Sliding towards polyamorous ‘marriage’

It was clear during and following the public discussion of gay ‘marriage’ that there was no in-principle argument among the majority of its proponents that could present a stumbling block for polyamorous ‘marriage’. If people could not recognize that marriage was a union of the opposite sexes, given its ends, how could they further recognize it was also an exclusive union?

So it’s not surprising that the Economist, no less, is gently suggesting, in much the same way it and other outlets did re gay ‘marriage’, that polyamourous arrangements face discrimination, are misunderstood, and so on. There is, of course, an acknowledgement that marriage is in many respects institutionally inapt for polyamorous arrangements,

Triads and quads are what Laura Boyle, a relationship coach, calls “poster-child polyamory”: comprehensible to monogamous people who can grasp the concept of a closed unit living together. In fact networks are often more complicated, represented by v- and n-shaped configurations that don’t imply mutual attraction among several people. Ms Boyle lives separately from her three partners; she co-parents with her ex and his wife. She calls polyamorous people “folks with a scheduling kink” and thinks they are more willing to accept some fluidity in their relationships, for which marriage is a poor framework,

but the recognition is nevertheless sort in order to obtain the tax, workplace, health care, immigration benefits and the like that marriage affords. What is often missed in these discussions is that marriage includes these benefits because the institution itself was understood as a public good and thus worth promoting through these benefits, not because of its benefits to individuals. It’s not clear at all that these relationships (polyamorous, gay, and so on) that fall outside of the nature and form of marriage confer the same or similar public goods typically associated with it.

But this will likely be ignored, and the focus will be on whatever ‘discrimination’ is faced by those that want to engage in polyamorous arrangements. This will be the case both at the juridical and political level. The only likely impediment is the absence at present of a victim class. Gay ‘marriage’ was aided by the category of ‘sexual identity’, there ‘homosexual’; whereas, polyamorous arrangements can involve hetero/ homo/ bi- sexual individuals. Of course, given the propensity to multiply the number of sexual identities by the variety of sexual inclinations, there is nothing to stop the creation of the sexual identity ‘polysexual’; in fact, it is already with us.

The only way to stop and reverse this slide is to ask what marriage is for, and any failure to do so allows for the continued dissolution of marriage as a meaningful institution, which may be the point.