People who insist monogamy is the only acceptable relationship model, or that polyamorists should not have the same rights for their relationships as monogamists, almost always cite a few often-repeated reasons as to why. If you're polyamorous, you’ve probably heard most of these reasons, whether from coworkers, family, or complete strangers. Although I’m going to focus on polyamorous relationships, most of these are also applicable to open relationships, swinging, swapping, nonmonogamous sex, and ethical nonmonogamy in general whether the people involved identify as polyamorous or not.
Just about any objection people have to polyamory or other forms of ethical nonmonogamy fit into these common arguments, perhaps with different wording. Just so that you know, when I use the term “polygamy” I am referring to a subset of polyamory that involves marriage (whether by law, ceremony, or declaration of those involved), involving three or more spouses, whatever the structure of the relationship or the genders involved, as long as all involved are consenting adults.
1. “It is disgusting.” Also known as the “ick” or “eww” factor, this explains why the person using the argument would not want to have a polyamorous relationship, but their own personal disgust is not a justification for preventing other people from having a polyamorous relationship. Some people are disgusted by the idea of heterosexual sex, or their own parents having sex, but obviously this is not a justification to ban those things. Obviously, the consenting adults who want a polyamorous relationship aren’t disgusted by it. An effective response to this is “Don’t want a polyamorous relationship? Don’t have one.”
2. “Not a lot of people want to do it” or “I don’t want to do it.” This is not a justification for continuing discrimination. We don’t deny minorities rights based on majority vote. Also, people would be surprised to know just how many people around them are in, or want to be in, or have been in, a polyamorous relationship or one that is forbidden by law or discriminated against, despite being between consenting adults. This is also one of those where an anti-polyamory person should be reassured that they don’t have to have a polyamorous relationship.
3. “It goes against tradition.” This should draw something along the lines, of “So did the abolition of slavery and allowing women to vote.” In reality, polyamory is nothing new. Anyone who has a cursory understanding of history or anthropology knows this. This argument may be phrased as something like “It’s not the way things are supposed to be” or even “It’s against the law” or “It is unsupported by the law.” Don’t let someone get away with that. It is precisely the matter in dispute: the law should not discriminate against polyamory.
4. “My religion is against it.” To this I again say, “If you don’t want a polygamous marriage or a polyamorous relationship, then don’t have one.” But we should all have the freedoms of religion and association, as I am supposed to have under the US Constitution.
5. “It's not natural." Many people have been embarrassed by making this argument, because it is so easy to refute by a cursory survey of sexual, mating, and partnering habits of various animals. But invariably, the person saying that a relationship should not be allowed because they think it is unnatural constantly enjoys things that aren’t natural, from their smart phones to their toiletries to their food to their clothing to their transportation to their housing… on and on it goes.
6. “Your relationship will hurt children.” This is usually said by people who themselves hurt children by denying rights to the parents of those children and telling the children that their parents are wrong for loving each other, perpetuating a stigma about the children and their families. A good response is “Don’t want children of these relationships to be hurt? Then stop hurting their families.”
Adults having a relationship with each other, adults reproducing together, and adults raising children together are three different things. Adults can do any one of those without doing the other two, or any two of those without doing the third. Or, to put it another way, we’re talking about sex, relationships, and marriage, not about reproduction or adoption or parenting.
We don’t deny people their right to be together because they can’t or won’t reproduce. We don’t deny people their right to be together because they won’t be good candidates for adoption. We don’t test people on their parenting skills before we allow them to marry, but if we did, a lot of the prejudiced people who want to deny rights to others would fail, while many people who are still fighting for their relationship rights would pass with flying colors.
So this reason to oppose equality already fails. But for the sake of argument let’s assume there will be children. A polyamorous relationship generally means a child is going to have more supervision and additional role models in a cooperative environment. How is that bad, especially in comparison to “monogamous” parents who had a contentious divorce and now have brought stepparents into the situation?
It is legal to reproduce and raise children alone, or with others in the home who aren't monogamous spouses. In many places, a woman can live with both fathers of her children, but can't legally marry both even though that is what everyone wants. Why deny polyamorous people protections, including marriage?
Anti-equality people may try to claim that a study shows children from polygynous families have "considerably lower" survival rates, but the data is from nineteenth century frontier areas of the US and places in Africa where diseases and genocide are significant problems. The study doesn’t address polyandry, same-gender polygamy, polygamy consisting or multiple men and women, and other forms of polyamory. The other claim is that adolescent boys are driven from polygynous (again, just polygynous and not any other form of polyamory) societies, but again, they are citing communities with a monolithic patriarchal religious culture that only allow a specific form of polygyny. It’s akin to banning sports because Lance Armstrong cheated.
There are children being raised right now by people who want to get married, and yet are denied their right to marry.
