Why Legalizing Polyamorous Marriages Isn't Bad

Just after the Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages legal in all 50 states, Fox News started making silly statements, as expected. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum tried to make a slippery slope argument Friday when she said, "So, suppose three people say, we want to be a marriage. We're three people, we love each other, and we want to be married. What's to prevent that under this?," according to Talking Points Memo. Well, the ruling definitely didn't set up any new legal structure to allow marriages between more than two people. But her argument — that the SCOTUS ruling might broaden to legalize group marriages or legal polyamorous marriages some day — isn't actually a bad thing.

Now, just hear me out before you jump to cult-y conclusions. First, there's a difference between polygamy, where one man has many wives, and polyamory, where people have multiple lovers or partners. In the former case, the man in the marriage gets to have all the fun, while the women are expected to only have an emotional or physical relationship with their husband. It's this element of inequality — and then separate questions surrounding consent — that distinguish polyamorous relationships from polygamy. Polygamy, in parts of the U.S. and around the world, is often associated with religion or cults, which can force people into the relationship either through social ostracization and intimidation or with physical violence. This coercion undermines the consent of the people in the polygamist marriage. Polyamory is a bit different in that all the parties involved actively consent to the relationship and what it means to be non-monogamous.

Polyamory is on the rise in the U.S. as more people are starting to understand that monogamy isn't a naturally-occurring human trait. Rather, monogamy just happened back in the day, when small, tightly-knit family units were necessary to run a farm and make sure everyone was fed. Further, people didn't used to have the extra time that a polyamorous relationship might take. Now, because we don't spend 15 hours a day making sure we can eat and clothe ourselves, we have a bit more time to interact with people outside of a primary relationship. The rise of long-distance relationships has also contributed to the rise of consensual non-monogamy.

And this is great. Polyamory, like same-sex relationships, is consensual, the parties involved often achieve a level of happiness that they wouldn't in a traditional, monogamous relationship, and it doesn't hurt anyone. The reason people want to hate on polyamory is the same reason legalizing polyamorous marriages would be pretty awesome: it doesn't succumb to what the U.S. or Christianity have previously defined as good marriages or relationships. Only allowing people to marry in relationships that the state have said are OK can lead to discrimination, inequality, and general unhappiness, which we've seen when states have tried to ban same-sex marriage. Further, only giving tax or healthcare benefits to people who decide to carry out state-sanctioned marriages creates a lower class of people for no reason, which the Supreme Court said in its decision Friday is not OK.

In his majority opinion for the case legalizing gay marriage in the U.S., Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said the men and women seeking to marry their partners were not "disrespecting" the traditional idea of marriage, according to Politico:

Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

I would argue that polyamorous couples have that same respect for relationships — and then some. Being in a successful polyamorous relationship requires even more communication, understanding, reassurance, and self reflection in times of insecurity and jealousy. Polyamory seeks to maximize love: It operates on the realistic idea that we might be expecting too much from one person when we expect them to fulfill all our wants and needs. In essence, successful polyamorous relationships are paradigms of what good relationships, generally, should look like: they have complete honesty, open communication, consent, and, with more serious partners, long-term goals.

MacCallum's argument wasn't that out of left field. By saying that there's something wrong with polyamory or consensual group marriages, we say there's something wrong with the purely human need to make a lot of connections — whether they be emotional, physical, friendly, loving, diverse, etc. When we shame people for wanting to explore their sexuality in a completely consensual way, we aren't making any progress to be more sex-positive — and thus more pro-sexual health — and less nosy about other people's decisions. The idea that one religion or a government should be able to rank the quality of consenting relationships by allowing them certain benefits will only continue to perpetuate classism and discrimination. When we're not understanding of new relationship styles or gender identifications or sexualities, then we're continuing to exclude and hurt people simply because we're afraid to embrace change.

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