Friday, July 13, 2007

Why It Matters to Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalist ministers, I think we can say, led the way among clergy, toward equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. It is something that we can be proud of. We took the lead on that because of the experience of our own gay and lesbian colleagues and congregants.

I believe that this leadership gives Unitarian Universalist ministers and congregations some moral and social authority on the question of love and marriage. In some ways, we have more authority on this question than any other question. That authority is the result of our ability to see into the essence of the question of equal marriage rights and see what was most important and true: that the desire of gay men and lesbians to form permanent, faithful, lifelong bonds was as worthy and commendable as the same desires among heterosexuals, and that it was a simple matter of fairness to extend ALL of the SAME rights to gays and lesbians. We were not alone, of course, among religious leaders to see this, and we did not move in exact unison, but no other denomination was so committed, so early and with as close to unanimity.

We need to be aware of our authority on marriage as we approach the question of multi-partnered marriages. It matters to other people what we think.

Having gained some authority on love and marriage, it is inevitable that we will be the objects of other people who want to use our authority to advance their own purposes. If we accede to the passive-aggressive demands of the polyamorists, we will have given away whatever authority we have gained -- we will have been shown to more concerned about avoiding a certain kind of criticism than in thinking through the issue for ourselves.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

LT, after reading this post, I'm not even thinking about whether or not I support multi-partnered marriage.

I'm actually just struck by the circles* I see you drawing. (Ironic, after your previous observations--at which I'd nodded, thinking we were in agreement that one might measure human progress by the extent to which we "widen the circle" of who is in our "in-group"...)

To wit:
our own gay and lesbian colleagues and congregants
vs.
other people...their own purposes.

Do you really mean to sound as if you think our UU denomination (yes, as I told you, I'm UU too, and have been since I was a kid) doesn't include ministers and congregants who identify as poly? Because that's how you're sounding to me. Please correct me if I've misunderstood you.

PHRachel

(*Circles as in Markham's verse.
He drew a circle that shut me out
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout
But love and I had the wit to win;
We drew a circle that took him in.
)

Anonymous said...

LT you keep calling these people "passive-aggressive".

Here is a dictionary definition:
Passive-aggressive behavior refers to passive, sometimes obstructionist resistance to following authoritative instructions in interpersonal or occupational situations. It can manifest itself as resentment, stubbornness, procrastination, sullenness, or repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is assumed, often explicitly, to be responsible. It is a defensive mechanism and, more often than not, only partly conscious. For example, people who are passive-aggressive might take so long to get ready for a party they do not wish to attend, that the party is nearly over by the time they arrive.

How do these polyamorists fit this definition??

LT said...

Dear PHRachel,
You and a few others can read my posts from now until you get tired of doing so, looking for ways to read my words in a way that make me look bigoted and prejudiced against "poly" people. By doing so, you keep proving my point: the advocates of multi-partnered relationships have only two points of argument. One is their self-described stories, best-case scenarios. And the other is the accusation of prejudice and unfairness.

I have invited people to make a positive argument for the legal recognition of poly marriages, showing that they are warranted, necessary and socially responsible. After you are advocating the change. So far, not much of a response, just a lot of "standing up to the Man", in this case, me.

Yes, I will state what most UU ministers already know: that we had broad and extensive experience with many gay and lesbian relationships among ourselves,our colleagues and our congregants which formed our stance toward same-sex marriage.
Our experience with Multi-partnered relationship is miniscule compared to that and, for many of us, limited to advocates.

Many of us do have experience with the open marriage movement in our churches, which we are told, does not count.

Many of us have pastoral experience with people who tried to cover their disrespect for their marriage partner with some high minded talk about loving more than person, but we are told that doesn't count, either.

I am sure that you will let me know how I am being unfair to you.

Mark said...

LT:

"I have invited people to make a positive argument for the legal recognition of poly marriages, showing that they are warranted, necessary and socially responsible. After you are advocating the change."

