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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?

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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