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by Jeremy Hooper

We've seen many anti-gays make the "gay marriage = polygamous marriage" argument. But when it comes from a professed supporter of same-sex marriage equality, it's a little harder to swallow. This from Lee Stranahan, writing for The Huffington Post:

Picture 3-182If Melissa Etheridge has the right to marry Tammy Lynn Michaels - and I think she does - then Melissa and Tammy also have the same right to make it official with David Crosby, it they choose to do so. In fact, if they wanted to marry Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Linsday Lohan, Samantha Ronson, Mark Ronson AND Ani Difranco...it's their choice and their right and it'd make quite a tour, too.

There's no argument you can make against a poly marriage that wouldn't work just as well as an argument against gay marriage.

Aside from reasons of consistency, advocates of gay marriage should also be vocally in favor of polygamy since it allows bisexuals to be actively practicing married bisexuals. Bisexuals are the B in GLBT but they really get short shrift in the marriage discussion.

I'm in favor of real marriage equality. Love the one you're with. Love the two or more you're with, if you can work that out. Marry them if you're into that kind of thing. But until the gay marriage movement embraces polygamy...well, they are just acting like bigots and haters, aren't they?

Why Are Gay Marriage Advocates Not Defending Polyamory? [HuffPo]

Alright, but here's the thing:

(a) Bisexuals are not innately polyamorous. We thought this went without saying, but apparently not. Bisexuality just means an attraction to both genders, not a CONCURRENT RELATIONSHIP with both sexes!

(b) In terms of the arguments one can make to support same-sex unions but not poly marriage? Well, whether you agree with the custom or not, the fact is that marriage, in modern society has largely been considered a commitment between two people. By opening the civil marriage system up to gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, you are not changing any of the fundamentals. All you are doing is making the current system jibe with the full landscape of accepted sexual orientations. To open the system up to polygamous unions is to change the core structure as we have come to know it. You may personally think that sort of change is fine and even needed. But it is an undeniably different alteration.

(***Note: Originally the above section said that marriage has ALWAYS been considered a commitment between two people, which was a mistype. Obviously there have been all kinds of marriages throughout history -- but largely, civil marriage in modern times has meant two people. That's what we meant to convey.)

(c) The "bigots and haters" line is a straw man, be it applied to those against same-sex or polygamous unions. Not all gay people consider their marriage opposition to be bigots and haters. There is a big difference between adopting biased stances and being an all-out bigot. Many gay activists, including the writer of this site, are quite capable of distinguishing between the two.

(d) Some LGBT people do support polyamorous unions, and would surely join that side if a marriage campaign was organized. But just like same-sex unions, that is a matter that will have to be decided on its own merits. Those merits have no more to do with homosexuality or bisexuality than they do heterosexuality!

So please, Mr. Stranahan, don't seek to put a division between supporters of same-sex marriage equality and those who are open to other forms of recognition. There is room in the public sphere for several different conversations about the way we recognize marriage in this country. But when it comes to poly unions and Polly/Polly unions, we are, in fact, talking about two different conversations.

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Your thoughts

Thanks, for the clarity and pointedness. The Marriage Equality movement needs to be publicly championed by informed intellectuals, such as yourself. Emotional arguments do not inspire the introspection and dialogue that promote change. Please keep up the great work.

Posted by: AM | Jan 6, 2009 2:26:29 PM

Yeah, I really don't know what's in Stranahan's bonnet lately.

He's been writing some pure drivel over at Bob Cesca's blog on the marriage/Rick Warren issue, and he completely fails to try to understand the actual issues at hand, and instead prefers to erect distracting strawman after distracting strawman, seemingly for the purpose of seeing his words on the computer screen.

I don't know whether he's just being a clueless straight guy or what...the thing about equating bisexuals to polyamorists comes straight out of Peter LaBarbera's ignorant-ass playbook. I expect poor logic from the right, but, though the left is quite skilled at infighting (a good thing, I think), a passing relationship with logical thinking is usually de rigeur.

