Saturday, July 07, 2007

Starting a Discussion about Multi-partner relationships

Voicing the suspicion that the Independent Affiliate disaffiliation has actually been an institutional and administrative dodge to the question of polyamory and the UUPA has, as could be expected, kicked off a discussion of the same subject on this blog. So be it.

Some of where I am coming from.

1. Monogamy has been the norm in this culture for a long time. It is a restraint in that it does not come easily to everyone. It chafes. It calls for self-discipline.
2. Other cultures practice various forms of polygamy, and that is usually to the detriment of women. How this works out in the new global culture coming is anyone's guess.
3. There has been, also, a bohemian rebellion against monogamy among the more privileged sets for quite a while under a variety of names: free love, open marriage, and now "polyamory". Polyamory is a neologism -- a new and made up word which carries within itself a loaded message. Who is against more and many loves? The question is not how many people we love, but how we structure our relationships.

In my view, those who advocate Multi-Partnered Relationships are proposing a significant change in the way that our culture has understood the bonds and covenants that make families. Changes in those norms have occurred in the recent past: the widespread acceptance of divorce, the widespread acceptance of pre-marital sex, the still-unfolding movement to legally recognize two-person same-sex relationships as legally and morally equivalent to heterosexual unions. So, a further change is being proposed.

Should Unitarian Universalism support and advocate for this far-reaching change in the cultural mores of the society who looks to us for guidance about these matters? And we do have some cultural authority on these matters of sexuality. We have shown to have a pretty good grasp of what is not only good for individuals, but also healthy for the society, in these areas over the last half century, with one exception. Our experiments with "open marriage" in the 60's-70's proved to be not prophetic of a liberated future, but an exercise in self-indulgence.

I believe that those who propose changing our collective position on two-person marriage bear the burden of proof that such a change is warranted, necessary, and socially responsible. One of my tests is a question that my mother used to ask me when she objected to some aspect of my behavior, "What if everybody did that?" It is that test which separates the self-indulgent from the socially responsible policies.

The advocates of multi-partnered relationships within the UUA have taken a passive-aggressive stance toward the association, its churches and especially its ministers. Rather than trying to demonstrate that the widespread, and eventual, legal recognition of multi-partnered relationships is warranted, necessary and socially responsible, they have asked UU's to prove that they are not prejudiced, ignorant and backward by advocating for them. Their most specific request, when you get right down to it, is that UU ministers protect them from the potential disapproval of other congregants. Nothing stops multi-partnered folks from joining our congregation -- I have never heard of them being denounced or condemned by any church body or official or minister -- nothing stops them from being as open as they wish about their relationships -- except that they are fearful that many of their fellow congregants would disapprove.

They have adopted the stance that the potential disapproval of their fellow congregants is a prejudice against them, similar to homophobia, or racism. But there is no convincing evidence offered that being in a multi-partnered relationship is anything other than a choice that they have made. Republicans, gun-owners, and drivers of Hummers also claim to be victims of prejudice in UU congregation, but having to live with the fact that some people will disagree with the choices you have made does not constitute prejudice.

The shaky claim to being the victim of prejudice is the defining characteristic of a passive-aggressive stance toward others, because it shifts the burden of resolving the difference to the other party. Prove to me that you are not prejudiced against me.

Read the comments on the blog post where this has arisen and see that almost every pro-polyamory posting starts with an accusation of prejudice, immaturity, ignorance, suspicion and uptightness. Round two starts with the concern that failing to respond properly to the suggestion that one is prejudiced shows one's defensiveness and anger. To which I say, "Don't play that game in my house."

I invite comments that seek to demonstrate that the widespread and eventual legal recognition of multi-partnered relationships is warranted (solves a real problem), necessary (no other path will correct existing problems) and socially responsible (will increase the stability of families for the benefit of children, women and the social order.)

41 comments:

fausto said...

I think you are exactly correct in placing the burden of proof on polyamorists. Monogamy is a long-established cultural and moral norm in our society. Moreover, in the common experience and/or observation of most adults in our society, departures from monogamy are not that unusual but rarely seem to work out well in the long run. That being the case, the appropriate social and moral presumption should be in favor of maintaining the monogamous norm, and the burden should be on the advocates of polyamory to prove the moral and/or social imperative of changing the norm, just as it was when other social activists have tried to overturn other cultural norms (such as racism, sexism and homophobia) in pursuit of a more moral and just society.

The issue for us UUs is further complicated, however, in that it is framed in a religious context. Thus, the burden of proof in the present debate is on the advocates not only to demonstrate the moral and social imperative of changing the cultural norm, but also the theological imperative that our religious community needs to endorse or encourage the practice, and to be willing to consecrate polyamorous relationships, in order to be true to our faith.

I myself can't think of an argument that can satisfy these burdens of proof, although I would be willing to listen. On the other hand, I've never seen advocates of polyamory even bother to try.

PeaceBang said...

This is a great post, bro.

Jeff W. said...

This is a very good post, LT.

As someone who has observed the debates from the sidelines without advocating for either side so far, I would urge advocates of polyamory to read it closely, think about it, read it again, and not respond right away. You have just been handed an opportunity to understand the other side, something that opposing sides in emotionally-charged debates often don't get. Usually, they blow such opportunities by reacting immediately out of their own perspectives rather than trying to set them aside for a while, but that's human nature.

What the minister has just done for you here is lay out clearly why your arguments (or at least, your style of argumentation) have not been convincing to most UUs, the group you are seeking to persuade in these discussions. This is a very helpful explanation for your cause. If you can debate within the boundaries and logic set by this post, you may succeed in swaying opinions. If you cannot, you are unlikely to ever succeed in getting significant numbers of UUs to your side, and thus are engaged in a futile battle, whether or not you are right or wrong on the issues.

Although you may not believe it about yourself, as someone sitting on the sidelines I think LT is fair in saying that the polyamorist mode of engagement (at least online) has indeed been mainly passive aggressive in the way described here. That doesn't mean the other side have been angels, and I don't know if this is true of such venues as GA, because I haven't been to GA. But if I were acting in such a way, and if such actions were harming rather than advancing my cause, I personally would want to be called out on it and would hope to accept such opinions and learn from them. Of course, being a human being, I might just react defensively, in fact I'm sure I probably have in other contexts.

Even if you don't see yourself this way, it is obvious that other people see you this way. Perhaps you disagree with this analysis and believe something else entirely is going on secretly in the hearts of your opponents. But even if you're right and they're wrong, you will only succeed if you can digest their perspective as they understand it (not what you imagine their perspective to be), learn to operate in ways that don't confirm their negative opinions or invite defensiveness/dismissal, and come up with arguments or evidence that force the other side to alter their ideas about you and the issues you are trying to promote.

This is not an even debate. The enormous weight of cultural history and present practice is against you. UUism is a small pond in a much wider world, yet even within that small pond most people are opposed to polyamory. You'll have to fight by their rules if you hope to get anywhere.

Just my observations. As someone who doesn't have a terrifically strong opinion yet on this issue, I'd enjoy a real debate and the opportunity to be educated.

Mark said...

"I invite comments that seek to demonstrate that the widespread and eventual legal recognition of multi-partnered relationships is warranted (solves a real problem)"

It would be helpful to know your criteria for what makes a problem real: number of people affected? pervasiveness of effect across an affected person's life? standardization of effect for people affected? It would be disheartening to make a good-faith answer, only to be told, "well, those aren't *real* problems."

"necessary (no other path will correct existing problems)"

It would be helpful to have some clarification here of your criteria for viewing a problem as corrected, because this is a very high level of proof indeed. To take a deliberately absurd example, lobotomies would likely remove people's impulses to have multi-partnered relationships, but I'm not sure I'd want to accept the existence of that path as an argument that polyamory is unnecessary and therefore illegitimate.

"and socially responsible (will increase the stability of families for the benefit of children, women and the social order.)"

This seems to hold multi-partnered relationships to a higher standard than monogamous relationships, which are accepted as the baseline for these goals. I would prefer to hear an argument for why the appropriate standard should not be "will not decrease the stability of families"--especially given the widespread acceptance of divorce, single-parent families, etc. that you note.

I am sorry to picky about these things, but as you say, it's your house and you get to set the rules of the conversation. I'd like to know if I think the rules are reasonable before trying to defend my life and the lives of family and friends solely on your terms.

"There has been, also, a bohemian rebellion against monogamy among the more privileged sets for quite a while under a variety of names: free love, open marriage, and now 'polyamory'."

Be that as it may, it feels unfair to me to hold that history against people (such as myself) who didn't live through it and don't feel much identification with it.

"One of my tests is a question that my mother used to ask me when she objected to some aspect of my behavior, 'What if everybody did that?' It is that test which separates the self-indulgent from the socially responsible policies."

With all respect, that is a ridiculously high standard to meet, even in the narrow context of covenanted relationships. If everyone partnered in monogamous same-sex unions, there'd be no children without artificial assistance, and also the heterosexual among us would be utterly miserable. If everyone partnered in childfree unions, there'd be no children period, and the child-desiring among us would be miserable. If everyone waited until they were 60 to form unions, there'd be very few children raised in the context of parents sharing a covenanted relationship. Should we then say those family structures are inherently questionable? No, usually we say, "Here's the likely consequences of choosing this path, make sure you can handle it if you choose it"--the same as we say to people who choose the statistical norm.

