Mr. and Mrs. and Mrs...or Whatever

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Earlier this month, Maine became the fifth state-and the fourth in New England-to legalize same-sex "marriage". Five thousand miles away in Hawaii, Sasha and Janet Lessin are hoping to build on New England's example.

If they are successful, no one can seriously claim to be surprised.

Writer Abby Ellin described how the Lessins gathered with friends and held what was dubbed a "commitment ceremony." The "commitment" being celebrated wasn't a renewal of their marriage vows-it was the incorporation of a third party, "Shivaya," into their so-called "triad."

That's the word the Lessins and other advocates of "polyamory" call a relationship between three people. Unlike bigamy and polygamy, in which one man has multiple wives, in a "triad," each party is a "spouse" to each of the other parties. In the Lessins' case, "Shivaya" is both Sasha's and Janet's "husband" and vice-versa. Or whatever.

In a saner, more sensible time, antics like those of the Lessins would be shocking. But in case you haven't noticed, we are not living in sensible times. The acceptance of same-sex "marriage" has been made possible by a profound shift in our understanding of marriage. We no longer see marriage as an institution defined by someone and something other than the couple, like tradition, religion and even biology.

Instead, marriage is the product of the couple's understanding of their relationship. It's the product of certain feelings and willingness to make a public commitment to another person. If these are present, the reasoning goes, denying people the right to marry because they "happen" to be of the same sex is arbitrary and unjust.

The problem, as the Lessins and others have noted, is that, given this reasoning, denying them the right to marry of the basis of the number of partners is also arbitrary and unjust. The only difference between them and similarly-situated same-sex couples is Americans' discomfort with the idea.

And as courts never fail to tell us, one man's discomfort is another man's irrational prejudice. Besides, in a culture like ours, attitudes can change quickly. If I had told you in 1984 that, by 2009, same-sex "marriage" would be legal, would you have believed me?

That's why advocates of polyamory emphasize their "commitment" to the other members of the "triads." The more comfortable people become with these kinds of arrangements, the closer people like the Lessins come to their stated goal: that is, in their words, being able to "walk down the street hand in hand in hand in hand" and also enjoying "all those survivor and visitation rights and tax breaks and everything like that . . ."

Of course, many advocates of same-sex "marriage" insist that this can't happen. But if feelings and commitment define a marriage, what's to stop "triads" from being the "next frontier of nuptials?" Certainly not logical consistency.

As Sasha, Janet, and Shivaya remind us, the reasoning that made same-sex "marriage" possible goes hand in hand in hand with all sorts of arrangements.