So...it's just weird.

Posted by: Evan | Jan 6, 2009 2:26:35 PM

Well, honestly I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with polygamous or polyandrous marriages and if we're being honest with ourselves there are no rational arguments for judging any relationships between consenting unrelated adults.

Jeremy, I respect you completely and have read you everyday for almost a year in almost complete agreement with you, but doesn't it disturb you that you just justified denying a group of people a right on the basis of 'tradition' and not changing the 'core structure'?

That being said, I agree with you on the rest of your points: polygamy has nothing to do with same-sex marriage per se. (Other than regulations against it are made on the same base-less grounds)
It would also be absolute political suicide for us to argue for their marriage rights. It's morally wrong, but the political reality forces us throw polygamists under the bus and to keep our distance.

Posted by: Sam | Jan 6, 2009 3:05:07 PM

To be fair, polyamory was pretty common in ancient times (see the Old Testament) and is still a custom in the Middle East and Africa.

Posted by: ____ | Jan 6, 2009 3:05:13 PM

"but doesn't it disturb you that you just justified denying a group of people a right on the basis of 'tradition' and not changing the 'core structure'?"

No I didn't. Not at all. In fact, I have not and will not weigh in on the merits of legal recognition for polygamous unions. What I said is that changing marriage to where it involves more than two people IS, in fact, a major change to the custom. Whether you think that's a good or a bad change, it's far different than simply removing the bar that currently bans gay couples from marriage equality.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 6, 2009 3:09:28 PM

Thanks for the conversation on my article...I'll just clarify one point.

I never equated being bisexual with being poly. The point is subtler but I guess I didn't make it clearly. If you're bi, I think you should have the right to 'marry bi' if that's your choice. There are plenty of poly relationships - MMF or FFM - where everyone is romantically involved with everyone.

I'm saying that by not supporting a bisexual person's right to marry whoever they are in love with - same gender, different gender, or both - you're not really supporting their right to live and love as they choose..

Posted by: Lee Stranahan | Jan 6, 2009 5:30:40 PM

Thanks for that, Lee. And thanks for your article. Even if I disagree, it did start a good conversation.

However, I still think this is an unfair point. Bisexuality is a sexual orientation -- the state of being attracted to both genders. Monogamy and polygamy are variables within bisexuality (as they are within heterosexuality and homosexuality), not a quality of being bi. So speaking in terms of unions: If one chooses to be in an MMF or FFM relationship, they are acting on their poly views, not their bisexuality (even if the sex within that union is bisexual). And if one fails to support a bisexual person's right to marry multiple partners, they're not necessarily casting a judgment against bisexuality: Their opinion is most likely based on how they view government recognition of bonds involving more than two people.

I do also think it's important for you to be aware that the bisexual=polyamory thing is a point that the far-right has worked MANY times in their opposition to same-sex marriage:


Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 6, 2009 5:41:48 PM

I just interviewed one of the authors of the 'poly bible', The Ethical Slut - who identifies as a lesbian - for an upcoming piece. I brought up some of the issues raised here....

FWIW, she says in her experience bisexuality is a whole part of poly. That's a good part to put it. I wasn't saying poly is a huge part of bisexuality, though. I hope that's clear.....

Posted by: Lee Stranahan | Jan 6, 2009 6:37:23 PM

Well I think the bottom line is to separate the dual issues. One is about loving more than one gender, and the other is about loving more than one person.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 6, 2009 6:42:37 PM

This Stranahan person is smearing us, plain and simple. We aren't asking for polygamy rights. But he is equating gay marraige with polygamous marraige, just as Warren did. If he were so gaga for polygamy rights, he'd be out campaigning for them without worrying about us at all.
He's using the slippery slope argument to make us look bad. So if gay marraige is ok, what about kangaroos? Or how about Istanbul and a the Taj Mahal. They'd make such a cute couple. Please. Rhetorical tricks like these are tired. They're the usual tactics of attention hungry rubes.

