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The victims of polyamory

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WORLD Radio - The victims of polyamory

Studies indicate that children have a higher risk of abuse and adults suffer trauma from polyamorous relationships


May Ferreira, Deb Barreiro and Gabriel Lopez walk in Pueyrredon park, in Buenos Aires. Getty Images/Photo by Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP

NICK EICHER, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: the sexual revolution marches on.

A quick word to parents: this story deals with subject matter that amounts to a distortion of biblical marriage, something that may not be suitable for younger listeners.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Nine years ago this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Obergefell v. Hodges. At issue was whether the Constitution guaranteed a fundamental right to marriage that would extend to same-sex couples.

During that argument, Justice Samuel Alito set up a hypothetical to try to find a limiting principle from the lawyer arguing that marriage needs a new definition:

JUSTICE ALITO: Suppose we rule in your favor in this case and then after that a group consisting of two men and two women apply for a marriage license? Would there be any ground for denying them the license?

EICHER: One of the lawyers arguing for same-sex marriage said yes, there would be ground for denying a license. Because the structures of marriage are designed around two people, and polygamy raises questions of coercion and consent. And the distinction between two-person marriage and more than two was so great as to make it another institution altogether.

Well, here we are with another institution altogether.

Proponents of polyamory are seeking to normalize what they call “ethical non-monogamy.” They claim this is the answer to overworked and overcommitted households, so many chores, so many kids, not enough grown-ups.

REICHARD: So polyamory is not just a trend, it’s a new front in the sexual revolution. And far too few self-identifying Christians have a biblical sexual ethic to stand up to it.

WORLD’s Lillian Hamman has the story.

COUPLE TO THROUPLE: If you were given the chance at non-monogamy in paradise, what would you do?

Back in February, NBC released a new show called Couple to Throuple. Viewers follow along as romantic partners test out opening their relationships to more people.

A couple weeks later, the dating app Tinder added over a dozen pronoun options and 5 different relationship structures for profiles, including so-called “ethical non-monogamy.”

And polyamory is also echoing through courtrooms.

BRETT CHAMBERLIN: Our focus right now is on advancing non-discrimination protections to ensure that people are able to be open without fear of losing their jobs, being denied housing.

Brett Chamberlin is the founder and executive director of OPEN. His pro-polyamory non-profit has been rallying sponsors to support legislation in California that would extend anti-discrimination laws to polyamorous people.

CHAMBERLIN: I think we've just reached a point where it is sort of starting to break through as it gains more publicity, more people become aware of it. There's more media, and so on, and so forth.

But contrary to growing media attention, only around 5 percent of Americans are currently in relationships with more than two people. So, should it matter whether non-monogamy and polyamory are legally affirmed?

AMY HAMILTON: Even though it's like a small percentage, it has much greater ramifications that we're even in the point of, like, considering this.

Amy Hamilton is a research associate at the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture at the University of Texas at Austin. She says polyamory is just the next movement of the sexual revolution.

HAMILTON: We want to live where every individual person is free to essentially design the world as they wish. If the the liberation of the sexual self is the highest good, this expressive individualism, then there can't be any constraints, right? Given on what is normative, and what is good.

A 2023 study from the online dating company Match found that nearly half of single Americans are interested in relationship structures other than one male and one female. Over 30 percent have already been in relationships of more than two people.

Pastor and speaker Branson Parler says the church is not isolated from this trend.

BRANSON PARLER: Recently, the church where I'm at a few weeks ago, had three folks show up. And I was a little bit like, “Oh, what's what's happening here?” They were younger, but they were clearly polyamorous. And so I'm up front preaching, and I can see the way that their body language is, you know, they're all holding hands. And you see more and more people as it becomes mainstream, sort of embracing it in different ways, perhaps within the church.

Parler points to research by sociologist Mark Regnerus who found that just over 20 percent of church-goers ages 24 to 35 affirm consensual non-monogamy as morally acceptable.

Both Parler and Hamilton say that when a society elevates sexual liberation above God’s revelation, it always comes with a cost, of children, adults, and the true image of who God is.

HAMILTON: This design of male and female in a procreative union ordained by God. That's no longer the thing we want. We want the freedom to self define, and to self express. And children are always the first victims when adult sexual interests are placed at the forefront.

Some argue that children who grow up with more adults in non-monogamous relationships get more love and attention that’s equal to or even better than having two biological parents. But multiple studies demonstrate children who live with unrelated adults are 40 times more likely to be abused, and 8 times more likely to die of maltreatment than children living with two biological parents.

And polyamory doesn’t just put children at risk. Eli Sheff is a sociologist and relationship coach who has spent decades studying how polyamorous relationships affect the people involved over time.

ELI SHEFF: The relationships can be very traumatic, you know, like, they've got very high highs and very low lows, and I think are just challenging enough to establish and sustain.

Sheff says when members of polyamorous relationships lack legal and biological connections to the children involved, they make themselves expendable and disposable.

SHEFF: Those social parents are at great risk. They often will put in a lot of resources, time, energy, money, attention. You can't become polyamorous and then get upset when there are strings. Like you're inviting strings.

So how can we respond to this next movement in the sexual revolution? Branson Parler says it starts with knowing the truth of how we were not only created by God to flourish, but to glorify Him.

PARLER: So because God is faithful to us, that's why it is so important that in our marriages, we are faithful to each other.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Lillian Hamman.


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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