride and groom to person A and person B. But we don’t know what multi-partnered marriage looks like,” White says.

“The gay struggle is a larger struggle, and as poly people we don’t have to be political,” says Amoroso, who, like many poly people, does see the need for a clearer legal recognition of relationships that aren’t marriages. (If one of his partners were to fall ill, for example, he would want legal visitation rights.) But he also thinks the lifestyle can gain acceptance. “Most poly relationships that I’m familiar with are heterosexual, and that’s a lot more understandable to people, even if they wouldn’t do it this way,” he says. “The fantasy of more than one boyfriend or girlfriend is fairly widespread,” he adds.

Hmm, let's see. Does the article argue that polyamory is natural? Yep. Does it argue that it's normal? Mmmhmmm. Does it argue that some people are just born--or "wired"--toward polyamory? Check. Does it argue that it ought to be legalized? Oh, yes.

Massachusetts has been pointed to, sometimes, by gay-rights advocates as the "poster state" for how gay marriage will look for America. The notion is expressed that gay marriage doesn't mean the end of religious liberty, a pro-sodomy education agenda, or the slippery slope toward polygamy or other alternative marriage types. The trouble is, the facts keep getting in the way: Catholic Charities had to choose between Catholic teaching or the ability to place children for adoption in the state of Massachusetts; websites like MassResistance started documenting the push to expose children to homosexuality in the schools; and now the Boston Globe runs a sympathetic puff-piece about polyamorous Bostonians and their "complicated" lifestyles.

The opponents of gay marriage have insisted for a long time now that the legalization of gay marriage in America will eventually mean the end of civil marriage as a recognizable institution. As the push to call every sexual and non-sexual partnership, pairing or grouping imaginable a "marriage" increases the word will become meaningless, and will eventually express a concept that is obsolete except for the very religious or those who wish to be "quaint" as they add a fourth or fifth partner to their fluid relationship grouping. The losers in this new world of meaningless marriage will be the most vulnerable, the children who will never have a sense of belonging or security as mommy's or daddy's extra husbands/wives/both drift in and out of their landscape, and as mommy and daddy themselves feel free to move away from each other and into new home-brothels full of what this book calls, perhaps unconscious of the irony, "ethical sluts."

Gay rights activists have, of course, insisted that traditional, monogamous, male-female marriage will not be affected at all by gay marriage, that there will be no societal push for legalized polygamy, polyandry, polyamory, incestuous marriage, or any other sort of relationship which is currently taboo. But they are wrong, and the Boston Globe, long a champion of gay marriage, is now coyly admitting that gay marriage was just the beginning--at least in Massachusetts, where "marriage" is starting to be a word without any meaning at all.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

I'm not sure I want to see prisons filling up with polyamorous people, but this development reinforces my skepticism about "gay marriage." It is one thing to say, people have a legal right to make private decisions free of government intrusion. It is quite another to say that we all have a constitutional right to the recognition and approbation of our community for whatever choice we care to indulge in. Accordingly, I am not deeply disturbed that Thomas Amoroso is polyamorous, for as long as that may last (I predict not long). But, I definitely oppose granting it any kind of legally recognized status. There are statistical and biological norms to human life, and every weird little deviation (mathematically speaking) does not merit attention -- by legislators or by therapists.

Bethany Hudson said...

Honestly, our country's views of marriage are so far off in left field right now, I don't even feel like defending state marriage anymore. MARRIAGE--YES! But, State marriage? What an oxymoronic joke! I think I would prefer it if the State would get its grubby paws off my marriage. Call it a civil union or what have you and let every other Tom, Dick, or Harry who feels inclined to unite themselves to any other Tom, Dick, or Harry (or all three, I suppose) to do so, and leave MARRIAGE for the Church to deal with and protect and honor. It's not being honored in the State anyway. Sorry. That was kind of a rant, but I seriously get so fed up with this stuff.

Red Cardigan said...

Oh, I hear you, Bethany. I've been sort of tempted on occasion to say the same thing.

What stops me is that there will be consequences for all of society and for religious believers particularly if the state's idea of marriage is so loose, and ours so restrictive. The marginalization of what was once society's most stable foundational unit would be a disaster.

LarryD said...

And of course they had to give it an innocuous name - "polyamory", where 'amor' means love. Give me a break.

How about this: TwoandThreeandFournication.

Bethany Hudson said...

Red Cardigan - Totally agreed. But, gosh, it is sometimes so discouraging to fight the good fight.

Anonymous said...

From Iowa:
"Will allowing same sex marriages lead to allowing multiple-partner marriages?"

The court decision didn't mention this part of the trial.