No, as you've ackowledged yourself, UU advocates for recognition of their multi-partner relationships are explicitly not calling for an extension of existing marriage law. Your response to that has been to claim that the advocates are either a) evasive about their true intentions or b) incapable of seeing the inevitable social result of widespread acceptance of their relationship choices as valid.

Option (a) conveniently allows you to engage the position you're apparently the most comfortable engaging. Option (b) represents to a legitimate difference of assessment.

"Many of us do have experience with the open marriage movement in our churches, which we are told, does not count."

No, it is not that it doesn't count; it's that it isn't convincing on its face as a critique of what all contemporary advocates for their multi-partner relationships are saying and doing. As with your legal marriage point above, the strength of this critique is mostly dependent on the people who dispute it being either a) evasive or b) naive.

"Many of us have pastoral experience with people who tried to cover their disrespect for their marriage partner with some high minded talk about loving more than person, but we are told that doesn't count, either."

No, again. See above about the general applicability of this critique depending on either the a) evasiveness or b) naivete of the people who appear not to fit that model.

You are not persuaded of the advisability of polyamory at this point; that is fair enough, and not a sign of prejudice. But when people see you apparently dismissing them with assessments of what they're "really saying" and "really thinking," well. It begins to look like you've either already decided ahead of time that they're acting in bad faith, or that you don't actually have an answer. Which would be disappointing, because you have struck me as someone who tries to act in good faith, and who is quite capable of thinking through thorny issues and coming up with reasonable replies.

Anonymous said...

Dear LT,

Well, just now while I was deep in thought trying to compose a "giraffe language" reply, I accidentally let a pot that was steaming sweet potatoes on the stove burn dry. Ack!

But probably a good sign that I need to get back to my real life and say aloha here for now. *grin*

I do want to acknowledge that you're right, that my own contributions here were not what you'd invited (i.e. arguments for legal recognition). It probably would have been more polite of me to offer my story with a prefatory acknowledgment of that. I wish I had, and I'm sorry I didn't.

Also, I don't know what blog etiquette says about anonymous postings, but I'm worried it might be akin to "ring and run" if I don't leave you with some way to reach me, so here's an email address: rachelishappyandsad (at) yahoo.com.

I'm truly regret being still so closeted--it would be very nice to feel okay about introducing myself to you and other UU ministers without using a pseudonym. That day for me, given my own particular situation, is a few years away, but it will come, I hope.

In the meantime, may you be very well and very happy! I realize this medium of communication can be difficult--there's so much it can't convey--so let me tell you outright that I'm grateful to you for this, my first chance really to tell my story to ministers of my faith--and I'm not going away with any hard feelings.

Aloha,
PHRachel

birthingjourney said...

LT, you are expressing your pride at being open and supporting gay marriage and the equality, yet you are name calling those that also seek the same equality for those they love.

At this point from the discussion I don't know if I would be welcomed. I have children who are very happy and adjusted yet there are unfounded accusations that poly is bad for children. Thus making me an unfit mother? Is that how my minister will see me/judge me?

While I don't expect you to be supportive of poly. As a minister I do expect that you will not pass such harsh judgment on those in your congregation or potentially those in your congregation.

My closest friend and mentor is someone who is pagan, straight and monogamous. yet I know I can turn to her in any moment of need. While she is not poly herself, I know she will never judge me. I expect ministers, esp UU ministers to be the same. Being open, nonjudgemental and respecting the inherent dignity and worth of someone is not the same as being apologetic.

I posted this first paragraph elsewhere but felt like it was a pertinent conclusion...

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 they would like to think.

Anonymous said...

Why does saying that one is against something like polyamory make a person less open? Just because somebody has drawn a line in the samd for themselves does not mean that they are not an open person. It just means that they have made a judgement for themselves.

One of these days UUs will learn the benefits of prudent judgement.

Anonymous said...

Now on vacation travels and soon approaching retirement, I received an email from one of my congregants about this exchange taking place.

