Polyamory comes to the justice of the peace | WORLD
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Polyamory comes to the justice of the peace


WORLD Radio - Polyamory comes to the justice of the peace

Domestic partnerships of 3-6 people are now protected by nondiscrimination laws in a Massachusetts town

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NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next: polyamory is getting recognition in U.S. cities, starting with three towns near Boston.

Back in 2015, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. At issue was legalizing same-sex marriage in all fifty states. One issue the conservative justices brought up was that by changing the definition of marriage to include arrangements other than one man and one woman, it would only be a matter of time before other innovations were proposed.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: In this clip, you’ll hear Justice Alito, followed by Mary Bonauto, attorney for the same-sex couples.

JUSTICE ALITO: What if there's no, these are four people, two men and two women? It's not, it's not the sort of polygamous relationship, polygamous marriages that existed in other societies and still exist in some societies today. And let's say they're all, they're all consenting adults, highly educated, they're all lawyers. What would be the ground under under the logic of the decision you would like us to hand down in this case? What would be the logic of denying them the same right?

MARY BONAUTO: The number one, I assume the states would rush it and say that when you're talking about multiple people joining into a relationship, that that is not the same thing that we've had in marriage, which is the mutual support and consent of two people.

As Justice Alito feared, the logic that advocates of same-sex marriage used to win their case in 2015 took only five years to lead towns in Massachusetts to recognize relationships of up to six people together.

WORLD’s Relations beat reporter Juliana Chan Erikson explains what happened when the city council of Somerville, Massachusetts, was asked to recognize domestic partnerships of unmarried people during the pandemic.

JULIANA CHAN ERIKSON: So they'd already settled two things right off the bat, they do have to be married. No. Do you have to be a man and a woman? No. And then one council member, probably playing devil's advocate asked, do they have to be two people? And all these council members agreed. They all knew someone who was in a polyamorous relationship. So they realize, no, it doesn't have to be two people. So Somerville is a fairly progressive liberal city, and the council members seem to reflect that. So there wasn't much discussion or argument about the merits of traditional marriage. So they ended up changing a few words on their domestic partnership definition. And it passed unanimously.

EICHER: Well, since then, the nearby towns of Arlington and Cambridge, Massachusetts, followed the example of Somerville. And last month, Somerville’s city council upped the ante with an ordinance that prohibits discrimination in policing or employment on the basis of polyamory.

Now, to date, there’s been just a handful of applications for polyamorous domestic partnerships, but Juliana Chan Erikson says it’s likely just a matter of time before polyamory becomes as big an issue as is same-sex marriage.

So how did we get here?

Katy Faust is Founder and President of Them Before Us. That’s a children’s rights organization that is committed to traditional family structure. She says this movement toward polyamory is a logical step in a larger movement to redefine marriage.

KATY FAUST: And so now we are riding that train to the next station. And that's polygamy and polyamory that says, well, we can do away with the expectation of monogamy, that there's only going to be one other person in the relationship, because many adults make me happy being married to multiple women or multiple men. That's what makes me happy. And if marriage is just a vehicle of adult fulfillment, well, this is what fulfills me. And so once the standard is adult sexual desire, adult sexual identity, adult sexual feelings, then you can't have any norms for marriage at all. And so really, what we're seeing is any kind of category, any kind of line, any kind of distinction, anything that would curtail adult sexual fulfillment is now becoming grounds for discrimination. And that's it. Like, categories will be considered discriminatory. And so we need to destroy all categories.

REICHARD: In that 2015 recording from the Obergefell argument you heard earlier, Bonauto, lawyer for the same-sex couples, said that states are likely to refuse polyamory. The reason boils down to thorny questions of what happens to the kids in situations like medical emergencies or divorce.

But how do these arrangements affect kids outside of those extreme circumstances?

FAUST: Obviously it's very popular to claim, Well, there's more adults to love them, there's more adults to split the caregiving duties and the household duties. And so isn't this just a boon for children? Well, that has not worked out in any other family arrangement at all. We've experimented quite a bit with unrelated adults coming in and out permanently, temporarily in children's lives, and it never increases their outcome. As a matter of fact, in all of those scenarios, it drastically increases their risk of abuse and neglect. So if this claim was true, it would go against everything that we know about who children are, what they need, and the variables that maximize their thriving.

EICHER: Faust says there are several reasons why kids need biological parents…and a significant reason comes down to a child’s identity.

FAUST: It's very hard to answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ when children cannot answer the question, ‘Whose am I?’ And we see that with children who were abandoned or children who were adopted or children created through sperm and egg donation, they very often struggle with identity issues. And you minimize those identity questions when kids are raised by both biological parents, especially in the context of an extended family.

REICHARD: Returning to Massachusetts, these city ordinances do not legalize polyamorous marriage, because marriage is defined by state law, and the state has not yet changed its definition. But if the past informs the future, it may only be a matter of time before the Obergefell tactics repeat and a polyamorous unit is at the Supreme Court demanding the right to be married.

EICHER: Well, Juliana Chan Erikson is WORLD’s marriage and family beat reporter. You can follow her weekly newsletter called Relations. Check it out at wng.org/newsletters.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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