Revelers in the rainbow-washed crowd smiled and cheered this month as the little blond girl in the parade float pageant-waved to the B-52's "Love Shack."
Next to the float, the girl's father, Billy Holder, handed out fliers to the Atlanta Pride Parade crowd. His wife, Melissa, carried a banner along with Jeremy Mullins, the couple's partner.
"Polyamory: Having simultaneous close emotional relationships with two or more other individuals," read their purple-lettered banner, embellished with an infinity heart.
The "awws" and waves from the crowd gave way to some puzzled looks and snickers.
"What's poly?" a woman asked, looking toward a handwritten sign on the float that read "Atlanta Poly Paradise."
"Multiple partners?" the man next to her guessed.
Sort of. As the concept of open relationships rises in pop culture and political debates, some polyamorous families like the Holders and Mullins see an opportunity to go public and fight stereotypes that polyamory is just swinging, cheating or kinky sex.
It's not just a fling or a phase for them. It's an identity. They want to show that polyamory can be a viable alternative to monogamy, even for middle-class, suburban families with children, jobs and house notes.
"We're not trying to say that monogamy is bad," said Billy Holder, a 36-year-old carpenter who works at a university in Atlanta. "We're trying to promote the fact that everyone has a right to develop a relationship structure that works for them."
For the Holder-Mullins triad, polyamory is three adults living in the same home about 20 miles south of Atlanta. They share bills, housework and childcare for their 9-year-old daughter. They work at the same place, sharing carpooling duties so someone can see their daughter off to school each day.
Surrounded at the parade by drag queens from El Gato Negro nightclub, singers from a gospel choir and supporters of the Libertarian Party of Georgia, Billy Holder didn't stand out in his jeans, T-shirt and wide-brimmed, sun-shielding hat. That's sort of the point, he said: to demonstrate that polyamorists, or polys, are just like anybody else.
But, he's quick to add, "It takes a lot of work and it's not for everybody."
It's a common refrain from long-practicing polys. Jealousy among partners is one thing, but they also face or fear disapproval from neighbors, relatives and coworkers. The Holders and Mullins dealt with rejection from parents and one of Melissa Holder's sons when they revealed their relationship. They've also been the subject of a child welfare probe that ended in no charges being laid.
"We've been through it all," said 35-year-old Jeremy Mullins, a computer programmer.
That's why they're coming out, he said -- to change the status quo. And yet, their willingness to speak with CNN over the past 18 months came with conditions, such as the request to not name their employers.
Marching in the parade for the fourth year is just one way they're trying to promote public acceptance of polyamory. Someday, they want to challenge laws that criminalize adultery and cohabitation, Mullins said.
"We want to promote the idea that any relationship is valid as long as it is a choice made by consenting adults," he said. "In this regard, and as in most things, promoting public acceptance is the first step."
It's an uphill battle. Many traditional marriage counselors and relationship therapists discourage non-monogamy, and in the absence of more research on the long-term effects of polyamory, modern science and academia hasn't reached a consensus on whether it's a healthy relationship structure.
Even among a crowd as colorful as the Pride Parade, the giggles and questions suggest polyamory is still a way of life that's on the fringes.
'Polyamory ain't for sissies'
"Polyamory is the nonpossessive, honest, responsible and ethical philosophy and practice of loving multiple people simultaneously," it said.
"Polyamory is not a swing club or group."
"Polyamory is not about recreational or promiscuous sex."
Otherwise, there are no universal rules for "how it works," one of the most common question polys say they hear, Holder said. The most common dynamic tends to start with a couple, married or unmarried, who might identify as straight, gay or bisexual. Guidelines are set within each relationship -- ideally, a negotiated framework of communication based on trust and honesty, he said. ...