Some years ago, I remember meeting a prospective member of our mid-sized UU church, asking me as their minister whether she and her two partners would be welcome. TWO partners? Just the mention jolted my even-then aging mind. Yet I took a deep breath, collected my thoughts, and considered carefully from a pastoral perspective what I would say. Perhaps because I took so much care, I can still recall with fair accuracy what I said to her that day:

“If you believe in our Unitarian Universalist principles, if you seek to learn and to grow spiritually, and to share your gifts with us as we do with you, then by all means you are welcome. If your partners think likewise, then they are likewise welcome. As to whether your living and loving two people at once would also be welcome – and I am sure that is part of your question – I must be candid with you and say that this is not something you can expect to be accepted readily. It will be hard for many in our church to understand and accept. I must be honest that it is hard for me to do so. I am sure that you feel your relationship is as important as mine with my wife, or that of any other couple you’ll encounter here. I am also sure that you believe that the hesitancy and resistance you are likely to encounter is much like that towards gay and lesbian couples. Were I in your shoes, I am sure I would feel the same. But please put yourself in our shoes. We are not used to this. Many of us remember when open marriages were the vogue in many of our churches, only to lead to conflict and heartbreak – many people left our churches because of it, I remember. Your experience of being in love with more than one person may be worlds apart from that – but it is also not the only experience brought into this church. As a pastor, I have to weigh all of these experiences and strike a balance. So I can listen to you, and to your partners, and minister to you as best as I can. But I must also serve the entire community as best as I can, and doing both will mean taking great care.”

The young woman understood, and it turned out that one of her two partners was not inclined to join our church community with her. She and her other partner stayed with us for five years until they moved to another part of the country. Almost no one knew about their third, and those who did made no outright objections. To my knowledge, we’ve never had another polyamorous person come to our church (but, then again, I may be wrong).

As I wade through the lengthy list of commentary – some fiery and some philosophical – I believe that the position I took is not that different from that of LT. It is the ways we express ourselves which are so very far apart. Perhaps it is because I was dealing face to face with a person of flesh, blood and soul, as opposed to the faceless world of the Internet (which, I as an old-timer admit, I’ve never gotten used to). Sometimes I find that people who take part in these cyber-exchanges forget too easily that there are other people reading what they type out and send into the ether with a simple tap of the ENTER button.

And, if I may be perfectly frank, LT, as a colleague in ministry, I feel from reading your comments that this is exactly what you are doing.

It is easy to be the preacher when behind a computer keyboard, never having to see the faces or hear the voices of the people who read your words. It is much harder to be a pastor – to listen with an open heart, to see both pain and joy in people’s faces, and hear them in their voices. It is easy to speak AT people about what you think, feel and believe, and to forget the responsibility of pastors to speak WITH people, to listen to what they have to say.

LT, as a fellow minister, I feel with you that we must approach this question of polyamory with extreme care and hesitancy. I am not ready to speak on behalf of multi-partner relationships, or to bless them publicly. While many have surely had positive experiences living this way, we must always balance them against all of the experiences out there.

But we must also remember that, behind the stories and the theories, there are real human hearts longing for guidance and love. That is where our role as pastors come in. That is where, in striking the balance, we must also weigh our words.

You can chalk it up to a difference of style, to my advancing years, to my relative ineptness with computers, or to my Midwestern upbringing, but I would not choose the way in which you have expressed yourself, LT. Your words sound too harsh, your protest too adamant, your tone too combative, your judgments too hasty. I do not know you personally, and you may be a deeply sensitive pastor to your flock, but that is not how you come across. You come across more as an indignant preacher – the very kind that many UUs, even the most conventional, have tried to flee. And this is coming from a colleague who is basically on your side on this issue.

Might I recommend that you take a break from posting any more commentary on this matter for at least a week. Please take that time to reflect, to search your soul and honestly ask yourself how you might pastor those polyamorous people who might come to your church. How would you speak with them face to face? How would you want a pastor to speak with you face to face? Please use not only your well-trained mind to choose your words, but a loving heart.

hafidha sofia said...

Just because somebody has drawn a line in the samd for themselves does not mean that they are not an open person.

