An ominous portent haunts the dissenting opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges. Chief Justice John Roberts, relying on the old maxim that it’s valid to infer from what has happened to what will happen, predicts the inescapability of sequels to the legalization of same-sex “marriage.” The SCOTUS, he avers, will be unable to discount future petitioners who, in hopes of escaping discrimination based on their natural orientation to multi-partners, seek to legalize polyamorous “marriage.”
Background: Polyamory 101
Polyamory is a long-term romantic/sexual relationship between more than two people based on the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. These multiple partnerships, sometimes defined as “stable bonds,” could consist of all heterosexual or all homosexual adults. Consider the report, “Married lesbian ‘throuple’ expecting their first child.” (Translation: Three lesbian women from Massachusetts are in a polymarriage with one of them pregnant [thanks to donor sperm and intrauterine insemination] making all of them one big, happy poly-family of “expectant moms”!) Or the polyamorous unit might be made up of a blend of adults who identify as hetero-, homo-, bi-, or transgendered-sexuals who—one can only speculate—stake out their respective times for sexual intimacy accordingly.
Polyamorists insist a polymarriage is different from an “open marriage” for at least two reasons. First, by right of the commitment between and betwixt the polyamorous adults who comprise the multi-partner marriage. And, second, by virtue of its normativity (and, hence, morality): polymarriage is nothing other than an amoral “living out” of one’s inborn, natural orientation to plural sexual relationships.
One very informal poll estimates somewhere around 30 percent of the polyamorous community follow the primary/secondary model. The other 70 percent reject the hierarchical model claiming they “get different things out of different relationships.” Which probably means one dyadic coupling produces sex-pleasure-rewards equal to another. Many polyamorists in the 70 percent bracket live in triads or quads where each adult participant has sexual relations (1) with every other person or (2) with just one other person or (3) with a few members of the group. The most common numerical cluster seems to be that of a triad of two males and one female living together. While breakup rates are rather fuzzy, some poly-marriages last a decade, even two. The longest term poly-marriage reported—an outlier, for sure—was that of a husband and wife legally married for 40 years, where each spouse was “committed” to a relationship with a second partner for 20 years. So, the actual poly-marriage lasted 20 years?
A poly-family is defined in two ways. First, as a “familial group” of more than two polyamorous adults who usually exercise their respective multi-sex partnerships under the same roof. Or, second, as a household consisting of polyamorous adults some of whom also opt to include their children within the menagerie.
My sense about polyamorist activism is this: There’s a slow-moving, off-the-radar, but politically savvy polyamory contingent who are in the same place now as the gay activists were 30 years ago. They initially plan to “out” themselves while, simultaneously, working assiduously to gain the recognition and respect of a majority of the polity. Their next objective is just as critical. They hope the projected groundswell of positive—or at least, non-judgmental—populist attitudes toward polyamory will convince the judiciary that polyamory “throuples” have the same constitutional right to marry as opposite- and same-sex couples.
Rhetoric at the Service of a Polyamorist Ideology
To their credit, polyamorist proponents (PPs) are realists when it comes to outcomes. They acknowledge that their hope of becoming one of the sequels to legalized same-sex “marriage” is going to require Herculean umph: Aimed both at invalidating bigamy laws and at normalizing what many still classify as psychopathologies (hypersexuality, sexual addiction). But poly-people draw hope from the success won by same-sex “marriage” advocates, and they’re inspired by the glossy PR and marketing rhetoric employed by the gay lobby.
Accordingly, what one sees is that PPs always and everywhere define and promote the poly-marriage in terms as normal as—or at least not any more abnormal than, and whenever possible as super-normal to—opposite- or same-sex “marriage.” To accomplish this—to “sell” polyamory as a morally legitimate lifestyle choice—and to nudge it closer to legalization, PPs are forced to do creative radical surgery on the English language. And, voilá! A poly-rhetorical landscape appears, post-surgery, replete with verbicides, half-truths, whole lies, doublespeak, oxymoronic neologisms, and “good ole snake oil salesmanship.”
