How Polyamorists and Polygamists Are Challenging Family Norms
Fifteen years ago, when Rich Austin was in his early forties, he and his wife watched the HBO show Big Love, about a polygamous family of fundamentalist Mormons in Utah. “I kind of got hooked on it,” Rich told me. “I had a string of broken relationships, so I was joking, ‘Well, maybe if I was a polygamist, I wouldn’t have that problem.’ ” He had a daughter, from a fling a few years earlier, whom the couple were raising together. They were swingers, but Rich wanted more than unattached sex, and broached the subject of polygamy with his wife. The marriage soon broke up.
In 2008, Rich met Angela Hinkley, and soon told her how much he liked the show. “I felt I had to have Angela on board from the start,” he said. They got engaged, and, around the time Angela became pregnant, they started looking for another woman to join them. Online, they met a nineteen-year-old, Brandy Goldie, and after months of chatting she visited them at their home, near Milwaukee. Then she stopped communicating; her mother temporarily thwarted her plans to enter a polygamous union, but, six months later, Brandy called Rich and said, “If I asked to come back, would you ever take me back?” He said, “In a heartbeat.”
When Brandy became pregnant, she realized that the arrangement was now permanent, and was scared. She became emotionally distant, and Rich started to realize what he had taken on. He was working odd jobs, Angela worked part time, and Brandy was looking for a job. A Navy veteran, Rich drew disability payments, but for a while the whole family was subsisting on about twenty-eight thousand dollars a year.
Later that year, Rich and Angela married. Brandy was a bridesmaid. The next year, in an online forum, they saw a post from a woman in her early thirties named Julie Halcomb that said, “I’m a single mom, I’ve got a two-year-old daughter, and I’d like to learn more.” Rich wrote, “If you want to know more, ask my wives.” Angela had opposed adding a third wife, but when she got off her first call with Julie she said, “O.K., when is she moving in?” Julie visited, mostly to make sure that the kids would get along, and joined the household permanently a week later.
Before getting married, Rich and Angela converted to Mormonism. Julie, who also began the conversion process, recalled, “We were talking about how we’re going to set the family up, and the early Mormons already had a road map.” But the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has forbidden polygamy since 1904, and the practice endures only among originalist communities, including the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS). So Rich began telling people that Brandy was a cousin who had become pregnant by accident. “I didn’t like having to deny who I was, what type of relationship I was in,” Brandy told me. When Julie started writing a blog about their life, Rich was excommunicated.
“I’ve got a wedding invitation on the way from a friend who’s transitioning from female to male. I’ve got classmates that came out almost twenty years ago. They’ve been lucky enough to get married. I wish people would be as accepting with us as we try to be of everyone else.” — Julie Austin
Their living arrangements attracted other unwelcome attention. Neighbors called the police, and Child Protective Services interviewed the children. Since there was only one marriage certificate, the police couldn’t file bigamy charges. “They said, ‘We don’t like it, but there’s nothing we can do,’ ” Julie recalled. “But we had them at our door constantly. One of the kids would have an accident at school — we’d have them there again. They were constantly trying to find signs of abuse.” After six years, the family moved to Medford, a small town in northern Wisconsin, where they could afford a house that accommodated them all and where social services seemed to accept their setup.
At the family’s largest, Rich had four wives, but when I met him, a couple of years ago, he and Angela were divorcing, and another woman, April, had come and gone. Rich, Brandy, and Julie were living with their kids — six, including Rich’s and Julie’s from earlier relationships — and saw Angela’s two every other weekend. The children, who now number seven, ranging in age from one to twenty, view one another as full siblings. “We almost need a chart to figure out which kid’s which some days,” Rich said. Julie laughed. “We already told him that, if he wants to add another wife, Brandy and I have to find her,” she said. “It’s not just going to be someone who Mr. Eternal Hope thinks might work. We’re the ones that have to live with her all the time.”
The Austins would like one day to enjoy the legal benefits that married couples take for granted. Brandy and Julie take heart from the success of the gay-marriage movement. “I’ve got a wedding invitation on the way from a friend who’s transitioning from female to male,” Julie said. “I’ve got classmates that came out almost twenty years ago. They’ve been lucky enough to get married. I wish people would be as accepting with us as we try to be of everyone else.”