Drawing in a line in the sand for oneself is fine. I don't think that is what birthingjourney is talking about. Instead, it's statements that disparage polyamory as a choice for other families that are being described as "not open."

It can be a thin line. I can say, "being a lesbian isn't for me," without judgment. But if I say, "being a lesbian is harmful," I'm making a judgment, even if I think I'm merely stating a fact.

David said...

LT,

I, for one, hope you will keep posting and developing the ideas you've set forth. I'm looking forward towards a further development of your ideas on a Theology of Marriage.

I'm still learning from what you're writing.

LT said...

to my anonymous colleague,
I am stunned that you would reproach me AS A COLLEAGUE in public anonymously. Our guidelines urge you to talk to me personally when you feel that my conduct does not reflect well on our ministry.
(2) This is not pastoral face to face communication. This is a discussion of public ministry, conducted in a public space.

UUDad said...

I'd like to explore BirthingJourney's contention: "I have children who are very happy and adjusted yet there are unfounded accusations that poly is bad for children. "

So, your polyamory has never caused your children pain, BirthingJourney?

Are you married? Has it caused problems in your marriage? If so, have you fought in front of your children? That can be more painful than you may know.

Can you honestly say you've never taken time and attention away from the children and given it to the extra person in your marriage? Have you ever been upset with relationship problems and then been short with your children because of it?

Even if you are perfect and your polyishness never causes tension in your marraige and you manage to never, ever, let the children feel negative effects of it, do you think everyone else in the world is as selfless as you are?

If I smoke around my children and they don't get cancer, are allegations that secondhand smoke is bad for children unfounded?

Robin Edgar said...

"Unitarian Universalist ministers, I think we can say, led the way among clergy, toward equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. It is something that we can be proud of. We took the lead on that because of the experience of our own gay and lesbian colleagues and congregants."

Well when a third of all your U*U colleagues are gay or lesbians, at least according to the testimony of Rev. Ray Drennan (formerly of the Unitarian Church of Montreal), I suppose that it is not all that surprising that U*U clergy would be pushing the gay marriage agenda.

Robin Edgar said...

UUDud,

Your criticism could apply pretty much equally well to traditional heterosexual marriage or indeed gay marriage. Try again. . .

UUdad said...

I don't have multiple wives, Robin. But I do have multiple kids. And I know that three is harder to handle than one. It seems to me that three wives would be even more difficult and take even more time and emotional energy. A person only has so much of those.

And when children are jealous of each other, that's a part of growing up. But when parents are jealous of one another, it leads to fighting, unintentional neglect and kids who might seem OK, but would be better off with a more stable environment.

If BJ tells us that she and her husband and whoever else they have around are respectful to each other even when things are tense and keep any fighting where the kids can't hear it, and have, say, been with the same person for five years rather than having multiple people in and out of the kids' lives, then fine.

But I question BJ's assertion that the accusations that poly is bad for children are unfounded.

You're right that people fight in twosomes as well, but a more complex system is less stable and I would think there would be more tension with more people.

Alan said...

> ...that they are, indeed, the new
> thing that will arise to address
> the epidemic of broken marriages,
> fatherless children, abandoned
> single mothers, and sexual acting
> out that are the symptoms of the
> crisis of marriage in our culture.
> If they do appear to be that new
> thing, then I will change my mind.

Gee whillikers -- you don't ask much of us polys, do you?

Look, polyamory is not for everyone, not for most, and you can't ask us to solve every one of your congregants' marital problems like that. What a ridiculous standard to set for acceptance in your church. What we are asking for is decent and respectful treatment for ourselves and our relationships when we carry them out in an honorable and ethical way.

I'm the guy who posted about looking at the future 50 years hence -- and you'll remember that it was in the context that in a totally poly-friendly and poly-normative society, my guess was that no more than 10% of people would choose to live this way. With 10% we couldn't solve everyone's relationship problems even if we were carrying blueprints direct from God.

