Samantha Fraser has been married for the past eight years. Six years ago, she started seeing other people and currently, she boasts two boyfriends and a girlfriend. Fraser isn’t divorced and she isn’t cheating on her partner. She is practicing polyamory.
Fraser is the author of the poly-centric blog Not Your Mother’s Playground and a forthcoming book of the same title. Of her romantic entanglements, Fraser explained that “it’s not like traditional marriage. Polyamory means ‘many loves’ — but it’s not like we’re looking at any sort of rule book.”
The definition of polyamory is somewhat contested: In one camp, people honor its academic roots in the gender and sexuality community as a term for wholly transparent and simultaneous romantic relationships. More recently, people have used it synonymously with phrases like “open relationships,” which are sometimes strictly about sex.
As Dossie Easton describes it, “Poly has come to mean any form of relationship with multiple partners.” Easton is the co-author of what is often regarded as “the poly Bible,” The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities.
“Infinite possibilities” describes polyamory at its core. Those who practice poly range from the lovestruck triad in Oliver Stone’s recent film “Savages” to full-on group marriage within an entire community of people.
Rising Wharton junior Derek Livermont was in a polyamorous relationship last summer, after he and his partner decided to branch out and date other people. He described the arrangement as the most “open and honest relationship” that he has ever been in. Still, the multiplicity of love that springs from polyamory is often met with resistance — both legal and social — which leaves polyamorous people out of mind when it comes to making social progress.
“[Polys] are not only at odds with the heterosexual and monogamous community, but also with an LGBT community that is quickly giving up some of its core beliefs of inclusion and acceptance in exchange for quick payoffs like marriage equality,” Livermont said. “We should find a form of marriage — or lack thereof, as a thought — that works for everyone.”
Livermont nods to the fact that we’ve witnessed strides for the gay community, like the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the legalization of gay marriage in eight states. Still, the changes have focused on incorporating homosexuals into a preexisting system — one that polys simply don’t fit into.
The mono-normative mindset toward relationships creates obstacles for some polys. How, for example, does a person with multiple lovers choose who gets the tax break for being in a longterm relationship?
Raising children is another complication. Easton, whose daughter was co-parented within a poly community, admits that while it was a blessing to have such a wide network of adults to look after her daughter, issues of custody can cause pains in poly parenting.
“We don’t have any legal traditions to take care of this kind of thing, so it can be very difficult,” she said.
To offer some perspective, Newsweek reported in 2009, as a lowball estimate, that there are half a million polyamorous families in the United States.
Families like these cannot be ignored. In California, where progressive San Francisco state senator Mark Leno has proposed legislation that would allow more than two adults to be recognized as the legal parents of a child. The bill — S.B. 1467, which passed in the state senate last month and is awaiting approval in the state assembly — was designed to accommodate the diversity of modern parenthood, including surrogates, adoptive parents, same-sex parents and more. While it isn’t targeted specifically at poly parents, the bill would afford them benefits too. As Leno said in an interview with The Sacramento Bee, the legislation is a necessity to “bring California to the 21st century by recognizing that there are more than Ozzie and Harriet families today.”
Ozzie, Harriet and Thorny too — this is the evolution of the modern American family. But instead of incorporating polys into the preexisting legal systems, Easton has something else in mind.
“People should be able to make their own marital arrangements and call it whatever they damn well please! Marriage should be something defined by the people who are in it,” she said. “Maybe your church has a contract that you sign, or your extended family works out a contract for you and your partners. If we make our own rules, we all become more conscious and aware when we enter into legally committed relationships.”
Modern relationships are being divorced from their traditionalist background, and the laws that govern our relationships should do the same. Americans are becoming more comfortable with the idea that love can be more than a relationship with a man and a woman, according to a recent Gallup poll that showed over half of Americans favor gay marriage. Now, it’s time to open our minds to the idea that love can manifest itself as a relationship between more than two people. Tolerance and acceptance can’t stop with what fits neatly into our preconceived notions of love.
After all, what’s the harm in simply loving more?
Arielle Pardes is a rising College junior and women, gender and sexuality studies major from San Diego, Calif. Her email address is email@example.com. The Screwtinizer appears bi-weekly during the school year.