The recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage makes it seem as if marriage equality has finally come to the U.S. But that is not actually accurate. The celebration is great step forward, but in truth, there's more work to do if we as a nation want to truly recognize and celebrate the diversity of love, relationships and family.
For example, polyamory. Polyamorous partners do not have the privilege of legal marriage. What's worse, many are closeted for fear of discrimination in housing, employment and child custody. Prominent organizations such as the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF) have brought attention to how polyamorists and other ethically non-monogamous people are targets for discrimination in the same way that LGBTQ folks have been. See here.
The ironic thing is, there would be no big deal about a person who just happened to be sleeping with more than one lover. But call it polyamory -- in other words, a public, ethical stance about loving more than one partner with honesty and integrity -- and that seems intolerable to so many. Currently, polyamorous people do not have equal protection under the law, because anything other than monogamy is seen as a fringe/freakish/immoral lifestyle choice and not as a valid sexual or relationship orientation.
I interviewed author and poly advocate Dr. Anya Trahan about the Supreme Court Decision, and what she sees as the way forward for those who embrace ethical loving with multiple partners.
Question: Do you think polyamory is a sexual orientation? Is it a choice or is it inborn?
Trahan: One of the great things about being human is the ability to choose the language and the labels that best articulate our values. I have heard many polys say that their way of living is a sexual orientation. That is a totally valid label, and I support anyone who wishes to use it. And, it may even be that from a legal standpoint, embracing the label of sexual orientation to describe polyamory may help prevent discrimination in the future -- because it is already commonly understood that to discriminate based on one's sexual orientation is not only wrong, but illegal.
The way I personally think of polyamory is as a relationship orientation. In my work as a relationship coach, I have found that a surprising number of my clients consider themselves "partners" or "family" with those whom there is no sexual interaction. In other words, polyamory seems to be more about coming together for the purposes of co-creating a life together, a support system, based on mutually shared values and philosophies. Responsible sexual expression may be enjoyed, of course, but that is not necessarily a prerequisite to form loving, intense, committed connections.
Question: You are a public figure, an author and a spokesperson for polyamory. Have you suffered any negative consequences?
Trahan: When I first came out as poly back in 2012, I lost a number of close friends. Members of my biological family reacted with open hostility and judgment, resulting in a period of estrangement. Since my book about polyamory, Opening Love has been published this year, I have been fired from two jobs. I have no desire to bring this to the courts (legal battles are, for me, not a good use of my energy), although I know that I would have at least a small shot at winning a discrimination case, because one of the organizations stated openly in writing that the reason I was being fired was for being openly polyamorous. In theory, I could sue on the grounds of sexual discrimination. ...
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must recognize same-sex marriages, dissenting Chief Justice John Roberts wondered whether polygamy will be next. Some legal scholars have responded that yes, the arguments for gay marriage could apply to relationships among more than two partners, as well.
William Baude, a law professor at the University of Chicago, wrote, “By those lights, groups of adults who have profound polyamorous attachments and wish to build families and join the community have a strong claim to a right to marry.”
There’s a more basic question here: Why is government in the business of conferring a right to marry at all? What is it about this thing called marriage that justifies a grab bag of legal benefits? That would include tax advantages, inheritance rights, hospital visitations and the ability to make end-of-life decisions for one’s spouse.
The recent Supreme Court case disposed of the idea that only a man and woman can provide a stable home for children. Many gay couples do a better job of raising children than some heterosexual pairings.
And in any case, children have never been a requirement for marriage.
Baude inadvertently points to the illogic of tying any benefits to state-sanctioned marriage by using the word “polyamorous” in referring to polygamous relationships.
Merriam-Webster defines polyamory as “the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time.”
It makes no sense that having a romance (or two or three) should entitle one to leave an estate to a partner tax-free or get in on another’s company health plan.
We can be totally in tune with the notion that such benefits help families.
And we can agree that children tend to be better off in households headed by devoted parents.
