Polyamorous Marriage: Who is it good for?

Ladies, gentlemen, and the dapperest of the nonbinary: the day has come when the liberal agenda has gone too far astray, just as predicted. Now that they feel they have won the day on gay marriage, with 75 prominent Republicans giving their support to the cause, progressives are showing us just how slippery the slope is and asking for polyamorous marriage.

The evidence: A facebook post by one Mike Mei with the above link to the New York Times article about the Republican lawmakers and this commentary,

Okay. This debate is over. Now it’s time to focus on efforts to build a system that can extend the marriage rights structure to more than two people.

Obviously, this is not, in fact, the end of the world, but it is a new debate, and all kinds of new arguments will begin if this ever becomes a discussion of public interest. I imagine they’d be mostly along the lines of:
- we shouldn’t privilege some sexualities over others
- get the government out of marriage
- equal rights for poly folk
- what happened to traditional marriage?
- tax issues!!
- where will it end??
- destruction of marriage and the social norm
- what about childcare?
- etc.

Sound familiar? I bet that a couple fairly knowledgeable people could predict and hash out most of these arguments in advance (I’ve given some of my ideas here), so I’m not terribly interested in the traditional discussion.

But here’s a question that might come up that I do find interesting: “What’s the point? How many poly people are there, really? Not many. So why is it worth overthrowing our entire system of responsibilities and benefits for them?”

As a utilitarian (generally speaking), I think this is an excellent question. Let’s start with the assumption that the government should indeed be part of marriage and making people fill out individual forms for hospital visitation, next of kin, health insurance sharing, joint bank accounts, change of name forms, fifth amendment, guardianship of children, etc. would be unfair and/or unwieldy. There are plenty of arguments against this, but if we grant the assumption, who would it help to have some arrangement in which the benefits of marriage are shared among multiple people? (We’re also ignoring the logistical concerns here).

1. Poly people who want to get married: This is sort of the obvious one, since these are the people the law would ostensibly have been changed to accommodate. People in situations where they are in long term stable relationships that are usually romantic or sexual with multiple people, or are attached to someone who is in partnerships with multiple people, can all get married to each other. Which can mean that someone is married to multiple people or that multiple people are in a single marriage or both, in varying arrangements.

Homework: draw a polycule that encapsulates the whole world, accommodating everyone’s gender preferences.

But it could help other people, too, I think. Like:

2. Poor people: Low-income people are more likely to live in family structures that are multi-generational and that share income and childrearing duties among more than two people. This is especially true as regards single mothers, who are some of those most punished by the restriction of marriage benefits to married couples. It might be incredibly helpful to legalize the distribution of benefits and child guardianship across single mothers, their parents and their friends. Weird, I know, and I don’t know how to deal with the fact that those friends and family members are probably married themselves (or would like to be someday), except that in a world of poly marriage, you can just keep adding people (which has its own problems). All I’m saying is that poor folks might disproportionately benefit from this kind of normalized legal structure, much like they might disproportionately benefit from gay marriage.

3. Anyone involved in surrogacy, sperm donation or the like: This means infertile people, gay people, any situation in which more than two people are involved in the making and caring of a baby. This can include adoptive parents too. Many feel that one of the main points of marriage is to care for children. Sometimes, children are cared for by more than two people, and it may be important that all of them are considered kin, as in an adoptive situation where the birth parents are still in the picture. Furthermore, as you increase the number of potential configurations (two lesbians and a gay sperm donor on a birth certificate? Why not?) the more important it is to have contracts that can be agreed upon beforehand, so tragic misunderstandings don’t take place, as they almost did in the article I linked to. This would also be an excellent opportunity to further regulate the surrogacy industry, which is fascinating and complicated and rife with potential for drastic error.

Any other ideas for who might be helped? Please let me know!

In sum, while I think there’s a lot to ask about the proper role of marriage in society, about whether and how much the government should be involved and how logistically disastrous it would be to have poly marriage, I don’t think these questions can be properly answered until we’ve considered more of the potential implications for a change in the law than are currently in the public discourse. What other changes do you think would happen?

10 thoughts on “Polyamorous Marriage: Who is it good for?

  1. Miri says:

    Ooh, I’ve got one! Friends who have decided for whatever reason to live together and share certain commitments. Perhaps this fits under various other categories, but there are definitely situations in which people who are not involved sexually/romantically might want or need some of the benefits currently associated with marriage.

  2. Paul says:

    It might be useful to think about this from the perspective of the state, rather than just the individuals who will be helped or harmed. Why are there all these benefits? It’s not that we just like handing out benefits to people and we have to debate which relationships get them. They’re incentives. The government wants people to get married. So this debate fits right in with the debate about whether the government should be involved at all. What type of relationships do we want to incentivize? What effect will this have on society?

    • Miri says:

      Well, traditionally, it’s been seen as a given that the government would want to promote child-bearing, because duh. But at this point, I feel like if anything, it should promote NOT having children.

    • Chana says:

      I think that’s a very important, and in fact the most important question about marriage, which is what are the effects, and is there a compelling state interest. That’s just not the question I was addressing in this post.

    • Chana says:

      In fact, I addressed the fact that I wasn’t answering that question in the last paragraph.

  3. Merely on the principle of equality, we must include polyamorous marriage under full marriage equality. Equality “just for some” isn’t equality.

  4. C.B.D. says:

    “Relationships of some form of non-monogamy have been around for as long as human civilization has been around, some of which were even honest, multi-partner relationships and not cheating. Today’s concept of monogamous, nuclear families is a very recent development … within just this last century! It is important to note that “it has always been so” is not a good enough reason, by itself, to continue doing anything. But it is false to say that monogamy has “always been so”, because the fact is, it hasn’t.”


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