7. “What’s next?” “Where do we draw the line?” What's wrong with letting consenting adults have the freedom to love each other as they want and agree? Who has a problem with that? Rather than coming up with convoluted schemes for which groups of people will get which rights, why not support the rights of all adults?
8. “Polyamorous relationships are not the same thing as same-gender marriage.” So what? We’re talking about consenting adults who want to be together, and there’s no good reason to stop them. Some same-gender relationships and marriages are polyamorous. A man should not only be able to marry another man, but two or more other men.
Strictly speaking, whether a marriage is same-gender or heterosexual is a different category than whether it is monogamous or polygamous. Some heterosexual marriages are monogamous, some are polygamous. Some same-gender marriages are monogamous, some are polygamous. Bisexuals may be in monogamous marriages or polygamous marriages. That monogamous/polygamous is a different category from heterosexual/same-gender is not a justification to deny the freedom to marry to consenting adults, or deny them marriage equality. Relationship rights belong to all adults.
It should be noted that when there is a polyamorous relationship, whether a "V" or a triad or more, chances are that at least two of the people involved are the same gender, even if they are no more than metamours to each other.
Something does not have to be immutable or inborn, like sexual orientation, to be legal. However, there are people who are obviously unable to be monogamous, to the point of being willing to suffer loss of job, loss of reputation, loss of wealth, and figurative and literal loss of life, and they should not promise monogamy nor be pressured to pretend to be monogamous. Some people simply are polyamorous.
That a polygamous marriage are not the same thing as same-gender marriage does not explain why there are still laws against them or a lack of relationship protections in the law.
9. “They’re abusive.” Polyamorous relationships are not inherently abusive. It is the abusive relationships in general that are more likely to make news, or come to the attention of therapists or law enforcement. There are many people in polyamorous relationships that are lasting, happy, healthy relationships.
Abusive people are the cause of abuse, not a relationship or marriage. There are many monogamous relationships and marriages in which someone is abused. We have several examples showing that outlawing or discriminating against consensual behavior correlates to an increase in problems as people try to avoid law enforcement or other authorities, or neighborhood disapproval. Recognizing that adults should be free to have their relationships will most certainly reduce abuse, as abuse victims can go to the authorities with much less fear. So the solution isn’t the status quo, it is in bringing the relationships out of the shadows, allowing them to be protected and made official, and prosecuting abusers. Abuse victims will be much more forthcoming.
10. “This oppresses women.” This may also be posited as “No sane woman would want this.” Well, yes, there are sane, intelligent, confident women who do want and enjoy polyamorous relationships, and some specifically enjoy polygynous ones, just as there are men and women who enjoy polyandrous relationships. Gender equality and the right to be unmarried or to divorce are necessary components of full marriage equality. Anti-equality people often point to polygyny in certain cultures, past and present, where women do not have equal rights. However, this is not proof that polygyny, much less the larger scope of polygamy or polyamory, oppresses women. Women would be oppressed in those cultures with or without polygyny. If a woman wants to marry a man who has other wives rather than another man who is an unmarried man, and the other wives agree, why deny her that choice? If a woman wants to marry two men, or a man and a woman, or two women, she should have that right, too.
In most places, the law does not prevent a man from having relationships with, and children with, multiple women, but he can't legally marry all of them even if they all agree. The law does not prevent a woman from having relationships with, and children with, multiple men, but she can't legally marry all of them even if they all agree. Three people can have a loving, lasting triad, living together for years and years, but can't legally marry. What kind of sense is that?
Protections against gender discrimination, domestic violence, and child abuse should be the focus, not preventing consenting adults from being together or marrying.
11. “Polyamory spreads sexually transmitted infections.” Unprotected sex with someone who is infected is how such infections may be transmitted. Twenty people could have a polyamorous relationship for fifty years and if none of them brings an infection into the mix and they only have sex with each other, none of them will get a sexually transmitted infection.
We do not deny people their freedom to marry or other relationship rights based on which diseases they have. Polyamorous people tend to be more careful about prevention, safer sex, and actually talking about the issues involved.
12. “It will be a legal and paperwork nightmare as our system is set up for couples.” That’s what bigots have said about any civil rights laws. Of course it is easier for those who already have what they want to keep things as they are. But what about all of the people who are denied their rights?
Adopting the polygamous freedom to marry under full marriage equality will take much less adjustment than adopting many other laws necessary to for equal protection and civil rights. Contract and business law already provides adaptable examples of how law can accommodate configurations involving three or more people, including when someone joins an existing relationship or leaves a relationship.
