Big gay love

HBO’s Big Love has ignited debate about hetero polygamy, but polyamorous relationships are not news to the many gay men with multiple long-term partners. How do they fit in to our fight for visibility?

BY Greg Hernandez

May 22 2006 12:00 AM ET

When Pete Chvany
feels like kissing his partner Alan Hamilton on the
front lawn of their home in Somerville, Mass., he
doesn’t really care what the neighbors think.
And he doesn’t mind if Hamilton then gives a
kiss to his wife of 22 years, Pepper Greene, or to
Hamilton’s other male partner, Woody Glenn.

“Anyone
who’s watching is getting an eyeful,” says
Chvany, who has been involved in the polyamorous
relationship for nine years. “We are out to
people in our neighborhood. In effect, Alan has three
partners, and we are all his family.”

The quartet are
among an unknown number of people in the gay and lesbian
population who are in a relationship with more than one
partner, something of a queer version of HBO’s
new hit drama series Big Love, in which one man
has three wives who all live on the same property and
vie for his time and attention. As Big Love brings
the issue of polygamy back into the American conversation,
polyamorous relationships among gay people (which have
long existed) have also become the subject of much
debate. “I’m certainly aware that there are
people out there who would try and turn us into a
negative example of ‘Look where things are
going,’ ” Chvany acknowledges.

It’s a
prospect that worries San Diego trio Dale Dubach, Chaz
Weathers, and John Osgood. They hope their
relationship and others like it—gay or
straight—won’t be used by same-sex marriage
opponents to cloud the issue. “We’re as
married as we could be,” Weathers says. “We
all have rings and are committed to each other and
have a day that we celebrate our anniversary. Dale and
I had a ceremony years ago, but we’ve never had a
ceremony for the three of us. That would just open such a
can of worms.”

Indeed, polyamory
has already become part of the “slippery
slope” argument commonly used by the far right.
“The push for the legalization of homosexual
marriage is not only going to normalize what has long been
known to be sexual perversion and a disease-ridden
lifestyle, but it will open up the floodgates to an
effort to legalize polygamy and polyamory [group
marriages],” reads a recent article posted on the Web
site of the antigay Christian group Traditional Values
Coalition.

“There is
a feeling of not wanting to allow the right wing to change
the subject from the question that is really being
asked, which is, What reason does the government have
for denying committed same-sex couples the legal
commitment of marriage?” says Evan Wolfson, executive
director of Freedom to Marry, which seeks equal
marriage rights for same-sex couples. “Because
the Right doesn’t have the answer to that question,
they are eager to change the subject.”

While there are
grassroots efforts by straight people to legalize
polygamy, there has been no noteworthy effort by LGBT
activists to bring polyamory into the fight for
marriage equality. “We’ve been very involved
in work for same-sex marriage rights,” says Chvany.
“Even if we aren’t interested in using
them ourselves, they are important to our community as
a whole and to people we care about.”

Indeed, the other
gay polyamorous families interviewed for this story
agreed. It’s hard enough fighting for acceptance from
family members and friends, they say, without having
to ask for legal recognition from the government. The
families interviewed for this story all live under the
same roof, and most share the same bed. They commingle their
finances, own property together, and have given each
other power of attorney in most cases. Most live
openly in their communities, but there are some people
in the relationships who have avoided telling their families
that they have more than one partner.

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