An article in the Mail caught my eye this week. It was about a polyamorous relationship, and featured a woman called Mary Crumpton who was calling for the law to be changed to recognise romantic arrangements such as hers. ‘I think,’ she says, ‘that I want to have a country where we respect people’s choices, in terms of their relationships and if that means that a Muslim man wants to marry three women and have those women respected in law as his wives, he should be able to do so. And if I want to have two husbands, then I’d like that to be respected in law as well, and I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be.’
I’ve noticed that the BBC seems to have become a particular fan of this new trend for non-monogamous relationships, as witness its recent series Wanderlust (covered on TCW in September), and numerous favourable features that it runs from time to time.
So what is actually wrong with polyamorous relationships? Why, after all, shouldn’t consenting adults be allowed to commit to more than one person at once? And why shouldn’t the law recognise these relationships and commitments as much as it recognises those of couples?
Well, since same-sex marriage came in these questions have become harder and harder for secular liberals to answer. If marriage is simply about love and commitment, as is now said, and is no longer about the union of the sexes for the procreation of children, then why should it be limited to two? What, after all, is so special about twoness? The relevance of two to traditional marriage is obvious: it is two people, a man and a woman, who produce children together and thus as parents bear moral responsibility for them. But what is so special about the number two for a relationship defined in terms of love and commitment? Any number of people can commit to one another. To limit legal recognition to two just seems stingy.
More than that, it seems like a hangover from when marriage was about a man and a woman starting a family together. But that’s not what modern marriage is about. Marriage these days has almost nothing to do with starting a family. Sure, most married couples have a family together. But so what? A great many parents are not married, many children live with only one parent, and a growing number of married couples elect not to have any children at all. Equality law prevents anyone from daring to draw any moral or practical distinctions between these differing arrangements. So why should we refuse to recognise marriages of many? We have long since stopped really caring about how children might fare in these various family configurations (if we did we’d actually take marriage seriously as the foundation of family life), so that can’t be an objection.
Personally, I’d expect to see calls for the legal and social recognition of polyamorous relationships to grow considerably in the coming years. From a modern perspective, with marriage defined in terms of love, there is very little to be said against them, and powerful influencers such as the BBC are making sure they are high in the public consciousness. If as a society we really wanted to oppose their arrival then we’d have to start taking seriously again the connection of marriage to stable family life. That would mean putting in place policies that actually reflect that connection, and not just occasionally paying lip service to it. But can you see that happening? In a year that has seen moves to make divorce even easier than it already is, and yet more married-couple rights extended to unmarried couples, it is hard to imagine our governing classes doing anything to shore up the place of the married family in our society.
Yet all the time it is the poorest who suffer most, since it is they who have to endure the chaotic home lives and dysfunctional communities generated by the collapse of marriage, while the well-heeled classes maintain a nice respectable marriage culture amongst themselves. If the so-called Conservative Party had an ounce of conservative sense, it would recognise the conservative measures needed to address problems like these and start doing all it could to sell them to the electorate. It might even find there were one or two votes in it as well.
Instead, expect more of the same embarrassing chasing of the votes of woke millennials who have zero intention of voting Tory while repelling anyone with a conservative bone in their body.