If the 14th Amd (US) is used to get SSM recognized by the state, why not use it for "polymory" "marriages"? Because there are no laws on the books about it? Huh?
("'It was easy to legalize gay marriage. All you had to do was change bride and groom to person A and person B. But we don’t know what multi-partnered marriage looks like,' White says.")

By the 14th Amd, laws must be created unless the definition of marriage is one man and one woman only.

Here's my take.


DW said...

How would anyone's monogamous, heterosexual marriage be affected by someone else's gay or poly relationship?

Siarlys Jenkins said...

DW, it is still a valid question whether we all need to RECOGNIZE all these variants. So far, the 14th amendment to the federal constitution has not been applied to promote an "equal protection" right to "gay marriage." That is because the U.S. Supreme Court not only has not so ruled, but because it is well known that a majority of justices is not inclined to do so. State Supreme courts have relied on their own STATE equal protection provisions. And, if voters amend the STATE constitution to exclude such reasoning, there is no more state constitutional argument either. In California, voters did that, in Massachusetts, there was a good deal of talk, but they never bothered.

IF it remains a matter of legislative option, then a legislature might, e.g., decide to recognize same-sex couples, but not poly anything. I've argued at great length that there is no equal protection right to a marriage license, so I won't repeat it here.

If you want to rant about it, please leave your direct comments there. I want to be part of the conversation here, but not to overwhelm Red Cardigan with my own issues.

Geoff G. said...

Siarlys Jenkins wrote:

It is quite another to say that we all have a constitutional right to the recognition and approbation of our community.

The question, of course, is whether a state marriage license (or the equivalent) actually constitutes "community recognition and approbation."

I already have all of the recognition and approbation that I need for my own same-sex relationship. Both my own family and my partner's are fully supportive of us and include both of us in all of the family functions (example: my parents came and spent a week with us for Christmas and in that time we had some of his family over for dinner and gifts and so on). With our friends, of course, it's the same.

Your concern appears to be that the state is ceding your own "recognition and approbation" of our relationship. But it's doing nothing of the kind. It doesn't have the power to do so. You are, and always will be, free to approve or disapprove of our relationship, in much the same way that I feel completely free to disapprove of some of the marriages I see on Judge Judy, regardless of whether they have a civil marriage license or not.

In short, a marriage license is not an imprimatur of approval for the relationship. The state recognizes that the parties involved are adults and can and do bear the responsibility for the relationship on their own shoulders. The license merely juggles the legal and taxation categories that the couple finds themselves in.

This is why same-sex marriage proponents find opposition so illogical, especially coming from people who claim to espouse personal liberty and responsibility. SSM embraces that ethos.

As for polyamory, I don't know if I qualify as an "activist" or not, but I have always consistently applied the idea on Rod's former blog that the people who best know how to manage their relationships are the people involved. Sorting out the legal responsibilities in a way that would satisfy the polyamorous may be tricky (as the "complicated" tag admits), but fundamentally, it's not our (as in mine, yours, Erin's or anyone else's posting here) business.

We ought to have the good grace to butt out.

Geoff G. said...

I will also point out that there's a solid religious liberty argument to be made in favor of polygamy (at the very least).

Off the top of my head, I can think of two religions (Islam and some elements of the LDS Church) that permit, if not outright encourage, polygamy.

I'll also note that our failure to provide a legal framework for these religiously sanctioned families has encouraged, in some cases, outright fraud (e.g. wives not legally married claiming government benefits for themselves and their children as single mothers even as they are supported by their husbands).

Freedom of religion means more than the freedom to be a conservative Christian from a large denomination.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Geoff G. posted:

Freedom of religion means more than the freedom to be a conservative Christian from a large denomination.

The difficulty is that marriage is not first of all a religious reality, but a natural one. By nature marriage is a lifelong, exclusive, faithful, and fecund union of a man and a woman.

It is true that God gave us a revelation to confirm this for us, since, being fallen, we do not always clearly understand what is natural, and sometimes deliberately avoid it.

Polygamy is against nature, and therefore is against the best interests of society. Clearly homosexual marriage is even more against nature, since it is sterile.

Religious liberty must not be used to permit that which is destructive to everyone.


Geoff G. said...

John Thayer Jensen wrote back:

The difficulty is that marriage is not first of all a religious reality, but a natural one.

The difficulties that a significant proportion of the heterosexual population have maintaining a lifelong commitment to marriage speak most eloquently against this statement. And lest you think that this is merely a manifestation of today's culture, the Catholic Church's own extensive canon law treatment of the formation and annulment (not to mention dealing with outright spousal abandonment in cases where the parties could not afford annulment) speaks to the ongoing difficulties many people have experienced with the ideal of marriage over the centuries.

