The one thing you don’t expect to see in any of the Bible Belt states (most of which have amended their constitutions to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman) is an organization promoting polyamory.
Last month at Atlanta’s pride parade, the group Atlanta Polyamory Inc. did just that — and out in the light of day. The result was the shock, awe, and disgust of a mixed group.
Atlanta Polyamory Inc.’s purple-lettered banner read, “Polyamory: Having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals.”
While many religious conservatives might argue that the legalization of same-gender marriage and shows like HBO’s Big Love, about a fictional polygamist Mormon family, plant seeds to destroy the conventional family unit, we have to ask ourselves whether monogamy is a natural instinct in us or a social construct devised to protect and regulate the institution of heterosexual marriage.
Being nonmonogamous in this culture carries a stigma for both heterosexuals and LGBTQs. Nonmonogamous people are widely assumed to be sexually promiscuous, sex- and love-addicted and unable to achieve emotional and sexual intimacy. But this assumption ignores the reality that some people really are in polyamorous relationships, and their ability to love more than one person at a time is not about a lust-fest for them.
Deepak Chopra, a renowned spiritual master and director of educational programs at the Chopra Center for Well Being in California, told The Advocate in 1998:
“As far as monogamy is concerned, I honestly believe that human beings are not monogamous biologically; they were not created that way. However, it is certainly helpful in society and social structure … because of the family structure. … [W]ith gay and lesbian relationships, I think you’re going to see families. You’re going to see children. … So in the interest of family structure, we’ve evolved biologically to the point where we are social creatures.”
But the purported evolutionary benefits of monogamy have not panned out as expected. The biggest claim touted in support of monogamy is that it’s the best social and psychological arrangement for children. However, if a couples is in a monogamous relationship solely for the kids, the children suffer because they witness no love, compassion or respect between the parents.
Sociologist Elisabeth Sheff’s forthcoming book The Polyamorists Next Door argues that, contrary to popular belief, polyamory is a “legitimate relationship style that can be tremendously rewarding for adults and provide excellent nurturing for children.”
Mark, a computer programmer, talked to CNN about his own polyamorous relationship. Mark’s wife is an electrical engineer, and they have been married for over a decade. They have no children themselves, but they are actively engaged with the children of the two couples with which they have been sexually involved for six years. “I’m more involved in [the children’s] lives and more aware of their inner thoughts or aspirations,” Mark said. “I’m more involved in their long-term happiness.”
Many people have avoided taking the walk down the aisle knowing that we may not be wired to uphold the wedding vow to stay married to one person until death. The evidence is the skyrocketing divorce rate, and married gay and lesbian couples are not immune. As the number of states with marriage equality climbs, so will our own divorce rate.
Many social scientists are recognizing that sexual fidelity to one person is a doomed aspiration. I believe that monogamy will soon evolve into an antiquated notion, because our human clock is ticking longer than it did in previous generations, while our appetite and yearning for sexual variety — with people of the same and other genders — is also expanding.
Many assert that our true polyamorous nature is evident in our tendency toward serial monogamy, which speaks to our need to fulfill the impulse for variety.
Once marriage shifted from its historical moorings as solely economic and political arrangements to consensual romantic unions based on love, emotional intimacy and sexual attraction, sexual fidelity became the barometer of a successful relationship or marriage.
While sexual jealousy and possessiveness would appear unavoidable in polyamorous relationships, there are data suggesting that having open relationships may keep these couples intact and their love very much alive.
The practice of polyamory was once thought to be an absurd relationship choice, but today it’s not. More and more organizations like Atlanta Polyamory Inc. are popping up across the country. Their members are coming out of the closet. Perhaps this will be the new civil rights battle before us.
Whether someone is monogamous or polyamorous is solely a personal decision.
And let’s remember that, once upon a time, it seemed preposterous to argue that access to marriage for same-sex couples is a civil right.