WASHINGTON — Same-sex couples are not the only ones who want government recognition of their relationships. Those in polyamarous relationships do too.
Loving More, a national non-profit organization based in Loveland, Colo., plans to release a survey next month of 4,000 self-identified polyamorists that shows more than two-thirds would choose concurrent or multi-partnered marriage if it were legal.
Robyn Trask, the executive director, said the results confirmed her belief about the breadth of support among its members for poly-marriage. “I think many people would want a commitment ceremony for three or four people,” she said.
The organization worked with professors and researchers at Harvard and the University of Kansas to conduct the March 2012 online poll, Trask added, and it is not done seeking to broaden the appeal of the movement. Its first Western weekend conference is set for Denver next spring.
“We’re kind of in the infancy of the political movement,” Trask said.
The tentative release of the survey represents the latest step that polyamorist supporters have taken to raise their public profile.
In 2006, feminist icon Gloria Steinem, Princeton professor Cornell West, and novelist Armisted Maupin were among the hundreds of signatories to “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage: A New Strategic Vision For All Our Families and Relationships.” The document endorsed “(c)ommitted, loving households in which there is more than one conjugal partner.”
Last June, the New York Times Magazine profiled sex columnist Dan Savage and his support for “ethical nonmonogamy” in marriage, which allows consensual sex outside a committed relationship if one person is dissapointed with the other person’s sexual performance. And this year, both the Oprah Network broadcast a documentary on polyamarous couples, while Scientific American ran a cover story in February with the title, “New Sexual Revolution: Polyamory May Be Good for You.”
Trask cheered the Colorado legislature’s approval of civil unions for same-sex couples earlier this month, and she hopes the Supreme Court follows a similar path when it considers two cases March 26 and 27. The high court will hear arguments about the constitutionality of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act and a 2008 ballot initiative in California that banned gay marriage.
Although both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage agree on the definition of the term, advocates for polyamarous marriage struggle to define theirs.
“It’s a little hard,” Trask acknowledges. She defines it as a relationship in which both men and women have multiple partners. While group marriage fits the definition of polygamy, Trask dislikes the term polygamy because it connotes ties with organized religion and one man married to more than one woman.
Trask considers herself a prime example of a polyamorist. A bisexual, she has a lifetime male partner of 25 years who lives in New York with his wife. She had a concurrent relationship with a woman for five years.
“For me, (polyamory) is an orientation. I’m simply not a monogamous person,” Trask said. “For others, it’s a choice. (But) the majority of our members in the community think it’s orientation.”
Jonathan Rauch, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and author of “Gay Marriage: Why It is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America,” said same-sex marriage “extends (the institution) to those who don’t have it, bringing all the rights and responsibilities that it entails. We (gays) can’t marry anybody. The polyamorous can. They just can’t marry multiple people.”
Only 11 percent of Americans said they support polygamy, according to a May 2011 Gallup poll. The figure is lower than those who said suicide was morally acceptable.
Also, Trask notes that unlike same-sex marriage supporters, polyamorists are not clamoring for government recognition of their conjugal relationships. “Not at the moment,” Trask said. “There has been talk of it. But most of the talk is about how (if they come out publicly) they can lose their job or children or their home.”
Both opponents and defenders of traditional marriage said they will follow the Supreme Court’s cases next week. Rauch said if the court rules in favor of same-sex marriage supporters on equal-protection grounds, the decision would not help the polyamorist movement.
“The ruling would be, ‘marriage should be extended to people who can’t get married, not those unable to marry six people,” Rauch said in an interview.
Maggie Gallagher, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project and author of The Case for Marriage, disagrees. “If we surrender the idea that marriage has deep roots in the need and the right of the child to his or her own mother and father in marriage, a lot of features of marriage become newly up for grabs including monogamy and fidelity,” she said in an interview. “There will be a new cultural contest around monogamy and fidelity as core to marriage.”