Posted by: Wilberforce | Jan 6, 2009 8:59:32 PM

"But until the gay marriage movement embraces polygamy...well, they are just acting like bigots and haters, aren't they?"

Jeremy is absolutely correct that this argument doesn't even merit discussion. But just from a logical perspective, the fact that we, as a group, are not stepping up to tackle an issue that mostly doesn't affect us, is completely different from the actions of those who actively wage war against us. When I call them bigots and haters, it's because their actions are a direct attack on me. You can't compare a blasé, live-and-let-live attitude with being a hater... quite the opposite.

Also, we, as a group, have won very few of the battles that we have engaged in, especially in the political arena. And in those battles we get relatively little assistance from other who are not directly interested in same-sex marriage. So, it's pretty laughable that any other group would even want that kind of track record lending a hand in their efforts to effect multi-partner marriages.

We, as a highly maligned group, are in a very dire state ourselves - the public always votes against our rights, and the public is very quick to believe the hateful, fearmongering speech directed at us. The fact that we might overlook a group that hasn't even attempted to join our coalition IS NOT hate.

The battles that we HAVE won have been legislative: with hate-crimes and non-discrimination legislation. And secondly, we have won by judicial processes. Those would be the obvious first steps for the polyamorous among us. They need to become vocal and ardent in their own defense.

We, as a group, are quite inclusive, generally speaking. I would have no problem adding a 'P' to the LGBT. But, to be frank, to my knowledge there are not even any legal challenges pending for polyamorous marriage. Nor are there any legislative voices championing their issues. Just adding a 'P', in the absence of diligent effort from those who seek recognition, probably would be completely ineffectual.

Posted by: Dick Mills | Jan 6, 2009 9:40:21 PM

I was just going to point out that polygamy is actually the historical norm - around the world, at some point or another, even (and especially) in the bible, the norm was one man + however many women he could support. I don't know of any historical instances of multiple men + one woman, but this one one + one notion is actually the core custom change we have wrought fairly recently. And for the record, I am not polyamorus, but as long as everyone is concenting, of a legal age, and no one's getting hurt then what is the big deal? Let people be happy, I say. :)

Posted by: Wren | Jan 7, 2009 7:16:04 AM

I don't think it is fair to say that every argument against polygamy would work the same way against gay marriage.

Marriage between more than 2 people could possibly cause alot of confusion and problems in terms of child custody, inheritance law and other things too.

Polygamy allows for many situations that could never arise in marriages between 2 people, regardless of gender.

Posted by: Kamikapse | Jan 7, 2009 7:16:04 AM

As civil marriage is currently constructed in this country, ending discrimination in access to the contract on the basis of the sex or gender of the applicants is a very easy proposition. Reconnecting the many rights of civil marriage under state and federal law to fit the situation of multiple partners is a worthy but much more complex proposal. I do think that it is important that as advocates for marriage equality for same sex/same gender couples we make it clear that we see nothing essentially wrong with allowing polyamorous family structures to be recognized under the law but it does seem clear that you'd almost have to have a whole new contract and perhaps multiple contracts for people to choose from for what best fits their relationship or family structure.

There is also the fact that many of us whether by choice or lack of fitting opportunity will not have a physically intimate long term partner or partners. That doesn't mean one doesn't have one or more signficant people with whom one makes family. I think one area we can start working on this, though it doesn't get away from the binary model and is limited to job related benefits, is to more actively advocate for designated beneficiary benefits as opposed to domestic partner benefits. Designated beneficiary benefits allow every employee to choose to claim one other adult to be covered by their employee benefits whether it be a spouse, domestic partner, adult child, parent, adult sibling, long term friend, roommate, or favorite starving artist(or activist) for that matter.

