On February 11, 2016, Penn’s 34th Street Magazine published an article titled “Love is an Open Door: Think being in a relationship is hard? Try being in two.” The article’s author, Syra Ortiz Blanes, recounts the stories of several students at Penn who are in polyamorous or open relationships. Ortiz Blanes supports, defends and even attempts to normalize the concept of polyamory, concluding her article by stating “relationships aren’t limited to just monogamy, they can exist in many different forms—sometimes, they can exist with many different partners. Some of these relationships worked, and others didn’t. In the end, they were, however, just that: relationships.”
A fellow Statesman author (who shall not be named here) recently informed me that Ortiz Blanes’ article made her “want to throw up.” While we may not all have such a visceral reaction to the concept of polyamory, all thoughtful conservatives are bound to recognize several disturbing realities about the normalization and acceptance of open relationships.
First, polyamory is effectively the premarital equivalent of polygamy. In mainstream American society, we clearly don’t think that polygamy is healthy or morally correct, because every state outlaws it and the federal government has also criminalized the act of being married to more than one person simultaneously. Of course, supporters of polyamory might argue that polygamy and polyamory aren’t comparable because they exist for different purposes. These supporters might assert that polyamory exists for reasons of sexual satisfaction, experimentation or cultural engagement, or even to preserve a distance relationship. But I can’t really think of a different set of reasons to justify the existence of polygamy as a marital practice (there certainly aren’t any tax benefits).
Second, the idea that polyamory might exist to attain sexual satisfaction that cannot be found in a monogamous relationship is incredibly demeaning to all respectable human beings. It sexualizes us. It implies that we cannot restrain ourselves. It suggests that we consider love to be a secondary priority to our sexual needs. While this year’s Valentine’s Day issue of the Daily Pennsylvanian certainly emphasized sex (containing articles like “Who doesn’t like BDStreetM” and “Valentine’s Day SEX Tips” and “Let’s Talk about SEX”), we don’t all prioritize raw, primitive behavior over respectable passion.
Third, for conservatives who still believe that Christian values have helped make Western Civilization great, I would remind you that mainstream Christianity has never condoned polygamy or polyamory. Mormons (who are not here considered mainstream Christians quite yet) have condoned polygamy briefly in the past, but they have banned plural marriage worldwide since 1904. Polygamy is not explicitly forbidden in the Old Testament (or the Jewish Torah). However, the New Testament, as cited in First Epistle to Timothy 3.2, states that “an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…”. Thus, respectable members of society (church leaders who should act as exemplars of good behavior) are advised to take a single wife. The First Epistle to Timothy 3.12 and Titus 1.6 make similar claims. My point here is not to preach Christian values (I am in no position to do so- I hardly ever go to church myself). However, Christianity denounces polygamy and historically Christian societies are some of the most successful societies in the world today. Therefore, it seems that polygamy and polyamory are not vital or even viable parts of a healthy social system.
Fourth, polyamory and polygamy have only thrived and only continue to exist in impoverished and oppressive parts of the world. Polygamy is legal in countries like Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Uganda, Egypt, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, and Nigeria. While we can argue about whether or not Western culture is superior to the culture of these areas, I doubt that the polyamorous couples at Penn would willingly volunteer to go live on a hillside in Afghanistan. Furthermore, most of the aforementioned nations are populated with Muslims. On my list, only Uganda is a majority Christian state. Ugandans have initiated several movements to ban or restrict polygamy in their country, but these movements have been blocked by Ugandan Muslims. This is because Islam condones polygamy: Muhammad had thirteen wives, and all other Islamic men are allowed to marry four women simultaneously. It seems important to point out here that many Islamic societies are some of the most ethically backward and politically unstable societies in the world. Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow women to drive. In Afghanistan, approximately 150 cases of honor killing occur annually. Syria is in the midst of a violent civil war. 91% of women in Egypt experience genital mutilation. It is a stretch to state that polygamy is directly linked with these atrocities. However, it is less of a stretch to argue that perhaps Muslims place a lesser emphasis on the value of respect between individuals as compared with religious practitioners of other faiths in other regions. If this is the case, then perhaps there is a link between reduced respect for humanity and reduced respect for the humanity of an individual in a polygamous or polyamorous relationship.
Fifth, there is something insulting to anyone who is committed to a loving, monogamous relationship about referring to polyamorous affairs as legitimate relationships deserving of respect or recognition. I’m in a monogamous, long-term relationship and I know that real relationships are hard work; I have to continuously juggle my partner’s needs with my own desires. Dedication and commitment comprise the foundation of a healthy relationship, and these core values are, by definition, lacking in an open relationship. Without this foundation, I might as well recognize the fun I have with my dog as a legitimate relationship (coincidentally, my dog happens to be “long distance” just like James’ high school girlfriend in the Ortiz Blanes article).
In conclusion, it seems that Ortiz Blanes threw her article down on a page without understanding the societal implications of a destructive force like polyamory. This is a trend at Penn: we make sweeping assertions of moral correctness for our community, which often ironically and directly contradict the established values of successful Western civilizations, without understanding the potential consequences or historical background of our assertions. While polyamory at Penn is certainly a disturbing trend, it is far more disturbing that we are surrounded by uninformed and unthinking moralists.