Monday, May 2, 2011

Non-Monogamy and Policy Stigmas

Let's face it, human beings are not designed for monogamy. Ryan & Jetha (2010) give a blow-by-blow assessment of anthropological and evolutionary evidence that monogamy was not in the design blueprint for human beings. From the promiscuities of the Mosuo people, to the mating habits of our closest evolutionary cousins (chimps & bonobos), to the extracurricular activities of sports jocks, the real question isn't to ask what does it mean, but instead to ask how do we give everyone the room to interpret and explore the meaning in their own way?
Yet at every road social norms block the way. Creating the image that monogamy is the one-size-fits-all solution to our problems, framing our thinking and behaving into specific, socially constructed ways (Ryan & Jetha, 2010; Bauer, 2010; Emens, 2004), especially around jealousy (Mint, 2010; Easton, 2010) and children (Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2010; Riggs, 2010). So, where can we look for models of social change?
Well, how about starting with laws? Non-monogamous individuals run into several problems regarding the legality of their arrangements, specifically around infidelity and bigamy laws (Emens, 2004). Yet these laws are informed by the social context that they exist in (Emens, 2004; Ritchie, 2010), which can lead to dangerous power imbalances (Klesse, 2010). On the most extreme end of social norms, the legal process can be circumvented to only protect those within the normative framework (Richards, 2010), especially on the aforementioned jealousy and children issues (Melby, 2007; Anapol, 2010). The most extreme examples of this are with Texas adultery laws, which allow for a spouse that's been cheated on to mitigate a murder sentence to manslaughter because of adultery (Emens, 2004), and the 1999 Divilbiss case, where a poly triad had their child taken away because of the family's lifestyle (Emens, 2004; Melby, 2007).
These laws are the bogeymen for non-monogamists, each suffering them in their own way: Swingers, as their relationships are the most consistent with the monogamous norm (McDonald, 2010; Phillips, 2010) are at an increased liability from adultery laws, and not so much from bigamy laws. Since swingers see their relationships as monogamous, and their swinging activity as being strictly sexual, this group doesn't have the same concerns as polyamorists, Mormon polygamists and even those in open relationships (to a lesser degree), have with bigamy laws. Swingers aren't trying to develop multi-partner relationships.
Again, this highlights a real-world distinction that non-monogamous individuals make that is out of step with policy and law. Sex vs. love. In almost every form of non-monogamy there is the recognition of the difference between sex and love (Adam, 2010; McDonald, 2010; Phillips, 2010; Scherrer, 2010; Anapol, 2010; Easton & Hardy, 2009) yet the law only recognises sexual conduct in regards to adultery. It is clear that swingers don't consider their swinging activity to be adulterous, but that outside love relationships would be (McDonald, 2010; Phillips, 2010), and similarly among gay men (Adam, 2010), yet the law does not recognize this distinction.
On the flip side we have Polyamorists and Mormon Polygamists who build multi-partner relationships, in violation of bigamy laws. In the United States this is, somewhat, skirted around by not having all parties legally married, but in Canada, and any place with anti-bigamy laws and common-law marriage (or similar) laws the legality starts to get grey (Emens, 2004). When you have 3 or 4, or more, people living together, all acting like a multi-partner unit, and the law allows for 'wiggle room' in defining marriage, this can potentially present a tremendous liability for these families.
Though each kind of non-monogamist will have issue with these laws in different ways, the laws were developed without a concept of how relationships actually happen (Emens, 2004; Kelly, 2007; Riggs, 2010). What's worse is that it puts these families in exceptional danger, less so from the threat the laws directly present, as they are rarely enforced, but from how the illegality of these arrangements affect other areas of life. Again I refer back to the jealousy and children issues, with the Texas laws and the Divilbiss case serving as the example. When the state can indirectly condone murder and take children from their family based on the moral assumptions inherent in these laws (Emens, 2004; Kelly, 2007), something is dangerously wrong with the system.
There are thoughts on how to address these laws. Canada's anti-polygamy laws were well addressed by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association last month in thier closing statements to the District of Columbia Supreme Court, recommending that the the law be repealed, and legislation around marriage be re-written to encourage ways of relating that are more in-line with modern progressive values. In an evaluation of these laws four years ago, Kelly (2007) indicated that these more modern non-monogamies (I.E. polyamory) are based on principles that meet, and possibly exceed the United Nation's criteria of addressing human rights. Implied in the writings on the progressiveness of the culture of polyamory is implied that polyamory is even more progressive, and better meets human rights needs than monogamy (Emens, 2004; Kelly, 2007). Emens (2004) even recommends, instead of repealing adultery and bigamy laws, to instead change them in ways which would encourage dialog between marriage-interested parties.
There are options, however all options on bending, tweaking, repealing, adjusting, or modifying the rules around bigamy and adultery issues will meet fierce resistance from conservative individuals (Kurts, 2003).
So, where do you want to be when the shit hits the fan? Welcome to the relationship revolution.
References: (Author's note: Yeah, I've been doing more reading on policy-related stuff!)
Adam, B. D. (2010). Relationship innovation in male couples. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 55-69). New York, NY: Routledge.
Anapol, D. (2010). Polyamory in the 21st century: Love and intimacy with multiple partners. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Bauer, R. (2010). Non-monogamy in queer BDSM communities: Putting the sex back into alternative relationship practices and discourse. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 142-153). New York, NY: Routledge.
Easton, D. (2010Making friends with jealousy: Therapy with polyamorous clients. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 207-211). New York, NY: Routledge.
Easton, D. & Hardy, J. (2009). The ethical slut: A practical guide to polyamory, open relationships & other adventures (2nd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Celestial Arts.
Emens, E. F. (2004). Monogamy’s law: Compulsory monogamy and polyamorous existence. New York University Review of Law & Social Change, 29(277). Retrieved April 25, 2011, from SSRN.
Kelly, L. (2007). Bringing international human rights law home: An evaluation of Canada’s family law treatment of polygamy.University of Toronto Faculty Law Review, 65(1), 1-38. Retrieved April 4, 2011, from OmniFile Full Text Select database.
Kleese, C. (2010). Paradoxes in gender relations: [Post] feminism and bisexual polyamory. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 109-120). New York, NY: Routledge.
Kurtz, S. (2003). Beyond gay marriage: The road to polyamory.The Weekly Standard, 8(45). Retrieved April 21, 2011, from LexisNexis Academic.
McDonald, D. (2010). Swinging: Pushing the boundaries of monogamy?. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 70-81). New York, NY: Routledge.
Melby, T. (2007). Open relationships, Open lives. Contemporary Sexuality41(4), 1, 4-6.
Mint, P. (2010). The power mechanisms of jealousy. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 201-206). New York, NY: Routledge.
Pallotta-Chiarolli, M. (2010). 'To pass, border or pollute': Polyfamilies go to school. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 182-187). New York, NY: Routledge.
Phillips, S. (2010). There were three in bed: Discursive desire and the sex lives of swingers. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 82-86). New York, NY: Routledge.
Ryan, A. & Jetha, C. (2010). Sex at dawn: The prehistoric origins of modern sexuality. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Richards, C. (2010). Trans and non-monogamies. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 121-133). New York, NY: Routledge.
Riggs, D. (2010). 'Developing a 'responsible' foster care praxis: Poly as a framework for examining power and propriety in family contexts. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 188-198). New York, NY: Routledge.
Ritchie, A. (2010). Discursive constructions of polyamory in mono-normative media culture. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 46-51). New York, NY: Routledge.
Scherrer, K. S. (2010). Asexual relationships: What does asexuality have to do with polyamory?. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.) Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 154-159). New York, NY: Routledge.

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