Tag Archives: slippery slope

Further Thoughts on DOMA and Polyamory

It's only when you marry two goats that things really get out of hand (via Cyanide & Happiness).

It’s only when you marry two goats that things really get out of hand (via Cyanide & Happiness).

As promised, I’d like to elaborate (ramble) a bit now about my thoughts on poly marriage and DOMA.

I’ve always responded to the slippery-slope argument by asserting that poly marriage is not, in fact, anything to be terrified of. I’ve occasionally seen responses from other poly folks that are more along the lines of “everyone should calm down, we’re not interested in marriage right now, anyway.” That might be true, but it’s not really the line I’m interested in taking when it comes to defending the idea of poly marriage. My point has always been that from an ethical perspective, you can’t defend same-sex marriage and then not extend that thinking to plural marriage as well. As for pedophilia and bestiality, it feels absurd that I should even have to point this out, but it seems pretty simple to draw the line at consenting adult humans being free to marry one another. Children and goats are not capable of meaningful consent. Now, some people argue that adult women in fundamentalist polygamy type situations aren’t really provided with the opportunity to give meaningful consent, either. But unfortunately, the same thing is true for a lot of women in fundamentalist religious monogamous marriages as well, and we don’t use that as a reason to throw marriage out all together. The fact that some plural marriages, like plenty of monogamous marriages, happen in a problematic way is not a moral argument against the entire institution. I don’t believe that poly marriage is right around the corner. But if I’m going to defend the ethical implications of it, I’m going to do so in a way that says “if this happened tomorrow, so what? Have you stopped and thought about whether there’s really anything ethically different about this than about monogamous marriage, gay or straight?”

I think that the repeal of DOMA does pave the way in our general direction at least in the ethical sense. I’m inclined to agree with law professor Mark Goldfeder, quoted in USA Today as saying: “It’s one hundred percent likely that these polygamist cases will come, but they will no longer turn on whether a relationship is immoral. The court will look at whether these relationships cause third party harm.” Of course, my personal dividing line of whether or not something is immoral is really no different than the question of whether it causes third party harm. But that aside, I think Goldfeder makes a good point. I think that when polygamist cases are brought before courts in the future, the DOMA decision will have some impact on the outcome. And unlike Wesley Pruden at the Washington Times, I think that’s a positive thing.

While I am all for boldly asserting the ethical acceptability of poly marriage, though, and also genuinely hopeful that either poly marriage will come to pass or the whole government-marriage business will be disbanded one day, I am not particularly interested in placing marriage at the center of poly activism.

Part of my reluctance to place marriage rights at the forefront is really similar to the critiques of the assimilationist nature of the same-sex marriage movement. While a lot of us poly folks (myself included) do have two or more “marriage-like” relationships, a lot of us don’t. Plenty of poly people choose to share a home with only one–or even zero!–partners. Plenty of us who do have two or more cohabiting, life-committed partners also have other lovers outside of that. Part of the beauty of polyamory is its ability to take many different forms, to be many different things, to reject very narrow preconceived molds of what romantic, intimate relationships should look like. And I’m afraid that if marriage becomes our central focus, we’ll put forth a public image of poly that erases all of that wonderful, liberatory variation.

Another concern I have is about the narrowness of marriage as a focus. I address this at a bit more length in a piece that’s forthcoming soon over at Modern Poly, but to put it briefly, I think that if we really look at what compulsory monogamy is and where it comes from in our society, we can talk about patriarchy. We can talk about capitalism. And I feel like we can say “you know, I really just want to marry two people and live in the suburbs” and leave it at that. Or we can have these conversations about radically challenging the dominant power structures. And I think we can do both of these things at the same time; I’m living with my partners in the suburbs, after all. But I think if we allow marriage to become the entirety of the conversation, we’re really missing out on a much larger and more important opportunity to situate ourselves as part of a broader system of hierarchies and oppressions.

I know that in the wake of the DOMA ruling, we’re going to be called on a lot by people from all over the political spectrum to talk about our own feelings about marriage. It’s potentially a great opportunity. I just hope we can make sure the conversation is a nuanced and inclusive one.

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So, What Does This DOMA Repeal Mean For Us?

First of all, I want to say that while repealing DOMA is obviously a huge victory for gay and lesbian folks, there’s a lot more to LGBTQ rights than marriage equality. Queer and trans* folks need equal access to things like housing and employment and healthcare; a staggering number of queer and trans* youth (especially queer and trans* folks of color) are currently homeless. Trans women and gender non-conforming male-bodied people are more likely than any other segment of the LGBTQ population to be victims of violent crime, including murder. Marriage rights matter to a lot of people in a lot of very real ways, but they’re not the only thing that matters, and we need to keep sight of that as we move forward.

That being said, onto a bit of a look at polyamory’s place in all of this!

