Bigger Love | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Cover Story

Bigger Love

UT polyamorists: One's not enough

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Who’s on Our Side?
The Smiths/Joneses drafted documents with an attorney for the transfer of property and guardianship in the event of a death, since they want the children to stay in the home they’ve created rather than be placed with extended family. They report, however, that it was tough to find willing legal professionals.

One who does assist society’s fringe types is Midvale attorney Andrew McCullough, who believes polyamorists enjoy broad protections stemming from the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas. “It basically tells government to stay out of our bedrooms,” says McCullough, who opines that if kids aren’t subjected to behavior any more salacious than what they’d see in the typical home, “it shouldn’t matter how many ‘parents’ they have.”

For peer support, the Smiths/Joneses are involved with the Utah Polyamory Society, which maintains a Listserv at groups.yahoo.com/group/UtahPolyamorySociety/ for more than 500 subscribers. The society holds meetings twice a month and occasional socials for 10 to 100 attendees, geared to Utahns seeking encouragement and advice in creating successful polyamorous unions.

This is the 16th year that “UPS” has hosted a booth at Salt Lake City’s Pride Festival, but some Pride organizers and attendees feel that any form of nonmonogamy detracts from their efforts to establish the social acceptance of long-term, same-sex, monogamous couplings. Polyamorists, in general, though, are received favorably by Utah’s queer community, since both find common cause opposing state and national “defense of marriage” legislation, which narrowly defines marriage as an arrangement between only one man and only one woman.

The society’s lead moderator, Mary, is “partially out” about her status. She explains, “At work, they just know I share a house with another family, share parenting and make life decisions together.” She’s witnessed, however, numerous others who’ve had it much rougher trying to justify their lifestyle if it becomes known to an ex, a family member or a boss.

Oddly, one work environment that appears more accepting of polyamory than others is the military. Two active-duty military members of the Utah Polyamory Society (who want to remain anonymous for extended family reasons) don’t feel any hostility from their fully informed commanders and peers but regret that their additional partners aren’t eligible for family privileges and benefits.

Why We Do It
My own polyamorous journey began seven years ago, when I discovered that two married friends had an open marriage. Since my resignation from the LDS Church and exit from 30 years of monogamy, I’d not yet found that new, one-and-only lady, but neither was I financially or emotionally ready for a committed relationship. The discovery of my friend’s situation (I’d already thought she was attractive, and when I saw her husband openly kissing another woman at a party, I just had to ask) allowed us to go beyond simple friendship. While giving me a sexual outlet, it gave her more relationship variety—common motivations to shift out of monogamy. Since then, I’ve had other relationships of short and long duration with women, all of whom at least knew about any others, and I’m now four years into a live-in “poly/mono” relationship, so named because I’m the one who desires outside love interests while my primary partner currently does not.

While the Smiths-Joneses quad acted on their polyamorous inclinations early on, the Salt Lake City triad of Jake and Anna, both 48, and their “other love,” Vanessa, 46, adopted the lifestyle later in life, after they’d been fully immersed in Latter-day Saint life. (They’ve requested pseudonyms for the article only to avoid embarrassment to their extended family of highly conservative Mormons.)

All were born into the faith, and Jake and Anna were high-school sweethearts who married right after his mission. They had four children, and Jake was teaching adult Sunday School right up until a crisis of faith developed for them in the ’90s, initiated by the LDS Church’s involvement in the Mark Hofmann forgery.

As they worked their way out of Mormonism, the couple made another curious discovery: They were both attracted to the same woman. Anna had, as a faithful Latter-day Saint, kept bisexual fantasies tightly suppressed but, after she experimented with one woman, the couple allowed themselves a three-way intimacy with another friend. “The experience was healing on many levels,” Jake reports, and it was the first of several interpersonal experiments.

Even though their first polyamorous relationship didn’t endure, Jake and Anna were amazed by the amount of love that could be generated among three people. They then sought out more sexual intimacies involving both female and male partners for Anna. “But it wasn’t about just having a sexual experience,” Anna explains. “These were people we loved.” While they never got involved in swinging, they did have a few quick hook-ups, but in most cases, sex has always come as a natural extension of deep friendship.

Jake summarizes an essential element: “When you lose the jealousy, you can really have a lot of fun, and if you love the people you’re with, it can be unbelievable.” Anna adds that she and all her partners maintain satisfying friendships even if sex is no longer an element, as polyamory can be platonic, too.

Vanessa, also a former Mormon with four children, came into their lives in 2003, and she moved in with them in 2006. While Jake and Anna’s relationship with Vanessa has morphed over time and is no longer a sexual one, she continues to live with them, and it’s readily apparent that she’s a fully integrated, snuggle-buddy member of the clan. Jake and Anna have a network of friends with whom “benefit sharing” continues even if some partners live in other states and intimate trysts with other locals happen only rarely.

Most of the children are supportive of their parents’ lifestyle—their home, in fact, became a sort of a magnet for teenagers who feel at ease around these laid-back adults who are visibly comfortable with their lifestyle and try to make it nonthreatening for others. But one of Vanessa’s children had a harder time with her mother’s unconventionality and the stigmatizing disapproval that came from the girl’s peers. After Jack and Anna’s oldest son divorced, his ex-wife obtained a court order that prevented him from bringing his daughter to Jack and Anna’s home, due to Grandma’s and Grandpa’s unconventional lifestyle.

Vanessa is open about her bisexuality, but Anna is leery of too much exposure and public displays of affection with others. She’s not shy, however, about listing the benefits she’s accrued on her polyamorous journey: “Coming into who I really am while breaking out of what my parents and my bishop thought I should be and doing what moves me has been awesome. I love loving how I love. I love being how I am. I think I’m one of the luckiest women in the world, and I’m surrounded by intelligent, spiritual, loving people.”

All are hopeful that society will continue to become more accepting of unconventional lifestyles. Jake philosophizes, “I think the day will come when everybody will be living their dreams full-on, all the time, and without reservation.”