Another thing I'd like to note is at least some indian tribes traditionally practice polyandry(one woman with multiple husbands). Historically, civil marriage has tended to be binary in effect even in cases of polygamy not all partners were treated equally but in a hierarchy often based on first wife, second wife, etc. Today it would be preferred that all partners in polyamorous families be treated equally under a multiple partner marriage contract.

Neither multiple partner marriage nor same sex marriage can be said to be "new". The oldest records of civil marriages we have are from clay tablets with cuniform on them from ancient Sumeria and we now that some references to same sex couples are contained in those marriage records.

Posted by: David Strand | Jan 7, 2009 7:16:04 AM

How about the fact that polyamory is not an innate, biologically-determined sexual orientation?

You can argue for polygamy based on it's own merits all you like Mr. Stranahan, but please don't pretend the issue is identical to the same-sex marriage one--it isn't.

Posted by: WillB | Jan 7, 2009 7:16:04 AM

"Well, whether you agree with the custom or not, the fact is that marriage has always been considered a commitment between two people."

That's just not true AT ALL.

Posted by: Rhea | Jan 7, 2009 11:38:37 AM

Rhea: You're right, and thanks for catching that. It was a mistype. I meant to say largely, not always.

I've corrected and added a note.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 7, 2009 11:45:02 AM

Definitely a very interesting discussion thread -- very enjoyable to read. I guess to focus on the article, rather than get into historical norms, I do agree with the statement about gay marriange and poly marriage having the same arguments leveraged against them. They pretty much come down to:
1. It's different -- we haven't done it this way before; and
2. We'll have to rewrite some laws and redefine some social norms in order to integrate it successfully into society.
I agree that this would be difficult, but (even though I'm pro poly in some itteration) David Strand's comments above about being able to designate *anyone* as a beneficiary gave me the shivers in terms of coming up with an equitable way to do things. However, just because it's tough doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

To touch on the whole LBGTP thing...and I'm sure I'm going to get flamed for the following paragraph...I was reading an article in the Advocate about a year ago that was talking about our inclusive title diluting the power of our message. IMHO, if anything we should shorten the title a bit. I'd personally be fine with LG, or maybe LGB. Transgendered people are either gay or straight before the transition, and the opposite once they have transitioned (or even elected to start identifying as the opposite). If they want to be part of the community because (on whichever side of the transition) they are L or G, fair enough. However transexuality is what I'd call an internal affair. It has no bearing on who you're attracted to. In the same way, how many people you want to be with is also totally unrelated to sexuality (as was mentioned above).
I'm not advocating that we kick the T out of LGBT, because (again IMHO) transgendered people are far less accepted in society, and don't have as much cache politically. I'm glad to lend a big umbrella to stand under -- I just think the consequence, as that article pointed out, is that every time we decide to be more inclusive (from a political/marketing standpoint), our message loses more of its focus.
In summation, the only really disagreeable piece I found about the article was about being bigots and haters. Being silent is not the same as being a hater -- that's the kind if "you're with us or against us" mentality that's guaranteed to antagonize, and really wasn't up to par with the rest of what I thought was a decently fair article.

Posted by: UK Chris | Jan 7, 2009 1:07:26 PM

Thank you for getting it, Jeremy. This really pissed me off as a bisexual woman. I don't *want* a poly marriage. It's enough to cook for my wife, and we don't have any more room in our house. What bisexuality means is that when I fantasize, it's about Tony Stewart and not about another woman. It does not mean that I wish to marry Tony Stewart or any other man in addition to my wife. I want my marriage to remain legally recognized. I want only death to part me and my wife, many years from now. No more or less. Why do people like Stranahan have to complicate it so unnecessarily?

Posted by: GreenEyedLilo | Jan 7, 2009 3:14:07 PM

I was born gay. Was Lee born polyamorous?

