William Saletan has a very interesting piece up at Slate claiming to debunk the threat of polygamy/polyamory. ( “Don’t Do Unto Others.”) Saletan’s quite right that the universality of jealousy creates a permanent and serious problem with the stability of multi-partner unions. That was my argument in “Beyond Gay Marriage.” Unfortunately, the reality of jealousy hasn’t stopped the call for multi-partner unions.
While Saletan cites my “Here Come the Brides,” he doesn’t talk about the most potentially stable form of multi-partner union: a man and two bisexual women. That union does reduce jealously, and also points to the potentially powerful bisexual constituency for multi-partner unions.
We also need to anticipate arguments for multi-partner unions that parallel those for gay marriage: “If we didn’t have to hide ourselves in shame, if we had positive public models, our unions would have a fair shot at stability.” Polyamorists also argue that the many heterosexual breakups already caused by cheating and jealously would be reduced if people learned to accept open polyamory. A hundred-and-fifty years ago American polygamists argued that polygamy would reduce prostitution and divorce. Muslim polygamists in Canada make similar arguments today. So jealousy is a key issue, but it will be played in many ways by the combatants in this emerging argument.
Finally, Saletan uses an atypical polyamorous breakup to characterize polyamory as a whole. The Trask breakup came when a husband sneaked around on his wife. Proper polyamory is about open and honest multi-partner relationships. “Just because we sometimes break our own rules of openness and fail,” the polyamorists will argue, “doesn’t mean proper polyamory won’t work, especially when it gains social acceptance and support.” In any case, Saletan’s piece is fascinating and important (unlike so much of what’s said on this topic) for having addressed some of the real issues at stake.