I appreciate very much your opposition to self-indulgence, and I work towards the same goals in my own faith community. I think you may be placing too much trust in a (weakly) imposed structural solution to this human failing, though.

Mark said...

"Republicans, gun-owners, and drivers of Hummers also claim to be victims of prejudice in UU congregation, but having to live with the fact that some people will disagree with the choices you have made does not constitute prejudice."

A valid and very important point--except that I would end the point with "does not necessarily constitute prejudice."

E.g., "By voting Republican, you are harming the interests of people of color" is not a prejudicial statement. "By voting Republican, you show you are a racist" is.

In this context, "By living polyamorously and seeking acceptance for that, you are causing more harm than good" is not a prejudicial statement. "By living polyamorously and seeking acceptance for that, you are being self-indulgent" is.

My advice to folks on both sides of the issue is to be very precise about what you write and how you interpret what you read.

(Oh, and to repeat my disclosure from the last thread: I'm not UU, but Metropolitan Community Church. So I unfortunately can't respond to fausto's legitimate request for a theological grounding for non-monogamous relationships, since I don't really know the UU's stated theological grounding for monogamous relationships...)

LT said...

Mark,
Don't bring that weak game here.
Your requests that I further specify, quantify and define want I mean by "warranted, necessary and socially responsible" are a substitute for saying what you are thinking. If you advocate for multi-partnered relationships, then you must have some thoughts about why changing the norm of monogamy is warranted, necessary and socially responsible.
It seems like you would rather discuss how unfair I am than the merits of the case you have been asked to make.
If you don't want to make that case, you don't have to.

bluish seminarian said...

It seems there are really two issues here that are getting conflated:

1. Is polyamory an acceptable lifestyle within UU circles?

2. Should UU clergy sanction poly marriages the same way that they sanction two person marriages and should the UUA take a stand as pro-poly-marriage?

I think that the answer for number 1, as per OWL and my own personal "what consenting adults want" baseline, is pretty clear. Like ChaliceChick, I have no problem with adults living in poly relationships. If it works for them, booyah. They are welcome members of the congregation. They can all three hold hands at potlucks. Live out your full self, I say.

Number 2 is trickier, and that's where the debate is, isn't it? Because "marriage" isn't just about a fulfilling sexual relationship. It's got loads of social construction and expectation and legal issues. That's why equal and legal marriage for LGBT folk is such a big deal - it's about access to the social benefits that legally sanctioned marriage provides. Poly-marriage is not just about access to those benefits - it is also about radically changing the social function of legal unions. And I think the poly community has not been very upfront about this - it's a radical shift, not just a widening of the circle. The legal issues alone are huge.

I'm up for a debate about what marriage is - I find it a problematic institution myself, and I'm a monogamous married het. But let's separate it from the morality of the sex involved (or the "ick" factor). I don't shy away from poly marriage because the polyamorous lifestyle is wrong.I shy away from it because it changes the meaning of the word marriage in a way that is not yet fully defined. Before I jump into that water, I want someone to explain exactly why they need me in the pool.

Jamie Goodwin said...

I really do not know where I stand on Polyamory, because so little medical and psycological research has been done on it. Except to say that I have known a few people in poly relationships and they where just normal people who felt this was the right way for them to live.

What concerns me, is that the same language I hear from people "changing the definition of marriage" or "cultural norm of marriage" are the same words that are beig used to keep me and my partner from being married.

I am not sure I buy it. I do not know that I have the right to tell any consenting adults that they do not have the right or ability to form bonds with any other consenting adults. The only moral imperative I have to display about my homosexual relationship is that I believe (and others agree with me) that it is the normal, healthy, way for me to exist. Who is to say that for polyamorists that multi-partnered is not for them the normal and healthy way for them to exist.

I also think it is a huge leap for an IA to be admited and to next say that "poly marriages must be preformed" do we not have congregational polity? Even if the UUA said tomorrow they will support Poly relationships does this somehow force ministers which were called and ordained by congregations to perform them?

To me.. and forgive me if I am hearing this wrong.. this all sounds so familiar. The arguments against Polyamory sound exactly like the arguments I hear against homosexual relationships. The only difference I can see is that in our (UU) culture homosexual relatioships have become so common a sight that they have lost that "New, Different, Not Normal" label.

Mark said...

"It seems like you would rather discuss how unfair I am than the merits of the case you have been asked to make."

Ummm, no. Fairness doesn't much enter into it. Your site, your denomination, your rules. I was just trying to get a clearer understanding of how you wanted your invited arguments framed, because you're coming from a different place than I am.

Weak game? How's this for weak: "You have to present your position according to the criteria we choose, but we won't let you know in any detail what those criteria are." That's seriously weak, and disappointing coming for someone who has expressed an interest in substantive discussion.

But, those are the rules, so...

First: I categorically reject the "what if everyone did that?" test. Life is not one-size-fits all, even if we wanted it to be, which I certainly don't want. The unsuitability of a choice for some people, even a majority of people, does not invalidate it as a choice for all other people.

Second: I'm ambivalent about "making a case." As a Christian, I am interested in living faithfully, and I judge that by the "fruits of the Spirit" test--peace, love, all that jazz. My own view of increasing polyamory awareness/acceptance is that I don't want or expect people to embrace it as an abstract concept. What I would hope for is a truly non-prejudicial environment in which people can see if my life is bearing fruit. And if mine is, to be open to the possibility that other poly people's are too. I don't believe in forcing or legislating acceptance; hell, I worked for a United Church of Christ congregation once that was considering adopting an Open and Affirming statement explicitly welcoming GLBT folks, and I told the action committee they were moving too fast and acting unfaithfully, despite my open and complete endorsement of the desired end result. (They listened to me and others, and 2.5 years later are peaceably ONA).

What the problem is: I don't know that I can say that there is any one problem shared by all people who choose multi-partner relationships. I am more sympathetic towards some stated motivations, less sympathetic towards others. What I am most familiar with is the experienced reality that the status quo is broken: families are smaller and geographically dispersed, increased mobility (mostly for job reasons) means friends are there one day and gone the next, the workplace "social contract" is nonexistent, and liberal communities of faith are ineffectual and infected by the same cultural dynamics as family, friends and work. Multi-partnered relationships are one response to a "do-it-yourself" emotional, social and economic environment.

Can other paths work: I'm sure they can. Families could choose to stay close together (and in some socioeconomic classes, generalizing, they do). Friends could commit to intimate and supportive relationships that will be prioritized above work. (Don't see that happening much at the moment). Workplaces could become more humane, universal healthcare laws could be passed, etc. (Not holding my breath). Liberal communities of faith could find renewal. (The holy grail for liberal religion since the 50s glory days). But these things aren't happening, and to make them happen tends to require large-scale organization and sacrifice. Multi-partner relationships operate on smaller scales with more benefits to each involved person, making them (arguably) more feasible.

Social responsibility: I don't believe that multi-partner relationships would increase family stability, in and of themselves. However, I believe that American families are pretty darn unstable at the moment as it is. Divorce, economic insecurity, etc. etc. etc. Would a larger number of multi-partner relationships make that worse? I don't know, and am not arrogant enough to say that I do know one way or the other. Which returns above to my position on "making cases" vs. "bearing fruit." I can't prove nothing bad would happen, but neither could people prove that women's suffrage or desegregation or acceptance of same-sex relationships wouldn't lead to seriously bad things.

I agree that the burden of proof is on those proposing change, but it is unrealistic to expect nice large data sets to analyze, when the phenomenon in question is so widely resisted as a valid choice some people might make.

bluish seminarian said...

Jamie, I hear you about the same language being used against GLBT marriage. But part of the arguement that many UU's make in favor of GLBT marriage is that it doesn't mean drastic change. That marriage between a man and a woman is basically the same contract as marriage between any two people, regardless of gender. Maybe it really is just a question of familiarity, but legally contracting a relationship between three people is whole new territory.

I'm still very much open to redefining marriage. I've heard convincing arguments that heterosexual marriage is nothing to emulate, really, with it's roots in patriarchy and ownership. So let's start talking about marriage as a social institution, and how it should change. But let's separate that discussion from moralistic claims about monogamy and judgments about people's personal choices.

LaReinaCobre said...

One of my tests is a question that my mother used to ask me when she objected to some aspect of my behavior, "What if everybody did that?" It is that test which separates the self-indulgent from the socially responsible policies.

Hmm ... with all due respect, I do not think this is a good test for this issue. First, not everyone is going to want to be polyamorous (just as not everyone wants to be monogamous). This test would deem homosexuality and a myriad of other actions ("what if everyone decided to move to New York?) immoral. Secondly, the morality of polyamory is not dependent upon it being an imperative. Something can be appropriate for some people, but not for others, and that can be okay.

Nevertheless, I look forward to seeing the responses to the questions in the rest of your post!

Mark said...

"It seems like you would rather discuss how unfair I am than the merits of the case you have been asked to make."