Posted by: mattymatt | Jan 7, 2009 4:36:23 PM

The interesting thing to me is that some people really truly don't see that are using the same arguments against polygamy that are used against THEM in the marriage equality issue.

The other thing I'd mention is that only the last 1/3 or so my article was reposted. Maybe it matters, maybe not but the statement at the end about being bigots and haters s related to the opening couple of paragraphs.

Posted by: Lee Stranahan | Jan 7, 2009 10:14:14 PM

"The interesting thing to me is that some people really truly don't see that [they] are using the same arguments against polygamy that are used against THEM in the marriage equality issue."

Speaking only for myself, Lee, I will repeat what I said earlier. I am not weighing in AT ALL on the merits of poly relationships here. Not even a little bit. I am just saying that it is a completely separate issue. And that is mostly what I am hearing coming from others.

"The other thing I'd mention is that only the last 1/3 or so my article was reposted. Maybe it matters, maybe not but the statement at the end about being bigots and haters s related to the opening couple of paragraphs"

Yes, it's standard blog procedure to excerpt. In fact, this one was much longer of an excerpt than we usually feel comfortable running, but I wanted to get in certain key points. I don't see how it changes anything in terms of the "bigots and haters" thing though. I responded in the post to the point you made in the first paragraph, which is that gay activists are wont to write off their opposition as "bigots and haters." I said that this is an unfair straw man, because many of us (this site included) do not do that. So for me, including the first paragraph would only more fully flesh out the points in my post, not change anything. I find the "bigots and haters" conceit, both halves of it, to be unfair.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 7, 2009 10:27:36 PM

We should be fighting for everyone to live their lives freely as they see fit, not just ourselves.

"In Germany, they came first for the Communists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;
And then they came for the trade unionists,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;
And then they came for the Jews,
And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;
And then . . . they came for me . . .
And by that time there was no one left to speak up."
--Martin Niemöller

Posted by: Chris | Jan 8, 2009 7:13:50 AM

Yeah, I wasn't criticizing the excerpt, just making it clear that there is more. As I said, it may not matter to some people...

I think it's a separate issue, too - in the same sense that the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s was a seperate issue. Still, I hear a lot of comparisons.

And while it's separate issue, it's the exact same underlying principle - either consenting adult get to marry who they wants, or society picks and chooses which consenting adults and which relationships are okay.

Of course, on a practical level if you're not in a poly relationship it's nothing you need concern yourself with...you can ignore the pain and legal difficulty poly people go through or pretend it's nothing they really care about. And I've seen that exact thing from a number of gay commenters - 'so what? not my battle'. And I think the problem there speaks for itself.

Posted by: Lee Stranahan | Jan 8, 2009 7:13:50 AM

"And I've seen that exact thing from a number of gay commenters - 'so what? not my battle'. And I think the problem there speaks for itself."

But I think that's the main problem I'm seeing in your logic, Lee -- I don't think you can or should expect that the LGBT community is automatically going to be with you on this battle. The LGBT community is not a monolith, and this is not an issue that unifies the queer community any more than the straight community. Although there are true connections in terms of legislating morality and while there would surely be comparisons made in court (rightfully so, IMHO), it's just a very different fight than the one for same-sex unions. And there are clear differences between one's views on monogamy/polyamory and their innate sexual orientations. For me, that's really the bottom line.

Let's take it to the interracial marriage/same-sex marriage discussion. If someone stated that there are clear differences between race and sexuality, there would be folks from all sorts of viewpoints and backgrounds who would agree with that statement. Some from both the anti-gay marriage and pro-gay marriage camps would agree with it -- and the view itself would not necessarily negate or support the connections they might see in the fight for equal marriage based on race vs. the fight for equal marriage based on sexual orientation. And I think that's the point I'm trying to make here: That it's unfair to in any way suggest that LGBT people, by virtue of their sexualities, should (a) see a direct connection between the fight for same-sex marital equality and the (at this point, very nascent) fight for poly recognition; or (b) fall in line in one certain way. The truth is that there are poly-negative queer people, poly-positive queer people, and poly-neitral queer people who would agree/disagree with those connections, and that agreement/disagreement doesn't necessarily jibe with whether or not they would support that fight in court. Does that make sense?

