It must have been about seven or eight years ago. I was sitting around a table with some Focus on the Family staff members, discussing news stories about the push for same-sex marriage and the growing transgender movement. I asked, “You know what’s coming next, don’t you?” All eyes turned toward me, and I said: “Poly and kink. That’s what will be pushed next.”
There was a general response of blank stares, followed by, “Eewwww,” from those around the table. Especially after I explained, to the more innocent on our team, what the terms meant: “Poly” refers to polyamory, multiple romantic or sexual relationships; it can also refer to polygamy, multiple marriages. “Kink” involves sexual fetishes or violence in sexual relationships.
There was also a general agreement that Focus couldn’t really cover such stories on Christian “family friendly” radio.
It’s not that I’m especially prophetic or prescient, I just read a lot and had been following events in our culture for a while. I simply noticed the same push to normalize and embrace polyamory and kink that I’d seen in the drive to celebrate homosexuality and transgenderism and to redefine marriage.
So, here we are today, with CBS News Originals portraying the normalcy of polyamory to its viewers. Their news documentary, “Speaking Frankly: Non-monogamy,” looks at the legal hurdles, the “stigma,” raising children and other challenges for those in such arrangements.
The documentary sometimes used the term “consensual non-monogamy” (CNM) as a substitute for polyamory. The idea is that if both parties consent to being in an open relationship or bringing others into the relationship, then it’s somehow all fine and acceptable. If they all love each other and agree, shouldn’t we be tolerant and inclusive?
Poly activists are pushing their agenda with many of the same tactics that LGBT activists used. They’ve created a poly flag, poly symbols and poly pride celebrations. They borrow catchphrases and slogans that should be familiar to anyone who watched the movement toward marriage redefinition.
Glenn Stanton, director of Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, had this to say about poly activists following the LGBT activist playbook: “It’s interesting, the same-sex marriage debate used the silly phrase “love is love” to justify their radical redefinition of marriage and scoffed that it could lead to other radical forms of marriage. Well, the non-monogamists are here using the same argument. Whaddya know?”
Stanton also explains that poly activists blame “societal stigma” for struggles and problems they encounter, claiming the “sexual minority” and “victim” labels that LGBT activists have used for years. That’s not to say that some LGBT- and poly-identified individuals haven’t been mistreated – sometimes by Christians. That fact should lead us to have compassion and kindness for those caught in sexual sin.
At the same time, the reality that some people have been treated badly shouldn’t lead Christians to say that a sexual behavior or identity is not a sin. Stanton says that stigma can serve a useful societal purpose: “The news story refers to stigma attached to polyamory as if that is a bad thing. Stigma is an essential social influence that maintains the health and well-being of a community. There’s a reason polyamory not only has been stigmatized, but seen as a troubling, radical idea, and every person with common sense knows why that is.”
Stanton’s sociological studies and writing demonstrate that marriage between one man and one woman serves a number of valuable functions, such as protecting women and children, providing a mom and a dad for children, and regulating sexuality within a culture. Redefining marriage – whether by changing the sex or the number of participants – has negative consequences. This is important for Christians to understand as we evangelize, raise our families and engage with modern culture.
But CBS is just one of the most recent media outlets to frame polyamory and polygamy as good, somehow the equivalent of marriage between a man and a woman. Here are just a few examples showing that increasing promotion on two fronts: news and entertainment.
The mainstream media has had a growing interest in pushing poly for years now. Take The New York Times. Search polyamory on their site and 79 results pop up with titles such as “Polyamory Works for Them,” or “Better Living Through Music, Art and Polyamory.” The same search at The Atlantic brings up 135 results, with titles like “Multiple Lovers, Without Jealousy” and “Is Monogamy Unnatural?”
To be fair, they also have an article that says, “The Case Against Encouraging Polygamy is Strong.” Still, the steady drumbeat of articles, by these and hundreds of other news outlets, keeps the topic in front of the public and mainstreams the behavior.
The entertainment world has followed suit, pushing the cultural envelope by creating characters and stories for people to identify with. Big Love aired on HBO for five seasons, from 2006 to 2011, with Bill Paxton as the leader of a fundamentalist Mormon family with three wives. The drama earned a number of Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for the series and for the actors.
Sister Wives is a reality TV series from TLC that follows Kody Brown, who is legally married to one wife but has three “spiritual unions” with other women. The explicit purpose of the show is to make people more aware of such families and to combat “social prejudices.” The show has aired for 13 seasons.
More recently, Disney-owned Freeform has produced a TV show, Siren, about a mermaid who lives on land – and engages in a poly relationship. TV Guide’s headline about the lead actor in the series blared, “Siren’s Alex Roe is Proud to Portray TV’s Most Interesting Polyamorous Relationship.”
Sympathetic portrayals of same-sex relationships in television and movies were instrumental in changing people’s views about sexuality and paving the way for the Supreme Court decision redefining marriage. In the same way, the continued portrayal of multiple relationships is paving the way for changing marriage again. I think we’re going to see more activism to promote poly relationships in the coming years.
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