Chances are, unless you are a proponent of radical honesty, you won’t be out and proud about a lot of your private behaviour. Rest assured though, if you did tell someone about many of the things ‘you just don’t talk about’, you could probably feel safe in the knowledge that your you wouldn’t be risking jail time, hate crime or an attempt by the government to take away your children.
But there’s one lifestyle inclination and/or sexual preference between consenting adults which still does. We’re talking about plural relationships. It’s an act, preference and/or inclination that our society usually doesn’t talk about and most of the time condemns outright as ‘adulterous’. It’s a choice that polarizes and has been described as shameful, abusive and downright disgusting. Sometimes this preference renders those who practise it, unfit parents (who knew being loved by more than one person romantically could harm your children?). The judgement of western society – much of it based on patriarchal religious values – defines the acceptable benchmark as a two person relationship and vilifies anyone who deviates from it. That’s why for those of us in plural or open relationships, the historic ruling on DOMA might have been a victory, but was only really the tip of the iceberg.
It was the American news satire The Onion which provided the best commentary on the decision.
“I don’t think people fully understand that letting homosexuals legally marry one another is just the very beginning of a dangerous road to clear logic and sound, sensible decision making,” said anti-gay protester Kevin Moore, 43, who warned that the landmark ruling will likely lead to “an unspeakable amount of enlightened discourse and thoughtful compromises across the country.”
If you’re in an open relationship of any kind, it is likely you have to fight for your right to have ‘an unspeakable amount of enlightened discourse’ on the subject before you fight even for the right to have your chosen plural relationship configuration itself . Ironically the common denominator in most open relationships is not multiple partners (which is what gets everyone’s knickers in a twist), but the enormous, and frankly sometimes tedious, amount of communication that has to be held to understand one’s own nature and to eradicate those inherited values and beliefs which cloud sensible decision making.
As a polyamorist in an unmarried open relationship, I live at the bottom of the slippery slope; a place where many activists both for and against gay marriage fear to tread. In his brief to oppose gay marriage Ken Cucinelli said ‘Once the natural limits that inhere in the relationship between a man and a woman can no longer sustain the definition of marriage, the conclusion that follows is that any grouping of adults would have an equal claim to marriage.’
And it won’t be long – if his prediction comes to pass – before plural relationships even without marriage, hold the same validity of those couples who 50 years ago ‘lived in sin’ but today enjoy for the most past, a more enlightened tolerance and even advocacy in many circles.
But even as we polyamorous people cheer and support LGBT campaigners who have won their victory, it seems that there are some of them who still fiercely oppose our freedom of choice. In an article about same sex marriage in the The Australian, Alex Greenwich the national convener of Australian Marriage Equality, said “that his lobby group’s concept of marriage was ‘what it’s always been’ of ‘two people who rely on each other in a relationship to the exclusion of all others”. It seems that for Alex Greenwich, freedom of choice is only allowed when it applies to what he wants to choose.
One of the most common reactions I’ve had when declaring my plural relationship preference is this. ‘Why can’t you keep it in the bedroom where it belongs?’ They think it’s private business. But it’s only private business if you can practise it freely, happily and without fear of utter condemnation or legal ramifications. Nose picking for example, is ‘private’; Polyamory is not because of the public consequences on those who practise it. It is, by definition, public business.
Fighting against systemic persecution of minorities such as this one, is a massive journey. For the individual. For the minorities. For humanity itself. This is a world where people can wear a marriage ring proudly as a representation of their coupling, but where those who choose to love more have to hide their love or involvement in relationships that comprise more than two. This is a world where the law protects and supports a series of painful breakups of dyadic partnerships but condemns two adults for creating a situation where their relationship can potentially be better sustained over the long term by the inclusion of others. This is a world where being romantically and/or sexually involved with more than two consenting adults, is considered abhorrent whilst someone conducting an illicit affair is normalized and for the most part excused as being ‘human’.
Some activities can belong to the bedroom or be – in other words – private (although this in itself is a choice). But it’s important that speaking about the freedom of choice to do them with more than just one partner is brought out of the bedroom. Because freedom of choice is by definition a universal value. And as long as we turn a blind eye to the bigotry and injustice suffered by any minority including those who choose consensual plural relationships, we cannot honestly say that we support freedom of choice at all.