Followup: I now realize I might not have been clear, in my replies, on the distinction I am making between "reasonable" and "fair." Things can be unreasonable but fair (applied equitably), or unfair but reasonable (it makes sense to not be equitable in a given situation). I don't care much about fairness, as a general rule, but I do prefer to have conversations with reasonable people.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

In my view, those who advocate Multi-Partnered Relationships are proposing a significant change in the way that our culture has understood the bonds and covenants that make families

IMHO you are correct, but not in the way that you may think.

Often "the way that our culture has understood the bonds and covenants" of relationships has meant that people have made (or, perhaps more approrpiately, inherited) various assumptions about what a relationship is supposed to mean. In the past, for example, it was often assumed that women must subordinate themselves to their husbands (many still do, and I would argue this is a major reason behind much of the opposition to same-sex marriage).

What polyamorists and others call for, much deeper than any recognition of plural relationships, is that entering into any intimate relationship requires caring and thoughtful communication and negotiation. This, I would assert, is a much greater challenge than tolerating or accepting plural relationships, because it means confronting long-held assumptions about gender, equality, choice, and so forth.

As to the question of why society should recognize plural relationships ... more specifically, we believe that relationships should be consensual, mutual and beneficial, whether they are monogamous or not.

As to whether they should be legally recognized ... this is actually part of an ongoing debate within the polyamory community. A significant percentage of poly folk (and others) take a libertarian stand that goverment and legal institutions should get out of the business of sanctioning marriages or other committed relationships, and leave it to individuals; so some would argue that recognizing any marriage is therefore neither "warranted, necessary, [nor] socially responsible." Even those who would argue for eventual legal recognition of plural relationships acknowledge that this would take considerable time and social discussion.

You proposed as a test the question that your mother would ask you: "What if everyone did that?" -- which I recognize as a variation on Kant's categorical imperative. First, let's be clear that we polys are not asking that everyone enter plural relationships, especially if that is not what is right for them. But we do ask that people who enter into committed, intimate relationships do so with greater mindfulness and more open and honest communication -- and what if everyone did that? Given how some people rush into marriages, or how our adversarial legal system can turn many divorces into outright wars, wouldn't the challenge of greater communication and forethought be "warranted, necessary and socially responsible"?

Recognizing plural relationships means granting the individuals within those relationships access to the social networks of guidance and support which the majority in dyadic relationships too often take for granted. Would the institutions within those social networks be changed as a result? Yes, but I would argue that such changes, by focusing on individual need rather than cultural norms for their own sake, would benefit everyone and not just poly folk.

Finally, as to the issue of prejudice ... Throughout this blog you have equated us with both patriarchal polygamists and "our experiments with 'open marriage' in the 60's-70's; you have used such labels as "self-indulgent", "bohemian", "more privileged" and "passive-aggressive". You say "I have never heard of [poly UUs] being deounced or condemned by any church or official or minister" while accusing us of trying to force the issue with people.

And all of this suggests to me that you don't know as much about us as you think. To make a judgment about a particular individual or group is, by definition, prejudice. So I would suggest that you engage some of us in meaningful dialogue, put aside your presuppositions, and try to learn what polyamory is really about and who we really are.

Steve Caldwell said...

If this were a workshop or a conference where we were discussing polyamory in a face-to-face setting, I would suggest a "fishbowl" activity.

I'm not sure one would do this in blog-space.

Christopher Cantley said...

I think that the gap here is that all of the examples used, "self-indulgent", "bohemian" etc.. point to the sexual assumptions that people have about polyamory. And those assumptions are quite common. You tell someone that you are in a "multi-love" relationship and the first thing they think of is 24/7 orgies.

And then we somehow flip to marriage and its like people who can't relate think that it is somehow a sanctification of "24/7 orgies". The joke here is, who gets married to have sex?... Anyone? Is that really the point and purpose to getting married?

I'll let you in on a little secret. It's not 24/7 orgies, its not clubbing and bringing back stray partners for a little "family fun".

It is about communicating in a loving and caring way. Its about being considerate, working together to raise a family, to organize finances, spread household responsibilities and for some of us, its also a part of raising children.

If this sounds like what traditional marriage should be like, you would be exactly correct. The only difference is the number of people involved. Thats it.

If the only question is "why is there a need for poly marriage" how about because we work hard to be a family, would like the respect of being treated like a family and more importantly we would like to have that life ritual to commit to those we love and have it mean something more in our society than a fancy picnic.

I would like my wife AND girlfriend be allowed to see me if I am critically hurt in the hospital.

I would like them BOTH to have the right prepare my funeral and take part in my benefits without having to jump through crazy legal hoops.

I would like to be able to get a home loan with the three of us on it with the consideration that we are all "married" versus the perceived risk of getting a loan as a married couple and additional co-signer.

Its hard to fathom the "why marriage" part if you have never been barred from you loved ones because the social system doesn't consider your relationship to be as valid as someone with a paper saying "certifiably married".

What I find most bothersome about this is not that some minister or anyone for that matter has an issue with polyamory. Some people just won't get it just like some people just wont get Gay and Lesbian marriage. But the fact that one of the UUC tenants is "Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregation" just smacks of hypocracy especially from a minister of a church that prides itself on the celbration of commonality and the support of spiritual growth.

The desire to bond with someone/s on a "marriage" level is not just a package of advantages because for anyone who has been divorced the world of advantages don't come close to the penalty of separation.

I see it as a recognition and commitment to spiritual growth and I can't imagine how I could communicate that any clearer than the desire to have the UUC officiate.

Exactly how is this not socially beneficial?

Clyde said...

Who authorizes a minister to perform a marriage? In our polity, I believe it lies in ordination. The congregation may call a minister to be among them, but it does not authorize the minister to perform the customary offices of ministry. The Association may certify that a minister meets certain minimal standards , but they don't define what the offices of a Minister are. Ordination traditionally has confirmed the power to perform marriages.

If this is the case, should an individual minister perform group marriages (tree or more...) without consulting with other ordained ministers and heeding their advice and consent. As I see ordination makes a minister part of an religious order, "we take on orders" as the Puritans would have put it.

The "order of ministry" should discuss what the religious act of celebrating a marriage means as A THEOLOGICAL QUESTION, rather than leaving it to individual ministers who will pressured to perform polygamists ceremonies so that they might prove that they not prejudiced or narrow. We might even have people quoting one of the seven principles at us as if they were a creed.

As theologians we can seek guidance from experience, and from reason, and from the generations of practice of ministry , and from ancient wisdom literatures and scriptures. And while we are in discernment we say no, as an ordained minister I am not authorized to perform polyamorist unions. I will not turn this question into a trivial equity issue.

Kim Hampton said...

Religious history has shown that multiple partner relationships are fraught with anxiety and insecurity.

Abraham....Issac.....Jacob...David...
Solomon....all of these were part of multi-partnered relationships (I know that we could argue Abraham...but just work with me on this); and we can read how well those relationships worked.

Every major religion has said that the optimal number of people in a partnered relationship is 2. Even Islam, with its rules about multiple partners, says 2 is the best number.

Since UUism is supposed to be a religious movement, give me an example from religious history where a multi-partnered relationship has worked.

fausto said...

Clyde raises an interesting question concerning the source of a minister's authority to perform a marriage. Clyde's view is that the authority originates in ordination and not in the congregation.

I don't have an opinion, but I will observe that my UU congregation's minister not long ago performed a same-sex marriage (legally, here in Massachusetts) only after the couple had first asked our sister UCC Congregational church's minister (that is, the minister of the church that split from mine during the Unitarian Controversy), who said he would be willing to marry them but would first have to seek the approval of his congregation.

This difference is intriguing to me because both ministers and both congregations presumably find their authority in the same history and tradition, so why would the authorities not be identical?

I believe in the old days of the unadulterated Cambridge Platform, the power to ordain was the congregation's, and upon ordination by the congregation (and typically in the same ceremony) the ministerial association accepted the new minister into fellowship. Upon leaving a call to a pulpit, however, the minister's ordination (and right to be addressed as "Reverend") lapsed. I don't think this is still the case today in either denomination, though.

Is there perhaps a separate evolution that occured in the UCC and UUA concerning who possesses the authority to ordain, or what authority is conveyed by ordination? Do contemporary UCC congregations in fact hold more authority over their ministers' exercise of their offices than UU congregations do? Or is it only that the UCC has been more careful to observe the authority that technically is retained by the congregations in both denominations?

Mark said...

fausto:

In more than one UCC congregation I've been familiar with, the position of the pastor has been that they will preside at a same-sex marriage (or commitment ceremony, outside of MA) on the basis of their personal convictions, but that they will not perform such ceremonies within the sanctuary of the church they serve if the congregation has not authorized that.

As I understand it, ministerial standing is a function of the local association (not conference or national setting), not of individual congregations, but a "newbie" pastor must be ordained into a particular church in order to be granted association standing (and a candidate must be "in care" at a particular church). And then there are some tricky rules about maintaining standing when not called to a local church or conference/national setting.

I am probably leaving some things out or getting some details wrong, but that's the gist of it.

Ellis said...