Also, while I am sympathetic to the argument, I think it's unfair to ever say that "the exact same underlying principle" connects any of the various ways we could recognize unions. There are a whole slew of different kinds of recognition we could think of, and they all have their individual merits. There are varying levels of connection between them -- but it's, IMHO, a trivialization to say that any of the individual movements (including the aforementioned fight for interracial marriage) have "exact same" principles. Again, I would go with you on the journey of suggesting that in court, the gay rights movement would be used by the poly movement and others to make a case about legislating morality. And again, I think those arguments would surely contain logic. However, they would not mean that even the lawyers who made the piggy-backed-upon pro-gay marriage arguments would necessarily support the new movement's case.

And finally, as for why I won't weigh in personally on the merits of recognizing poly bonds? Well, this site focuses 100% on LGBT rights. No discussion of abortion, the environment, gun control, or a host of other issues. It was an editorial decision to shine a spotlight on only queer issues so as to not lose focus.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 8, 2009 9:02:10 AM

"Bisexuals are not innately polyamorous. We thought this went without saying, but apparently not. Bisexuality just means an attraction to both genders, not a CONCURRENT RELATIONSHIP with both sexes!"

Thank you! I've never understood that line of thinking. I'm attracted to men and women, sure, and also blondes, brunettes and redheads. But nobody would say that my legal inability to simultaneously marry one person of each hair color is impinging on my sexuality. I'm not against poly marriage, but it really is not about bi rights, and I don't think a bi person is more or less likely than a gay or hetero person to want to be monogamous.

I also had a thought about the "core structure" of marriage and how it's challenged, or not, by gay and poly relationships. It seems to me that the women's rights movement played a big part in making gay marriages basically the same in structure as hetero ones, since men and women now have equal social footing. When your gender determined the role you would play in a marriage (more than it does now), with the man doing this and the woman doing that, same-sex marriage *would* change the core structure, but now that any family task can be filled by any gender (except maybe childbirth), it doesn't matter. I definitely don't mean that it was right for same-sex marriage to wait in the sidelines until this happened, but just that some time in the future, maybe the structure of marriage will have changed to the point where poly marriage isn't a big deal either. Not sure what form that would take, or even what it is particularly about today's marriage structure that prevents this from happening now, but it's just a thought.

Posted by: Dana | Jan 8, 2009 3:41:31 PM

> FWIW, she says in her experience
> bisexuality is a whole part of poly.

A few years ago the Loving More organization did a survey of 1,010 polys and found (among many other interesting things) that 41% of self-identified polys consider themselves bi. This compares to 2% of the general population.

Keep up with Polyamory in the News!

Posted by: alan7388 | Jan 9, 2009 7:09:11 AM

Alan: I don't doubt this stat at all -- that a large minority of pollable poly-identified people are also bi-identified. And it's an interesting finding. But it doesn't lend credence to the idea that bisexuality = polyamory. For that you would need to ask the question in reverse: How many bisexual people identify as poly?

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 9, 2009 8:32:05 AM

I respond to this post, and ask for a public apology from Good As You, here: http://voiceofrevolution.askdrbrown.org/2009/01/11/love-the-two-or-more-youre-with/

Posted by: Marcus French | Jan 12, 2009 7:24:02 AM

Apology?! Well you will not be getting it, Mr. French. And it confounds me why you think you would even deserve an apology for this, a respectful public conversation that does not directly involve you.

Instead you will be getting a repudiation of your own assertions against me, as well as your unfair attempt to spin this into some sort of "anti-Christian bigotry." I'll leave that in your comments section at some point today.

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jan 12, 2009 7:30:49 AM

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