Updated: Aug 23
Vice.com just put out an article about people seeking to qualify polyamory as a sexual orientation. It’s not, but don’t stop reading.
Polyamorous folks seeking to qualify polyamory as a sexual orientation are largely doing so because they want political protections. I get that. I have fought most of my life to get protections for groups from bigots. Polyamorous folks need protection, but they are not a sexual orientation.
What’s the Difference?
Sexual orientation is defined by what gender(s) you are sexually attracted to, have sex with and want to form romantic, intimate relationships with. For many people, sexual orientation isn’t a choice. Whether you are gay, straight, bi, queer, pan or other, sexual orientation is about your romantic attraction to others. For almost all hetero folks, the idea of only have sex with someone of the same gender is unappealing. For gay folks, the other is true.
Polyamory is a relationship style. Regardless of your sexual orientation, you may practice polyamory. For some folks, they feel this is more “innate” that others. I have heard a number of poly folks argue that there need to love multiple people at once feels natural and has been present from early on in their lives.
However, I also read poly boards and pages. Many people in the poly world struggle with the relationship style. You see all sorts of permutations of struggle. There are plenty of couples who open up the relationship when something is wrong and it goes down in flames. You see one partner pressured into opening the relationship and does it reluctantly then posts lengthy paragraphs seeking help to continue in a relationship that they are uncomfortable in. You see folks who only date other poly folks. You see people who identify as ethical non-monogamists who disdain poly and critique its relationship styles.
Additionally, there are thousands of ways to do a type of open relationship. There is not a consistent idea of what “polyamory” is. This alone makes classifying “polyamory” as a protected political class a no go.
What do we do then?
I don’t believe people should be fired or not hired simply because they are engaged in a consensual healthy relationship. Religious beliefs have no place in the workplace. If you are not bringing in drama and your relationship is not impacting your ability to do your job, your employer should not be able to fire you. Period.
What we need is legal protections that put the onus on the employer to prove beyond legal doubt that a personal orientation or behavior is seriously detrimental to your ability to do your job. This would help groups across the board.
LGBTQ: In many states, LGB folks and in almost all states trans folks can be fired simply for being who they are. If your employer knows you used to be a man and are now a women, fired. If your employer finds out that you are marrying someone of the same gender, fired. It does not matter if this anything at all to do with your job performance.
If we created legislation which said employees could only be fired based on a individual characteristic which were documented and clearly interfered with their ability to do their job and there is not an option to alleviate the problem, LGBTQ folks would be more protected.
Of course, there would have to be a caveat that other employees’ bigotry is not a justification for someone being unfit for the workplace. We can’t have Jane in accounting complaining that Sally in HR is unfit for her job because Jane hates dykes. Jane needs to get over it and the employer could recommend counseling for Jane.
However, if Sally in HR has a documented history of sexually harassing women in the office, then she needs to go. But the onus has to be on the employer to document that and prove she is unfit for the office.
Poly Folks: Provisions that make it the employers responsibility to prove someone is unfit for a position would also help poly folks. Who cares what you do on your off time. I never worried about my employees’ dating lives as long as they showed up for their shifts, got their work done, didn’t leak stuff to the press and worked well with elected officials. They could go home, curl up with a nice cup of tea, and snuggle with their heterosexual partner they waited to have sex with after marriage, and I didn’t care. They could go out, get tore up at a dungeon by the four women they were dating. I didn’t care. None of that impacted their work. We should make all employers prove beyond reasonable legal doubt that the characteristic a person has is reasonably interfering with their job. That would protect poly folks.
Get Rid of Civil Marriage
The government needs to get out of the business of having to determine who is “really” married. Civil marriage is not about the sanctity of marriage. Its not about procreation. Its not about honoring love in the eyes of the lord. Its about legal benefits. That’s it.
Before it was legal for gays to marry, we had to do dozens of legal agreements to get even a few of the benefits for marriage. We filled out wills, powers of attorney, financial documents, designated people for inheritance purposes and all sorts of stuff. One major benefit of this over traditional civil marriage was it forced gay folks to look at some big issues. How do I protect my loved one if I end up incapacitated in the hospital? What are my end of life wishes? What do I want to leave to the kids versus my wife? These are big questions.
It would take a major restructuring of benefits and inheritance laws to get rid of civil marriage. That task needs to be done. Relationships now are very complicated. We have multiple serial marriages, we have couples who live together for 20 years but never marry, we have people with children by three, four and five other partners. We have poly couples. We have people who abhor the religious connotations of marriage by are monogamous long-term partners.
Instead of wasting time and breath on trying to justify a relationship style as a sexual orientation, what poly folks need to do is to begin to fight for some real legal protections for a broad base of humanity.
Unfortunately, what needs to be done to protect LGBTQ, poly, kinky and non-traditional folks in the workplace is a multi-phase, longitudinal strategy with many working parts. Its not sexy. There is not a clear language to rile up the base. So, my guess is instead, the poly folks wanting these protections will continue co-opting the language of the LGBTQ movement will push their cause and fracture the poly community. I hope not, but that is the trajectory right now.