Gay Marriage and the Slippery Slope to Polyamory


The juxtaposition of same-sex “marriage” being approved in California with the raid on the Texan polygamists seems to have made a few people ponder the logical connection between homosexuality and polygamy — and, in some cases unhappily, reflect that former senator Rick Santorum was right when he said the Supreme Court’s Lawrence decision would lead to sexual arrangements few people now approve.

And if so, the Unitarians will have gotten there first. A few years ago, a group called Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness declared that they wanted to “take their place beside the divorced, the intentionally single, gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people as fully accepted people.” They defined “polyamory” as “the philosophy and practice of loving or relating intimately to more than one person at a time with honesty and integrity.”
They held a workshop at the Unitarians’ General Assembly that year, and issued a report afterward. According to Peter Steinfels in the New York Times,
The group is quick to distinguish polyamory from “swinging” or “cheating.” Polyamory “involves intentional open long-term loving relationships,” not recreational or covert sexual activity. U.U.P.A. speakers at the workshop left open whether polyamory was “a choice or a genetic predilection,” the report said, but they urged that being “openly polyamorous” should be as accepted as being openly gay and not subjected to prejudicial “labels such as ‘adulterer.’”
The Unitarian Universalists’ public information officer called the group “cutting-edge in the sense that its time has not yet come — but I wouldn’t want to say it won’t.”
Its time will come, I am sure, and not only in the Unitarian Universalist Association. It will come in the mainline Protestant churches and the dissenting Catholic groups. It will come with bells on. Polyamory’s time will come for all of them, because they have already approved it in principle. Only an unadmitted and irrational conservatism keeps them from leaping to approve polyamory as an alternative lifestyle.
The average liberal still seems to believe in monogamy. He believes in the temporary sort called “serial monogamy,” but he insists that you should only have sex with someone, and just one someone, with whom you are in “a committed relationship.” You may climb into bed with only one person at a time, for a period that should last some years, and only if the two of you have some sort of formal commitment, so that others will recognize you as a couple.
The liberal wants to extend this privilege to people who desire sex with their own sex, and wants to let people try again if their current commitment fails. (“Fails” is a word he usually defines to include boredom and the transfer of one’s affections to another, both covered, or covered up, with words like “growth, “forgiveness,” “pastoral sensitivity,” and “the need to move on.”)
As I say, he believes in monogamy, but his theology does not in any way require him to believe in it. He does not accept the biblical and traditional restrictions. He believes that sex and marriage are primarily modes of self-actualization, and that they depend upon a continuing mutual commitment. He believes that sexual desire (for an adult, anyway) is part of “who you are,” and that a man must be able to act upon his desires if humanly possible.
He may not always speak this way. He will often use the traditional language, and use it sincerely. But note what he says and what he does not say: Does he ever speak of “the bond of matrimony,” or in other ways say marriage is not easily escaped? Does he ever invoke the traditional causes of marriage, like the procreation of children and the prevention of fornication?
No, of course not. He talks about love and fulfillment. He talks about personal happiness. He talks about freedom. And he talks of these as if they were rights the Church must serve.
Think of how he argues for homosexual marriages. He does not refer to any biblical rule, except to argue that it does not apply. Most of the time he tells stories of homosexual couples suffering because they cannot solemnize their relationships that, despite the Church’s rejection, have made them happy, and helped them make others happy, too. They say that they love each other and therefore must be free to marry in Church. It is the only way they can be fully who they are. In other words, he argues as if marriage were a way to self-actualization, to which we have a right.
Hearing all this, the polyamorist naturally demands the right to “relate” (now there’s a euphemism) to more than one person at a time. It is what he wants, what fulfills him, part of “Who I am.” In insisting that one ought to have sex only with someone for whom one has forsaken all others, the sexual liberal is, on his own grounds, just clinging to a tradition and to social mores he does not believe in. The polyamorist takes the liberal’s principles and draws the logical conclusion.
And so one can plot the trajectory of polyamorousness easily enough: It has started with the Unitarians and it will end with the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and We Are Church. Once you have replaced the Dos and Don’ts of Christianity with some idea of sex as self-actualization, you cannot rationally resist anyone who wants to be more liberal than you are, and there will always be someone more liberal than you are. Begin with the principles of sexual liberalism, and reason is always on the side of the person who wants to be more liberal still.
You want contraception; someone else wants easy divorce. You want easy divorce; someone else wants homosexual marriages. You want homosexual marriages; someone else wants threesomes. You want threesomes; someone else wants children. You want children; someone else wants sheep. And his reason for wanting sheep will be just as good as yours for wanting contraception or easy divorce or homosexual marriages.
At some point, of course, most sexual liberals will say, “But I don’t want that!” Nevertheless, the liberal cannot say no to the man more daring than he. To resist his proposal to increase sexual freedom — meaning receiving wide social approval for having sex with more than one person within a shorter period of time than hitherto allowed — you must give a reason for resisting, and reasons for resisting one thing have a way of ruling out many things you would like to keep ruled in.
A reason for saying no to threesomes may well turn out to be a reason for saying no to homosexual marriages, and a reason for saying no to homosexual marriages may well turn out to be a reason for saying no to easy divorce, and a reason for saying no to easy divorce may well turn out to be a reason for saying no to contraception. It may not, of course, but the risk is too great to run.
Hence you must never say no to any expansion of sexual freedom, even if you do not want to go so far yourself. And hence my certainty that the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness will eventually succeed, not only in the Unitarian/Universalist Association but in the mainline churches as well. The polyamorist leaving Susan’s house to drive to Linda’s, while planning tomorrow’s meetings with Caitlin and Betty, lives the life the sexual liberal of today has provided, but more thoroughly than the liberal feels he can.


  • David Mills

    David Mills is executive editor of First Things and author of Discovering Mary.

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