After same-sex marriage, will polyamorous marriage be next?
By
Simon Copland

20 Jul 2017 - 11:49 AM  UPDATED 20 Jul 2017 - 11:49 AM

Earlier this year, three men in Colombia became the first in the country to enter a legal polyamorous marriage. The men - Victor Hugo Prada, John Alejandro Rodriguez and Manuel Jose Bermudez - got married in the city of Medellin, receiving all the same legal rights as a standard monogamous union.

This marriage represents a growing discourse about polyamory around the world. As same-sex marriage battles are being won, many have begun asking the question; is polyamory next? If gender doesn't matter when it comes to relationship, why do numbers matter? But is polyamory really the next sexual and legal frontier, or are the politics around non-monogamy actually much more complex than previous sexual debates?

Debate and discussion about ethical non-monogamy has certainly increased in recent years. There's been a flurry of online material about ethical non-monogamy, with people writing personal stories (such as my own) and how-to-guides on how ethical non-monogamy works. Polyamory is even entering popular media, such as in the popular Netflix show, You, Me, Her

With this, the practice is becoming more accepted. Data out of the United States this year said that 17% of people believed polygamy - an often negative term to describe non-consensual religious non-monogamous relationships - was morally acceptable. While 17% may seem low, this is the highest it’s ever been. It is likely the number would be even higher if asked about polyamory or other forms of consensual non-monogamy.

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SBS Sexuality spoke with Anne Hunter, a relationship coach with specialty in non-monogamous relationships. Hunter believes that this increase in discussion has resulted in an increased number of people entering ethical non-monogamous relationships:

"There's a lot of interest in this,” she says. “I think there always has been interest in non-monogamy, but recently, more people are wanting to do it, realising that you can do this well, and that you need skills to do it."

Hunter continues: "I think ethical non-monogamy has always been part of our culture, but it has generally had to stay hidden. The ease of contact with the wider world now means that ideas like polyamory are much, much, much more quickly inseminated. People can find other people who are like them a lot quicker."

But what does this actually mean? For centuries, monogamy has been the standard social norm for human societies. Will a new wave in ethical non-monogamy challenge this status?

For some, this is certainly not desirable. Writing in SBS, the national convenor of LNProud, Carrington Brigham argues that "most Australians view throuples as an experiment unlikely to pass the tests of time. They see it for what it is: sexual gratification and hedonism. It’s not their piece of cake." He goes on to say that "asking for legal recognition of polygamous relationships would break the foundation of our society."

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But others question this logic, arguing that as long as it occurs in an ethical and consensual manner, non-monogamous relationships should be treated just like any other. Janet Hardy, the author of Ethical Slut,  argues it like this: 

"the nuclear family was an uncomfortable fit for many, and an impossible dream for others. The America in which I want my children and grandchildren to live will make room for all kinds of families, and it will offer the same support and benefits—legally, financially and socially—to any family that is based on a core of love, consent and mutual responsibility."

That does not mean that non-monogamous people believe that monogamy should be abolished. The problem is not that monogamy exists, but instead that it is given a higher social and legal standing than any other form of relationship. The argument, therefore, is not to abolish monogamy, but to even the playing field—to make ethical non-monogamy just as socially acceptable and monogamy.

Hunter believes this will be beneficial not just for people currently in non-monogamous relationships, but also for those who often feel trapped within monogamy.

"Somewhere between 10 and 15% of the population is homosexual," she explains. “More than half the population, however, is non-monogamous and always has been non-monogamous, but much of that has been unethically non-monogamous in the past. There's a much larger percentage of the population that might be interested in ethical non-monogamy than you'd likely to be homosexual."

Examples of these sorts of statistics are very clear. With divorce rates remaining high, and websites such as Ashley Madison receiving millions of users, it seems clear that many feel stuck in the sexual mores of compulsory monogamy. Ethical non-monogamy, therefore, provides a potential 'way-out'—a different approach to a relationship that can deal with these issues.

But what about legal rights? If we accept ethical non-monogamy, does that mean polyamorous marriages?

There has been some talk of poly marriage in recent years. Attention after the US Supreme Court decision focused on the idea of extending marriage rights to more than one person. During the lead up to the British General Election in 2015, Greens Leader Natalie Bennett said she was open to the idea

Yet, unlike moves for same-sex marriage, there does not seem to be the energy within ethical non-monogamous circles to push for marriage rights.

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"I don't hear poly people say they want poly marriage approved. There may be one or two who want that, but I don’t hear that type of thing from poly people,” explains Anne Hunter.

"The thing that I do hear that they want is the ability to have legal recognition of multiple partners in more things like visiting partners in hospital, anything to do with wills and inheritance, and stuff like that, and co-parenting, legal protection around multiple co-parent,” she continues, adding: “At the moment, extra relationships and multiple relationships have no guarantees at all, no legal protections, and no recognition."

Marriage is currently a 'one-size-fits-all' package—one that you take or leave as is. The rearrangement of relationship laws would provide more agency, allowing us to decide who gets what rights and responsibilities. The benefits of this is that it wouldn't just affect those in non-monogamous relationships.  It means a single person could, for example, decide who has visitation rights when in hospital, or that those living together but non-romantically could more easily share a mortgage. It would mean being able to define more than two legal guardians of a child, because more love for a child is better than less.

Despite some insisting it is a fad, ethical non-monogamy is not going away. In fact, it has always been with us, it's just that it may finally be getting the coverage it deserves. Will that mean polyamorous marriage in the near future? Probably not. But it should mean rethinking how we legislate regarding relationships. That will benefit everyone.