Saturday, July 07, 2007

Crystalizing my thinking on the Polyamory in UUism discussion

If you're just joining the Chaliceblog, I'm in the middle of a discussion of a controversy involving polyamorists wanting official recognition in the Unitarian church.

Having read LT's latest bit on the Polyamory discussion, I'm realizing that it's not that I worry what polyamorists will do to UUism.

I worry what UUism will do to the Polyamorists. I mean,the polyamorists I know (who would best be described religiously as "non-denominational pagans") get that what they are doing is unusual and don't seem to blame their families for not understanding. They are appreciative of my efforts to reach out and understand, they reach back, and don't call me names when my efforts are imperfect.

They see polyamory as something they do because it is fun, not that it is their societal cross to bear. They have a sense of humor about it, even a sense of humor that someone outside the group can laugh along with without being viewed as bigot.

The husband of the polyamorous couple I knew best was recently extolling the virtues of being able to sleep with whomever he wanted. I gently made the point that I didn't think an open marriage was for me.

He shrugged. "Well, you're missing out on a lot of fun," he said.

"I'm sure I am."

And that was that.

So what would happen to these reasonable, open, happy people if they were immersed in UUism's "bigger victim than thou" culture?

I'd rather not imagine, though LT is right that you can see some early examples in his comments threads.



Anonymous said...

That's interesting CC. I don't know any of these happy polyamorists, but their attitude certainly seems different than the ones showing up in the online discussions. Or, at least, when they interact online they don't project that happiness and instead resort to entitled/oppressed victim mindset. But maybe the people who are in it for fun are both the healthiest and the least likely to push for public recognition, while the ones who are in it for ideology are most likely to be passive aggressive in the way LT points out and demand contrition from the larger culture. If so, it looks like even in the rather small polyamory pool there are different factions with different approaches and agendas. It may be a basic catch-22 of this situation that the ones who represent the best aspects of polyamory are the ones least likely to get out front as spokespersons, and vice versa. But I can't pretend to know if that's actually the case of just idle speculation on my part.

Chalicechick said...

My friends aren't UUs, but your explanation fits the facts as I understand them.


Comrade Kevin said...

I have friends who are poly and they seem to make it work. Speaking from a personal perspective, I don't think I'm wired to successfully make it in a polyamorous relationship.

My personal belief is that we, humans, are no different from the animal kingdom and are innately polyamorous. But one has to admit that monogamy is damned convenient. I'm not an intrinsically jealous person but I can see myself becoming jealous and possessive of my primary partner in spite of my own best intentions.

Steve Caldwell said...


I'm not poly but I've listened to the life experiences of poly people online, in guest panels, and at UU conferences during break time.

That's why I'm sympathetic to the desire for family ministry support for these non-traditional families in our congregations.

I'll go out on a limb here with an assumption. If a person were to say that my family was "... morally and spiritually dangerous, both to its practitioners and to their children," I might take offense at the statement.

That has nothing to do with wanting to be a part of some "culture of victimhood."

It might just be an expression of disappointment about the perceived lack of radical hospitality in our faith community.

Anonymous said...

It may be a basic catch-22 of this situation that the ones who represent the best aspects of polyamory are the ones least likely to get out front as spokespersons, and vice versa.
This may be more generally true, too. It certainly seems to be true for LGBT people. and maybe Mensa as well.

Mark Kille said...

Thanks for the kind words towards us poly folk!

One problem that I see with the discussion over at LT is that "because it's fun" has been explicitly ruled out as a valid response by the host. When one is asked to restrain one's comments to attempting to prove that one's choices are both necessary (what really is?) and socially uplifting (no pressure!), it tends to drain a lot of the humor out of it. Of course, so can being called "dangerous," when it's not meant in the kinky fun way.

(Happily, there is no risk of UUism draining the fun out of me, since I belong instead to the fabulous flaming Metropolitan Community Church, where fun is practically an obligation of the faith...)

PG said...

I think there is a huge distinction between people who ask to have their fun polyamory accepted, and those who ask to have their serious polygamy accepted. I think polyamory can work perfectly well for people with the right emotional makeups, but I am far more doubtful about re-tailoring legal mandates to fit polygamy. When it comes to same-sex marriage, the written law in many respects is ahead of society; where mother-primary parenting and sex-roles in marriage remain common in society, the law makes no distinctions between men and women once they enter marriage. Each sex is equally responsible and benefited. The law is not at all prepared for multiplicity. Our constitutional tradition has adjusted to race and sex equality, but its specification regarding numerosity has only hardened over time (cf. "one man, one vote," etc.). I find the argument that I should not distinguish between a black person and a white person, nor a male person and a female person, a great deal easier to comprehend than the notion that I should not distinguish between one person and two people.

Mark Kille said...


I'm not in favor, myself, of pushing for a change to the legal definition of marriage to apply to more than two people. However, it is true that multi-adult families do face legal challenges, and I think that providing improved legal avenues for meeting those challenges would be a good thing. However again, there is always going to be extensive debate about the best public policy solution to any given problem, and that is also a good thing.

PG said...


But all multi-adult families face legal challenges regardless of whether the adults are having sex together. Remember all those great '80s shows (My Two Dads, Full House) about men having to raise daughters with no mother around? The dads/uncles weren't getting married in order to make their lives easier, even though I'm sure it would have been helpful if Daddy Tanner could have given Uncles Joey and Jesse the benefits accorded spouses.

Unless we're going to open marriage to the My Two Dads of the world, I don't see the rationale behind polygamy -- unless we're privileging sex as what distinguishes a relationship that deserves to be a marriage from one that doesn't. I'm fine with having people who are dependents (as the at best quasi-employed Joey and Jesse seemed to be) on insurance, etc., but it's not the same as marriage. Marriage is a commitment to another person, in which you give that person tremendous legal, economic and social power over you. (See Schiavo, Terri.) It does not comport with multiple equal adults; societies that have had polygamy all have been patriarchal and/or hierarchical (so that even if Ms. Schiavo had been in a non-partriarchal society that allowed women to have multiple husbands, it probably still would have deemed one husband to be the First and more important).

Mark Kille said...


Well, as I said, I don't think existing marriage law is the right venue for addressing the legal problems faced by multi-adult families. I also don't think that rights, obligations, benefits, etc. should be tied to the presence or absence of sexual activity. My Two Dads and Full House, yes, they face legal challenges, and improving the legal avenues for meeting those challenges would be a good thing.

Historically, monogamy has been embedded in patriarchal and hierarchal structures as well. The husband had many, many, many more rights than the wife--and when it came to making decisions about the kids or the finances, they were not based on discussions between equals. We've changed that model, which was before seen as an essential piece of monogamous unions; "past performance does not predict future performance."

Terri Schiavo...I don't know what to do about those situations, even under existing law. What happens when two married parents disagree about treatment for their sick child? To the best of my knowledge, it goes to court. I would imagine the same thing would happen with spouses, if more than one were legally empowered to make those decisions. My personal preference, for simplicity, would be to have a durable medical power of attorney be a mandatory part of marriage law--which could default to "spouse" for traditional marriage, and be specified in multi-adult marriages. But as I said, I'm dubious about the feasibility or desirability of trying to resolve such things through an extension of existing marriage law.