I've posted about this topic here. But I have some responses to specific comments on the previous post.

1)Desmond Ravenstone says that "To make a judgement..is by definition prejudice." I disagree. To make a judgement before knowing the person or issue involved is prejudice. Prejudice, yes, is wrong. But it is reasonable and necessary to make judgements, based on solid information and our own experience. We must be able to judge. We judge genocide in Darfur; we judge abortion-clinic bombing; we judge racism and bigotry. These are not prejudice but judgement. Polyamory is not a heinous crime, in most cases, but people should be free to make moral judgements based on reason and compassion. We will not all agree on our judgements, but we must make them.

Clyde says that ordination and not the congregation confers sacramental authority. I think I must be missing something. Isn't it the congregation that ordains our ministers? Our church ordained one last year and is ordaining another in October. We also, as a congregation, grant our seminarians sacramental authority. We give them a certificate and everything. So isn't it the congregation that does this? What am I missing?

Christoher Cantley says that polyamory is exactly like a traditional, family-centered, stable, loving, equitable, committed marraige, except for the number of people involved. This has not been my experience. There may be trios or quads like that, but polyamory also encompasses swinging couples, couples with transient others, fluid group marriages, and people with strings of partners. To claim that polyamory is exactly like the best of traditional marriages is, in my experience, incorrect. Traditional marriages aren't like the best examples, either, so how could polyamory be?

Again, I am willing to stipulate that there could be wholesome, health plural marriages. But polyamorous relationships are just as flawed as traditional marriages, if not more so.

Clyde said...

Both for the UCC, the Baptists and the UUA, the congregation ordains. But the congregation ordains the minister to something that has been already established. That is the vocation or order of ministry.

The congregationalists did not make up the idea of an order of ministry, the simply said that the congregation would have the power to discern the gifts and perform the ordination.

Asking the congregation's permission might be wise, but being subject only to the congregation's prejudices or passions does not make for an principled clergy.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

"Desmond Ravenstone says that "To make a judgement..is by definition prejudice." I disagree. To make a judgement before knowing the person or issue involved is prejudice."

This is, in fact, what I intended to say, and I apologize for the lapse in proofreading. Too often I've heard negative commentary about polyamory stemming from an obvious lack of knowledge about the subject or the people concerned.

Jasmine said...

LT said:
I invite comments that seek to demonstrate that the widespread and eventual legal recognition of multi-partnered relationships is warranted (solves a real problem), necessary (no other path will correct existing problems) and socially responsible (will increase the stability of families for the benefit of children, women and the social order.)

I cannot address legal recognition. It is far beyond the scope of UUPA’s work. UUPA’s work is about internal dialogue among UUs about how we can minister to each other.

I can address the questions regarding informal recognition, and I am delighted to have the opportunity. Thank you, LT, for posing the questions and making your blog available for this conversation.

Is recognition warranted (solves a real problem)?
A friend of mine is a gay man. When he was younger, his (not UU) minister explained to him how sinful it was to be gay, and how all he had to do to fix it was to find a nice young lady and marry her. God would save him from his abnormal and sinful desires towards other men. My friend took his minister’s advice and married a nice young lady. He prayed and prayed and did everything he knew how to make his attraction to men go away. And guess what? It didn’t work. My friend’s orientation refused to be suppressed. After much soul searching and wrestling with his “sinfulness”, my friend divorced his wife and began a relationship with another man.

Suppose my friend had not been pressured by his minister into denying what he knew to be true about himself. Suppose instead he had been encouraged to be honest with himself about who he is and what he wants in a relationship. He would not have married a woman in the hopes of forcing himself to be “normal.” The woman would not have entered into a doomed marriage, and would have had the chance to marry a man who was not gay. Both of their lives would have been simpler.

When I was younger, I was interested in multi-partner relationships. But I was a good, moral Southern Baptist, and I “knew” that monogamy was the only way to have a marriage. So when I prepared to marry, I never told my fiancé about my interest in multi-partner relationships. It was an unmentionable subject. It was too scandalous and dangerous to even momentarily consider talking about it. Taboo.

We married. I was a good, moral Southern Baptist wife and mother, who couldn’t stand myself. Circumstances rekindled my interest in multi-partner relationships, and I was horrified. I was ashamed. I was terrified. How could I be having such sinful thoughts? How could I, a good, moral, Baptist wife and mother, even consider something so aberrant? Worse yet, circumstances at church had led me into a deep soul-searching about my Christianity. How perverted could I possibly be? How could I be engaging this deep spiritual search at the same time as I indulged this wicked flight of fancy about extra-marital involvement? What was wrong with me? Why couldn't I just be normal?

I was lucky. I told my husband what was going on in my soul. He also was interested in exploring multi-partner relationships. Together, we worked out a new understanding of our marriage that worked for both of us. And in the process, I experienced an encounter with God in which I finally understood that my spiritual soul-searching, on the one hand, and my grappling with my interest in multi-partnering, on the other hand, were, in fact, one and the same. Both searches were necessary parts of becoming who I am becoming, rather than continuing to try to be the person everyone else told me I was supposed to be. This embrace of something core inside myself was necessary to making peace with myself.

But as I said, I was lucky. I’ve spoken to many people who had a similar rekindling of interest in multi-partnering after establishing a monogamous relationship with the best of intentions to honor it – because that’s the ONLY way to have a relationship…but their partner didn’t share their interest. Some were able to suppress their desire for another partner. Many were not. In some cases, it led to divorce. In others it led to cheating. Bad outcomes, in my opinion.

And I wonder. Suppose that all these people had been up-front and honest about their multi-partner inclinations from the beginning? Suppose they, and I, had been honest with ourselves and with our potential partners BEFORE we married? Some of those marriages would never have happened. Some of the potential partners would have said, “No thanks, I can’t deal with that.” And they would have been spared the misery, the sense of betrayal, the sense of having the rug pulled out from under them, the sense of having their world fall apart.

Yes, recognition is warranted. Marrying under the unspoken assumption of monogamy when one party is not so inclined is a real problem. Every monogamous fiancé deserves the chance to know before the wedding or commitment ceremony whether their partner-to-be is also monogamous. And if the partner-to-be isn’t inclined to monogamy, then the monogamous person deserves the opportunity to weigh that fact and possible ways to deal with it, before deciding whether to go forward with the union.

And BTW, this doesn’t address the problems of poly families in fitting into a society whose institutions aren’t designed for them. I think this is a real problem. Others will disagree. I’ll leave that conversation for another time.

Is it necessary (no other path will correct existing problems)?
Yes. I recognize that many people object to comparing poly issues with bisexual, gay, or lesbian issues. And yet, I often hear bisexual, gay, or lesbian people comment that the language is all too familiar, that it’s the same arguments used against them. Thank you, Jamie Goodwin, who astutely noted:

The only difference I can see is that in our (UU) culture homosexual relationships have become so common a sight that they have lost that "New, Different, Not Normal" label.

In any case, the dynamic of suppressing something essential about oneself in order to be a “good girl” or “good boy” and “do the right thing” is very similar. Once we say out loud, “it’s okay to be gay,” then it’s no longer necessary for my friend to suppress himself in an attempt to be “normal,” hide his true self from himself and a fiancé, and marry the wrong person. Similarly, once we say out loud, “it’s okay to be interested in multiple partners,” then it’s no longer necessary to suppress that fact about oneself and hide that fact from oneself and a fiancé. It becomes possible for each person to admit honestly what they want and need in a relationship, what they are confused about or struggling with, and decide together what to do about it.

As long as the fact and even the topic of multi-partnering remain taboo, some people will continue to feel pressured to suppress truths about themselves, and in the process, they will wound partners. We MUST remove the taboo and begin to talk honestly. Nothing else will address this problem.

I note that we have tried to correct this problem with a monogamous standard and a decree of sinfulness of violators. How has that been working? fausto addressed this:

Moreover, in the common experience and/or observation of most adults in our society, departures from monogamy are not that unusual but rarely seem to work out well in the long run.

So “just say no” is NOT working. We need to try something else. Like, maybe, honesty?

Is it socially responsible (will increase the stability of families for the benefit of children, women and the social order)?

If gay men and lesbians stop denying the truth about themselves and marrying opposite-sex persons in an attempt to be “normal,” then fewer divorces will result from failure of that denial.
If poly people stop denying the truth about themselves and marrying monogamous people in an attempt to be “normal,” then fewer divorces will result from failure of that denial.

If we are honest and intentional about the type of families we want to build and find partners who agree with us, then maybe there will be fewer divorces. At the very least, there will be less of a sense of betrayal when a marriage fails. Informed consent is a top priority.

One of my tests is a question that my mother used to ask me when she objected to some aspect of my behavior, "What if everybody did that?"

What if everyone got really honest with themselves and their partner-to-be before commitments were made? What if every partnered person with an interest in multi-partnering talked it out with their partner first and figured out together what to do about it? Sounds like a good plan to me.

they have asked UU's to prove that they are not prejudiced, ignorant and backward by advocating for them.