As many as sixty thousand people in the United States practice polygamy, including Hmong Americans, Muslims of various ethnicities, and members of the Pan-African Ausar Auset Society. But polygamists face innumerable legal obstacles, affecting such matters as inheritance, hospital visits, and parentage rights. If wives apply for benefits as single parents, they are lying, and may be committing welfare fraud; but if they file joint tax returns they are breaking the law. Members of Julie’s family have made it clear that, if she dies, they will demand custody of the daughter from her first marriage. “That would be very sad for her,” Julie said. “She’s lived here since she was two.”
Polygamists have become more vocal about achieving legal rights since the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide, in 2015. So has another group: polyamorists, whose lobbying runs in parallel but with scant overlap. Unlike polygamy, which is usually religiously motivated and typically involves a man with multiple wives who do not have an erotic relationship to one another, polyamory tends to be based on utopian ideas of sexual liberty and may involve a broad range of configurations. In the end, however, the real difference is what term fits people’s paradigms; as with much of identity politics, affiliations are self-determined. In the popular imagination, polygamists are presumed to be right-wing misogynists and polyamorists to be decadent left-wingers, but the two groups share goals and, often, ways of life. In the years I’ve spent talking to members of both communities, I have found that it is usually the polygamists who are more cognizant of common cause. “But people can’t seem to unite under one platform,” Rich said.
In 2015, when the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges established same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote a dissent arguing that, if a system denying marriage to gay and lesbian couples represented an assault on their constitutional rights, existing marriage restrictions must similarly “disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships.” Roberts continued, “Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective ‘two’ in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not.” He went on to emphasize that the prevalence of polygamy throughout history made it less of a radical leap than same-sex marriage.
Many gay activists, such as Evan Wolfson, who founded Freedom to Marry, dismiss comparisons between poly marriage and same-sex marriage as a “scare tactic.” But legal scholars take the argument seriously. In an anti-poly paper in the University of Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, John O. Hayward wrote, “Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, the only remaining marital frontier — at least for the Judeo-Christian nations of the West — is polygamy.” Another law professor, Jack B. Harrison, wrote that state bans against plural marriage were sure to be challenged, and that anyone who wanted to maintain them would have to “develop a rationale for them, albeit post hoc, that is not rooted in majoritarian morality and animus.”
“Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective ‘two’ in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not.” — Chief Justice John Roberts
This is no longer merely a theoretical matter. In February, 2020, the Utah legislature passed a so-called Bigamy Bill, decriminalizing the offense by downgrading it from a felony to a misdemeanor. In June, Somerville, Massachusetts, passed an ordinance allowing groups of three or more people who “consider themselves to be a family” to be recognized as domestic partners. Last week, the neighboring town of Cambridge followed suit, passing a broader ordinance recognizing multi-partner relationships. The law has proceeded even more rapidly in recognizing that it is possible for a child to have more than two legal parents. In 2017, the Uniform Law Commission, an association that enables states to harmonize their laws, drafted a new Uniform Parentage Act, one provision of which facilitates multiple-parent recognition. Versions of the provision have passed in California, Washington, Maine, Vermont, and Delaware, and it is under consideration in several other states. Courts in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Texas, Arizona, and Louisiana have also supported the idea of third parents. American conservatism has long mourned the proliferation of single parents, but, if two parents are better than one, why are three parents worse?
Douglas NeJaime, a professor at Yale Law School who was involved in the drafting of the new parentage act, told me that the impetus for it was that many state laws defining family in binary, opposite-sex terms would be invalidated by Obergefell. “If parentage doesn’t turn on gender or biology but on the parent-child bond, then laws that have limited it by number no longer seem logical,” he said. The trend toward multiple-parent recognition is not restricted to blue states. “Those of us who are trying to push the legislation understand the LGBT-family issue as part of a broader universe in which people’s family arrangements should be respected,” NeJaime said. “As things stand now, once you’re a parent you get everything, and if you’re a nonparent you get practically nothing. The folks on the committee understood the importance of protecting parental relationships, especially when they were not biologically related to the child. So it deliberately applies to unmarried people who aren’t LGBT.”