Indeed, divorce itself is hardly a legal innovation, having been a feature of many cultures found worldwide.

And of course, I hardly need speak of the prevalence of polygamy in many cultures around the world, both present and historical (not least in the Old Testament). Even polyandry may be found.

The entire idea that there has been only one single, eternal model for the formation of families (which happens to coincide with an idealized version of the modern American nuclear family) throughout all of human time and in all places and cultures as is commonly asserted by SSM opponents is either a display of willful ignorance, a most determined example of wishful thinking or a damnable lie.

Marriage is not a natural feature of humanity but rather a human and cultural institution, and moreover one that has changed significantly from time to time and place to place.

John Thayer Jensen said...

Geoff G. -

It seems to me you are equating 'natural' with 'what people actually do.' My point is that in a fallen world, people often do unnatural things.

'Natural' is how things are actually made. The difficulties people have with ordinary, faithful, exclusive, fecund heterosexual marriage are not with the institution itself, but with the fallen individuals, and the fallen nature of the environment - both physical and social.

The solution is not to add anti-natural things, like divorce and polygamy, but to seek Grace, which can perfect nature.

Charlie said...

The battle between Geoff and John (hi Geoff, nice to hear from you again), reminds me that any position, taken to its ultimate consequence, can be so destructive that the original beneficial intent is totally lost. It is true that freedom of religion is not limited to a favored faith. It is also true that religious liberty must not be used to permit that which is destructive to everyone. There is a similar discussion going on at, which I have to be careful not to get mixed up with this one, but anyone interested might want to check it out also.

The classic example of not allowing freedom of religion to be a cover for destructive behavior is that a neo-pagan cult which commits human sacrifice is not protected by the First Amendment from prosecution for murder. Here, of course, the harm is a direct, physical one, inflicted on the corporal person of another human being. I think everyone here would agree that the the men who killed Matthew Shepherd also deserved to be convicted and sentenced for first degree murder – the fact that they were offended by Shepherd's homosexuality, and claimed they were acting in the name of God, does not excuse the homicide. But to someone who REALLY believes one couple's homosexuality is destructive of an entire society, killing all gay people is a logical conclusion.

There are basically three ways to go on marriage. One is, through whatever government process we employ, we will set a definition for marriage, and anything else is not a marriage. Two is, anything anybody wants to get together and call a marriage, sure, its a marriage, come on down and get your license. Three, government is getting out of the marriage business entirely; if you want a marriage, go to whatever church will bless your union as a marriage.

I find the appeals to equality of tax benefits contemptible and silly. Marriage is much older than the income tax, in fact, it is older than taxes, period. Tax status is decidedly secondary. Someone is always debating whether the tax code penalizes single people unfairly, or, when an attempt is made to remedy that, whether the tax code imposes a “marriage tax.” First, we need to know what a marriage is. Then, we can discuss what, if any, concessions to marriage should be made in the tax code. I personally would favor tax benefits only for parents raising children – let married couples be taxed just like two individuals, in the absence of children.

If the government even bothers to recognize and provide for a particular status, it IS giving it acknowledgement and approbation. That is precisely why so many majorities have voted down gay marriage. My sense of where a viable civil consensus could lie is, OK, you are free to form whatever associations you want, the police will not arrest you, you will not be fired from your job, but, we are not going to license what you do. Your families can invite you and your sweetie to family reunions, or not. Your friends can recognize your couplehood, or not. Your neighbors can invite you to barbecues, or ignore you. If that is all the approbation you need, then don't ask for a license from everyone else. We The People, as a whole, are going to remain serenely indifferent.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

It is true that polygamy has been accepted by many cultures. In fact, many of the recently converted Germanic chiefs upon whom the bishops of Rome relied to save their branch of the Christian faith indulged in both polygamy and incest, and most Christian kings have had numerous well known mistresses. It is not even accurate to say that monogamy is a Judeo-Christian principle, because the Jewish faith does allow for polygamy. Monogamy was a Roman tradition, which European Jews accepted during the middle ages, to reduce friction with their already hostile Christian neighbors. It is worth noting, however, that no faith in the last 5,000 years has accepted polyandry. As an Arabic woman told a reporter from PBS some years back “If a woman has more than one husband, how does she know who is the father of her child?” (OK, now we have DNA tests, but no religion based its precepts on DNA testing).

