Sunday, November 17, 2013

Why Social Acceptance of Polyamory is Inevitable


I must be honest with you: I giggle gleefully when another state passes a law allowing for same-sex marriages. I quickly share the news around Facebook in an attempt to remind conservative associates that they're on the wrong side of history.  It's my happy dance.

And thus I look at social recognition and acceptance of Polyamory as inevitable. Because of what's happened before ... concerning the expansion of freedom afforded to women. It's all about the chics. Why? Let's talk about marriage for a minute.

1. It Used to Be All About the Money

Marriage was (arguably still is) all about the money. Marriage is all about the means of transferring wealth and assets through inheritance and keeping wealth within a family. In ancient Greece, a woman whose father had died without male heirs would have been forced to marry her nearest male relative, even if she had to divorce her own husband first. Today, women are still exchanged for dowries in some cultures. And men used to wife-swap to gain political and economic advantage. Why? Money. Inheritance is a running theme here so pay attention.

2. Polygamy Was Considered Normal

It was common (and is still common in many cultures today) that men took on multiple wives to improve their odds at delivering surviving children. Surviving children was necessary to guarantee the transfer of assets through inheritance (see the trend?).

3. What's Love Got To Do With It?

You know, it's funny, but originally marriage had nothing to do with love. It used to be just a family affair. Prior to the 13th century, marriages were about contractually combining families and assets (oh, there it is again). Women were obliged to marry to perpetuate ownership of things. Arranged marriages were the way to ensure matters of inheritance; with the rise of modern markets and transportation, individuals (not families) could opt for their own financial entanglements.

4. The Government Wasn't Involved

Massachusetts introduced marriage licensing in 1639 and most states required licensing by the 19th century. State-sanctioned marriage is a legal acknowledgement of property inheritance for purposes of taxation (oh, more inheritance: the state must keep records so they know who to tax).

5. And Neither Was the Church

It used to be that a man could take on more wives if another wife was unable to bear children; it was even grounds for divorce. It was the Christian church that suggested marriage could be more than just for the sole purpose of procreation and it codified monogamy into its doctrine, contrary to the will of the reigning aristocracy more concerned with inheritance (crap, there it is again!). Before the 13th century, marriages were recognized between families and the Catholic church had no play in it; in 1215, the Catholic church required engaged families to post public notices of marriage to decrease the frequency of invalid contracts and invalid transfer of property (ta-da!).

6. Modern Marriage Evolved from Victorian-Era Romanticism

Okay, so if everything up to the 19th century was about property and retention of family wealth, the rise of the individual took place in the 1700's when Enlightenment thinkers were suggesting that women trapped in loveless marriages were regrettable and that women should have a voice in choosing a partner. By 1840, the virginal white in a wedding gown is started by Queen Victoria, and the concept of feminine chastity and purity pervades western thinking (herein enters social slut-shaming and the fall of courtesans and kept-women, and - not coincidentally - the rise of prostitution as men seek other venues for their sexual affairs). By the end of the 19th century, intimacy revolves around love, couples, and virginal virtue ... and not principally about inheritance and retaining wealth. Women win a philosophical entitlement to happiness and independence.

7. Modern Era Marriage

And by the 20th century, courting and dating started in the 1920's as women won rights for indpeendent thinking and property ownership. Conservatism blossomed to restrain all of those free-thinking, independently-wealthy harlots so that by the 50's, the nuclear family was considered the only socially-acceptable option for any woman. Their children (armed with prophylactic and pharmaceutical approaches to birth control) inspired the sexual revolution in the 60's and challenged the norms of monogamy and the gay movement pushed for broader thinking - at roughly the same time civil rights challenged us to look at the character of individuals and not the color of their skin.

Polyamory will eventually be just as recognized and accepted as heterosexual marriage because of the continued freedom earned by women (and extensibly freedom of mankind, in general, allowing for homosexual entanglement).

What we see since the turn of the 20th century is expansion of individual liberty and freedom of expression for women, not social-constraint or a resurgence of conservatism. In Western societies, women are not chattel: they are not property to be traded or exchanged; they are free to address their own reproductive decision-making; they have their own education; they have their own wealth; they're exposed to broader ideas about love, life, and happiness than any other time in history; they are free to make whatever choices in these affairs they wish to. Choice. To believe that society will further constrict choice, or that women will voluntarily restrain their freedoms, to me, is backwards and implausible, and certainly on the wrong side of history.

Thus Polyamory and its eventual social acceptance and recognition are inevitable.



Unknown said...

I'm not of the opinion that the world is evolving magically towards more and greater freedom for all. I want that, oh how I want it! The future of humanity is at best uncertain. And even if polyamory were to be accepted in America (and I think that will be a LONG time coming if it happens) there is the rest of the world. And gains regarding marriage equality could all be undone when the wind blows another way politically. I hope you're right, but I'm not quite as optimistic, I suppose. :)

Full Marriage Equality said...

I think we will see greater acceptance of polyamory, including the freedom to polyamorous marriage. I also think we'll see it happen much faster than acceptance of same-gender relationships and marriage. IF... there continues to be hard work done by poly people and and allies.

petals Master said...

Interesting post. I see the connection with inheritance, but more important than that is procreation. Nobody to leave anything to if there are no children and your greatest legacy is your genes. Reproduction is a perogative shared by both men and women. In a society where males have greatest power polygamy (male with two or more females) gives a male a better chance of passing on his genes providing there are easily obtainable resources around. A woman has the best chance of passing her genes on if her partner is striving to bring only her offspring to adulthood. Polygamy is rarer therefore when women are empowered. Of course in an equal and free society where resources are plentiful people can exercise choice but I think that polygamy is not a natural first choice of many women and whilst a man might be inclined to share himself with more than one woman he might be far less inclined to share his woman with another, again from a reproductive point of view he would want to know that the children he is raising (and leaving his fortune to)are his own. I think polygamy will always be the choice of few but I see no reason for it to be unlawful.