In a previous blog, I explained how some people in polyamorous relationships experience prejudice and discrimination. This blog details some of the polyamorous community responses to discrimination, and activists’ attempts to document and understand it, deal with it’s impacts, and seek protection from it.
In an attempt to document and understand discrimination against people in consensually non-monogamous (or kinky) relationships, the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom has initiated the Narrative Project . This study seeks to collect self-reported stories of discrimination (and consent violations) that have affected people in polyamorous, open, and other CNM relationships in order to find out more about the types and instances of discrimination that sexual non-conformists in these relationships face. Susan Wright, Vice Chairperson and Director of Media relations for NCSF, said that "NCSF has heard so many stories about discrimination, outing and consent incidents that nobody else has heard about, so we wanted to offer a platform for people to speak out about what's happening to them. We think it's important to give people a voice, and we can only fight discrimination and violence when we know how and where it's happening." Data from this study can further inform community efforts to combat discrimination. If you have experienced discrimination or boundary violations in a consensually non-monogamous or kinky relationship, please consider participating in the study.
Some municipalities have laws that restrict those who are able to share a dwelling to people who are related by blood or marriage and prohibit more than two “unrelated” individuals from sharing housing. While these laws are usually designed to restrict immigrants from sharing housing or sororities/fraternities from establishing group houses, they are sometimes selectively enforced against polyamorous households in an attempt to remove them from a neighborhood. Although they do not identify as polyamorous, a family of eight adults with three children in Hartford, Connecticut has become a test-case for implementation of residential restrictions on numbers of unrelated adults sharing a home. Hartford regulations stipulate that all residents of a single-family dwelling must be related by marriage, blood, or servitude. When neighbors complained to local officials that the folks sharing a 6,000 square foot, nine bedroom home in West Hartford did not meet the city’s definition of a family, the zoning board agreed and mandated that they move out.
The family has hired lawyers to challenge to zoning board’s decision. In support, the Woodhull Freedom Foundation has endorsed the family’s ability to retain their home without redefining any of the residents as servants. Pointing out the flaws in reasoning that led to the zoning board’s decision, Woodhull officials stated that: “It is absurd to say that a household of adults and children who love each other and are committed to one another’s well-being are not a family when we affirm the legitimacy of families where abuse and neglect run rampant. It is preposterous to say that it’s okay to house people because they live in service but not people who serve each other’s needs for free.”
Currently there are few protections for any form of sexuality at the local, regional, or national level. Where people have been able to successfully combat discrimination based on sexual orientation, they have generally relied on statues that prohibit discrimination based on gender because they have usually been targeted for discrimination on the basis of the gender of their partner. That has worked for some people in same-sex relationships, but the preponderance of heterosexuals and bisexuals among those who identify as polyamorous means that strategy will work for only a few polyamorous relationships because they usually involve at least some other-sex relationships.
Another reason that protection as a sexual orientation is difficult for polyamorous folks to attain is that polyamory is not currently recognized as a sexual orientation. Although some poly folks do not see it as a sexual orientation either, some of the respondents in my 20-year study of polyamorous families with children assert that polyamory is a form of sexual orientation for them. Usually the respondents who see polyamory as a sexual orientation share three primary characteristics in common: 1) they have either tried monogamy and failed to maintain it or never agreed to be in a monogamous relationship in the first place; 2) they have a multiplistic orientation towards life in general (for instance, grew up playing with groups of children instead of having one best friend); and 3) they have maintained an intense attachment to multiple people over many years.
In addition to my own findings that indicate that polyamory is a sexual orientation for some people, Ann Tweedy -- a professor at the Hamline University School of Law -- argued in the University of Cincinnati Law Review in 2011 that polyamory fits the legal definition of a sexual orientation. Tweedy argued that the current employment discrimination statues which rely on a narrow interpretation of sexual orientation that is limited to the gender of the chosen partner are inadequate to deal with the sex and gender diversity of contemporary society. Polyamory is a sexual orientation for some, Tweedy argued, and should be protected under employment discrimination statues because: “Polyamory appears to be at least moderately embedded as an identity, because polyamorists face considerable discrimination, and because non-monogamy is an organizing principle of inequality in American culture.” Unfortunately, activists’ efforts to gain protections under existing laws appear to be facing an uphill battle at this point.
Tweedy, Ann E., Polyamory as a Sexual Orientation (June 29, 2010). University of Cincinnati Law Review, Vol. 79, p. 1461, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1632653