Canada
3 min

We need to stand up for our poly friends

It all comes down to the right to consent to sexual activity

I tried to be sluttier, I swear. After a string of troubled monogamous relationships — many of which ended in the ubiquitous Lesbian Bed Death — I swore I would never live with a girlfriend ever again. At the time, I was living with two gay men, and we spent evenings conducting a sociological experiment, comparing the content of gay versus lesbian dating websites. Of course, the sites geared towards gay men featured graphic crotch shots and to-the-point descriptions of preferred sexual positions. The lesbian sites featured an absence of dirty words and a series of long diatribes from women seeking “drama-free” relationships. How predictable.

Two years later, I am comfortably ensconced in the home I share with my girlfriend and one other roommate. And to my great surprise, the only fireworks in the relationship occur in the bedroom, which I can assure you suffers from no ailments or premature death.

While many of my close friends are devoted to non-monogamy and keep their relationships fresh by embracing other lovers, I am more of a one-girl girl. When my partner and I hooked up, I really thought about polyamoury as a concept, but it never really jived with my inclinations, which is to hold one lover close, surrounded by a rich community of friends and both natural and chosen family.

Still, what sets this relationship apart from others I’ve had is that I’ve really thought about what monogamy means to me, and my partner and I have negotiated the conditions that work for us. And while I would never go so far as to suggest that our relationship is particularly radical, the choices we’ve made are certainly deliberate.

We each have our own room, in addition to a shared bedroom. We negotiate household chores on a weekly basis. We allow for total honesty, and we don’t always assume that the other person is free on a particular evening. We ask each other on dates. We also try to spend little of our couple time doing errands together, avoiding that trap of dykes spending endless hours on the weekend standing in line at the grocery or hardware store.

But because our relationship is still so conventional in many ways, it’s tempting to hunker down, especially since there are no more legal rights left for us to fight for. Thanks to the hard work of a committed group of activists over several decades, we have the right to access each other’s health benefits, adopt children and get married — if we choose to.

Still, we would be doing a disservice to our community if we didn’t turn our attention to the fact that many of our non-monogamous friends’ relationships are threatened by Canada’s outdated polygamy law, which forbids, “any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time — whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage.”

This law, though rarely if ever applied, doesn’t just punish religious zealots in places like Bountiful, BC. It condemns all of my friends who consensually participate in polyamorous or open relationships. This is the preferred relationship model among many of the queer people that I know in their 20s and 30s. Only time will tell if my friends choose to continue structuring their relationships in this way after children are in the picture. But I have no doubt that they will continue to thoughtfully define their commitment to each other in a thoroughly respectful and loving manner — something that certainly shouldn’t be criminalized or dictated by law.

Sure, the religious right is freaking out about the case for polyamoury — though they still haven’t risen in a chorus to condemn their brethren in Bountiful. They’re saying that all of their predictions have come true, and the next thing we’ll seek is decriminalizing sex with animals. That gay marriage was the slippery slope, and now the homosexual agenda is seeking to rip apart the very notion of monogamy itself.

But they’ve always been saying that. And as queers, we have a responsibility to stand up for rights that deserve to be defended even if they are unpopular. We’re good at making the controversial argument. What it always comes down to is the rights of adults to consent to sexual activity and conduct themselves in relationships however they please, as long as no one is being seriously harmed or abused in the process. This argument extends to SM and kink, to poly relationships, and to monogamous folks like my partner and me.

I couldn’t help but a shed a tear last week, reading about veteran US lesbian activists Dell Martin and Phillis Lyon — both in their 80s — who were the first couple to obtain a legally sanctioned marriage license in San Francisco. When they first started dating in 1952, the thought of two women getting married was unimaginable. More than five decades later, isn’t it time to envision our community as a web of loving relationships that are much more imaginative?