Twelve years ago, Richard Gilmore walked into a party and laid eyes on Vicki for the first time. It was like a scene from a 1940s Hollywood romance.
“If you were to film it, it would be so sappy and saccharine, you wouldn’t believe it,” recalled Richard, now 60. “There was a crowd of people, but all I could see was her.” Vicki, now 63, noticed Richard too, and began to stare back. The chemistry between them was immediate and irresistible. They say it was love at first sight.
“Oh my God,” Richard thought at the time. “It really happens.”
But this is where the old Hollywood romance ends and another kind of love story begins. A few weeks later, after her magical first date with Richard, Vicki went home—to Jim, her husband of almost 20 years. “Why didn’t you want to come with us tonight?” Vicki asked Jim, after she told him all about the date. “I wanted you to have a chance to get to know Richard one-on-one,” Jim told her.
“Wasn’t that cool of him?” Richard recalled.
So as Richard and Vicki started dating, Jim and Vicki happily continued their marriage. Nine months later, Jim met a woman named Maria. Jim and Maria began to date, and then Richard and Maria started dating, too. Finally, in 2002, as the group of four piled on coats and scarves to go out one chilly evening, Richard stopped at the door and looked back at everyone.
“We’re really a family now, aren’t we?” he asked. They were—and they have been ever since.
Richard, Vicki, Jim, and Maria are polyamorists: people who engage in what has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy.” Unlike polygyny, where one man is married to multiple women, most polyamorists aren’t motived by religion. Instead, they describe their relationships in language that should be familiar to anyone: It’s just what feels healthy, happy, and natural for them.
And despite the stereotype of polyamorists as sexual anarchists who wouldn’t be interested in legal marriage anyway, Robyn Trask, the executive director of polyamory support organization Loving More, said the group’s forthcoming survey found that 65 percent of poly families would choose to legalize their unions if they could, and an additional 20 percent would at least consider the option if it were available.
But seriously—is legal recognition of plural marriage just too complicated to ever be realistic? After all, government marriage comes with a whole list of associated burdens and benefits. Marriage laws influence alimony, health care, Social Security, hospital visitation, inheritance, criminal testimony, taxation, immigration, and more. Monogamous marriages are already vulnerable to marriage fraud, and polyamorous marriages could, in theory, open the door to even more radical forms of fraud—hundreds of people “marrying” for immigration purposes, for example, or criminal groups “marrying” to take advantage of spousal testimonial privilege. Maybe the pursuit of genuinely inclusive marriage equality isn’t worth the headache it would take to re-evaluate our tax, immigration, and criminal justice systems.