Some See Polyamorous Marriage as the Next Civil Rights Movement
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
June 18, 2009
She has a birth name but calls herself "Ashara Love," because most
people don't understand her unconventional family.
Love, a 51-year-old insurance underwriter from California, has been
married to her husband "Cougar" for a decade, but they've had
numerous sexual triads, which they insist have enriched their relationship.
"I am living my life partially hidden and partially open," said Love,
whose friends and boss know about her sexuality, but her parents do not.
"Many of us adopt another name because it provides us with protection
from being outed," she said. "We are the next generation after the
gay and transgender communities."
As polyamorists, the couple belongs to a small group that believes
people have the right to form their own complex relationships with
multiple partners. The most vocal want the right to marry -- as a cluster.
"We have rights to love any way we want unless we are harming other
people," said Love. "Like the air we breathe, we have a right to be
and do and say whatever is our full expression, and this to me is a
The polyamory movement grew out of the communes of the 1960s and the
swingers of the 1970s, but today, with gay marriage legal in six
states, some, such as Love, say their cause should be next.
This nascent and as yet small effort to legalize group marriage is
likely to enrage conservative religious groups that upheld
Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. In hard-hitting ads,
those groups charged that allowing gay marriage would open the door
to all kinds of nontraditional relationships, including polygamists.
"These group marriage people are certainly fringe but clearly
growing," said Glenn Stanton, director of family formation studies at
Focus on the Family.
"Google the word 'polyamory' and see how many groups there are," he
told ABCNews.com. "And look at their rhetoric. It is word-for-word
what same-sex marriage advocates employ in their effort to redefine
marriage. Is it really a good idea to open this Pandora's box?"
But Love said polyamory is more about the spiritual and emotional
connection between partners -- who in her group are faithful -- and
not just about sex.
The couple belongs to the group Loving More, which publishes a
magazine and holds conventions and retreats for the like-minded.
Founded in 1986, the organization has more than 15,000 on its global
mailing list and 3,000 active members.
"Now we have the Internet and we can find each other," said Love. "We
are not odd fish in the community we live in."
Polyamorous Murder Case Shocks Capital
But too often, polyamory gets a bad name.
Just this month, investigators in the 2006 unsolved murder of
prominent Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Wone, say the three
primary suspects -- all gay male professionals -- lived in a
Police affidavits speculate that Wone was "restrained, incapacitated
and sexually assaulted" before his death, then the trio tampered with
the crime scene to cover it up.
Last November, Wone's widow, Katherine, filed a $20 million wrongful
death lawsuit against housemates Joe Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan
Ward, who were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy in
connection with the fatal stabbing.
But polys, as they call themselves, say lurid crimes like the Wone
case do not define their lifestyles, which are as varied as their
partners and personal arrangements.
Like Love, Robin Trask of Loveland, Colo., struggled with monogamous
dating relationships in high school.
"My mother lived in Colorado and my father was in Texas, so I had a
boyfriend in each place," Trask, the executive director of Loving
More, told ABCNews.com.
Polyamory Allows Multi-Partners
"I felt wretched about myself," said Trask, 45. "I fell deeply in
love with two people, and I had to choose."
Trask has three partners: the man she has lived with for four years;
a man with whom she has been involved for 23 years who is married and
lives outside the country; and a third man from New York City (he
might be married; she doesn't know).
There are rules. The wife of her second partner forbids her husband
to sleep with anyone but Trask.
Trask's sexual encounters are always one-on-one with a partner. But
in a previous polyamorous marriage of 18 years, she had a threesome
with her husband and his girlfriend.
"The dynamic was different, and it surprised me," said Trask, who
identifies as heterosexual. "For me, it was about spirituality, much
more about the relationship and emotional connection than just sex."
Polyamorous Children Grown Up Together
Trask likes the extended family that polyamory provides. She has
three children -- 22, 18, 13 -- and her first husband's girlfriend
also had children who spent holidays together.
"These are important relationships," she said. "The children grew up
Some polys support legalizing civil unions or incorporating their
"clusters" as a corporation to gain health care and joint property
rights. But Trask said her biggest concern is raising awareness so
polys do not lose their children or jobs.
"We want it to be OK when you have two dads or two moms -- or
whatever configuration -- at parent teacher conferences, and they
don't freak out on you."
In polyamory, there are still are jealousies and pain, the same
dynamics that can occur in a monogamous marriage, but the "full
disclosure" between partners makes it more honest, according to Trask
Polys say that monogamy is a cultural norm that often fails. "As a
result, many marriages are train wrecks, even when they don't end in
divorce," said Love's husband, "Cougar," 58.
"Few people have good models to base their polyamory rules on," he
told ABCNews.com. "For this reason, polyamory agreements must be
negotiated with tenderness, empathy, partnership and the commitment
to keep everyone safe."
Polyamorists Value Fidelity
Love and Cougar's goal is to create a "polyfidelitous family" --
four, five or six people who don't have relationships outside the marriage.
"Every person in a cluster or family realizes that no one can be
completely happy if anyone is not," he said.
But Judy Kuriansky, a sex therapist and professor at Columbia
University Teachers College, said being successful at polyamory is a
"[It] demands knowing yourself, replacing guilt with acceptance,
communicating and embracing sexual energy, spirituality, new beliefs
and a new culture," she told ABCNews.com. "Overcoming jealousy is key."
As a clinical psychologist, Kuriansky has seen some "dismal failures,
even for the leading proponents."
"One wife left her poly husband, saying, 'I'm just a girl from
Kansas. I finally realized I don't want my husband f**king other
women.' A husband had a rude awakening when his wife added another
man to their household and her bed, only to declare she wanted a
sexual exclusivity with another man."
According to expert Deborah Anapol, polyamory has been accepted by
many cultures. In Hawaii, where she lives today, there is even a word
for the extra partner -- "punalua."
"We talk like we invented it, but it's been around a long time," said
Anapol, who counsels couples and families, and is writing a new book
on the topic, "Understanding Polyamory in the 21st Century."
Most Not Interested in Marriage
But, she said, today's polys have little interest in legalizing
marriage, and "the state being involved in their lives.
"Polys don't want to make it into a special identity and don't want
to be known as a poly person," said Anapol. "They just want to live
their lives. A movement tends to put you in an oppressed, underdog position."
"I'd like to think the movement has already succeeded and in the most
liberal parts of this country, it's more accepted," she said. "The
shift has already happened."
At 57, Anapol is now "single" after two marriages -- one traditional
and the other polyamorous -- which produced two daughters.
"Both are comfortable with the idea," she said. "The 37-year-old has
chosen a conventional monogamous marriage and the 20-year-old is
still experimenting, but definitely attracted to the idea."
But Anapol, who has several long-term "intimate friendships," has
discovered that being polyamorous "doesn't solve all marital problems."
As for Love and Cougar, who celebrate their 10th anniversary this
month, they say their relationship is "extraordinary."
"We've been very cautious," said Love. "He likes to say he steals my
boyfriends. I am not interested in men unless they are interested in me."
"Every person is seeking to find a fit that works for them," she
said. "It's hard enough to find a monogamous partner. It's
exponentially harder to fit the quirks of two people, plus a third person."