Marriage is a wonderful institution, but it does not follow that government should be defining it. Let ministers, priests, rabbis, imams and ship captains tie the marital knot. And have government recognize civil unions only.
Civil unions need not be between romantic partners. The pairing could be close friends, cousins, office mates. And of course, it could be a church-sanctioned spouse.
Sorry, polygamists, only one civil union partner at a time. If your lawyers should design plausible legal group arrangements, we’ll reconsider. ...
Four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s epochal 5-4 decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, a Montana threesome applied for a polygamous marriage license. If denied, the trio intends to file suit to topple the law against bigamy. Husband Nathan Collier was featured on “Sister Wives,” so “reality TV” now meets legal and political reality.
More significant was a July 21 op-ed piece in The New York Times, that influential arbiter of acceptable discourse and the future agenda for America's cultural left. University of Chicago law professor William Baude, a “contributing opinion writer” for the paper, wrote, “If there is no magic power in opposite sexes when it comes to marriage, is there any magic power in the number two?” To him, “there is a very good argument” that “polyamorous relationships should be next.”
Baude was a former clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, who warned against precisely that possibility in his opinion for the court’s four dissenters. Baude observes that tacticians needed to downplay the polygamy aspect that could have harmed the same-sex marriage cause, but with the Supreme Court victory this next step can be proposed candidly.
The savvy Washington Post had a solid polygamy analysis soon after the Court’s ruling. As Godbeat veterans are well aware, polygamy was practiced in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). So it's now time to ask Jewish and Christian thinkers why it became so abhorrent and whether and why it should remain so as the post-biblical West sets out to redefine marriage.
Opponents fear powerful and wealthy male polygamists might scoop up too many marriageable women, Baude says, but in these unbuttoned times a woman may also take several husbands. Also, “plural relationships could well be (and in some circles today are) between multiple people of both sexes, not all of whom are strictly heterosexual.”
Last year the Unitarian Universalist Association rewrote its non-discrimination policy to add tolerance toward varied “family and relationship structures.” The denominational directory includes a 15-year-old “polyamory awareness” caucus, which says the liberal faith has thereby recognized “polyamorous families and relationships” as well as “a variety of family and relationship structures different from polyamory.” ...
Polyamory has been gaining publicity over the last few years, fromNewsweek’s“Polyamory: The Next Sexual Revolution?” to Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer’s open marriage, to Benedict Smith’s article inVICEabout growing up in a polyamorous household. The recent Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage opened floodgates of alarmed and snarky speculation from detractors about whether it sets a precedent for the legalization of polyamorous marriages, and the Internet has largely responded in the affirmative. And there is a growing community of polyamorous people in the Pacific Northwest—including here in Corvallis—many of whom want legal recognition of their relationships and are considering what legal polyamorous marriage might look like.
One local man, Mike, is currently in a relationship with two long-term partners and one new partner. He said, “The subject of marriage often comes up when thinking about legal issues. Emotionally, I consider both of my long-term partners wives but legally I am only allowed to marry one of them. This has caused some emotional distress.”
It’s true legalizing polyamorous marriages would be very complicated. Would a person married to multiple partners have multiple marriage licenses? Bigamy is currently illegal everywhere in the US, but even if it weren’t, how would those different marriage licenses acknowledge each other in order to avoid disputes of property distribution and decision-making? Or would three or more people need to be married under one marriage license, even if they are not all romantically involved with each other, such as in a polygamist* relationship?
Currently polyamorous people have a few legal options open to them: distribution of property can be assigned through wills and trusts; more than one person can be given power of attorney for medical decisions. But only one, legally married spouse can participate in the other spouse’s insurance coverage, and insurance companies would almost certainly oppose expanding coverage to an indefinite number of partners.