I’ll have a longer post with more of my own thoughts on the matter coming soon, but right now I just want to offer a few links to some of the conversations that are already happening.

Over at BuzzFeed, an article went up about polygamists celebrating the DOMA ruling. Though polygamy only technically means multiple marriage, we all know that it’s traditionally associated with certain fundamentalist religious practices. As more articles like this appear, it’s going to be important for polyamorists to make our voices heard as well, and to clarify how we differ in practice from one-sided patriarchal polygamy.

Over at Poly In the Media, Alan offered a little round-up of his own, featuring a handful of articles about multi-partner marriage that have cropped up in the past few days.

At Modern Poly, several new articles with a variety of perspectives on the theme of marriage were published in June, just ahead of the court’s ruling.

As I’m in the early stages of planning my own (non-legal) wedding with one of my partners, this is all a very timely discussion for me. The jury is still out among poly activists as to whether marriage rights are really something we consider a pressing issue, though the majority of us seem to feel we’d like to have that right (or to see marriage de-regulated entirely) someday.  But regardless of whether we’re interested in having this conversation right now, it seems that in the wake of the DOMA ruling, this conversation is seeking us out. I’ve definitely seen a spike in my google hits these past two days here on the blog. I only hope that as we do move forward in this discussion of poly marriage rights, we can keep that conversation from becoming the central focus of our movement. If this particular historical moment offers us a unique opportunity to be seen and heard, I think that’s fantastic. I just hope we can bring a balanced agenda to the table, rather than one that’s narrowly focused on marriage rights as our only desire or need.

Some of my own past musings on poly and marriage can be found at Modern Poly, Role/Reboot, and here on this blog by checking out the “marriage” tag. More coming soon!

Weekly Poly Round-Up

I have a new piece up over at Role/Reboot, challenging how same-sex marriage advocates respond to the “slippery slope” argument by throwing us poly folks under the bus:

Before simply responding in a reactionary way to conservatives’ “slippery slope” arguments, I’d like it if same-sex marriage advocates could really stop and think about whether they can make a strong ethical argument against the future possibility of multi-partner marriage. Unlike bestiality or pedophilia, polyamory—like same-sex marriage—is about relationships between consenting adults. Like gay and lesbian couples, our relationships are not merely a sexual practice; we form families, share our homes and lives with one another, and raise children. Yes, marriage is traditionally between two people. But it’s also traditionally between a man and a woman, and the majority of us have already realized how restrictive and unjust that tradition is. 

I’m extremely appreciative to the folks at Role/Reboot for being willing to publish this piece, particularly at this particular moment in history. Go read the whole piece, and share widely if you’re so inclined.

Over at The American Spectator, we’re the subject of satire. Irony strikes again, as I found much of it to sound quite reasonable.

The legal polygamy question is discussed on NPR.

And finally, the reality show Wife Swap featured a poly family. Drama ensued, conservatives behaved badly. Over at Poly in the Media, Alan watched it so we don’t have to.

However few and far between our positive media exposure might be, these past weeks and months have left me with the sense that there’s been a serious gain in the visibility of poly folks recently. It’s upward and onward from here.

Hell Freezes Over: Rush Limbaugh Briefly Makes Sense

Earlier today, Rush Limbaugh had a call from someone who wanted to debate same-sex marriage with him. And Limbaugh challenged the caller by asking what would then be wrong with allowing three people to marry. Of course, Limbaugh was trying to catch the caller in a slippery slope argument designed to make same-sex marriage look bad, but the content of what he actually said was really quite reasonable. And the pro-same-sex-marriage caller, frustratingly enough, responded by insisting that marriage could only be between two people:

RUSH:  Why?  If you love one, you can love two. What if all three people love each other and they want the benefits and all that, who among us should deny those three people their love?

CALLER:  I think they can be loved, I just don’t think you need to give it a legal status because —

RUSH:  Why not?

CALLER:  Because two people would make a family, they could raise kids, adopt kids, do whatever they want, I don’t think —

RUSH:  Wait a minute.  But why can’t three people do that?  In fact, if you have two of the same sex and one of the opposite sex, you’ve handled the adoption issue. You don’t need to adopt. You can have one woman and two guys in a marriage, and the woman could be impregnated by the two, and, voila, you got a family.

CALLER:  I don’t see that.

RUSH:  You got a lot of love and what could possibly be wrong with that?

CALLER:  I think society’s determined that two spouses, two people —

There is something deeply wrong with the way the majority of folks are handling this “slippery slope” when, for even a brief moment, I find Rush Limbaugh to sound more logical than a same-sex marriage advocate.

I’m vehemently supportive of same-sex couples’ right to marry, and excited that DOMA appears to be on the way out. I just wish supporters of same-sex marriage would actually think critically about this “slippery slope” business instead of just responding defensively and throwing poly folks under the bus. If you don’t think my relationship is as valid as yours, then we have different notions of what “equality” means.