Mention the concept of polygamy in any “civilized” gathering, and you just may be able to see the shiver of repulsion that ripples through the crowd. By substituting the word “polyamory” in, you will be able to circumvent this reaction – but only because everyone is staring at you in baffled silence instead. So we begin, as always, with definitions.
Polyamory, like polygamy, refers to the state of conducting multiple romantic relationships at once; however, there are many distinctions between the terms. The most blatant difference is that polygamy specifies the participants are all married to each other, whereas polyamory encompasses a spectrum of relationships ranging from casual to committed. Furthermore, polygamy has its roots in religious and highly patriarchal systems, such as the Abrahamic faiths or the notorious Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Quite distinctly, the lifestyle we now know as polyamory grew out of the hippies’ free love movement in the 1960s, with considerably different values. In its modern form, it is a secular alternative lifestyle that is gradually gaining in popularity. It is estimated that there are over half a million openly polyamorous families in the United States alone.
Despite these notable numbers, polyamory remains misunderstood and much maligned. Largely due to our unwarranted and yet seemingly unwavering faith in the sanctity of monogamy, polygamists often feel tremendous pressure to hide their private lives, for fear of losing the respect of friends and family. By creating a stigma around having multiple partners, we as a society are committing nothing less than discrimination. Despite all of the arguments that its opponents have hurled against the lifestyle, polyamory represents neither an affront against society nor a detraction from the value of love. Instead, it offers a unique set of advantages to its practicants. Polyamory should be a socially acceptable practice, as it gives individuals the right to conduct their romantic lives as they see fit, in a way that may prove to be more fulfilling than traditional relationship models.
We can first examine the nature of the polyamorous lifestyle and the ideals that it is built on. In order to discuss this in a meaningful way, we must confront the erroneous assumption that all relationships involving more than two partners consist of one man and his harem of subjugated women. This stereotype is so heavily ingrained in our culture because these types of relationships have historically been promoted by various religious groups and patriarchal societies, and are dependent on painting women as inferior. However, the modern polyamory movement does not follow in this tradition. In fact, some argue that its rise was a direct byproduct of the feminist revolution: as women became more financially and socially independent, they gained the ability to negotiate their own relationships and pursue love as they so chose. Today, gender...