Does Marriage Equality Lead To Polygamy After All? (Spoiler: Yes, Probably)


Benjamin Heinrich Orth, "Three Friends" (1835)So, I have a boyfriend.

This would not be especially unusual, except that I also have a husband.

And just to make things slightly more interesting/complicated, my boyfriend is also my husband’s boyfriend.

This is not what I’d planned — it’s not what any of us had planned — but I suppose that’s the way life happens.

Out of respect for the boyfriend’s privacy, I won’t go into much detail. I’ll simply say that Jonno and I have always had a flexible relationship. We love each other very much, but we also give one another space, literally and metaphorically. We know plenty of other couples — straight and gay — who’ve had three-way arrangements, but this is the first time that we’ve found ourselves in one.

I’ll also say this: it’s not easy. In fact, it’s a little like Jonno and I rebooting our relationship and starting over from scratch.

For those of you in relationships: remember those early months, after the shiny shock of newness had worn off, after you’d stopped spending every spare minute in bed trying to learn one-another’s bodies, when you really began sinking into each other? When you were trying not to get upset about someone’s habits in the bathroom or their inability to wash dishes or take out the garbage or their tendency to tip up their cereal bowl and drink the leftover milk? (That last one was a pet peeve of a previous boyfriend. To this day, I don’t understand what the big deal was.)

Anyway, it’s like that, except instead of dealing with one person, I’m dealing with two. Getting the balance right is tricky. It requires transparency, diplomacy, strong communication skills, and an ability to read people’s minds.

Oh: and a king-size bed.

So far, so good. But a few sticky issues remain:

1. How and when do I introduce my boyfriend as “my boyfriend”?

2. Is “boyfriend” even appropriate? It sounds so high school, so ephemeral — especially compared to “husband”, which is how I introduce Jonno.

3. Is “boyfriend” a let-down to my boyfriend? Does its implicit impermanence hurt him? True, Jonno and I know one another far better; we’d been at it nearly 15 years before he came along. But is the boyfriend hurt by the distinction?

4. If Jonno and the boyfriend and I were to make up a word for our relationship, what would it be? Would it be one of those punny things like “herstory” that makes you want to roll your eyes? Or is there a completely appropriate, meaningful term hidden in the pages of the OED? (So far, the best we’ve found is “triumvirate”, but it needs work. It’s still better than “trireme”, though.)

5. Am I being greedy? I already have a husband. Is it selfish to claim more?

6. Even if I’m not technically greedy, is this just another #firstworldgayproblem to moan about? In many corners of Planet Earth, LGBT individuals are still being killed. Is discussing this an ugly reflection on the gay ghetto in which I live?

7. Where is our three-way relationship going?

8. Where can it go? Jonno and I are already married. If we wanted to solemnize a bond between the three of us, what would that look like? Sure, we could have some kind of hippy-fairy-touchy-feely commitment extravaganza — and I’m not entirely opposed to doing so — but could we create appropriate three-way legal rights without the aid of a decidedly unromantic-sounding S-corporation?

9. Put another way: will there come a day when relationships like ours can be made legal? The Mormons did it. Could we?

10. If the response to # 9 is “yes”, will marriage equality be what brings that about? In the Prop 8 and DOMA cases recently argued before the Supreme Court, homophobes insisted again and again that marriage has always been about procreation, and that granting legal status to same-sex unions changes the centuries-old definition of marriage. Which is a complete load of shit, but legally speaking, they have a point: if marriage equality alters our definition of marriage, if it makes marriage a relationship that is primarily about love, not procreation, why not give a big ol’ thumbs up to polygamy, which is, in theory, also based on love?

We saw a hint at the answers to #9 and #10 in a recent court ruling that seemed to open the door to legalized polygamy in Utah. In his verdict, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups relied on cases like Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down anti-sodomy laws and kicked the government out of people’s bedrooms, rather than marriage equality cases like Windsor. But that hasn’t stopped right-wing blowhards like Brian Brown and Tony Perkins from looking into their Christian crystal balls and declaring that the apotheosis of marriage equality is polygamy.

And in fact, I think they’re right. Both Lawrence and Windsor have changed the way that the courts, the government, and we, the people, view human rights. I’d like to believe that a growing number of Americans understand that LGBT marriage equality is about mutual love, and that it has nothing to do with pedophilia, bestiality, or any other boogeyman to which it’s often linked.

And if we begin to accept the legitimacy of consensual, adult, loving relationships that do no harm to anyone, why shouldn’t that lead to polygamy?

Or, more accurately: how could it not?

3 thoughts on “Does Marriage Equality Lead To Polygamy After All? (Spoiler: Yes, Probably)

  1. iainpj

    Well … to be kind of a nitpicker, the Mormons emphatically didn’t make plural marriage legal. In fact, in one of the more impressive instances of legal bigotry in this country, Congress refused to allow Utah to move forward in becoming a state unless they specifically outlawed plural marriage in the territorial constitution beforehand. And in the more recent judicial decision you mention, the judge very clearly distinguished between legal marriage and religious recognition of marriage, and said that the state had no business being involved in the latter.

    That said, the logical extension of marriage equality should allow polygamy. Once you say that the state has no business barring marriage between consenting adults purely because of the gender of the persons marrying, it shouldn’t be a huge step to say that as long as everyone is giving fully informed consent, marriages between more than two adults should also be allowed. (Bigamy as a matter of deceit and contract fraud would still be illegal — all parties to the marriage would have to consent.)

    And all that said … I suspect it will be maybe another generation before we get to the point of allowing legal group marriage, for lack of a better term. It would have to go through the court system at some point, and I can’t see the current batch of Supremes being quite ready to go that far, especially as we’re still dancing between Kennedy’s judicial conscience and his Catholic conscience on the federal recognition front.

    (Have to admit, I kind of like “trireme”. Marriage is kind of a ship, if you think about it sort of sideways. Plus, if you take it almost but not quite literally, it could be used for marriages of up to six people!)

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