Same-sex marriage is now legal in 14 states and Washington D.C. An estimated six million children are being raised by gay or lesbian parents. More than twenty million are growing up with a single mother or father. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the traditional nuclear family – mom, dad, children – accounts for only 20 percent of households. This is the first in an occasional series of stories about the new modern family, one that may be living next door to you.
On Sept. 10, 2011, Deirdre Cusack, Jeremy Peirce, and Kala Pierson got married. To one another.
More than 60 friends and relatives attended their marriage ceremony at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. They smiled as the two brides, both in traditional white wedding gowns, and the groom, dapper in his tuxedo, passed Noah, their 18-month-old son, from one set of arms to another.
Today, two years later, the foursome appear to be an ordinary family living with their cats, Moonstone and Dandelion, in a single home in a Philadelphia suburb. Noah goes to a progressive day care center where he is learning Hebrew and Spanish. He loves pasta, albeit topped with brussels sprouts, and squeals with delight when he is rewarded with a chunk of licorice after success on the potty.
All three parents hold prestigious jobs – Jeremy, Noah’s birth father, with degrees from Amherst and Princeton, is a biotech scientist; Kala writes classical music that has been performed in 28 countries. Deirdre, Noah’s birth mother, is a data analyst. Deirdre’s sister, Deborah, and Jeremy’s mother, Marie, usually laden with gifts for Noah, visit often.
Still – When Kala describes her ordinary, extraordinary family, she shrugs insouciantly and says, “We make dinner for each other . . . we have sex with each other.”
And that isn’t all. Jeremy, Kala, and Deirdre all have “sweeties” (most of whom attended their wedding) outside their close-knit trio – two each at the moment – with one another’s blessings.
All of their sweeties are also polyamorous (from the Greek and Latin “many loves”), a word defining a lifestyle that, if not increasing, is certainly more visible than ever before.
The online magazine Loving More claims more than 100,000 hits a month. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, a singer, songwriter, and former first lady of France, has said, “Monogamy bores me. I am faithful . . . to myself.” Each February since 2005, an annual national conference on polyamory, given by Loving More Nonprofit, is held right here in Philadelphia.
Since polyamorous “marriages” are not recognized legally and the lifestyle is not understood by much of society, most poly families walk in the shadows. Research is sparse, but studies by Terri Conley, professor of psychology and women’s studies at the University of Michigan, estimate that 4.5 percent of Americans – about 13 million people – may be engaged in some form of non-monogamy including polyamory, swinging, or open relationships.
Studies by Elisabeth Sheff, a sociologist formerly with Georgia State University and author of The Polyamorists Next Door, found that those who are polyamorous are likely to be well-educated, often with graduate degrees, and strongly feminist in their beliefs. As with Kala, Deirdre, and Jeremy, the vision of their primary family is usually one of commitment, deep love, and the determination to raise their children into happy, productive adulthood.
The cornerstone of polyamory is “ethical non-monogamy,” involvement in intimate, loving relationships with more than one person at a time. They are not “swingers,” those who casually swap partners or engage in sex as recreation. They are not polygamists, men with several subservient wives. And they disdain those who take solemn wedding vows pledging fidelity, only to betray their spouses with secret philandering.
“In our relationships, the key is honesty,” Jeremy says. “I am not monogamous, nor do I want to be, and I’m up front about it. Deirdre and Kala feel the same way.” …