Slippery-Slope Poly Marriage? Some Realities

alan7388's picture

Let the weirdos have gay marriage, and next they'll want poly threesome marriages, and next they'll be marrying goats...

Anyone following the same-sex marriage debates has heard this many times. Too many mainstream liberals, bless their clueless, cowardly little souls, rush to say that no one in this day and age could possibly want a three-way marriage, and so the polygamy/polyamory scare is baseless.

Well, I know several committed poly triads who are in three-way marriages for all practical purposes and have gone to some effort to create legal, contractual agreements. So much for the argument from nonexistence. If this is the best that mainstream liberals can do, they deserve to get blown out of the water.

However, any actual state recognition/regulation of poly marriages becomes more complex and difficult the more you think about it. Consider:

Same-sex marriage is simple and not legally innovative. That is, it maps exactly onto the vast legal regime that's already well developed for straight marriage. (At least, this has been true ever since courts started regarding men and women as equal parties in marriage.) By contrast, state recognition and regulation of poly relationships would require a great many new legal structures, precedents, and policies.

How would the law mandate, for instance, property rights and responsibilities in partial poly divorces? What about the rights and responsibilities of marriages that merge into pre-existing marriages? Setting default laws for multiple inheritance in the absence of a will, allocating Social Security benefits... it goes on.

And because there are many different basic kinds of poly relationships, compared to only one basic kind of couple marriage, each would need its own legal regime — and we know how good the state is at governing complicated personal matters.

Moreover, unlike couple marriages, poly relationships can change from one kind to another kind while continuing to exist. An equilateral triad can become a vee or vice versa, or something in between. The flexibility to adapt — to "let your relationships be what they are" — is a core value in the poly circles I know. How would the state keep up with your particular situation?

I've also heard it argued that opportunities would abound for unscrupulous people to game the system in ways that the law couldn't easily address: for people to pretend that their poly relationship is a different kind than it really is, or that they're in poly relationships when they're not. For instance, could gang members group-marry to gain immunity from each other's testimony?

In polyfolks' discussions that I've been in, the talk quickly comes around instead to business-partnership models for poly households, such as subchapter-S corporations or family LLCs or LLPs. These are already well developed to handle a wide variety of contractual agreements between any number of people. (Though they have to be maintained just right or they lose their validity.)

Looking further ahead: Good law follows reality rather than precedes it. Fifty or 100 years from now when poly households are commonplace and their issues are well understood, I'm sure an appropriate set of law will have grown up organically to handle the issues that arise. At least that's how it works when civil society is allowed to go about its business, free of religious or ideological compulsion.

--Alan M.

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great post, alan!

arvan's picture

I cannot even begin to think of how the poly marriage business would sort itself out.  I am however, reasonably sure that if the ABA can see how to populate the legal landscape with new ways for attorneys to make money, then this industry will take off.

It's only a matter of time.


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