Much of the drafting of the law was done by Courtney Joslin, a law professor at U.C. Davis who was previously a litigator at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. She told me that its language reflects “case law in favor of allowing that a particular child has more than two legal parents. It wasn’t creating a trend — it was reflecting an emerging trend.” She went on, “If, for example, three people intend to have a child together and then parent together for an extended period of time, the court could find that all three should be recognized as parents.” If the court is adjudicating multiple parents, how can it deny multiple-relationship recognition? How can non-recognition not be held to harm children? “The law should allow for the recognition of actual functional adult familial relationships, even if the parties have not formalized those relationships,” Joslin said.
Three parents are less shocking than three partners — when President Obama “evolved” on gay marriage, he cited the injustice encountered by his daughters’ friends who had gay parents — but one flows from the other, and marriage rights often further the inclusion they aim to reflect. For all the hate mail and burning crosses that Mildred and Richard Loving had to endure, the legalization of interracial marriage did much to moderate American racism. Gay marriage has increased acceptance of same-sex couples.
Queer theorists have complained that Obergefell valorizes the family values associated with monogamous marriage and thereby demeans people who resist those values. But others see it as the first step toward more radical change. “Obergefell is a veritable encomium for marriage as both a central human right and a fundamental constitutional right,” Joseph J. Fischel, an associate professor of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale, has written. “We, as an LGBT movement, should be ethically committed to endorsing poly relations and other experiments in intimacy.” He argues for “relational autonomy” without regard for “gender, numerosity, or affective attachment.”
The campaigns of both polygamists and polyamorists to have their unions recognized point to the larger questions that swarm around marriage battles: what are the government’s interests in marriage and family, and why does a bureaucratic system sustain such a relentless focus on who has sexual relationships with whom? Surveys in the past decade have consistently found that four to five per cent of American adults — more than ten million people — already practice some form of consensual nonmonogamy, and the true number, given people’s reticence about stigmatized behaviors, is almost certainly higher.
“Were [relational autonomy] enshrined into liberal law […] states would support and route benefits and obligations through citizens’ chosen intimate arrangements, irrespective of gender, numerosity, or affective attachment.” — Joseph Fischel
Consensual nonmonogamy is hardly a new invention. Jewish polygamy peppers the Old Testament, even if the marriages tend not to be portrayed in positive terms; the Hebrew word tzarah means both “second wife” and “trouble.” Today, polygyny — the subset of polygamy that involves one man and multiple women — enjoys legal status or general acceptance in more than seventy countries. (Its rarer obverse, polyandry, persists in certain communities in Nepal, Tibet, India, and Sri Lanka.) In the West, champions of polyamory have included Mary Wollstonecraft, George Sand, Havelock Ellis, and Bertrand Russell. Still, a particular ethos, rooted in Christian, European values, has created a presumption that monogamy is superior to all other structures. Immanuel Kant saw marriage as emblematic of Enlightenment ideals, claiming that it was egalitarian, because spouses assigned ownership of their sexual organs to each other.
The Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary added the word “polyamory” as recently as 2006, and the well-known relationship therapist Esther Perel observes that traditional monogamy is on the wane and perhaps increasingly untenable. “Many social norms don’t fit human nature,” she told me. “For most of history, monogamy was one person for life. At this point, monogamy is one person at a time. The first freedom was that we can actually, finally have sex with other people before we are together. Now we want to have that freedom while we are together. The conversation about consensual nonmonogamy today is the conversation about virginity sixty years ago. Or the conversation about divorce twenty years before that.”
Andy Izenson, Roo Khan, Cal T., and Aida Manduley envisaged creating a utopian place where queer, trans, and polyamorous people could feel safe and welcome. For years, they had told one another stories about the property they would build. At the end of 2017, when Andy and Roo lost their lease, in Brooklyn, the time had come; Cal, who had been living in New Hampshire, was ready to move in, and Aida, a psychotherapist in Boston, planned to relocate as soon as possible. They found a house with fourteen acres and some outbuildings in Ulster Park, on the Hudson. They called their ménage the Rêve.
When I visited, last year, everything seemed to be a work in progress. Unfinished projects around the house gave a feeling of relaxed chaos. Andy, wearing a loose white dress, offered me drinks and snacks. Andy is Jewish; Aida is Puerto Rican; Roo is mixed race and Muslim; Cal is Black and mixed race. Their ethnic and religious backgrounds have prepared them for the marginalization they have experienced as polyamorists.
