Over at The Stranger recently, Mistress Matisse wrote a piece about why poly marriage is never going to happen. She began by discussing the legal complications of poly marriage, and then went on to talk about her own personal feelings about whether poly marriage is desirable. I found plenty to agree with there; I’ve written about my own uncertain feelings about poly marriage–and whether or not we want it–in the past. And in fact, I have rather complicated feelings about the institution of marriage in general. Honestly, I would rather see marriage completely de-institutionalized. But it’s impossible to deny the fact that marriage does currently offer a tremendous number of benefits to those who enter into it, and equally impossible to fault anyone for wanting the legal protections for their relationships that marriage provides. I’ve read some really excellent critiques of the fight for same-sex marriage equality written by radical queer folks, and there’s so much I respect and relate to within those critiques. But personally, I always come back to the idea that it should–unless we do away with legal marriage entirely–be a matter of personal choice. I agree wholeheartedly with critics who argue that same-sex marriage needn’t be such a central issue for LGBTQ activism, and that fighting for things like housing, employment, and health care equalities for queer folks belong on the center-stage. But I still can’t bring myself to say that marriage equality is meaningless.
It is in that frame of mind, then, that I consider the possibilities of polyamorous marriage equality. Mistress Matisse is probably correct that there will never be a strong enough push for it from the poly community, and she’s certainly right that it would bring up a new set of legal questions about how such marriages are defined. But I have to say that I disagree with her personal reasoning for concluding that poly marriage will never happen. I respect and can empathize the reasons why she would never choose marriage. But that doesn’t have to translate to making that choice for everyone else. Myself, as someone who is in more than one “for the long haul” relationship, who will soon be cohabiting with both of my partners, I’d be lying if I said I never feel frustrated by the fact that one of my relationships is granted more legal rights and protections than the other. I don’t know for certain that I would make the choice to legally marry my other partner, but I do know I would rather that choice was mine to make (at least, in the context of the current system of marriage we live with). And I know other poly families who would definitely choose legal marriage if they had the option. As long as at least some folks want it, I think it’s unreasonable to completely rule out the possibility that poly marriage might at some point be worth fighting for.
At the moment, I think we’ve got enough work to do just trying to be recognized and de-stigmatized in our communities; poly-marriage, if it’s ever an issue we take seriously, is many years away. But the same could have been said in the not so distant past about the status of gay and lesbian folks in our society. We have a long way to go before there’s even a remote possibility of poly-marriage achieving the necessary public support, and I’d honestly prefer to see the rights and privileges of all legal marriage stripped away before that day comes. But I do want to someday live in a world where relationships like mine are seen as equally real and valid as monogamous ones, regardless of where we all stand in the legal sense.
In closing her piece, Mistress Matisse states: “To be polyamorous is to let your heart grow to hold many loving relationships that come in different shapes and sizes. Once you’ve learned to do that, why would you try to squeeze it back down into a pattern built for two?” I think that’s a really meaningful sentiment, and I also think we have to resist the temptation to “water down” our relationships, to try to make them more palatable to a society that’s more ready and willing to accept the relationships that more closely resemble the accepted norm. But I think there will always be some of us who legitimately desire relationships that look a little more “normal,” even when we’re outside the bounds of monogamy. Personally, my goal isn’t to deviate as much as possible from the normative. My goal is just to live and form relationships in a way that’s authentically right for me and my partners, and to try to create a world where others are free to do the same. Real marriage equality, to me, would mean that all consenting adults had access to the same kinds of recognition and protections for their families–however they choose to form them, however they choose to define them, and however many people they include. Anything short of that will, in my opinion, never be “equal” enough.