Additionally, custody arrangements might be complicated if children are involved, and polyamorous parents are disadvantaged in a number of ways. One woman I spoke to, Julia, said she had difficulty compromising with her ex-husband on how to introduce new partners to their children. Smith, in his article, writes about the time a disapproving neighbour called CPS on his parents. Polyamory itself is not a reason to remove children from their home, but it has caused parents to lose custody of children during divorce and post-divorce proceedings. As practitioners of an alternative sexual expression, polyamorous people face suspicion and discrimination, and children of polyamorous people face bullying.
Though he has not faced overt discrimination due to his polyamory except from some family members, Mike asked for anonymity because he works in the area. Julia’s ex-husband outed her without permission to her family, and she has found, “all in all, my family’s reaction has been the most difficult part of being polyamorous.” She is lucky, however, that she is able to be open about polyamory at her work.
In Portland there are several groups dedicated to polyamory that meet regularly, and fairly openly, each boasting hundreds of members. The Corvallis community is much smaller, and many of those I spoke with did not want to be named.
Perhaps a first step for polyamory activism would be to fight for anti-discrimination laws. Besides facing alienation from some resources monogamous people have access to (it can be very hard, for instance, to find a relationship counsellor who is willing to counsel a poly couple), poly people face discrimination because polyamory is not a protected class. There is disagreement, even among polyamorous people, about whether polyamory is a lifestyle choice or a more fundamental identification. ...
Tyler Frahme, a University at Albany junior, had never even heard of affirmative consent, the unequivocal O.K. to sex that is mandated by state law. Nor was he in the habit of asking women for permission to proceed at every new juncture of sexual activity.
He and his friend Jill Santiago, a fellow junior and psychology major, were catching up in the Campus Center near the close of the school year when I approached their table to ask about the state’s new definition — put in place last winter to guide, govern and presumably protect nearly half a million students across 64 public campuses of the State University of New York, and followed in July by a law that applies to all college students in the state.
New York’s new legislation of what constitutes consent covers a lot of ground in sobering terms:
“Affirmative consent is a knowing, voluntary and mutual decision among all participants to engage in sexual activity.”
“Consent to any sexual act or prior consensual sexual activity between or with any party does not necessarily constitute consent to any other sexual act.”
Mr. Frahme turned defensive, even a little combative, after I introduced him to the legislation.
“Do you think this is a gender-neutral policy?” he demanded. “All these policies cast men in a predatory light. Most guys aren’t like that.”
I asked a test question: Can a really drunk person give consent?
“My answer to that is no,” he said. He was right.
“Consent cannot be given when a person is incapacitated.”
Mr. Frahme posed a (not-so-hypothetical) scenario of his own: “You both get drunk and it gets heated and you get into it. If the next day she regrets it and formally complains, to me that’s just plain wrong.” The initiator, in fact, is responsible for securing consent, but because the other party is intoxicated, it may not be obtainable.
Ms. Santiago, who knew all about the issue, having helped put together university-mandated training in sexual assault prevention for her sorority, jumped out of the interpretive rabbit hole, locked eyes with Mr. Frahme and said: “If guys realize they have to ask and get permission — and I’ve been asked before, it’s not that bad — this could wind up protecting everyone.”
It wasn’t such a mood kill, she said, when a partner paused and asked: “Do you want to do this. Is it O.K.?”
But Mr. Frahme wasn’t buying it — at least not yet.
Colleges and universities have been scurrying to amend codes of conduct and refine definitions of consent. One reason for the rush is that the Obama administration, which last year launched the “It’s on Us” campaign in an attempt to make campuses safer from sexual violence, has threatened to withhold federal funding from institutions that fail to address problems.
This past year saw a blossoming in the “yes means yes” movement, an about-face on “no means no,” which suggests that sex can advance until you hear that “no.”
“Silence or lack of resistance, in and of itself, does not demonstrate consent.” ...
It's true. I never thought I'd be working in the most famous bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) dungeon in New York City. Not to mention that I'd start at the ripe age of 55. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would kick a man straight in the balls wearing six-inch heels, blood-red lipstick, black eye shadow, and false eyelashes, I would have kicked you out of my house.
