It is time to have a frank discussion about polyamory within modern Paganism. It is time because the issue of multiple spouses has hit the mainstream, thanks to the new HBO series “Big Love”. “Big Love” is about a fictional Mormon family who has broken away from a corrupt polygamist compound and their attempts to live in “normal” society while hiding their lifestyle.
The sexual and moral ethics of the cultures presented in the show have little to do with the free-spirited and often gynecentric culture of polyamory. While both polygamy and polyamory deal with multiple romantic and sexual partners, the gulf between the often abusive and patriarchal values of traditional polygamy and the careful, often queer-friendly atmosphere of typical polyamory is wide. It is thanks to this gulf that few reporters have made the connection. But as conservative religious reporters seek to make the issue of multi-spouse families into a “liberal” one, you can bet that stories tying the two lifestyles together are right around the corner.
Modern Paganism should be concerned about polyamory being plunged into the sexual morality culture wars, since a great number of our leaders, authors, and activists are openly polyamorous. This includes Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, Isaac Bonewits, Raven Kaldera (author of “Pagan Polyamory”), Joi Wolfwomyn, and Elizabeth Barrette (Managing Editor of PanGaia), amongst many others.
Modern Paganism is one of the only faith groupings that have given a full welcome to polyamorous families and individuals. Not even the ultra-inclusive (and ultra-liberal) Unitarian Universalists have welcomed poly families in any official sense. Yet for years now, Wiccan, Pagan, and Heathen groups have been officiating and giving blessings to poly marriages and their rites of passage. Freed from the notion that any sexual impulse outside those approved of by the dominant monotheisms is sinful or harmful, Pagans have generally been free to decide on a small-scale and individual basis what lifestyles are the “correct” ones for ourselves. This has been to our great credit. But now we need to prepare ourselves for a possible savaging from a media interested only in scandal and spectacle.
I predict that newsmedia are going to start looking for their own local “Big Love” stories. The chance of a Pagan poly family getting interviewed is going to be high. Those who would like nothing more than to discredit our faiths will hold us up as examples of the “slippery slope” that occurs when you allow LBGT folks equal human rights.
Some Pagans may be tempted to write off, or at least closet, our poly folks, in order to continue to obtain the incremental mainstream acceptance we have gained. We musn’t give in to this urge. If anything, our national and regional groups need to be ready with accurate, compassionate language that accepts polyamory as one acceptable choice among many choices open to those who worship in a Pagan faith. We must stand our ground and differentiate how a Pagan approach to a multiple-partner relationship is radically different from the more paternalistic strains found amongst some Mormons and other religious fundamentalists.
There are times to go back into the “broom closet”, and of course we want to pick our battles wisely. But I think that the stakes will soon become too high to not speak truth to power on this issue.