UUPA asks UUs to engage in conversation with us, to arrange educational opportunities, to let us have and announce meetings, to allow polys full participation in congregational activities, and to respect our families. UUPA asks religious professionals to educate themselves about polyamory in preparation for ministering to or counseling with poly families in your congregations.

fausto said:
[demonstrate] the theological imperative that our religious community needs to endorse or encourage the practice, and to be willing to consecrate polyamorous relationships, in order to be true to our faith.

Our religious community doesn’t need to do any of those things. As far as I know, the UUA doesn’t endorse or encourage divorce or abortion or teenage sex, but we do recognize that some of our members deal with these issues and that we all need to be knowledgeable about them, especially our religious professionals. No minister is asked to consecrate a poly relationship against their personal or professional judgment. It would be courteous if these ministers would provide references to other ministers who are willing to consider it. Just a thought.

LT said:

Their most specific request, when you get right down to it, is that UU ministers protect them from the potential disapproval of other congregants.

UUPA does not request such a thing. UUs have freedom of disapproval. They can disapprove of anything they need to disapprove of.

UUPA does request protection from disrespectful or abusive behavior.
* If a child in a religious education class tells a child of poly parents that their family is less valid, we’d like some help with that.
* If a poly person is denied the opportunity to serve for no other reason than being poly, we’d like some help with that.
* If a poly person is invited to leave the church and “go visit the club downtown instead,” we’d like some help with that.
* If a member outs a poly member to every person in the congregation, we’d like some help with that.
* If a staff person says, “We had a poly family, but thank God, they left,” we’d like some help with that.

Do you know what we want most of all? We want UUs to encourage polys to tell our stories, just like everyone else. Everywhere we turn, we hear about the importance of telling our stories, that this is where connection happens, this is where insight begins. When UUs tell us that polys should keep their stories to themselves, what does this tell us? Are we, or are we not, fully welcome in our congregations? Are we welcome to tell our stories?

PG said...

Charles,

You said,
"I would like my wife AND girlfriend be allowed to see me if I am critically hurt in the hospital.
I would like them BOTH to have the right prepare my funeral and take part in my benefits without having to jump through crazy legal hoops."

Two questions:

1) How would a polygamous marriage deal with conflicts among the participants on the best course of action for another participant? For example, suppose you were in Terri Schiavo's situation and had in passing expressed a preference for being allowed to die -- but expressed it only to one spouse. The other spouse is convinced that you never would want such a thing and loves you too much to give up on your coming out of a PVS. Whose wishes should control? Under current law, the one spouse makes this decision, and the interference of others (such as parents) is an aberration.

2) How well do you think our current system of benefits would withstand the impact of unlimited multiple spouses? Already we have what some people call the "insurance mule," i.e. a marriage that was created or is maintained in order to provide benefits to a person who otherwise would go without. If marriage allowed you to share your employment health insurance benefits with as many spouses as you wanted, do you think your co-workers would find this an equal arrangement? (Given that benefits don't grow on trees and all have to pay in more to provide more for others.) If we adopt the "what's good for some could be good for all" notion, do you think your employer would continue to offer health benefits if many of its employees had multiple marriages that required provision of benefits to multiple spouses? Our system copes reasonably well with multiple children because most children are healthy and get kicked off parents' benefits at 18, 21 or at most 25, before they are statistically likely to require any expensive treatment (ranging from fertility to cancer). Multiple spouses create a larger financial burden.

I hope these questions do not come across as hostile. I think polyamory can work perfectly well for people with the right emotional makeups, but I am far more doubtful about re-tailoring legal mandates to fit polygamy. When it comes to same-sex marriage, the written law in many respects is ahead of society; where mother-primary parenting and sex-roles in marriage remain common in society, the law makes no distinctions between men and women once they enter marriage. Each sex is equally responsible and benefited. The law is not at all prepared for multiplicity. Our constitutional tradition has adjusted to race and sex equality, but its specification regarding numerosity has only hardened over time (cf. "one man, one vote," etc.). I find the argument that I should not distinguish between a black person and a white person, nor a male person and a female person, a great deal easier to comprehend than the notion that I should not distinguish between one person and two people.

Desmond Ravenstone said...

Dear PG:

Your questions regarding how laws and public policy would deal with the specifics of plural marriage are valid concerns. In fact, it is a subject of lively discussion and debate within UUPA and the wider poly community.

As to how plural spouses would handle conflicts in decision-making ... well, what do couples do when they come into such conflicts? Often they turn to a minister, counselor or trusted friend to help them see the issue from a fresh perspective. And more proactive and long-term, many people have found it useful to learn conflict-resolution and active listening skills which they can apply in various interpersonal settings: from marriage and parenting, to business and church and community settings.

"I think polyamory can work perfectly well for people with the right emotional makeups, but I am far more doubtful about re-tailoring legal mandates to fit polygamy."

We poly folk would agree with the first part of your statement above -- we certainly don't advocate that poly is for everyone (heck, marriage and romance is not for everyone!) As for "tailoring legal mandates," there are many schools of thought within the poly community. One of those is to see marriage more in terms of a voluntary contract than a "mandate" -- and not I did not restrict marriage to the plural form. Imagine if prospective marriage partners (dyadic and plural alike) spent more time and energy discussing and exploring what it would mean to be married before actually doing so, and taking the time to actually spell out the covenant which unites them instead of merely assuming what the details might mean.

alkali said...

Further to bluish seminarian's comment, it seems to me that these are the three (or maybe two) questions at stake:

1) How should UUs treat individuals in poly relationships them in the ordinary course? (E.g., do we invite them to coffee hour?) This may not even be genuinely at issue here -- it falls pretty squarely within UU's respect for free choice ethic.

2) Should there be formal sanction in UU congregations for poly relationships? (E.g., do we have commitment or marriage ceremonies?)

3) Should UU congregations press for some legal change that would sanction or otherwise facilitate poly relationships?

It seems to me that there is a relation between #2 and #3 that is quite important.

With reference to #3, I have never, ever heard any plausible answer to the question of what legal changes could practically be implemented to facilitate poly relationships, for all the reasons that pg suggests and more.

Desmond ravenstone observes, "A significant percentage of poly folk (and others) take a libertarian stand that goverment and legal institutions should get out of the business of sanctioning marriages or other committed relationships, and leave it to individuals." With respect, even assuming that such a thing were desirable, this proposal amounts to nothing more than wishful thinking. The legal disestablishment of marriage will never (never say never? yes, I'm saying never) happen.

The absence of a workable legal model generally applicable to poly relationships has two immediate consequences:

a) It is completely implausible that UU congregations would sign on to an effort to change the law in some unspecified way to facilitate poly relationships (particularly if the range of possibility includes the hypothetical total legal disestablishment of marriage). Accordingly, I am pretty certain that the answer to #3, at this point, is going to be "no." (That doesn't even get into the question raised by Philocrites at his blog as to whether it would make good strategic sense for UUs to commit themselves to such a project, but suffice it to say that it is hard to imagine that a commitment to entirely unspecified legal change would pass that test.)

b) For similar reasons, I am pretty sure that the answer to #2 is going to be "no." Specifically, I think it is unlikely that UU congregations would be willing to provide public sanction to poly relationships absent some clear idea of how such relationships are supposed to "work" in the fundamental respects that we would ordinarily expect to be reflected in the law. I'm thinking here of the spousal support and decisionmaking rights and obligations that are among the basic features of legal marriage as it presently exists, including in Massachusetts and other places that recognize same-sex marriage or unions. That's not to say that UU congregations can't give public sanction to a relationship if it isn't already recognized in law -- clearly, UU congregations have recognized gay couples not recognized in law for a long time. Rather, the point is that if you don't have some idea of what legal rules and customs you think ought to govern a particular relationship regardless of what the law actually provides), you probably don't have any clear idea of what moral and ethical expectations are associated with that relationship, and you can't give public sanction to a relationship without knowing what those moral and ethical expectations are.

The libertarian solution referred to above just dodges this question. To explain: suppose for sake of argument we waved a magic wand and disestablished legal marriage in most or all respects. A couple (or triple, or whatever) comes to a UU congregation looking for legal sanction. They state that they have agreed that if any party to the marriage becomes disabled, that person will no longer be a party to the marriage and the other party or parties will have no obligation to support them. I suspect that most UU congregations would agree that that kind of relationship didn't warrant public sanction. (And you can easily think of a whole bunch of variations on this idea.) Again, unless you have some idea of what kind of baseline legal rights and obligations the parties to a relationship are going to have, regardless of whether those rights and obligations are settled by law or by mutual agreement under a libertarian arrangement, you can't even get to the question of whether the relationship ought to have religious sanction.

Desmond writes that "how laws and public policy would deal with the specifics of plural marriage ... is a subject of lively discussion and debate within UUPA and the wider poly community." For the reasons set forth above, I don't think UU congregations are going to sign on to #3 or even #2 before that debate has reached some kind of meaningful resolution (if that is even possible).

Desmond Ravenstone said...

"Desmond writes that "how laws and public policy would deal with the specifics of plural marriage ... is a subject of lively discussion and debate within UUPA and the wider poly community." For the reasons set forth above, I don't think UU congregations are going to sign on to #3 or even #2 before that debate has reached some kind of meaningful resolution (if that is even possible)."