Suppressing Mormon polygamy was a major issue in the conquest of Utah by the United States army in the late 19th century. The Mormon church leadership gave up polygamy because it was obvious that the United States was powerful enough to seize control of Deseret, and they wanted a legitimate, above-ground existence in the United States. They have been very successful at it. The Mormon population was far too large for the United States to suppress entirely – which was precisely the intention that led the Mormons to flee to Great Salt Lake in the first place. Nobody else got to practice polygamy, therefore, the Mormons couldn't claim it as a matter of free exercise. Santeria in Florida can sacrifice animals in their church, so long as killing animals is allowed for other purposes. If ALL killing of animals was banned for ANY reason, then that would apply to Santeria also.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I hate to be following up my own comment, but I just ran across some information on a lawsuit in federal court to try to overturn California's Prop 8 on federal 14th amendment grounds. Here are two good links.

Many pro-gay-marriage groups are doubtful about this suit, and for good reason. Its hard to say what the federal district judge will do -- a maverick pro-business conservative libertarian. Changes are even that the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals will find a valid "equal protection of the laws" issue, using the same sloppy reasoning as the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Chances are less than zero that the United States Supreme Court will let that stand. It would be hard to find one justice to affirm such a ruling, especially since by the time it gets that far, chances are that John Paul Stevens will have retired.

tamoroso said...

I'm a bit late to this post, not having actually searched for commentary. But since I'm the person referenced in the "Globe puff piece" (I don't argue it's anything but, just quoting the original poster), I do want to say this: After 10+ years, and one child (medically not going to be any more, alas), my partners and I are still together (not "drifting in and out" of our child's life; he is the light and center of our world), and personally believe that my relationships deserve the equal protection of the laws, same as monogamous marriages.

I recognize you can and do feel differently, but challenge you to find non-religious arguments for your position. It is easy to say "It's not natural", but define "natural" when you do. If natural means "according to nature", well, throughout history human societies have had a lot of ways to put together a family, even now Islam allows up to four wives (although the Prophet also said it is impossible to deal justly with more than one, a comment I would dispute). So there are examples from nature which say it *can* be natural. I agree it's not "normal", if by normal you mean "the way most people do it", because it *isn't* the way most people do it. That doesn't make it *wrong*, merely *different*.

I ask for arguments not based in religious belief for one simple reason. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." So if you want your desired structure enshrined as law, you must come up with arguments which do not proceed from religious doctrine. Whenever you're ready.

Red Cardigan said...

You haven’t actually read my blog at all, have you? :)

I’ve written all the time about secular reasons to oppose redefining marriage. I believe that there are strong secular reasons to oppose redefining marriage, and that among these reasons is this: if marriage means whatever the hell somebody decides today based on nothing at all, then why should the government recognize it at all?

Why does your polygamous triad (is it still a triad?) deserve any protections of the law? Your child isn’t being raised in a family by his own biological parents--he’s being raised in a group, some member(s) of whom he’s not biologically related to. Well, why does the government have to acknowledge that? What is the state’s vested interest in creating such a fluid and ever-changing definition of marriage that a single man or woman could demand “marriage rights” and be taken seriously some time in the near future?

When the state’s purpose in marriage was to encourage people who beget children together according to human biology (e.g., one man and one woman engaging in sexual intercourse) to stay together and raise those children, there might have been some purpose in it. But what purpose does the state have in making sure the person who is not your child’s parent stays involved, sexually or otherwise, in the life of the adult partners who can choose to “move on” if they wish?

Most people answer this by sputtering things about infertile couples. But the fact that no state has ever levied a fertility test for marriage does not negate the reality that the state’s sole interest in marriage was the stability of the biological family for the sake of any potential children. If children did not result despite a situation involving a man and a woman living together and presumably engaging in intercourse, the state didn’t see that as important as compared to the overwhelming number of people who, having entered into a one man--one woman sexual and living arrangement, then did go on to have children who deserve the protection of the law.

You want “marriage” to be redefined to include (if I recall correctly) your two man, one woman arrangement. Why? You can draw up wills and other documents to protect the child’s legal interests whether he’s yours or the other fellow’s, right? You are not both his father, though, and the state really shouldn’t interfere to force your child to pretend to such an absurdity. When he grows up he may well resent being forced to pretend that he has two fathers when normal people do not, and when he himself cannot have two biological fathers either.

It honestly makes more sense for the state to abolish civil marriage entirely than to have to bend its laws to every single absurdity created by people who think marriage is about adult happiness and not about the protection of children. And, no, people who raise children in polygamous groups do not put the protection of children first either--this is not about your feelings, but about the child’s likely future when he has to explain his family situation again and again to people who quite naturally see polygamy as grotesque.

Red Cardigan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.