Thursday, January 19, 2012

An Ally for the Polygamous Freedom to Marry

I'm back from the great protest blackout. So much to blog, so little time. Cory D wrote “Why, as an atheist, I support polyamory.” First, Cory quotes Rick Santorum and gets into the logic of the arguments for marriage equality, then considers tactics and solidarity

I thought it made more strategic sense to get people to accept same sex marriage, and can cross the polyamorous bridge when we come to it. But the more I think about it, the more this approach makes me very uncomfortable. There is a relevant psychological phenomenon at work here. It’s called last place aversion. Simply put, most people don’t want to come in last. At times, people near the bottom will even oppose measures thatcould help them, if they would help those below them more. That is, even though everyone is better off, they don’t want to be last. A way of understanding this phenomenon is to look at slavery in the old South. Some of the most ardent defenders of slavery were poor white people who did not directly benefit from it. They benefited psychologically by being able to say, “I may be poor, but at least I’m not black” (sociologists call this a psychic wage).

In other words, “I may be gay, but at least I’m not polyamorous!” But there are LGBT people who are polyamorous. Regardless, everyone should have their rights.

It is this feeling of being thrown under the bus by people with whom we agree on almost every major issue that should make atheists think long and hard about their approach to discussing polyamorous marriage. When we refuse to honestly acknowledge the connection between same sex marriage and polyamory, we are no better than Al Sharpton claiming that "morality" is an explicitly religious idea; we are stepping on the necks of one group in order to raise another to recognized legitimacy. It is wrong, and I will take no part in it. So cheers to wedded bliss between consenting adults, regardless of age or number!

Thank you, Cory D!

When I read that, there were some comments from readers left there as well.

Edward Clint said...

I too support the notion that people should be able to have whatever relationships they like, with whomever, assuming they're consenting and not otherwise harmful. It seems obvious.

However, he went on to invoke Discredited Arguments #16 and #17.

Polycharms left a comment that I just couldn’t edit, it is so good, so here is the entire thing…

I personally practice polyamory myself. I'm a woman who has multiple committed relationships with men. And having been deeply engrossed in the polyamory community, I can tell you with sincere confidence that very little about polyamory has to do with our traditional notions of polygyny. If a man decides to marry two polyamorous women, chances are those women also have boyfriends, or another husband. The idea that we will gravitate towards a male-centric version of polygamy is highly unlikely because of the nature of people who choose to practice polyamory, mainly because of lack of a sense of human possessiveness and a very sex-positive attitude.

The whole point is not that you are 'claimed' by marriage. In fact the point is, that you are free to fall in love with multiple people, and that relationships that don't necessarily result in marriage are still valid, important, and rewarding. This is one reason why a scenario where low-income single males are suddenly without women to marry, is unlikely. The women who are already married, will more than likely want to marry other men. On top of that, polyamory is not centered around how many lovers you can support financially. Yes, it helps if you have money to buy gifts for all your boyfriends/girlfriends, but it doesn't stop you from dating/loving/marrying people with lower income. Plus, in our community, the women are just as likely to be bread winners as the men are.

The second reason why the scenario is unlikely (and probably the easiest one to verify) is that monogamy would still be the most prominent option.

Culturally it's what we've come to accept as the norm, so it would likely proliferate. Also Polygamy and Polyamory require very high levels of emotional energy and awareness in order to work. Monogamy will always be appealing because having a relationship that is exclusive to two people is hard enough as it is. It's also rewarding enough for most people to have a monogamous relationship. The only people who would really seek out polyamorous marriages are the ones who can do the work (and if they can't they'll quickly realize it and go back to something less stressful and more enjoyable). It's sort of like saying that if we make gay marriage legal, suddenly everyone will want to get gay-married. That's just not the case. While polyamory can be described more readily as a choice, and is not as rigid as a sexual identity, there is definitely a predisposition in some people to being polyamorous vs monogamous, and vice-versa. If you've been monogamous with your spouse for years, and polygamy became legal tomorrow how many people would suddenly decide to start marrying extra people? Probably just the ones who were already living with extra lovers anyway.

One argument I hear regularly about denying polygamy is that it would lead to abuse. I do understand that it would open up the legality of polygamy for those who are known to abuse it. There are cults out there who take advantage of young under-aged girls, or girls who have been 'brainwashed'. But keeping polygamy illegal didn't stop them. Also the marriage shouldn't be the crime, the abuse should be.

For example, there are abusive men who pressure their girlfriends into getting married. Does that mean we should make all marriage illegal?

There are people who abuse alcohol and drive drunk. Does that mean that we should make all alcohol use illegal?

Some people hoard cats. Does that mean we should make pet ownership illegal?

It is important to address issues of abuse in any circumstance, but outlawing the institutions where the abuse takes place is not the answer.
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