Nor do we poly folk expect to happen. Our focus is more on #1:
how should UUs treat those who are poly?

To which I would say ... generally like everyone else, but with the added request that you ask us questions and listen to what we have to say, rather than make assumptions. Visit the UUPA website as a start to this process of dialogue and education -- http://www.uupa.org.

As to the supposed conundrum of what legal changes could be implemented ... In this I hear the presumption that there already exists a single legal standard on marriage. There doesn't! About a dozen states still have common-law marriage. Different states have different laws regarding community property, divorce, inheritance, child custody, and so forth.

Returning to #2 -- the question of "formal sanction in UU congregations for poly relationships" -- I feel confident that I speak for many poly UUs when I say that community support and spiritual nurturance means much more to us right now than whether we can have formal marriage or union ceremonies in UU church sanctuaries. Let's deal with genuine hospitality and dialogue first.

Chris Cantley said...

To Charles,

Thanks for the response. Yours jumped out at me and they are questions I have talked at length about in the past but I will try to shorten it a bit.

The first and most wide sweeping answer is simply this. Marriage should not be dictated by the government. Maybe recorded, or even taken into consideration regarding income tax and the like... but should not dictate.

That said, the second sweeping answer, obviously far more complex in detail than I will go over here, is simply this. Society profits from change and adaptation.

Larger families means potentialy more avenues for income from within which means greater stability for the family unit and also higher charges for larger families as a result.

The obvious here is as you mentioned... insurance. Under a demand to cover gay and lesbian couples, insurance companies are now opening up to the profit potential of covering "significant others" who cannot be married. Of course this costs more. As would there be a higher charge of coverage for larger families.

They do this because they recognize that there are ligitimate same-sex couples living together with no more risk than a married couple. Where being married would offer a sort of proof-of-commitment they recognize that the commitment is often there and the risk to the insurance company is minimalized.

If there was a demand for a multi-adult family, there would be an avenue for profit to be made by the service providers. This holds true for legal services and psychological services.

In my family we have experienced the premium of getting a good lawyer to fight unfair and unfounded accusations in our family because of our family structure. We have no regrets in that investment as it has strengthened our resolve as a family.

Another thing that is often over looked by those who cry "its too big of a change on society" is that not only does it open up avenues for further specialization and revenue for all family services, these sorts of situations are already similarly covered in business law where there are multiple partners. In fact, to supplement marriage some actually put together a "family business" legally binding families under business law rather than family law.

It's a poor substitute however the desire to connect in a spiritual and legal way in our society is strong.

So, thats the short of it and your questions where very constructive and appreciated.

bright blessings,
~Chris

Chris Cantley said...

To Ellis..

Thanks for your post however I have been misquoted, or maybe at least you have assumed more than I stated.

While true, I did say that being in a polyamorous relationship, one that would consider marriage, could be like any other family but with more adults, I did not say "polyamory is exactly like the best of traditional marriages is" nor did I say that it was without its problems. In fact, I mentioned alot of things that often cause problems in any relationship.

You mentioned several types of alternative relationships however if we are going to get to the nitty gritty of verbiage, Polyamory is "loving many" not making love to many. While some polyamorous people may "swing", so too might monogamous couples... after all, swinging is often just sex, not a commitment to love and consideration.

Above and beyond any of the alternative relationship constructs, we are talking about committing together people into a potentially legal, spiritual and loving relationship.

For those involved this narrows things down a bit. You would not have the adult heads of a family heading to a swingers club looking to bring back new legally bound spouses.... well maybe in Vegas, but I truly doubt that would be the norm.

So, lets talk about the up sides here as I too was once monogamous before my wife and I found ourselves in this new and shocking situation.

In our family we have three adults and three children. One is by our girlfriend and a previous husband, one is by my wife and I prior to our poly relationship and our son was both born by my wife but conceived by the three of us.

And while that might seem perversely sweet to some, we were also there for each other when he was born almost 3 months premature and had to be taken by emergency C section. We all took turns spending time with him in the ICU for over 5 weeks and we have all shared in the feeding, changing diapers and raising of our son.

Again, like any relationship there is no "perfect" there is only a desire for resolve and refinement.

So I want to rant about the perks as they are distinct to polyrelationships such as ours.

First off, by choice, my wife stays home with the kids. After having worked for many years at crap jobs she really enjoys staying home and keeping up with the kids.

Our girlfriend and I both work. We both put into the same bank accounts. So far, the benefit of 2 incomes and someone to take care of the home and kids instead of daycare (which I have had to do without regret but prefer a stay at home spouse)

Instead of there being a standoff between two people with one having to back down against the pride of their spouse, as can happen in monogamous relationships, there is now a third to help weigh in on issues. It helps gauge a balance and keep things in perspective.

We focus on communication to make sure that everyone is loved well, and shown equal care and consideration.

The chores around the house are lessoned with more hands. Keeping the house clean and food cooked is less of a drag. Sometimes I cook, or I might clean up our son or wash the dishes... but we all pitch in and it takes far less time.

We all pitch in to help with the kids education and working with them on home work. We take turns so as to not get frustrated. Kids really don't like home work much and I remember why. As a result both our girls make good grades.

We help each other take time out from the kids. I might take my wife out while our girlfriend stays home or my wife and girlfriend might go out while I take care of the kids.. etc... And on occasion we get a baby sitter and we can all go out. But we get mental health time even with 3 kids. That is important.

-------------

It's not perfect, and more people means more communication however there are day-to-day perks that make it worth while for us.

We don't recommend this for everyone and this certainly isn't the only poly scenario however we have worked to make this a solid and stable family even throughout legal issues that I really can't get into here.

Sure, allot of poly relationships fail but so does most dating relationships and heck, even 50% of marriages.

It should really say something when people fight to do something that statistically has a really good chance of failing. But often fighting for something makes it that much more appreciated.

bright blessings,
~Chris

Chris Cantley said...

To Kim Hampton...

Good points Kim. However I am not a big fan of letting history dictate the future. I would far rather use history to learn how to avoid pitfalls and benefit from success.

If we are really going to judge the success of new practices based on older ideals, we could have asked the same question to the founders of the UUC. How can the UUC be successful in light of the fact that few if any faiths are based on the commonality of multiple faiths. However, thankfully, the founders did not let history dictate their success.

So when we think of movements in this country and the historic precedences that have been set, such as the marriage of same sex couples, or how about something more basic...say equal rights for women... Or equal rights for all races. We need to think about how it could be a good thing, not why other cultures have failed or don't even try.

Sure our country isn't perfect but it strives for resolve and to refine itself. We have been the first at a number of things and I would like to believe that those who challenge the norm in light of a demand should not back down just because history is speckled with shadows of imperfections.

How about founding ones support for spiritual growth and communion on something a little more basic. A desire to love and be loved, a desire to commit to eachother for the greater benefit of eachother and as a result, the benefit of the community. Should the number of people involved matter?

I won't point at other faiths or other cultures in defense or otherwise because I don't see a similarity.

I see something new and different evolving and unlike the "free sex" movement of the 60s and 70s, I see people doing it and making it work, not separate or in rebellion of current culture but from within.

Bright blessings,
~Chris

PG said...

Oh, goodness, now I understand how the poly folk feel in trying to explain to non-polys... I am having one of my first "legally-trained person trying to explain to non-legally-trained persons" moments.

Desmond Ravenstone said...
As to how plural spouses would handle conflicts in decision-making ... well, what do couples do when they come into such conflicts?

When couples come into conflicts, they either resolve the conflict in a way reasonably satisfactory to both, or they split up. If they choose to maintain joint custody of their children, this creates a great deal of difficulty that I'd be loath to extend to new situations. I just don't see how you can resolve the Terri-Schiavo-as-poly question without creating a new set of laws to determine how such decisions are to be made. Sure, it would be lovely if Schiavo's husband and parents all could have come to a common resolve about how to deal with her tragic medical condition -- but they didn't. (One conservative friend who is convinced that gay marriage will lead to polygamy suggests that the law establish a set of rules in which major decisions must be unanimous among the deciding spouses; there is a default when no unanimity can be found (e.g., a default for keeping someone on life support); and that evidence of the incapacitated spouse's wishes can be only written (so that Schiavo's husband's statement that she had expressed a preference to him would be irrelevant).)

As for "tailoring legal mandates," there are many schools of thought within the poly community. One of those is to see marriage more in terms of a voluntary contract than a "mandate" -- and not I did not restrict marriage to the plural form. Imagine if prospective marriage partners (dyadic and plural alike) spent more time and energy discussing and exploring what it would mean to be married before actually doing so, and taking the time to actually spell out the covenant which unites them instead of merely assuming what the details might mean.

Marriage as it currently exists *is* a set of default rules. There is some variation across states, but the amount of variation is somewhat limited by federal constitutional constraints and a simple desire not to become either a haven or a repellent (e.g., South Carolina began permitting divorce after WWII because it had become enough of a social norm that residents were just going to other states to divorce). I have a friend who does not want to take on all of the social and legal burdens of marriage, so she has put together a set of contracts to define her relationship as she wants it to be. Which is fine, but SHE'S NOT MARRIED. I would not disrespect what she has done by calling her married, nor would I say that anyone who has chosen such a "have it your way" route is married.

