I’m grateful to Rob Vischer for his post, following up on mine, about polyamory. Its premise is one that is strongly, and often angrily, rejected by poly activists and by my own polyamorist friends, namely, that polyamory involves or reflects a lack of self-discipline or the rejection of the idea of self-denial as an essential part of building strong, loving, mature relationships. They and their allies and supporters (such as the 300+ self-identified LGBT and allied scholars, lawyers, journalists, and activists who published the manifesto “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage”a group that includes respected mainstream figures such as Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Kenji Yoshino) would, I have no doubt, sharply react against the claim that polyamory “is attractive because monogamy is hard.” They would, I suspect, view this as a prejudice against those who find fulfillment in the total self-giving of multiple partnerswhich, they insist, is hard work and requires self-discipline and generosity of spirit towards others every bit as much as monogamy does—and whose identity is significantly defined in connection with that way of finding fulfillment. Who, apart from those who stand by traditional ideas about marriage and sexual morality, can deny them? And (here I repeat myself) on what ground of moral principle?
This explains, I believe, why polyamorist groups are welcome at Pride parades, for example. They are regarded from within the movement as the next sexual minority in line for liberation and social acceptance. Indeed, they are already accepted within the movement. It is understood that the appeal they are making is not different in substance from the appeal made by those sexual minorities whose progress has come ahead of theirs. Sure, they had to be pushed into the closet for a while, in order to blunt the arguments advanced by defenders of the conjugal conception of marriage and the moral norms associated with it. But that is no longer necessary. They can be mainstreamed using the same script.
Are polyamorous relationships often unstable? Sure. But so are many same-sex relationships. So are many opposite-sex relationships. Is there any a priori reason to suppose that among people who view marriage as essentially sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership and who construct their lives and relationships in line with that view, polyamorous partnerships will be more unstable than monogamous ones? Is there any evidence for such a supposition? And even if there is, what would follow from it for the claims of those who believe their personal fulfillment is to be found in multiple partner unions, even if statistically such unions tend to be less stable than other types?