Lectures on Love: The Ethics of Monogamy and Polygamy


On Thursday, January 19, the Faculty of Arts hosted the fourth lecture in their “Lectures on Love” series. Presented by Dr. Doug Al-Maini, Ph.D., the lecture was entitled “The Ethics of Monogamy and Polygamy.”

The lecture began with a vocabulary lesson, outlining the various terms defining different types of non-monogamous relationships. Some key terms include: Polygamy, concurrent marriages to multiple people; Restrictive polygamy, a form of polygamy in which some members of the group are allowed multiple marriages and others are not; Polyfidelity, a form of polygamy in which all members of a group are married to each other equally, and Polyamory, concurrent multiple relationships, but not necessarily marriages.

The first argument against polygamy hinges on polygamous relationships being oppressive to female autonomy. While this argument may be true of restrictive polygamous relationships, if everyone is free to date and/or marry who they please, this argument does not hold much weight. If the relationship is not oppressive, such as in consensual open polygamy, polyfidelity, or polyamory, then this argument fails. Furthermore, monogamous relationships are not exempt from threatening female autonomy – or being oppressive, so this is not an issue exclusive to non-monogamous relationships.

The second argument states that non-monogamous relationships should be prohibited if there is a power imbalance or inequality between the partners. The answer to this argument is similar to the female oppression argument. Only certain types of relationships such as restrictive polygamy have these imbalances. Monogamous relationships can have power imbalances as well, making this a weak argument.

Another argument against non-monogamous relationships is that by marrying someone, you are choosing that one person to honour and cherish, and honouring other people diminishes your capacity to honour and cherish each person. However, this argument presents love as something that is finite and quantifiable. Anyone who has had multiple children, or even owned a dog, will tell you that this is not the case. While the amount of time you spend with each partner may vary, if the relationship is open, each partner should be able to spend time with their other partners as well. If you are in a polyfidelous or polyamorous situation, the total amount of love is increased anyway, as each person is honouring and cherishing one another.

Our political ideologies also play into this debate. We live in a liberal democracy, and in Western culture we fiercely value our freedom of choice. If choice is such an important aspect of our society, shouldn’t we be free to define our marriages and relationships the way we see fit? Non-monogamous relationships allow for more choice. In fact, I would venture that our views of monogamy are similar to our views of heterosexual versus homosexual relationships

50 years ago. The legislation defining who we are allowed to marry is determined by values of society and the current government in power.

As someone in a bisexual, polyamorous relationship, I believe non-monogamous marriages should (and will) be legalized in the future. It is unrealistic to believe that one person can meet all of your needs for the rest of your life. Being able to pool economic resources will be an asset as we enter unpaid internships, and try to start paying off our student loans. Having more partners in a relationship means more people to pick kids up at school, or volunteer to take the dog for a walk on a cold winter morning. As long as the relationship is fully consensual, and communication is clear, this seems like a logical next step for marriage equality.