Which we aren't. As you know, "polyamory" covers a wide variety of relationship styles and implementions to best fit the individuals involved. What works for some doesn't work for others. Polys are human, not angels descended from heaven. Despite high community standards, and a certain degree of community enforcement of those standards, polys sometimes mess up like other fallen humans.

Moreover, the waters are muddied by opportunistic bull artists who use "polyamory" as a new buzzword with which to fog their bulls--ttery. As in:

> Many of us have pastoral
> experience with people who
> tried to cover their disrespect
> for their marriage partner with
> some high minded talk about
> loving more than person, but
> we are told that doesn't count,
> either.

No. You are being told that just because you've encountered *some* cheating rats, you should not conclude that *we* are cheating rats, or their enablers.

I volunteer to help you explain the difference to someone in this marital situation who tries to fog you by misuse of the words and concepts. (I'm in driving distance.)

-- Alan (who's being a little active-aggressive so as not to be called the passive kind... while still trying to be a polite UU... possible?)

LT said...

Alan,
You say "What we are asking for is decent and respectful treatment for ourselves and our relationships when we carry them out in an honorable and ethical way."

Does that, or does that not, include me, as the minister of the church I serve, saying that multiple-partnered relationships are morally and socially equivalent to 2-person marriages?

And isn't my saying so, a statement I am making on a question of public policy?

Robin Edgar said...

I think you are confusing polyamory with polygamy UUdad. There are some differences. My somewhat limited understanding of polyamory is that it is more along the lines of an "open marriage" or "open relationshiip" than having multiple spouses in one hosehold although I suppose it could include that scenario.

I stand by what I said and will provide an example or two -

Would you say - "So, your homosexuality has never caused your children pain?" to a gay couple?

Would you say - "Are you gay? Has it caused problems in your marriage? If so, have you fought in front of your children? That can be more painful than you may know."

Have *you* ever been upset with relationship problems and then been short with your children because of it UUdad?

Would you say - "Even if you are perfect and your homosexuality never causes tension in your marriage and you manage to never, ever, let the children feel negative effects of it, do you think everyone else in the world is as selfless as you are?"

Would you say - "If I display my homosexuality around my children and they don't turn gay, are allegations that gay marriage is bad for children unfounded?"

hafidha sofia said...

I'm glad Robin asked those questions because I was thinking them myself.

UUdad said...

Robin, in talking about polygamy, I was taking the best case scenario. If parents are shuffling adults in and out of their kids lives, going through regular breakups and spending the time it takes to meet new partners, I promise you that their kids are suffering for it.

"Would you say - "So, your homosexuality has never caused your children pain?" to a gay couple?"

I would assume it hasn't. As long as the kid has the stability it needs, I don't see why it would. The only possible consequence for the kids that I can see is getting teased on the playground. I got teasted on the playground, didn't you? Kids get over that.


"Would you say - "Are you gay? Has it caused problems in your marriage? If so, have you fought in front of your children? That can be more painful than you may know.""

If I knew the couple I was speaking to was gay, then those questions wouldn't make any sense.

So I assume you're talking about a straight couple. I realize this may be shocking to UU ears, but if I realized I was gay, I would remain with my wife until my children were out of high school. Because I care about them more than I care about my own sexual pleasure.

People have gone without sex they wanted and been fine, arguably going without sex you wanted for some portion of your life was the cultural norm until very recently. If there's no good reason for it, that's too bad. But providing a stable home life for your kids is a good reason for it.

It's only recently that "I want it, so it must be OK" has become the mantra.

""Have *you* ever been upset with relationship problems and then been short with your children because of it UUdad?"""

Not that I can recall. After you've been married for fifteen years, you've pretty much had all the fights you could have. No need to have them again in front of the kids.

And because I know my wife isn't going to walk out the door if I don't agree with her, the fights become less important. When you know you're going to work out the problem eventually, it doesn't make you angry enough to take it out on the kids.

":"Would you say - "Even if you are perfect and your homosexuality never causes tension in your marriage and you manage to never, ever, let the children feel negative effects of it, do you think everyone else in the world is as selfless as you are?""")

