Politics & Policy

Polyamorists Come Out of the Closet

Amid increasing tolerance for non-traditional relationship, non-monogamy loses its stigma.

Polyamorists are coming out of the closet.

Non-monogamists have remained largely underground to avoid social disapproval, but increasing national acceptance of Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer/Questioning (LGBTQ) relationships have encouraged some polyamory supporters to go public about their growing communities.

Leon Feingold, co-president of Open Love NY and a licensed real estate broker with Masonic Realty, confirmed Tuesday that 13 of 15 apartments have been rented in Brooklyn, NY at Hacienda Villa, an apartment complex dedicated to the polyamorous and to those who accept polyamory.

Feingold told National Review Online that there is “absolutely” a growing trend of openness in the polyamorous community and of accepting attitudes toward it. He added, “A lot of people have misconceptions about what polyamory is.”

“Polyamory” does not refer either to polygamy or to a “swinging” lifestyle but to “responsible non-monogamy,” Feingold explained. Open Love NY is a New York-based organization for the polyamorous community. It plans various educational and social events for its members and encourages “a public climate in which all forms of consensual adult relationship choices are respected and honored.”

A frequently cited estimate of the number of U.S. polyamorous households is 500,000, which first appeared in a 2009 Newsweek article but has since been removed (the article was last updated in July 2011).

Diana Adams, the other co-president of Open Love NY and a founding partner of a New York City law firm serving LGBTQ and non-traditional clients, has worked with polyamorous households. Sometimes she helps draw up agreements between married poly clients to prevent marital problems from arising because of their sexuality.

The policy concerns for poly community generally regard securing domestic partnerships among the members of a polyamorous relationship. Some of Adams’s poly clients want to opt out of the adultery ground for divorce and do so in out-of-court contracts.

“At this point, polyamorous people are not seeking to redefine marriage as a whole for all Americans,” Adams told NRO. “They are seeking to find stability within existing legal institutions, with creative use of the law as it is now.”

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The most common cases involving polyamorous lifestyles are child custody cases, Adams said. A parent’s sexuality can be used against him or her in court, particularly if the other parent argues that it is evidence of poor parenting.

“In almost all cases, I see parents who are exploring their own romantic and sexual possibilities on their own time, and that’s not affecting their children at all,” Adams said. “The same-sex marriage movement has initiated a lot of that conversation. Is it possible to have committed love and partnership without traditional marriage? The conversation is expanding our sense of possibilities.”

Feingold also acknowledges parallels between the LGBTQ movement and the polyamorous movement. Many consider polyamory an orientation rather than a choice. He called the broad acceptance of polyamory the “next big frontier for public perception to cross.”

A poly family in Atlanta, Georgia consists of five adults, two of whom, Melissa and Billy, are married and each date one person. Billy’s girlfriend also has another boyfriend. Melissa’s nine-year-old daughter Ashley considers her family to have “two dads, one mom, and one person dating another person,” NBC.com reported in a video segment last week.

According to Billy, being poly means “being open to the idea that you don’t have to have just that one.”

The children’s feelings are mixed. When some adults are out and about, Ashley likes “always having somebody there,” she said. But Melissa’s son left home as a teenager because he condemned his mother’s lifestyle, though he still seems to keep contact.

There are over 900 polyamorous families in Atlanta, NBC reported, but they remain relatively under the radar to avoid community opposition. One man in the NBC segment at a polyamorous meet-up said, “It’s almost like the new gay, I guess.”

Polyamory is illegal under adultery laws in 21 states, including Georgia. Attorney Danny Naggiar of the NS Family Law Firm in Atlanta told NRO that laws against adultery and bigamy are still technically on the books though “never really enforced.” Were a polyamorous couple to divorce, any extramarital relationships could affect child custody and alimony.

“Polyamory certainly would have an impact on an environment suitable to raise a child,” Naggiar said. “But Georgia isn’t a very progressive state in terms of changing laws to accommodate personal lifestyle choices.”

– Celina Durgin is a Franklin Center intern at National Review.

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