So this morning, on my way to work, I listened to a really interesting Poly Weekly episode on marriage. This episode was inspired by Mistress Matisse’s recent article in The Stranger, which I also urge everyone to go and read.
I was going to message Minx with my thoughts following the PW episode, but I had so many thoughts on all of this that I decided I’d just make it into a blog entry instead. Plus I don’t blog enough anymore. So here goes.
Matisse does a good job of deconstructing the difficulty of defining what poly marriage even is, so I’m not going to rehash that here. Just go read it. She also points out the sheer practical and logistical impossibilities of getting something like this into law. She points out the absolutely mammoth task the queer movement had to go through – and is still going through in many places – to get same-sex marriage legalised, and points out that “fundraising infrastructure is key – and queers have it, poly people don’t.”
But the thing that interested me the most in all of this, and the point I most wanted to respond to, was that Matisse and Minx both point out the simple fact that no-one seems to be lobbying particularly hard for poly marriage. In fact, within the poly communities they each mention – and in the ones I frequent, from what I can see – there appears to be a large amount of simple apathy towards the subject.
Sure, someone might occasionally “dream out loud,” as Matisse says, but let’s be honest here – how many of us are fully paid up members of the Poly Marriage Now club? I know I’m certainly not. There’s a lot of issues that are important to me, but to be absolutely honest, this just isn’t one of them.
Marriage in general is an interesting topic to me. I have personal reasons to be somewhat uneasy with the idea, given that I was engaged to an Abusive Asshole from the ages of 18 to 20 which was, I now know, much too huge a commitment to be undertaking at such a young age and with such a relative lack of experience. There was, of course, a time it was normal to be married off by 18. We do not live in that world any more. People these days typically have more relationships, and get married later – with many opting not to marry at all, including those in long term, stable relationships.
I haven’t entirely ruled out getting married someday – in some ways, it’s something I feel that I’d quite like. But the things I want are the opportunity to have a big, special celebration of my commitment to my partner(s) with our friends and family around us. Unless it came down to a “we need to do this so one of us can stay in the country” (or similar) type situation, the legal aspects of traditional marriage are of very little significance to me.
And in this way, there’s an interesting dissonance in my head. One of the aspects I find difficult about the idea of traditional marriage for myself is the idea of ONE of my relationships being legally (and to an extent, socially) recognised in a way which explicitly closes any and all of my other relationships from being recognised in the same way. In this sense, the idealist dreamer in me thinks that being able to legally marry more than one person would be wonderful.
However. I also accept that allowing polygamy is at best an absolute legal and ethical minefield, and at worst pretty much impossible.
Why, you ask? To begin with, where does one draw the line of what is legal and what isn’t? Can you marry a second person without your first spouse’s consent, or do they need to give it? How would anyone differentiate between consent which was freely given and consent which was coerced? Does everyone involved in the group or family have to marry each other for this to be allowed (ie a triad or quad,) or only the people who are actually sleeping with each other?
When I was 18 and naive, I’d have been all for crusading for legally recognised polyamorous marriage. I liked the idea of being married to my boyfriend and my girlfriend and my husband and my wife and my sweetie and all of us living together in one big happy poly family, with our commitment recognised under the law. I’ve changed a lot since then. I’ve no idea what my future holds, of course, but my best guess right now involves one of three things happening;
1) I choose to remain unmarried.
2) I someday marry a partner, but enlist legal help to draw up contracts/agreements with anyone I’m in a long-term/very committed/life-partner style relationship with to ensure that as many of the relevant rights as possible are afforded to those people as well as my legal spouse.
3) I opt for a type of “marriage” or commitment ceremony or similar recognised by my religion, but not recognised by law, which can therefore potentially be entered into with more than one person concurrently.
So yeah. I’m not going to be campaigning for the legalisation of polygamy anytime soon. I’d rather take what we have and work with it. I’d rather create and invent new ways of doing things, ways which fit within the dynamics and the relationships that we’re actually having, rather than try to mould a centuries-old institution to fit us.
Though most of the advice is fairly US-centric and as such largely useless to me on a practical level, I’m fascinated with the Alternatives to Marriage Project and wish there was something similar in the UK[4.]
We’re in pretty unchartered territory here, people. We’re reinventing what is commonly understood by love, fidelity and faithfulness. Why can we not also look at reinventing and re-imagining commitment?
 I want a “Poly Bar.” Is that just me??
 Thankfully, I came to my senses before I married him.
 Used here in the literal meaning of the word, “marriage to more than one person,” NOT as a synonym for polyamory.
 I’ve even toyed with the idea of creating it myself, but I have neither the time, energy, nor legal know-how at the moment.