And all with the same outcome: to place polemical language at the service of a polyamorist ideology. Using twisted rhetoric not only to dismantle Judeo-Christian sexual mores but also to clear a path to the Supreme Court by making a bad lifestyle choice look good, an irrational plural “marriage” sound rational, and a sexual addiction appear healthy.
But don’t take my word for it. Peruse the following poly-testimonial from the Huffington Post and judge for yourself. (Imagine how easily the titillating rosey filter, tortuous conclusions, and bizarre neologisms of this narrative might trick a reader who’s short on vigilance into believing that wild approval of a husband’s infidelity is not only a sane move on the part of the wife, but her best course of action.)
I vividly remember the first time I felt it. My husband and I were in the backyard, lazing in the sun, sipping drinks as he described the previous evening. As he talked, his face looked brighter, his eyes clearer. In a flash of déjà vu, I remembered that same vibrant and enraptured look from 25 years earlier, when we first met. It was a sudden reemergence of his vitality that I hadn’t fully seen in our domestic nest for many years. But now, in his detailed (and scintillating) descriptions, that fire in his eyes was beaming. “Baby,” I told him genuinely, “I am so happy for you!”
What brought on these feelings of joy in both of us? To be honest, he’d just had sex—with another woman. And, yep, I was stoked for him.
There’s actually a word for the joyful feeling that a polyamorous person has when his or her lover or spouse walks through the door after spending the afternoon making love to his or her new girlfriend or boyfriend: compersion. Compersion is such a novel concept that you won’t even find the word in the dictionary (unless you look in the Urban dictionary). Feeling all warm and gooey because your spouse had a great time banging someone else is not something we’re socialized to feel….
Mull over a sampler of poly-terms from the ever-expanding poly-lexicon—verbal sleights of hand all, describing poly-people and their choices as morally ambivalent, maybe. But as wholesale immoral? Never! Ah, yes. Faced with the warped ethos of feminist ideology, you just might have a Captain Kirk moment and cry out: “Beam me up, Scotty!” “There’s no intelligent life on this planet.”
- ethical slut: A poly female who remains committed to the plural partners she sexually services within her poly-family.
- faithful non-monogamy or polyfidelitous: A “virtue” characteristic of poly-people who don’t date outside their poly-household.
- polygeometry: How poly-people describe their complex sexual connections.
- spice: The term poly-people use instead of spouses, denoting the multi-fun, multi-pleasures, and multi-bang for your buck one gets from one’s multi-partners.
- throuple: A poly-couple (three or more spouses married to each other).
- Triad and Quad: The nicknames for three- and four-person polymarriages or threesomes and foursomes, respectively. [NB: the term for multi-partnerships in excess of four is “moresomes.”]
- OSOs: Other significant others, that is the secondary or side lovers of a polyamorist.
So, stripped of its glossy rhetoric, the poly-ideology that emerges is not a pretty sight. It’s a conglomerate of (1) a dualist anthropology (where only the soul is assigned moral value) which gives rise to (2) a libertine morality (since my body has no inherent value, I can use it in any way I like) that is essentially utilitarian in nature (swapping, in the sexual arena, use for love and taking for giving) which, in turn, coordinates neatly with (3) a post-structuralist epistemology where all of reality is ambiguous and uncertain if not completely unknowable; the internet is the codex; political correctness paralyzes almost everyone’s mind and will; and the objective meaning of traditional institutions, such as marriage and the use of sex within marriage, is replaced by a plethora of subjective revisions. The form and substance of much of poly-ideology, synonymous with so much of our present-day perfect cultural storm, explains why it might just be the best catalyst to usher the polyamory petitioners into the grand Courtroom of the SCOTUS.
Editor’s note: Pictured above is a publicity image for the 1940 film Philadelphia Story featuring Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart.