Thursday, July 21, 2011

Free to be you and you and me

What does the word "polygamy" make you think of?

[pause inserted here so you can examine your gut reactions]

An admission.
It makes my stomach tighten.
And not because I'm trying to either hide or strengthen those lazy muscles.

To me, the word "polygamy" implies oppression of women. A religious and/or cultural system which sees women only as property. Self-centered, narcissistic men needing to be catered to. Fawned over. Worshiped.

Yeah... I know... some of that does sound like the sadist, doesn't it?
Hold that thought.

But what if we say "polyamory"?
"Multiple relationships"?
"Open marriage"?

Then many of us might say - oh yes!
How forward thinking.
Great if you can make it work.

There's a challenging and informative op-ed article in the New York Times on just this issue. It's called One Big, Happy Polygamous Family and is definitely worth a read. The Utah family featured in the TLC reality show Sister Wives is challenging the state's law which criminalizes polygamy. The author, Jonathan Turley, is the lead attorney on the case. And the case comes down to whether such plural relationships are covered by the right to privacy established in the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas.

Turley says things so well that it seems best to quote a few key sections of his article, send you off to read the whole thing (don't worry, it's not super long) and then hope you'll come back here to comment and discuss.

One might expect the civil liberties community to defend those cases as a natural extension of its campaign for greater privacy and personal choice. But too many have either been silent or outright hostile to demands from polygamists for the same protections provided to other groups under Lawrence.

The reason might be strategic: some view the effort to decriminalize polygamy as a threat to the recognition of same-sex marriages or gay rights generally. After all, many who opposed the decriminalization of homosexual relations used polygamy as the culmination of a parade of horribles. In his dissent in Lawrence, Justice Antonin Scalia said the case would mean the legalization of “bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity.”

Personally, I think it's also due to that pit of the stomach reaction, especially as so many of us automatically tie it in with patriarchal religious oppression and devaluing of women. But stop and think.

How would most Americans characterize the kinds of relationships that you and I and many of the readers of this little edge of blogland?

How many of you play with or have sex with more than one person?

How many are involved with someone who has a spouse or significant other who is not you?

In how many of these cases is there some agreement, whether tacit or clearly defined, for people to have other relationships of various kinds?

How does this honest acknowledgement of how hard it is for one person to meet all of another's needs - including but not limited to sexual needs - compare with pretending to be monogamous while sneaking around on the side?

Meanwhile, the quote from Justice Scalia left my mouth hanging open. I've heard that little list before, with its lumping together of homosexuality and bestiality. But I never noticed the inclusion of masturbation before. Masturbation??!!? Excuse me, buster. Although I may not agree, I can at least see the reasoning behind his opposition to the other items on the list. But masturbation? Talk about a victimless crime. Especially when women do it, because (I'm going all Biblical here) there's no issue of depriving a baby the right to be born by our spilling our seed on the ground.

I can see the irony, though, considering the huge contribution Mormons made to outlawing same-sex marriage in California. Just imagine Mormons marching side-by-side with supporters of gay rights in one grand united movement to protect our right to privacy.

[T]here is nothing uniquely abusive about consenting polygamous relationships. It is no more fair to prosecute the Browns because of abuse in other polygamous families than it would be to hold a conventional family liable for the hundreds of thousands of domestic violence cases each year in monogamous families.

And finally:

Civil libertarians should not be scared away by the arguments of people like Justice Scalia. We should fight for privacy as an inclusive concept, benefiting everyone in the same way. Regardless of whether it is a gay or plural relationship, the struggle and the issue remains the same: the right to live your life according to your own values and faith.

This is where it comes back to hit every one of us.

The right to live our lives according to our own values.

The right to use birth control if we wish to.

The right of consenting adults to give or get an erotic spanking.

Never take your freedoms for granted.

To read about one example of polyamory, spend some time with The Heron Clan, one man and two women in a long-standing relationship. Like all of us, they have their crises, with the last few years being particularly challenging. Most of the posts come from swan, who sometimes comments here. She is warm, thoughtful, and analytic, and well-worth visiting.


littlemonkey said...

I'll definitly be back to discuss, but I do have to make one point first, regarding this...

"I can see the irony, though, considering the huge contribution Mormons made to outlawing same-sex marriage in California."

I have Mormon relatives and I can tell you that the rank and file Mormons frown upon the polygamists and consider them a seperate sect, sadly misinformed, but not quite heretical. They tend ot be as judgemental about polygamy as they are about same sex marriage.

oatmeal girl said...

Thanks for making that point, monkey. I do in fact know that polygamy is no longer a part of mainstream Mormon belief, and I appreciate your clarification.


Anonymous said...

As you always point out, OG, it's about relationships, whatever form they take. Neither polygamy nor polyamory cause my gut to clench. I have always assumed that is because I was never indoctrinated through religious training. My mom used to say that desire was like wanting a hamburger, and that while people owed each other emotional consideration within the boundaries of their particular relationships, to make a moral issue out of an appetite was foolish and self-defeating. I would agree that a poly relationship is not inherently abusive. Indeed, when I was younger, and had too much to do to be ever-available for TM, I welcomed his liaisons and generally grew very close to the girls. I do see it as a personal choice rather than a matter for legislation. Great topic - and I can't wait to read the full article! Thanks. - jcn

swan said...

Thank you, my friend, for your kind words.

There is so much "gut clenching" about the whole issue of marriage, and defining marriage, and determining what a marriage should look like and who gets to play. It is also true that many marriage activists, especially in the same sex marriage camp, are reluctant to get into the discussion of poly precisely because it sends all the fundamentalist types into the "slippery slope" argument. So, poly folks will probably end up fighting that battle without much help from folks that would seem to be natural allies.

As for the Sister Wives "thing." I have mixed reactions. I think they ought to be able to live their lives exactly as they choose to... but then I want to just smack them when they whine about being persecuted and prosecuted. What, I wonder, did you expect when you put your whole life on TV? Give me a break!

So much for being sweet and gentle!

hugs, swan