Again, I don't know why homosexuality would be a problem in a homosexual marriage, so I assume you're talking about a straight couple where one of the members happens to be gay.

I do know that breaks up marriages. I wish people worked out who they were a little better before they got married. And again, if that happened to me, I would choose not to act on it until the children were much older.

I wish other people would make the same choice. At the same time, homosexuality has been biologically proven to be inborn. Having an open marriage is a choice, something that I think even the poly folks on this board don't seem to deny.

I don't see why they can't put off the choice for ten years until the kids aren't quite so dependent.


""Would you say - "If I display my homosexuality around my children and they don't turn gay, are allegations that gay marriage is bad for children unfounded?""

So far, studies have shown that the allegations that gay marriage is bad for children are unfounded.

But other studies have shown that parents going through multiple breakups and problem relationships is very bad for the children. Those kids are far more likely to drop out of school, use drugs and go to jail.

I'd still like to hear from BJ.

Mark said...

UUDad:

First, I want to emphasize that I'm not trying here to persuade you to think multi-partner relationships are advisable. I'm only discussing your statements about the effects of those relationships on children.

1. Much as smokers are capable of minimizing the risk to their children by choosing to only smoke outside, poly people are capable of making decisions that protect their children. In my family, for example, my wife has two other partners (who play a role equivalent to "uncle" for our son), while I have none. In our situation, we don't think we could provide a stable home for our son if we both had other partners--so we don't.

2. Unsurprisingly, the poly people I have known have tended to make interpersonal relationships their top priority--including their relationships with their children, for the ones who are parents. Some have been more "kid people" than others, the same as in the general population, but they have all tended to be both attentive to, and fiercely protective of, their children.

(I'm sure they exist, but I haven't personally met any poly people who choose high-powered careers that demand a lot of time away from their families. I haven't seen research on the effect of those careers on families, but I am very familiar with the challenges that ministers' families deal with--the divorce rate for ministers in recent decades is not promising, and "pastor's kid" is a sociological category unto itself).

3. In the multi-partner households I've known, I can't recall any children being placed in long-term daycare. Even if all the adults worked, schedules could be arranged so that someone could always be "home with the kids." Personally, the statistics on the social problems of children who've spent their formative years in daycare scare the sh*t out of me. I'd much rather have my son deal with occasionally cranky parents than have had him grow up in daycare--which, since we've been a single-income family (stress!), is the precise trade-off we made.

(I am not at all recommending that folks run out and get a third-or-more spouse just for free childcare--that would be utterly insane).

Mark said...

UUDad:

"I don't know why homosexuality would be a problem in a homosexual marriage"

Some real-life examples:

--Disagreements over how "out" to be.

--Disagreements over legal arrangements, since (except in Massachusetts) there isn't the option of signing on for a full package deal. (I know less about civil union law; maybe those states should be included here too). Even if there aren't disagreements over legal arrangements, the hassle of having to take care of them can cause stress.

--Bad experiences with ignorance, discrimination, etc. can be brought home and taken out on the spouse and kids.

--Lack of positive role models growing up, or lack of growing up with the expectation that marriage was an option, can lead to stress as the couple figures out what exactly "gay marriage" means.

But, no, generally there isn't a dispute about whether the couple is going to be gay, instead of something else.

Anonymous said...

And polyamorous couples deal with all of that on top of issues of jealousy, meeting new people, breaking up with old people whom kids might have gotten attached to and everything else.

But, no, none of that stress rubs off on the kids. No way.

Alan said...

> You say "What we are asking
> for is decent and respectful
> treatment for ourselves and
> our relationships when we
> carry them out in an honorable
> and ethical way."
>
> Does that, or does that not,
> include me, as the minister
> of the church I serve, saying
> that multiple-partnered
> relationships are morally and
> socially equivalent to 2-person
> marriages?

No. Speaking for myself anyway, what we're asking for is respect and fair-mindedness -- judging people on their merits -- not a blanket statement that poly relationships are just like mono relationships.

To respect black people, for instance, you don't have to say that black people are "just like white people."

