Last week, the city council of Somerville Massachusetts quietly voted to legally recognize polyamorous relationships. This unanimous vote, the first of its kind in the nation, essentially recognizes sexual and domestic relationships of three or more people as equal to natural marriage.
It’s surprising that the New York Times even noted what a dramatic and secretive move this was,
At the tail end of a City Council meeting last week, so quickly and quietly that you could have easily missed it, a left-leaning Massachusetts city expanded its notion of family to include people who are polyamorous or maintaining consenting relationships with multiple partners.
Polyamory is a relatively new family creation that involves any grouping of three or more adults in a domestic and sexual relationship. The term’s literal meaning is “many loves.” It is different and more radical than polygamy in that it is more undefined and free-formed. It usually contains more than two males or females who share sexual partners. Bisexuality is common and it often allows for sexual partnerships outside the immediate group. It is group “marriage” rather than many individual marriages to one person as in polygamy. Often, these various partners are parents.
The concept of the polyamorous “family” is so new and radical that its “P” is excluded from the ever-inclusive LGBT+ alphabet soup. As Utah legislators did just weeks ago when they came as close as they constitutionally could to legalizing polygamy in that state, polyamory advocates enlist the same arguments used to legalize same-sex marriage. As Somerville city councilor J.T. Scott explained, “This is simply allowing people to say, ‘This is my partner and this is my other partner’” adding “It has a legal bearing, so when one of them is sick, they can both go to the hospital.”
Councilor Lance Davis, who drafted the ordinance, used similar language of inclusion and personal validation, “the most important aspect is that the city is legally recognizing and validating people’s existence. That’s the first time this is happening.” He added,
“I don’t think it’s the place of the government to tell people what is or is not a family. Defining families is something that historically we’ve gotten quite wrong as a society, and we ought not to continue to try and undertake to do so.”
Somerville’s community leaders have a very poor grasp of the best academic research on this topic though. Such research has strongly shown that monogamy itself builds stronger, healthier nations and communities around the world. In fact, communities that hold marital monogamy between a husband and wife as the social norm are more fair, democratic, safer, and empowering to women and children. This is because group settings of domestic and sexual relationships nearly always devolve into men collecting women. This has dramatic social consequences.
First, in cutting down the competition of men for women, monogamous marriage tends to reduce the likelihood of men being violent and committing a crime, reducing a man’s overall criminal likelihood by 35 percent. It reduces the likelihood of property and violent crime by males by 50 percent. This shows up time and again in the literature. This is because wives tend to socialize men and monogamous marriage reduces men’s testosterone levels, while group marriages have no such effect.
For instance, in India, going from a male-to-female ratio of 1.12 to a more equalized 0.97 was shown to cut the societal murder rate in half. In China, increasing the ratio of men to women doubled their overall crime rate between 1988 and 2004.
Second, monogamous marriage tends to increase relational equality, increasing female influence and standing in the relationship. When there is more competition for available women, men must seek younger and younger wives, securing them before their competitors do, creating more of a father/daughter, rather than a truly spousal relational balance. And a woman who must compete with other women in a marriage is a less powerful party to the marriage. Most dramatically, a woman who is a commodity to be collected and controlled – as group marriage is more likely to demand – has no standing at all.
Third, monogamy reduces conflict within the home because it doesn’t create competition and jealousy among co-wives, which the authors describe as “ubiquitous” in polygamous and other group-relationship homes. And a comprehensive, cross-cultural review of psychological studies found that children from multi-adult homes experience significantly greater amounts of conflict between their parents, household violence, and family instability than children being raised by monogamous parents. This is because monogamy creates a higher rate of relatedness – a tighter biological connection – between the various members in homes. Group settings create more non-biological connections between various mothers, their different children, and increasing non-biological siblings. This creates more family competition and instability. As a result, these scholars explain, “living in the same household with genetically unrelated adults [sans adoption] is the single biggest risk factor for abuse, neglect, and homicide of children.” (emphasis in original)
Fourth, monogamy increases paternal investment, significantly improving child well-being outcomes as well as the lives of men. Polygamy and polyamory tend to reduce the paternal work of all men in two ways. It reduces the opportunity for middle and lower-status men to become fathers by shrinking the pool of available women. And the more wives and children a father has, the less time and energy he has to invest in each. This is further eroded when a father’s child-rearing time and energy competes with additional wife-seeking time.
Thus, the civic leaders in Somerville, and any other city considering such a radical redefinition of family, should ask themselves, “Is our community, particularly its children and women, stronger and healthier with more polyamorous families or fewer?” The research is robust and clear. Polyamory does not build strong communities. If it did, we would see it more often around the world and the communities where we find it would be flourishing. But this is not what we find. As the previously cited research shows, monogamy is the ideal for safe, productive communities.
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