What it means to be married, from a legal perspective, has very little to do with the discussions among prospective partners. Chris's "family business" makes more sense from this perspective; partnership law is set up for multiple parties, though they make decisions for a common enterprise, not for one another as individuals.

If there was a demand for a multi-adult family, there would be an avenue for profit to be made by the service providers. This holds true for legal services and psychological services.

The profit exists by being able to charge more than the standard amount for what is unusual. Plus-size clothiers can make such profits as well. But why would employers want to pay the premiums required, unless enough of their employees were poly that they would fear losing them without a friendly policy? We have seen this shift among much of the large company private sector, particularly in creative/highly skilled areas, for same-sex couples. If it occurs by market force for polys as well, then I will have been proven wrong, but so far I haven't seen it.

I also am confused as to what is supposed to distinguish the benefit of polyamory from that of any other sort of communal living. Is there something about having sex with the third party that elevates that person to someone who deserves the status of spouse, or are we proposing a more radical shift in which "spouse" no longer signifies the one person to whom I have made an overriding commitment, but instead covers all adult members of my household who share in its duties and decision-making?

Kim Hampton said...

I'm going to ask a question that has been popping up in my mind since starting to read all these multi-partner threads.

How much of this polyamory discussion is really about a group of men trying to re-establish polgamy? I see no mention of polyandry.

I know I'm being small-minded about this, and am not apologizing for small-minded about it, but this just sounds like a group of men trying snow me.

If polyamory is so wonderful then show me the woman/women who is/are in a multi-partnered relationship with more than one man. How much of this is really about men who want a harem and are using cute words to cover up their real motive?

Chris Cantley said...

To Kim,

Kim asks,
"If polyamory is so wonderful then show me the woman/women who is/are in a multi-partnered relationship with more than one man. How much of this is really about men who want a harem and are using cute words to cover up their real motive?"

Its even bigger in scope than that. My situation is an example. I have wife and Girlfriend. My wife is Bi and our girlfriend is Bi. So they get the best of both worlds for themselves. That is part of what they want. I didn't dictate this relationship.

In a traditional "harem" the women would be only for the husband and could not frolic among themselves. In a traditional "harem" the man can bride a new wife without permission from the other wives.

Within the polyamorous community there are allot of examples of BIs getting both or women having more than one man and, yes, men having more than one women however you might be surprised to know that men have a harder time finding multiple loving partners in women.

In my reading about on PA boards I have found that while men generally are more open to the concept, the women who embrace polyamory have an easier time getting into relationships. I have known a number of poly couples where there was one women and multiple male partners. In some instances the men where bi.

Also, there is a cord of equality between the sexes that you would not find in a "harem". If anyone came into the community forums saying "I am polyamorous but I don't allow my spouse to be" they would get jumped on regardless of their gender.

Sure, I once though it was cute when guys would say "dude you have two girls" of which now I follow up with "yes, I now have only 30% of the say in my house". Not that I am complaining but to drive home the point that I am in an equally loving relationship, not the master of two women.

bright blessings,
~Chris

Chris Cantley said...

To PG


"But why would employers want to pay the premiums required, unless enough of their employees were poly that they would fear losing them without a friendly policy? "


The quick answer is... I don't know. What I can say is that insurance coverage is not just among few private creative/specialized companies. Case in point, my girlfriend works for a credit card processing company; second largest in the world, thousands of employees. Their insurance plan allows for "significant other" coverage upon some criteria that qualifies an SO.

So, why would a large company whose majority of workers are not specialized, or high end (we are talking majority call center workers here) choose and insurance that covers SO partners? Very hard to say. That question might be best left asked to an insurance specialist. But I can definitely say that coverage of gay or lesbian partners is less narrow than your post implies.

Another angle here also is possibly a full coverage cost to the insured for additional partners as an option. Lets also keep in mind that if multiple partners are working that there is a good chance that each working partner would have their own insurance and could opt to double cover the joint children much as a divorced couple with separate insurance could.

There are a number of angles that could be taken without the employer having to step up to paying the premium. Of course demand and competition between insurance Co.s would dictate these things.

Bright blessings,
~Chris

Chris Cantley said...

To PG


PG says.. "I also am confused as to what is supposed to distinguish the benefit of polyamory from that of any other sort of communal living."


First off, the comparison of polyamory to communal living is apples to oranges.

Polyamory is the practice of loving more than one person in an intimate, caring and considerate relationship. It does not mean that the partners always live together or that it even gets to a point where that would happen.

Communal living is simply a community (cohabitation or not) governed or brought together by a purpose. It is not necessarily driven by a love for the people involved. Technically you could have a "Commune" of polyamorous families but again that does not mean they are all poly for each other.

However, there is a narrow crossing in a situation where marriage of multiple partners could come into play. But in that case its not really a "community" but rather a large "family".

At this point we could dance around the meanings of both words and get nowhere real fast so the emphasis here is on the fact that while you COULD say a couple living together is a small "commune", there is enough difference in definition to argue that it isn't. Same would go for multiple partners in a polyamorous relationship living under the same roof.

"Is there something about having sex with the third party that elevates that person to someone who deserves the status of spouse, or are we proposing a more radical shift in which "spouse" no longer signifies the one person to whom I have made an overriding commitment, but instead covers all adult members of my household who share in its duties and decision-making?"

If there is anything our society has made abundantly clear is that "sex" with someone does not dictate seriousness or level of commitment in a relationship.

The hinging concept is Love. As sticky sweet as this might sound, its about care, concern, consideration and communication between partners. And to even want to bring in marriage between two people let alone multiple people brings to the surface another 'C' word..... Commitment.

Keep in mind that when you get married to one person, you are not making an "overriding commitment to one person." You are making a commitment to the entity that is your new family. That includes the possibility of kids, that includes financial responsibilities, that includes a whole array of other things that is part of a larger package than just you and your spouse.

maybe that is where the hangup is in our society. Maybe if people realized that the commitment is larger than just the people involved people would think twice.

And maybe, if we're really lucky, people might realize that what is important about marriage isn't how many or the gender but the commitment to becoming a larger, productive social entity than the partners involved.

bright blessings,
~Chris

PG said...

Chris,

I said "We have seen this shift among much of the large company private sector..."

You said "second largest in the world, thousands of employees. Their insurance plan allows for 'significant other' coverage upon some criteria that qualifies an SO."

How is this anything but another data point for my statement? The employer doesn't have to get an insurance company willing to make significantly larger expenditures; the social average of employee + partner + 2.4 children continues to hold with same-sex couples. A man who asks that his husband be eligible for coverage is just asking that he not be discriminated against on the basis of sex; after all, if he asked for coverage for his wife, there would be no question. A man who asks that both his wives be eligible for coverage is asking for something quite different.

And while many genuinely polyamorous partners may have multiple people in the relationship with insurance, such that no employer would have to cover more than two adults, you are ignoring the potential both for unintentional burdens (what if your girlfriend were a self-employed freelance writer who needed insurance?) and for deliberate ones (the much greater potential for abuse when I can marry multiple people whom I love -- after all, I have a couple of close friends for whom I do love and care, who would find it useful to be on my health insurance, but I don't think that my love and caring for them means that I should be able to marry both of them in addition to the person whom I would marry regardless of insurance issues).

Keep in mind that when you get married to one person, you are not making an "overriding commitment to one person." You are making a commitment to the entity that is your new family. That includes the possibility of kids, that includes financial responsibilities, that includes a whole array of other things that is part of a larger package than just you and your spouse.

At least under U.S. law, only the children the couple chooses to have and maintain are responsibilities that spouses may have beyond their commitment to each other. Should a couple not want children, the Constitution protects their right to contraception and abortion. State laws allow parents to put their children up for adoption -- no couple (in contrast to a single man who has fathered a child on a woman who wishes to keep the child) is forced to care for a child.

What are these financial responsibilities that marriage legally mandates I take on for people other than my spouse when we marry? I'm actually going to be married in the near future, so I would like to hear what I'm getting into. My fiance's family is not very financially stable, so if you are saying that by marrying him I default into some sort of responsibility for them, we may need to contract out of that particular aspect of marriage law.

Also, I would be curious as to how you would solve the Terri Schiavo-type dilemma that I posited. Do you agree with my conservative friend that we should write new laws to create a set of defaults when there isn't unanimity -- much like partnership law?

Alan7388 said...

How much of this polyamory discussion is really about a group of men trying to re-establish polgamy? I see no mention of polyandry.

A few years ago Loving More magazine did a survey of its readership and got about 1,000 responses; among other things, triads with two men were as common among its readers as those with two women.

(Among some in the poly world, MFM households have a reputation as more stable and low-drama than FMF's. Others dispute this.)

Alan7388

TERENTILIUS said...

Good evening.

I would first like to address your question of whether legal recognition of multi-partner relationships (MPR) would be warranted, necessary and socially responsible. To do so, please allow me to address each component separately.