Like the others, Andy goes by the pronoun “they” and described themself as “gender ambivalent.” A lawyer in their early thirties, they spoke in long, hyperactive paragraphs, their eyes wide with passionate focus. Their pronoun preference, however, is mild. “If you’re saying a sentence about me, you can use whatever pronoun you want,” they said. “They’re all manifestations of the incomplete power of language to translate human experience into sound. We’re all genderqueer. ‘Polyamorous’ is a close enough description of my practices in the same way as ‘trans-masculine’ is a close enough description of my gender.”
Roo said, “I like the word ‘caucus.’ We caucus with polyamorists, you caucus with trans-masculine folk, I caucus with trans-feminine folk. I’m independent from that, but I’m on your side.” There are various romantic configurations among the four partners, but only Andy is in a romantic relationship with all three of the others. In addition, they all have “comets” — lovers from outside the group who blaze through and then are gone. “It’s a more stable structure with more people,” Andy said.
“The conversation about consensual nonmonogamy today is the conversation about virginity sixty years ago. Or the conversation about divorce twenty years before that.” — Esther Perel
The members of the Rêve have thought deeply about what many people characterize as divided love. Andy explained, “When you light a candle with another candle, your first candle is not less on fire.” (Shelley, in 1821, wrote much the same: “True love has this, different from gold and clay, / That to divide is not to take away.”) Andy said that the idea was not “a sexy orgy bonanza” but a conscious rejection of two things: first, “dividing relationships into two categories — one category being people with whom you have sex and the other category being people with whom you don’t have sex,” and, second, “saying that those categories are defined by some deeply operative distinction that changes the fundamental nature of a relationship.” Polyamory, Andy acknowledged, is hard. “If it were easy, everyone would be doing it,” they added ruefully. The key was to “deal with the things that are abundant from a place of abundance and with the things that are actually scarce from a place of compassion and generosity.”
The four of them saw the Rêve as a home to a core of residents and as a sanctuary for a wider group. The house has room for nine — “more if people are willing to cuddle,” Andy added. At present, some fifteen occupants can arrive at the house at any time and stay as long as they like. “As we build more structures, as we have more beds, we can have more people living here full time,” they went on. “We want to be able to say, This is what we’re doing for the rest of our lives, so, if you aren’t so stressed about bathroom proximity but you want to fuck a little further off into the woods, this is where you can do it.”
In August, 2019, the Rêve held a commitment ceremony, which they called a HearthWarming. Some forty people stayed at the property, mostly in tents. Seventy more came for the day. As part of the service, they pledged themselves to the land as well as to one another. They invited their parents and all the queer people they regard as kinfolk and declared themselves an “intentional family.” They placed the commitments they were making to one another in a hole they had dug, invited everyone else to put commitments in, too, and then filled in the hole and planted a tree. There was no officiant, but there was a chuppah. Roo’s father is Pakistani, and members of his family wore traditional Pakistani wedding outfits and henna.
Andy’s mother was initially dismayed by the idea of the marriage. “I said, ‘I know I’m not really your daughter in the way that you wanted to have a daughter,’” Andy recalled. “‘And I’m not getting married in the way that you envisioned me getting married. But the kind of kid I am is having the kind of commitment ceremony I’m having, and if that’s what you get do you want it?’ And it turns out she kind of did. She helped me pick out a dress.”
Andy grew up in New Hampshire. “It’s not a place I would recommend growing up if you’re trans, for sure,” they said. “I learned when I was young that there was something very wrong with me that nobody would ever understand.” At Skidmore, they studied sociolinguistics. They had their first polyamorous relationship there, in a lesbian triad. “I started meeting more queer and trans people and realizing that it’s not that there’s something broken and weird about me.”
“If you’re saying a sentence about me, you can use whatever pronoun you want. They’re all manifestations of the incomplete power of language to translate human experience into sound.” — Andy Izenson
They went to law school in New York City. “I started encountering the idea that the state tells you about how the world works, what a family looks like, what gender is supposed to be,” they said. “As I was studying, I started to learn that there are discrepancies between the state’s stories and reality.”
That led Andy to think about personal choices. “I had had it in my head, Eventually, I’m going to have to do the grownup thing and find the spouse that I can tolerate and produce children. It’s going to suck. The first thing you realize might be, Oh, I don’t actually have to be a girl. Or, I don’t have to be in a relationship with the one person who provides the completion of my Platonic soul for the rest of my life. Whichever linchpin gets pulled out first, it all comes falling down. And once it’s all fallen down you can say, O.K., I’ve got all these pieces and now I can build something.” Andy gestured at the house and their spouses. “And this is what we’ve built,” they said.
