With all the attention that gay marriage has received of late, critics invariably bring up the trope that gay marriage will lead to polygamy, as well as marriage with things incapable of giving consent, from turtles to inanimate objects.
Polygamy has a long and sad history of male chauvinist patriarchy, practiced by religious fundamentalists and subjugating multiple wives under a single man whose decisions are the law. Polyamorous relationships do not adhere to a patriarchal, heterosexual “one husband – many wives” model, but instead include every imaginable combination of genders and sexual orientations, and at its heart and among its practitioners a female-empowering, if not an outright feminist lifestyle.
This inappropriate conflation of polygamy and polyamory was on display recently in an article in the Huffington Post, where the author of the piece couldn’t get past his myopic hetero-normative and traditional-values blinders to declare polyamory literally “bad,” citing a concern that polyamory would create a scarcity of partners. But that is only a concern if you assume that polyamory only means one man with many women. Out in the real 21st century world that we modern polys inhabit, there is no patriarchy, nor is there any false assumption that all activities have to fall into typical heterosexual patterns. Polyamorous relationships can consist of one woman with several men, three or more men or women all in a relationship together, quads made up of two men and two women, and every other combination possible. So it’s hard to see how polyamory can or would create a scarcity of potential partners, regardless of gender.
While granting legal recognition to polyamorous families would also have the effect of granting legal recognition to patriarchal polygamous families, that is not to say that that is justification for denying polyamorous groupings their rights. The problem with traditional polygamy is patriarchy, not the fact that there are multiple participants in the “marriage,” and arguably decriminalizing polygamy would allow more women who are in abusive polygamous relationships to access social services without fear of persecution due to their relationship configuration.
As this new age has created more avenues of expression and has revolutionized nearly every aspect of our lives from finding partners to raising offspring, more and more polyamorists are taking the path that the gays took before us – living our lives in the open and taking the knocks and discomfort associated with bucking societal norms. And like those trailblazing gays of decades past, this increased visibility will lead to greater acceptance.
The signs of change are all around, from polyamorous women raising children with their multiple partners to poly spokespeople appearing more and more in the media to educate the public about the lifestyle. While those who might want to marry a turtle are going to be out of luck for the foreseeable future, positive changes continue to unfold for the polyamorous as more and more members of the community stand up to be counted as modern, consenting adults who have made an educated decision about how they choose to live their lives.
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