This exact fallacy, as I recall, was a constant argument by conservatives against civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s. They felt they were being put upon and forced to say that blacks were "the same as whites," which was obviously false. Differences were plain by looking. But of course that wasn't the issue.

You seem to have blundered into the same morass, perhaps from the same cause: a gut fear that any challenge to improve and enlarge the existing moral order will only make everything scarier and worse.

I *would* ask that you recognize a good multi-partner relationship as a good thing, and not pre-judge good people as bad people -- or as bad influences who ought to be closeted out of public view -- before getting to know them.

LT said...

Alan,
People come to their ministers and tell of adulterous affairs and secret addictions. Ministers respond to them with respect, compassion and love. However, they do not say that adultery is just as good as fidelity and addiction is just another life-style choice.

You will own the fact that you think that poly relationships are morally and socially equivalent to 2 person relationships. You say so over and over again.

Your definition of respect includes me agreeing with you. You will not own that you are asking me to have the courage of your convictions in public. And if I don't, then I am not being respectful of you, but being prejudiced and in fact, wandering in the same morass as Southern segregationists. A few more posts, and I suspect that you will accuse me of moral complicity in the Holocaust.

I do not agree with you that multi-partnered relationship are morally and socially equivalent to 2 person relationships. I may be wrong, and have been wrong before. I don't expect to change your mind, but I am letting you know that you will not change my mind by accusing me of intolerance, prejudice and bigotry.

I take the time to have these discussions not because I expect to change your mind -- why should my opinion count that much in your world? -- but to reveal what the advocates of polyamory are doing with UU's. You are asking for "respect and tolerance" on the surface, but are actually insistent that respect and tolerance includes a public statement in support of polyamory. When asked directly if that is true, you won't answer the question directly. Why not? Because if you told the truth, that you want UU ministers to assert the moral and social neutrality of poly relationships, then you would have to deal with the fact that we might disagree, and might argue with your premises.

I continue this discussion because it matters to Unitarian Universalism. If we make statements on public policy because we are afraid of being called prejudiced by those who want our support, our affirmations will mean nothing in the end. If our Yes is to have any meaning, then we must be willing to say No when we are not convinced.

Mark said...

anonymous:

"But, no, none of that stress rubs off on the kids. No way."

????

I don't think anyone has claimed that the children in poly families never suffer stress, only that they do not suffer from unique or inevitably more powerful stressors.

If the discussion is "what about the people coming in and out of the child's life"--which is, at the least, not *my* poly life--then the most appropriate comparison group is not stable couple marriages, but single parents. Should they not date? Not remarry? (Studies on the increased rate of child abuse in stepfamilies: brrrr).

The difference, of course, is that single parents are generally seen as having a legitimate need for intimate companionship, while poly people are often seen as doing something unnecessary. Which I think is a problematic judgment, but it's not an inherently unfair one. Still: we're talking about risk-benefit judgments, *not* absolute risk levels.

Mark said...

LT:

"Does that, or does that not, include me, as the minister of the church I serve, saying that multiple-partnered relationships are morally and socially equivalent to 2-person marriages?"

I can't speak for Alan (and you didn't like his answer anyway), but I think there is a big difference between "respectable" and "equivalent."

To pick a deliberately absurd example: someone who volunteers at the local food bank once a month is not morally and socially equivalent to Mother Teresa, but they are still morally and socially respectable.

I defend your right--indeed, your obligation, if it is a matter of conscience--to argue that couple marriages are morally and socially superior to all other kinds of intimate relationships. It doesn't follow from that, though, that all other kinds of relationships are untenable and unacceptable, on par with adultery or addiction.

The position of the religious traditions that I'm familiar with, for example, is that unmarried couples are not morally and socially equivalent to married ones. If an unmarried couple came to you and said, "Minister, we would like you to perform a blessing ceremony on our relationship," you would be quite justified in saying no. If that same couple came to your congregation asking for support in challenging social security benefit laws, on the basis of discrimination against couples who have chosen not to be legally married--again, you would be quite justified in saying no. But if that unmarried couple came to you and said, people are talking about us and making it clear they don't want us here...would your response be, "I can't publicly recognize the legitimacy of your relationship, because that would encourage X, Y and Z"?

