Polyamory: When One Spouse Isn't Enough

Some see polyamorous marriage as the new civil rights movement.

ByABC News
June 18, 2009, 10:22 AM

June 18, 2009— -- She has a birth name but calls herself "Ashara Love," because most people don't understand her unconventional family.

Love, a 51-year-old insurance underwriter from California, has been married to her husband "Cougar" for a decade, but they've had numerous sexual triads, which they insist have enriched their relationship.

"I am living my life partially hidden and partially open," said Love, whose friends and boss know about her sexuality, but her parents do not.

"Many of us adopt another name because it provides us with protection from being outed," she said. "We are the next generation after the gay and transgender communities."

As polyamorists, the couple belongs to a small group that believes people have the right to form their own complex relationships with multiple partners. The most vocal want the right to marry -- as a cluster.

"We have rights to love any way we want unless we are harming other people," said Love. "Like the air we breathe, we have a right to be and do and say whatever is our full expression, and this to me is a civil right."

The polyamory movement grew out of the communes of the 1960s and the swingers of the 1970s, but today, with gay marriage legal in six states, some, such as Love, say their cause should be next.

This nascent and as yet small effort to legalize group marriage is likely to enrage conservative religious groups that upheld Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage. In hard-hitting ads, those groups charged that allowing gay marriage would open the door to all kinds of nontraditional relationships, including polygamists.

"These group marriage people are certainly fringe but clearly growing," said Glenn Stanton, director of family formation studies at Focus on the Family.

"Google the word 'polyamory' and see how many groups there are," he told ABCNews.com. "And look at their rhetoric. It is word-for-word what same-sex marriage advocates employ in their effort to redefine marriage. Is it really a good idea to open this Pandora's box?"

But Love said polyamory is more about the spiritual and emotional connection between partners -- who in her group are faithful -- and not just about sex.

The couple belongs to the group Loving More, which publishes a magazine and holds conventions and retreats for the like-minded.

Founded in 1986, the organization has more than 15,000 on its global mailing list and 3,000 active members.

"Now we have the Internet and we can find each other," said Love. "We are not odd fish in the community we live in."

But too often, polyamory gets a bad name.

Just this month, investigators in the 2006 unsolved murder of prominent Washington, D.C., attorney Robert Wone, say the three primary suspects -- all gay male professionals -- lived in a polyamorous relationship.

Police affidavits speculate that Wone was "restrained, incapacitated and sexually assaulted" before his death, then the trio tampered with the crime scene to cover it up.

Last November, Wone's widow, Katherine, filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit against housemates Joe Price, Victor Zaborsky and Dylan Ward, who were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy in connection with the fatal stabbing.

But polys, as they call themselves, say lurid crimes like the Wone case do not define their lifestyles, which are as varied as their partners and personal arrangements.

Like Love, Robin Trask of Loveland, Colo., struggled with monogamous dating relationships in high school.

"My mother lived in Colorado and my father was in Texas, so I had a boyfriend in each place," Trask, the executive director of Loving More, told ABCNews.com.