Before that, there is the issue raised by others in this running debate, whether polyamory and MPR arrangements are on a par with monogamous ones. This is significant to the question at hand, just as the research of Edith Hooker and other social and behavioral scientists was invaluable in providing a foundational rationale for destigmatizing and decriminalizing homosexual behavior, and consequent legal equity for committed same-gender relationships. I would therefore refer you to the following paper, published 1999 and with references to research literature, which would indicate that the answer to this question is in the affirmative: http://www.polyamory.org/~joe/polypaper.htm.

Back to the question posited, with regard to the legal recognition of MPRs.

IS IT WARRANTED or DOES IT SOLVE A REAL PROBLEM?
Yes, it does. The status of current MPR families is at best one of legal limbo, at worst one of being outlaws. We are not referring to coercively arranged plural marriages under the auspices of the FLDS Church or other splinter groups, but the consensual arrangements of a diverse background of people. In one recent case, a woman in Knoxville TN was under threat of losing her daughter because her mother was in a triadic relationship. Psychologists established that the daughter was not being abused in any way, and that removing her from her mother’s care would have done more harm than good. The mother has retained legal custody of her daughter, but only after a protracted and expensive legal battle. Were she and other such families to be given legal recognition, this would not have been the case.

IS IT NECESSARY or WILL NO OTHER PATH CORRECT EXISTING PROBLEMS?
Given how marriage and other longterm relationships involving cohabitation and property sharing are inextricably tied to a plethora of legal issues, a legal solution is unavoidable. The options available are [A] strict prohibition and rigorous enforcement [B] case-by-case adjudication [C] official recognition. Even with a relatively small percentage of MPR families in existence, [A] would be untenable; our law enforcement and judicial institutions would become overburdened by this approach; this is evident in Utah and other states where prosecutors and law enforcement have engaged in selective enforcement of only the most egregious forms of polygamy (i.e. where other crimes such as statutory rape or defrauding the govt also take place). Likewise [B] requires considerable resources on the part of police, prosecutors and judges; furthermore, the common law principle of precedent would mean that the execution of [B] would inevitably lead towards [C], either by final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, or by legislative intervention at the behest of said agencies and institutions to establish a more uniform standard.

IS IT SOCIALL RESPONSIBLE or WILL IT INCREASE THE STABILITY OF FAMILIES FOR THE BENEFIT OF CHILDREN, WOMEN AND THE SOCIAL ORDER?
The Law of Unintended Consequences makes it impossible to determine with absolute certainty that any given proposal for social polity would indeed produce the benefits intended by its authors and proponents. Turning to the experience of same-gender couples, both positive and negative, I believe there is sufficient reason to answer in the affirmative here as well. Same-gender couples have long had to struggle, and continue to do so, for access to the judicial system for fair adjudication of disputes involving numerous aspects of their family lives, from child custody to protection from domestic violence to issues of health care (access, visitation, durable power of attorney) to property division on dissolution to inheritance and executing the decedent partner’s last wishes. As pointed out by many legal scholars in support of same-gender marriage, a same-gender couple may obtain dozens of documents at considerable expense, from durable powers of attorney and cohabitation agreements to wills and medical directives, yet even these can be contested by disapproving family members and dismissed by a judge who shares the family’s disapproval of same-gender relationships. In one case, a gay man was denied a protection order against his abusive estranged partner because the judge determined that to do so would be in violation of that state’s “Defence of Marriage” amendment. When committed relationships with enduring ties of family and property are not given adequate legal sanction and protection, then their durability cannot be assured; access to adjudicatory methods for determining equitable distribution of property is restricted or denied; families likewise cannot turn to adjudication or support services for assistance. Concomitantly, legal and social recognition holds the partners in MPR arrangements responsible and accountable; the sanction of law adds weight to their personal commitments to one another, making negligence or abandonment of said commitments more difficult.

I must conclude that, generally speaking, legal recognition of multi-partner relationships and their resultant family structures would be a greater benefit than harm to said families and to society at large. The only difficulty is what particular form said legal arrangements would take. As mentioned before on this blog, this is an issue which its proponents have yet to find a solution. By the same token, it is also not necessarily the case that a single, sweeping solution is in order. Just as same-gender couples continue to resort to domestic partnership and civil union when civil marriage is unavailable, it is highly likely that MPR families will resort to and help develop a number of legal strategies to obtain the recognition required for gaining greater access to legal and social institutions and protections.

birthingjourney said...

I have been reading the posts regarding polamory on LT's blog and others. As a polyamorist, I feel the attitude of the UU's from the exclusionary action of the IA's to the downright hostility of ministers and UU commenters makes me feel that perhaps UU churches are not as welcoming as we would like to think. I certainly do not feel welcomed in the church with my family. It is not about minister being apologetic for my lifestyle. It is about feeling welcomed and feeling like I will be accepted. I am concerned that our of fear of being overly liberal and being perceived as an "anything goes" religion, UU's are going the other extreme of being intolerant and hostile.

E. Isaacson said...

I guess we have suppressed our recollection that Mary Wollstonecraft, a member of the Rev. Richard Price’s Unitarian congregation, made waves with her 1792 tract on the Vindication of the Rights of Women, by denouncing monogamous marriage as an oppressive patriarchal institution, which she characterized as “legal prostitution.”

It seems we have suppressed as well any memory that Wollstonecraft’s lover, William Godwin, expressed remarkably similar sentiments the following year, writing in his 1793 Enquiry Concerning Political Justice that “marriage, as now understood, is a monopoly, and the worst of monopolies. So long as two human beings are forbidden, by positive institution, to follow the dictates of their own mind, prejudice will be alive and vigorous. So long as I seek, by despotic and artificial means, to maintain my possession of a woman, I am guilty of the most odious selfishness.”

It’s best to forget as well, I suppose, that Mary Wollstonecraft died shortly after giving birth to Godwin’s daughter, leaving him to raise the girl – and that their daughter in 1814 eloped with the notorious polyamorist and poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Never mind that in 1818, as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, she published her own novel, which she titled Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus.

It’s best to forget that the government took Percy Bysshe Shelley’s children from him, reasoning that one who believes people should be free to love one another – without legal restrictions – cannot be a fit parent.

Who could think that the polyamorist Unitarian radicalism started by Mary Wollstonecraft, which attacked the very foundations of England’s patriarchal social order, might be tolerated? And who among us would fault Edmund Burke for denouncing Wollstonecraft and the Unitarian Society as “loathsome insects that might, if they were allowed, grow into giant spiders as large as oxen”?

So – let the secular world remember our Unitarian forebear Mary Wollstonecraft as the founder of modern feminism. Let the secular world praise her lover William Godwin as an influential and enlightened social philosopher. Let the secularists honor Percy Bysshe Shelley as a great romantic poet, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley as the author of one of western literature’s most important novels.

They were all a bunch of damned polyamorists whom we – as twenty-first century UUs – apparently would rather just forget. And their ideas with them.

JBPM said...

"Religious history has shown that multiple partner relationships are fraught with anxiety and insecurity."

It has? I would have thought that, if anything, "religious history" has taught that the more intimate the relationship, the greater the distraction from pursuing higher spiritual aims. In other words, all human relationships, independent of the number of parties involved, are "fraught with anxiety and insecurity." (Of course, there are many exceptions to this rule, because it's pretty darn hard to generalize about something as vast as "religious history.")


"Abraham....Issac.....Jacob...David...
Solomon....all of these were part of multi-partnered relationships (I know that we could argue Abraham...but just work with me on this); and we can read how well those relationships worked."

This is really a stretch. I just finished reading the entirety of the Hebrew Bible and never once came across a passage that lay blame on the specifically multi-partner nature of a relationship (ok, except maybe for Abraham, the one example you say is arguable). David's problem wasn't that he had more than one wife; it was that he had a man killed to obtain one of the wives. Solomon's issue wasn't multiple wives, but was instead his turning away from the Israelite religion because some of his wives practiced other religions.

"Every major religion has said that the optimal number of people in a partnered relationship is 2. Even Islam, with its rules about multiple partners, says 2 is the best number."

Ah, but Islam acknowledges the reality of multiple partner relationships and allows for them.
And it may not count as a "major" religion, but the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints regarded polygamy as perfectly acceptable. It was only because the US government (in violation of the 1st amendment, IMO) would not allow Utah to become a state because of the Mormon belief in polygamy that the practice was abandoned. And various traditions within the religions of Asia religions have acknowledged and accepted both polygyny and polyandry.


"Since UUism is supposed to be a religious movement, give me an example from religious history where a multi-partnered relationship has worked."

The UU Church I attend is populated mainly by atheists and humanists. Please provide an example from religious history where atheists have belonged in a religious movement. Please provide me an example of Moses or Jesus or the Buddha espousing humanism.

That this entire thread is even necessary puts the lie to any notion that the UU Church encourages "the free search for meaning." I always thought that UU Churches were the refuge for those who were trying to escape majoritarian religious orthodoxies, but the longer I belong to this denomination, the more I see that it has abandoned its more radical roots and turned the free search for meaning into the repetition of liberal, humanistic platitutdes. For a wonderful commentary, see Rev. Jack Ditch's post at http://www.piratesoftheunitarians.com/blog/2007/09/who-are-you-to-judge-polyamory.html