I don't know, maybe it would be; it's certainly been the response of ministers in the Christian tradition on many occasions. But it seems...disproportionate, to me. Of course, your assessment may (and probably will) differ.

Mark said...

Followup to LT:

When I said "Of course, your assessment may (and probably will) differ," I had more in mind your assessment of the relevance of my example to the issue of polyamory.

Sorry for any unclarity.

UUdad said...

"". Still: we're talking about risk-benefit judgments, *not* absolute risk levels.""

When the benefit would be to you and the risk would be to your child, you know what the right thing to do is.

Mark said...

UUDad:

"When the benefit would be to you and the risk would be to your child, you know what the right thing to do is."

You are assuming there is no benefit for children in poly families. This assumption is, well, wrong.

(If you are interested in an elaboration, I will provide one).

Chance said...

Mark, but I haven't heard any polyamorists say they're staying in a poly relationship despite their own feelings because it's best for the kids. Nor that they did it primarily for the kids. The poly arguments seem to always start with the interests of the parents.

As an adopted uncle, I know that my relationship with my nephew is helpful to him. I can imagine the same sort of thing happening in a poly relationship. (I think someone might have mentioned that upthread.) But that isn't an argument for poly. Uncle-type relationships can happen in all sorts of ways; you don't need a poly relationship to make that happen.

Mark said...

chance:

Yes, it is true that there aren't many benefits for children that are exclusive to poly families. My point is more that the benefits that children find in traditional families are not lost in poly families.

(There are a few poly-specific benefits for children, related to having multiple invested adults around. For example: a parent loses their job, and is under a great deal of stress; instead of one person having to keep everything together in the family, there's extra help. For another example: the parents are having a fight about the in-laws or money or whatever; there is someone else less distracted by the fight to pay attention to the kids. For a third example: my son has two biological uncles, who live far away and couldn't be an active presence in his life even if they made it a very high priority, which they don't; other partners have more incentive to stick close and/or be around more often).

Above, I made a comparison with single-parent families, which I think is appropriate to continue here. A single parent who dates and/or marries rarely does so primarily because they believe their child(ren) will be better off if they do, but for reasons of personal fulfillment. The argument can be made that a more fulfilled parent is a better parent, which benefits kids; that argument can also be disputed.

Many would say that a single parent has a legitimate need to become part of a couple, while a person who is part of a couple never has a legitimate need for additional intimate companionship. As I said above, I find that a problematic argument, but not an unfair one.

For what it's worth: In my family, there have been times when relationships have been preserved because ending them would have been bad for our son. You'll forgive me for not going into more detail, but it would be getting more personal than I feel comfortable to, on the open web. Whether other such stories aren't being told for similar reasons, I can't say.

(Also, a lot of people in polyamorous relationships don't have children, so they're not going to go there for explanations of their choices).

Mark said...

Followup to chance:

"But that isn't an argument for poly."

Indeed not. I'm not particularly interested in arguing that people should have polyamorous relationships, just that those people who choose to do so aren't inevitably being irresponsible or selfish.

Alan said...

> You are asking for "respect and
> tolerance" on the surface, but are
> actually insistent that respect
> and tolerance includes a public
> statement in support of polyamory.

Once again, no.

> When asked directly if that is
> true, you won't answer the
> question directly.

Once again, here's a direct answer: No.

I think this confusion is caused by some extremifying going on. In reality, there's a broad continuum of stances one can take toward anything -- from actively championing it, down to endorsing it, to accepting it, to tolerating it. In the other direction, the spectrum continues to being uncomfortable with it, to disapproving, to vocally opposing, to persecuting.

When an argument gets emotional, people extremify the other side's position and feel pushed to extremify themselves. Really, I'm not asking you to endorse or champion something you disapprove of. I'm asking you to tolerate and accept good polyfolks and not make your church an unwelcoming place.