Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Big love=Big politics?

With a big new HBO show on polygamy, which I intended to watch but haven’t, and a federal lawsuit over polygamy discrimination in the courts, I find myself once again thinking about polygamy, both as a political issue and as an actual feature of some people’s lives.

Though I don’t think polygamy is a great idea for people with kids, I don’t particularly have a problem with it as long as it is based in real commitment. (When I read BitchPhD’s accounts of her three-way relationship, I find myself somewhat appalled at her, to be honest. She waxes enthusiastically about how wonderful the sex is with the third person in her marriage and mostly writes about her husband in relation to domestic matters. If I were her husband, I couldn’t deal with that.)

I don’t think political activism is the best thing for polygamy. Political activism seems to bring in the zealous.

From what I’ve observed polygamy is like the Marines. People who just end up there carried by the waves of circumstance do fine, but people who enter into it with a great deal of zeal for the concept itself (“If I go into the Marines, I’ll be a real man!” “If I have a three way relationship, I’ll always be everybody’s favorite!) end up blowing up themselves and the people around them.

Some things just work best in private. I understand why there must be political movements for things like abortion and euthanasia, but I can’t help but think that some things work best as sub rosa arrangements between people and their doctors. I wish they could just remain that way.

My feelings on polygamy are pretty analogous, but I’m even less convinced that they need to be political issues.

(Yes, applied to homosexuality, this idea is roughly “don’t ask, don’t tell.” I don’t apply it there.)



Psyton said...

I LOVE your marines analogy.

Otherwise, Bill Mahar made a very good point: If I support the notion that strong bonds between two men or two women can form and be just as strong as between a man and a woman... such that it should be considered sacrosanct by the government after we go through the appropriate levels of red tape... then I have to support polygamous relationships too

He did it beautifully by making the "we need gay marraige" statement and got most of the audience cheering... and then he went "now all of you who just cheered... give out applause for polygamous recognition too [much less clapping] ... because it's the same thing"

I guess my stance on that, as I kept responding to my Roomate when he told me this fact... is that the polygamists can fight their own battle and I won't oppose it...

I guess because of that, I can see a need for it to be there... and I would vote to allow it... but I don't feel like it's as important to me as gay unions

Psyton said...

Oh, and I absolutely adore Big Love.

It's wonderfully done and challenges a lot of my notions and preconceptions, and I love that.

It also has a high-schoolmate of my roomate as the youngest of the wives.. so I get to have fun conversations like "Well, do you want to see her naked with an equally naked Bill Paxton on top of her?"

They also sponsored one of my favorite podcasts for a while there.

Anonymous said...

While I have no objections to polygamy -- just doubts about it -- I do not see that it is "the same as gay marriage". There is a much bigger difference between a two person relationship and a three (or more)person relationship than there is between one type of two-person relationship and another. Try it, if you don't believe it. You can't gaze into the eyes of more than one person at a time.
Besides, gay marriage is about equality, while polygamy, in practise, usually ends up being extremely male chauvinist and very inequal. I don't know much about polyandry, but I notice no one seems to bring that up.

Psyton said...

See, I cannot agree with that. Just because I don't understand the dynamics of a polyamorous relationship doesn't mean I would consider the bonds formed as undeserving of recognition.

Not too long before I was born my attractions to other men was considered an insidious mental illness because many people just didn't understand it and thought it was so subversive. To go "well, I don't understand how your relationships work so I don't think it's the same kind of love (IE one that should be recognized by the government)" would be rather hypocritical.

Anonymous said...

psyton -- what were you replying to?

Psyton said...

kim -- everything.

I think it is "the same as gay marriage" because it's about the government allowing strong bonds between two people to be officially recognized for the sake of taxes/adoption/power-of-attorney/etc without getting too tied up in the layout of the bonds wrt gender/numbers.

I also don't happen to think polyamory is always a male chauvanistic thing... there have been chauvanistic polyamorous relationships, but to discount all p-a relationships as chauvanist and inequal and assume that most of them will be like that... is a base prejudice. I'm guessing that's why nobody brings it up.

Anonymous said...

well, the ones I've known have been male chauvinist, though they don't always admit it.
From a legal viewpoint, a two person relationship and a multiple person relationship is VERY different, not the least in that there are hundreds of years of precedent for how to handle a two-person relationship legally, and none at all for multi-relationships.

Steve Caldwell said...

Kim wrote:
"From a legal viewpoint, a two person relationship and a multiple person relationship is VERY different, not the least in that there are hundreds of years of precedent for how to handle a two-person relationship legally, and none at all for multi-relationships."

For what it's worth, multiple partner relationships are a very big part of the Jewish and Christian roots of Unitarian Universalism ... at least in the Old Testament stories.

One useful exploration of the ethics of both same-sex and multiple person marriages is Same-Sex Marriage? A Christian Ethical Analysis by Rev. Marvin Ellison. This book was published by the United Church of Christ's Pilgrim Press:

Another useful place where questions surrounding multiple partner relationships can be discussed and explored is in adult sexuality education courses like the Our Whole Lives for Adults program. While this program doesn't address polygamy or polyamory by name, they do provide a safe place where one can look at non-monogamy and multiple partner situations in long-term relationships.

One final question any of us who is involved in Unitarian Universalist church religious education or church youth programming is the following question from a poly parents' perspective:

What are you going to tell my kid about his/her polyamorous family?

If we have a UU sexuality education that assumes that the parents are the primary sexuality educators in their children's lives, how would we respond to this question? In this case, we are using the curriculum assumption that "parent" = any loving care-giving adults in the life of the child -- a very expansive meaning of "parent" that would include birth parents, adoptive parents, other adult relatives who may be raising children such as grandparents, foster parents, single parents, unmarried partners raising children together, and adults who share parenting duties in polyamrous households.