The Slippery Slope: Polyamorous Marriages

Unlike ‘all girls’, I spent my childhood envisioning a future in which I explored space in my personal cruiser, delved into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench hunting for yet undiscovered species of fish, and produced fantastic murder mystery computer games in my down time. Marriage was not on my radar.

Somewhere in my preteen years, I was given a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land. There were many layers of that book that I didn’t clue in on till I was much older, but the relationship model presented towards the end made a profound amount of sense to me. I ‘grokked’ it perfectly. If it took a village to raise a child, and if we can love more than one person in a non-romantic way, why would we foolishly limit ourselves to the love of just one other human, presumably unending for the remainder of our adult lives? That seemed like a needless restriction. Like painting in a single hue. It could be done, and probably done well in skilled hands with the right subject, but I’d prefer the full palette, thank-you-very-much.

The world didn’t work that way, though. So while I believed then, as I believe now, that the science fiction book had keyed in on something vibrant and beautiful, I settled into a life of monogamy.

Trust and honesty are vital to me. If I enter into a romantic entanglement, I’m going to abide by the expected boundaries. If I can’t, I’m going to renegotiate before I do something stupid or leave. Thus began a series of unfortunate relationships.I have been engaged four times. I had a beautiful vintage diamond in a handcrafted platinum setting worth more than my last three cars combined the last time around. My fiance had a wonderful family. I still miss his mom. No matter how idyllic or classically perfect my betrothed was, I fled before I could say ‘I do.’ The closer I got towards wedded bliss, the less content I was with my relationship.

I was doing everything right, but nothing was working.

The problem was that I was trying to fit myself into the mold of societal expectations. That single color palette. It turns out, I can’t love in monochrome. I feel strangled by the idea that I am forbidden from pursuing an incredible human, should they wander into my path, simply because I already love another.

I became anti-marriage as a result. When asked, I had a ready answer: It’s not for me. It’s an outdated concept. It’s restrictive. Society views it based on a patriarchal model that sees women as commodities, not as equals. All these arguments are fair, but none of them quite fit my feelings.

I lack marriage equality.

I’ve known this for awhile, and for awhile, I accepted the common arguments against allowing multi-partner marriages to exist.

“It’s too complicated.”

“Won’t someone think of the CHILDREN (‘s custody disputes)!?”

“How in the world would taxes work?”

“Insurance providers would never go for it.”

“Next up on Oprah: How My Goat Won Over My Heart – or the muddy hill those cooky poly’s left us.”

That all settled me out for a time. Until I watched my partner seize up while we were laying in our bed, talking into the early am. Until I stood feeling completely out of my depths while the paramedics took his seizing body out of my house. Until I ran around in a panic not sure if I should rush to the hospital, call a friend to watch our kids, or collapse in a puddle. Until I sat, numb and aching with a pain overwhelming enough to drown Manhattan, listening to the doctor tell me that I, as his legal caretaker and 7-year live-in partner, had no authority over what happened to his comatose body. Until they informed me that I lacked the legal right to tell the doctors his final wishes. Until I discovered that right, instead, reverted to parents who’d had little to do with him since we both fled the California desert half a decade earlier. Those parents who knew nothing about the life he’d built for himself, the man he’d become, the children he’d helped mold, the future he envisioned. Those parents who’d never seen him vital and living, only patiently waiting for the death his chronic medical conditioned promised him.

I can’t explain the agony of waiting in the lobby of the ICU, receiving 15-minute updates from the physician about whether or not the love of my life was still medically living. Whether his heart had given up the ghost and let his body seek its final rest.

I can’t explain the call I received from his grandmother, yelling at me. I have no idea what she said anymore, only that I was too hollow to respond with anger or bitterness. I could only tell her in a preternaturally calm voice what was. What would be.

I can’t explain the constant buzz of panic and anguish during the few days I waited to find out if I’d be able to receive his ashes. The wait to discover if they’d cremate him as he’d wished.

All of it was a brutal reminder that marriage matters. Marriage is a blanket of protection built around a life shared. Marriage provides a social seal of approval. It grants essential rights.  The protection of parentage, the right to be at the bedside of a sick loved one, the power to make decisions about how their final moments go, and the ability to handle the last memories you will make with them.

I was lucky. His parents respected their son enough to abide by what I passed along. They wouldn’t try to keep his lifeless corpse alive with machinery. They would grant his body peace. They wouldn’t try to bury the body he wanted cremated, and they would allow me and my family, his family, to keep the ashes. The team at the hospital was gracious enough to keep me informed. In some states, I’d have been kept out entirely since we had not created any documentation beforehand to cover such an event. It could have been far worse, far harder, on my girls and I.

Now I know that those excuses are a dike built of sand.

If insurance providers can cover the children of Quiverfull families without tossing them off their rolls, then I should be able to have an extra spouse or two without destroying the world.

If we can manage the complex tax code of multi-national, multi-billion dollar corporate entities, then we can manage a tax code covering considerably less complex poly families.

If we can manage custody disputes involving non-traditional families where a child is being raised in part by grandparents, aunties, uncles, step-parents, and all manner of complex, modern configurations, then we can sort our poly custody disputes.

Polyamory is about love, honesty, commitment, and respect. It’s not swinging, not that there’s anything wrong with swinging. Poly folks acknowledge that love is bountiful and we need not restrict ourselves from enjoying the full kaleidoscope of loving entanglements. It’s not about being afraid of commitment. Poly families tend to have strong feelings of commitment to one another. Poly requires a higher level of emotional discourse, of raw honesty, than is necessary to keep afloat a traditional monogamous relationship. This is in no way the equivalent of a man seducing the neighbor’s horse for a moonlit affair.

It’s real, and it’s a pattern of behavior that has been relatively normal throughout human history. Legalizing polyamorous marriages doesn’t destroy monogamous ones, or somehow negate the value of monogamous marriages. Some folks prefer to stick it out with one person. Kudos to them.

The author, author's child, and a friend holding marriage equality signs at a rally.
Best friend to the left, daughter in the middle, me on the right marching to our courthouse to celebrate marriage equality.

I marched with my daughter and her best buddy to my local courthouse with a collection of folks who’d gathered at the local GBLTQ community center to celebrate the final victory that made marriage equality the law of the land – so long as you stick to two. I am thrilled that we finally have sensible, fair protections for gays and lesbians.

Polyamory needs to be next.