None of them is currently planning to have a child biologically. “But we have discovered that we like having kids around the house,” Andy said.
“For discrete amounts of time,” Roo added.
Andy said, “We want our friends’ kids to know that when they’re a grouchy teen-ager they can go, ‘Screw you, Mom, I’m going to the Rêve,’ and everyone will know that they’re safe here.”
Cal said, “The thing that I wanted was a family. And I didn’t want to get married or have children. And it turns out you can still have a family, even if you’re not getting married and having children.”
The group worked with a financial professional who specializes in nontraditional-family planning to set up the house as a joint tenancy with rights of survivorship, so that if one of them dies their interest reverts to the others. The document also includes prenup-style arrangements for what will happen if any of them decides to leave.
For a long time, Cal worked for a solar company that offers health benefits for one domestic partner, and they put Andy on their insurance because Andy needed it the most. Roo co-owns a small tech worker co-op and gets less generous insurance through that. “It would be convenient if we were all on the same health insurance and didn’t have to find one covered doctor for Roo and one covered doctor for the two of us,” Andy said. “Society has these two categories: families that get recognition from the state and families that don’t. The families that get recognition are the married, monogamous ones, and the ones that don’t are everybody else.”
“True love has this, different from gold and clay,
That to divide is not to take away.” — Percy Bysshe Shelley
The question is: what does marriage mean? “I remember reading the list of eleven hundred and sixty-three federal benefits that marriage gave, and one of them that just stuck out to me was ‘family discounts at national parks,’ ” Roo said. “If the federal government says you’re a family, you get the family discount, but we wouldn’t. It’s fucking everywhere.”
Andy talked about a watershed moment for gay rights, in 1989 — the case of Braschi v. Stahl. Miguel Braschi was being evicted from the rent-controlled apartment he and his partner shared, after the partner died, of AIDS. The landlord contended that the lease was transferrable only to family, and that Braschi wasn’t family. Braschi sued. The judge issued a stunningly progressive ruling saying that family should be based on the reality of daily life — these two men lived together, shared finances, took care of each other — and not on “fictitious legal distinctions,” such as marriage certificates. In Andy’s view, the subsequent campaign for gay marriage represented a missed opportunity. “In 1989, he said that a marriage certificate was a fictitious legal distinction,” Andy said with wonder. “The gay-rights movement took that and said, ‘Actually, no, we’re just going to throw that out and try and get married. That seems like a better plan.’ Imagine if we had taken that idea — that legal protections for family should be granted based on the reality of daily family life and interdependence and networks of mutual care rather than on fictitious legal distinctions — and run with it.”
No family in America has done more for the image and legal standing of polygamists than the Dargers: Joe, his three wives — Alina, Vicki, and Valerie — and their twenty-five children, who live in and around Herriman, Utah. In 2011, they published a book, Love Times Three, about their polygamous life, even though their marriage was a felony at the time, and they tirelessly worked to persuade other polygamous families to come out. Utah’s decision to decriminalize polygamy was in large measure the result of a lobbying campaign that the Dargers had pursued for two decades.
Their house is in a relatively new subdivision, with wide views of nearby mountains. Joe, who works in construction, has built additional houses on the property for two of his adult children. “Anybody else, they’d say it’s a nice estate,” he said, when he showed me around, in June. “If you’re polygamous, it’s a compound. We’ve taken lessons from the LGBTQ community, being very deliberate about language, because how you let people define you has an impact.”
I had previously met Joe, on Zoom, and he had seemed intimidating, with an unkempt beard and a forbidding manner, and he had stuck to facts that I was sure he had recited a hundred times before. But, when we sat together on his back porch, I found him clean-shaven, relaxed, and forthcoming, and his wives greeted me brightly. As we talked there for the better part of a day, children, grandchildren, wives, and others whose identities were never completely clear to me came and went.
