Dear Mischa and Leon,
I have a strange question for you... What are the poly community's thoughts on medical insurance? I can't put both my partners on my medical insurance because they are married to each other and because I can't have more then one partner on it anyway (and because people at my job don't know that I have two partners.) I find this atrocious and horribly unjust, for obvious reasons. Do you guys do parades or outreach events that would bring awareness of our existence in the vanilla community, besides our internal meet and greet events like Poly Cocktails? What kind of political or community issues does the poly community of NY address? What are your thoughts on the whole issue of us staying below the radar? Poly families have no recognition by society? All that stuff? What the official response vs. your thoughts?
This is a very unusual question, so we brought out one of our big guns to help answer it. This response is from Diana Adams, who is both a founding member of Open Love NY and a co-host of Poly Cocktails:
“I'm an attorney and political activist working to increase awareness about nontraditional family forms, and support couples who may choose not to marry or polyamorous families. Marriage between two people garners over 1,000 different rights and privileges, and it’s the primary way that our government recognizes and supports families, as with the way that you can provide your spouse with health insurance and get immigration benefits. The premise of the same-sex marriage movement was that marriage confers so many rights that to leave gay folks out is discrimination. But now we've just moved the line of discrimination back to marital status. Given that fewer than 50% of American adults are married, that’s a majority who are left out.
The polyamory community is diverse and does not have one monolithic political stance on what we should do about this. Open Love NY does not have a particular stance, but is one of many groups raising awareness about relationship options like polyamory. If you want to be raising political awareness, share that perspective with the group and help make it happen.
My opinion is that rather than fit in more romantic partners to get employer-funded health care, that we should be separating these benefits from whether you’re in a romantic relationship that’s approved by the government.
To get updates on this ongoing cultural conversation with opportunities to get involved, I invite you to join my monthly email list and follow me on Facebook or Twitter at: www.DianaAdamsLaw.net.”
So there you have it, and I agree that the discriminatory treatment is unjust. But as Diana suggests, in the bigger picture the fight may not be about "getting poly rights" but rather opening up rights to everyone, regardless of marital status or romantic involvement. That's going to take time to parse out all the levels of understanding on the issue before we see any real progress in the law.
The first step is coming out of the shadows and proving that this viewpoint is even relevant in terms of numbers. Change is never going to happen if the cause is viewed as one affecting an insignificant number of people. That's what Open Love NY is on the forefront of doing - getting the word out through media and growing our community, building an army, if you will. Only by raising the visibility of the issue will we ever hope to effect change.
In the past six months we've been on ABC-TV's The View and Dan Savage's radio show, plus Nerve.com and now Rolling Stone Magazine. I'd say we are officially "over the radar" but we need to do more. This month we might see a story in the Huffington Post and perhaps PIX 11 News. We need people to step up and share their poly stories to keep feeding the pipeline to the media, creating a steady drumbeat of our concerns and why our way of life works for us.
Before I turn it over to Leon, I want to share this quote that always inspires me as an activist and reminds me that nothing comes easy:
"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." - Frederick Douglass, 1857
Diana is one of our community leaders helping to make poly acceptance (and all the legal rights and social recognition that comes along with it) a reality. My hat goes off to her and all the Open Love NY volunteers, organizers, and supporters.
Right now, I don't know there's a workable solution for your insurance problem, simply because most applicable laws are behind the times and don't recognize the validity of familial relationships beyond nuclear/marital ones. This can and will change over time, but only when more public presence and support arrives for modern, nontraditional relationships. The best you could probably hope for at this point is to cover the more accident-prone, or the one who has less access to coverage via other means (but reassure the other this doesn't mean you're intending to slight or undervalue your relationship with them)!
Open Love NY as an organization does participate in parades and rallies, and in addition to the great media publicity we've had lately as per Mischa's comments and monthly events we sponsor (Poly Cocktails each second Monday, Discussion Group each fourth Tuesday), we also have our website (which is about to undergo an exciting upgrade!), Facebook group, Google Group mailing list, and the advice column you're reading right now. We're doing what we can as an organization to provide both education to non-poly people, and resources for poly people and allies.
What we can't do as an organization is take the steps that you as our readers, question writers, and individuals of all kinds can: make change happen yourselves. If you can, be more "out" about your own situation. One of the best ways to change peoples' opinions on topics is to show them that the people they're potentially judging or misunderstanding, aren't mythical people elsewhere, but their own friends, families, coworkers, neighbors, and so on. If you can't come clean about your own situation, then be more vocal in your conversations with others about your feelings on those topics. You don't need to out yourself to have strong opinions on what you feel is "right". Staying below the radar might feel safe, but your invisibility doesn't help when you want to change the status quo.
I'll close by joining the quote bandwagon with one of my favorites, from Moms Mabley: "If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got."