13. “What about child custody and child support?” This is an especially flimsy objection to the polygamous freedom to marry. As we have noted before, adult relationships don't always involve raising children. Even so, nonmonogamous relationships between adults who are parents have always existed, and in most places, it isn't criminal to be nonmonogamous. So this issue is already being handled. Notice we could ask the same question about children from one night stands, donated sperm, surrogate mothers, affairs, brief flings, or supposedly monogamous relationships and marriages that end. What about children born to a woman whose husband wasn’t the man who impregnated her? All of these situations are entirely legal in most places. A mediator, arbitrator, or court decides custody and child support disputes that aren’t resolved amicably. That would still be the case if polyamorous relationships had legal protections, including marriage.
14. “This will cause inheritance disputes.” This can’t be a reason for the continued denial of the polyamorous or polygamous freedom to marry. Again, if we're talking about children, not all polyamorous marriages will have children. But even with today’s restriction of monogamy-only for marriage, we see inheritance disputes all of the time. Widows and widowers who were married only once get in fights with their own children, who may fight with each other. Then, in some cases, there are children born outside of that marriage. There’s divorce and remarriage with or without stepchildren or making more children, there are people who were never married who have kids, there are childless people whose inheritances are disputed, "monogamous" and polyamorous people who had children with multiple people without having been married to any those partners, on and on it goes. If anything, legalizing polygamy would make it easier to sort out inheritance. There can be default rules in the law, and people can come up with their own documented, legal agreements.
15. “What about insurance/employment benefits?” There are many simple ways to deal with this. It is dealt with when an employee has more kids than the next, isn't it? This is something the law and/or employers and unions can figure out.
16. “Some men will be left out as polygyny increases.” This is based on the assumption that in a culture with gender equality, polygyny would still be more plentiful than polyandry. Anti-equality people, based on this assumption, insist that this will result in unmarried men devolving into criminals.
The mistake here is assuming that the second, third, etc. wives in a polygynous marriage would have wanted one of those unmarried men rather than legally sharing the man they did marry, and that the unmarried men would in turn want to marry them. Some of those men may want to marry men, or not marry at all. Why not allow people to marry the person or people of their choice? Why try to force people to settle? Also, the system is not closed. There are billions of people in the world and more and more people are reaching the age and status of eligibility every second.
There was a study attempting to link polygyny to criminal behavior in unmarried/unpartnered men based in part on nineteenth century frontier America. Things have changed a little since then. And guess what? Married men commit crime, too. Most of the men in prison have been married, were married or had at least one girlfriend at the time they were convicted.
Maybe men in the hypothetical polygynous community who don’t get married are violent people. Is it better that they have a wife to beat instead of committing crimes on the street? I don’t want to be the one who tells a woman she can’t marry the man/men or woman/women she wants; rather, she has to marry a less desirable man so that he can take his aggression out on her.
The warnings that polyamorous or polygamous freedom to marry will result in an increase of violent gangs of unmarried men committing crimes falls flat when one considers the overwhelming data revealing both that 1) Men in the US, where I live, are getting married for the first time later than ever, and 2) Crime rates in the US have decreased.
17. “You can only love one person at a time.” What a sad world this would be if that statement as true for everyone! Many people throughout history have proven they can love more than one person at a time. If the person objecting to the polyamorous relationship feels they can’t love more than one person a time, that is their own limitation and it doesn’t necessarily apply to anyone else. Any parent who has more than one child knows they can love more than one person in much the same way at the same time.
18. "You'll change when you find the right person. Then you'll settle down and be monogamous." My mother thinks I'm just going through a phase. I point out to her that I'm am quite settled down in the sense that I have a very stable life, I'm mostly happy with the way it is, and I have no intention of making major changes to my life. I work, I pay my bills, I love and am loved, I have great friendships, I try to do right and be kind, and I try to be a good neighbor and citizen. There are people much older than me who are "settled down" and are polyamorous. Many of them have found the right person. And another right person, or two. I try to explain it to my mother this way: she has more than one close friend who has been with her through the good times and the bad. Does that mean she hasn't found the "right person" to be her friend? Certainly not! As for my father, he leaves it at "Your love life is not mine. You're the one who has to live with what you do and who you bring into your life." I'm fortunate. It is terrible that some parents literally shun their children for being poly.
19. “I’m polyamorous, and I don’t want to get legally married.” There are some polyamorists who do not want to get legally married, and various reasons are cited. There are also polyamorists, like others, who say marriage shouldn’t be a matter of law at all. To this I say “As long as marriage or some form of personal union is legally sanctioned, it should not be denied to polyamorists who want such a union.”
There’s no reason to deny polyamorists the same protections given to monogamists. Prejudiced discrimination should be eliminated so that adults are not discouraged from having the relationships in which they best function; the relationships they want and mutually build. The more that polyamorists and their allies are able and willing to answer questions and concerns from others, the faster this will happen.