I was a holistic practitioner who lost my award-winning wellness practice in the wake of the Great Recession. I was 55, with no prospects, no financial savings, no family members who would help, and friends seemed to vanish into thin air. I found myself on my own with no hope in sight. But between the thoughts of despair, worthlessness, and even suicide, I had this little voice inside of me that kept saying, "I am resourceful."
Then one day, out of nowhere, came the idea of becoming a professional dominatrix.
At the time of my emotional and financial bankruptcy I was working to earn my PhD in Metaphysical Science, studying female sexual empowerment and researching the transmutation of sexual energy. As a student of empowerment and sexuality, I wanted so badly to "walk the walk" and apply these principles I had studied and believed to my own life. But no matter how hard I tried to talk myself into such a possibility, there was nothing in my reality telling me that it was possible.
Who would hire a 55-year-old woman with no experience whatsoever as a dominatrix?
I alternated between excited hope and logical despair. I was also struggling with many negative social influences that told me how wrong I would be to make such a decision. At the same time, I felt that I needed to be true to myself and that the experience could empower me as a woman. I somehow understood that this would set me free from my own judgmental perceptions (formed through social standards) of how a woman should behave and follow the "rules." I also hoped it might get me back on my feet financially.
Then, after weeks of persuasion, I finally convinced a New York City BDSM dungeon to grant me an in-person interview. I started my dominatrix training three days later, and just like that, the scariest thing I ever did led me into the most empowering experience of my life.
The dungeon was an extreme learning environment, to be sure, but during my time there I learned to truly accept other people with an open mind and an open heart. By practicing BDSM, I've come to understand that people are different and have very different desires, sexualities, hopes, dreams, loves, purposes, ambitions, and styles. And all of it is good. In the very beginning, I had to ask myself: If something or someone brings us genuine joy, happiness, pleasure, and love, how can that be wrong? ...
A gay resident who hosts adult role-play scenarios in his home says the town has banned him from a business activity he denies conducting, and he believes the town is discriminating against him on the basis of his sexual orientation.
A judge approved a temporary restraining order sought by the Town of Apple Valley in May, then issued a preliminary injunction in June. Town officials say in court documents that Mark Gudmundsen is conducting business without a license and the business, a "bondage fantasy," is a public nuisance.
Town Attorney John Brown told the Daily Press that the Code Enforcement action against the role-play was "based on the character of the activity, not the person conducting the activity."
Gudmundsen says the occasional, nonsexual role-play involves a small group of friends and features "incarceration" and the use of restraints in a jail or mental institution setting. He said the activity is for fun, but a post his website, www.meninchains.com, seemed to suggest that $450 is required for participation. Gudmundsen says that is a suggested donation amount to help defray costs of transportation, meals and equipment used inside his residence on Dakota Road.
"Where's the nuisance?" Gudmundsen said in an interview with the Daily Press.
The Code Enforcement case was triggered by reports from "one or more people in the neighborhood who believed there were incarcerated prisoners in orange jumpsuits (who) appeared to be working on a project in a residential area," Brown said.
Gudmundsen said he joined a friend at the home's filled-in pool to briefly portray inmates at work.
Three attorneys, led by Ann Lakhman of Lakhman & Kasamatsu LLP, say the action is "exclusionary" and abridges their client's Constitutional rights to free speech and association. They also say Apple Valley failed to follow its own procedures by acting on an anonymous tip and by not issuing a warning to Gudmundsen before going to court.
Gudmundsen said he believes the action is discriminatory, coming after he he revealed his sexual orientation when he was asked to explain the purpose of an addition to his home with extra bathroom stalls. Brown dismissed the notion that the action had anything to do with Gudmundsen's sexuality.
An offer was made to settle the matter, according to Gudmundsen: Agree to a permanent injunction and pay town attorney costs.
"I'm willing to say I'm not going to run a business here but I'm not willing to pay $20,000 to not run a business," he said, specifying the alleged settlement amount. ...