“We’ve taken lessons from the LGBTQ community, being very deliberate about language, because how you let people define you has an impact.” — Joe Darger
Joe and his wives come from fundamentalist Mormon families and have known one another from childhood. Some of their grandparents were jailed together for polygamy after the 1953 Short Creek raid, in which state troops arrested an entire community of four hundred people, including more than two hundred and fifty children. Joe’s grandfather, who had aliases ready and hiding places mapped out, spent several years on the run. Vicki and Valerie’s grandfather, however, said, “If the authorities come, we’ll be home. Have the children be neat and comely.” He spent seven years in jail. Like many children of polygamists, the Dargers grew up in an atmosphere of secrecy, quickly learning not to tell their schoolmates about their families.
Joe married his first two wives — Alina and Vicki — on the same day, in 1990. He was twenty, and they were twenty and nineteen, respectively. Alina and Vicki gave birth to their first sons seven months apart, and each nursed both babies. Ten years later, Joe married Vicki’s twin sister, Valerie, after she left another plural marriage. She brought five children with her and had four more with Joe, who has seven children with Alina and nine with Vicki. So far, they have nineteen grandchildren, and Joe’s youngest children are best friends with his oldest grandchildren.
Alina founded a nonprofit, Cherish Families, which provides support to people both living in and leaving polygamy. Valerie works as an advocate there. For a time, Vicki homeschooled many of their children. They all talked about the difficulties of polygamous life. At one point, Vicki suffered severe postpartum depression and was consumed with jealousy toward the other women. “I hated everyone,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to stay here.” Alina recalled fearing that the family might break apart. “All of us have had our turn, whatever we were going through,” she said. Effectively, they were married not only to Joe but also to one another. Valerie said, “We share the kitchen and laundry — and we love each other and we get jealous. I have to manage Alina’s and my relationship, Vicki’s and my relationship, Vicki and Alina’s relationship, all of our relationship to Joe. It’s all the dynamics all the time.”
In 2001, several members of the Darger family contracted a respiratory virus, and Joe and Alina’s five-month-old daughter, Kyra, wasn’t recovering. (It later emerged that she had an undiagnosed heart defect.) When her condition deteriorated, the family called 911 but couldn’t get through. Joe drove to a hospital, with Alina doing CPR in the back seat. By the time they reached the hospital, Kyra had died. “There were a lot of questions,’’ Alina recalled. “And always, accusingly, ‘You’re a fundamentalist.’ ” Authorities opened a criminal case and interrogated all the Dargers. A nurse came to the house, and then identified herself as an employee of Child Protective Services and interviewed each child alone.
The criminal case was closed after a month and the family-services one two months later, but the automatic suspicion that the family encountered marked a turning point for Joe. “I was, like, We’ve lived in this fear and it doesn’t work,” he said. It was an inauspicious time to start campaigning for plural marriage. In the early two-thousands, Tom Green, a fundamentalist Mormon, was convicted of bigamy and child rape; he had married one of his wives when she was thirteen. In 2006, Warren Jeffs, the leader of the FLDS, who had turned the community at Short Creek into his personal fiefdom, was placed on the FBI’s most-wanted list, for arranging marriages between adult followers and underage girls. In 2011, after two trials — on charges including rape, incest, and sexual assault of minors — Jeffs was jailed for life.
“Patriarchal structures are horrifying for women, and that includes monogamy. But if some people choose to live polyamory or polygamy and it works for them, hallelujah, right?” — Shirlee Draper
Supporters of polygamy argue that its illegality makes it easier for men such as Jeffs to operate, because women fear that, if they go to the police, they may lose their children. “When you’re criminalizing people who are otherwise law-abiding, you push that suffering under cover of darkness,” Joe said. But he also believes that polygamists have an obligation to confront what the practice has enabled. “It was important for us — both to win public approval and to regain our own integrity — to say we are responsible for Warren Jeffs, our culture created this,” he said. “There’s problems in every culture. Until we own those problems, we’re not going to be seen as responsible people.” The Dargers note that many of the problems associated with polygamy come from factors that can, but often do not, accompany it: child marriage, assigned marriage, lack of education, and poverty.
Joe acknowledges that the system is patriarchal. “But patriarchy is as prevalent in monogamous households as in polygamous ones, and patriarchy is not misogyny,” he said. He emphasized that in households with many women they have a strong voice: “There’s no major decision we make as a family that we’re not unanimous on. We may not all agree, but we’ll all align.”
Alina said, “Why is it that we’re always ‘brainwashed’ unless we’re choosing the way they think?” It’s true that how we grow up influences what we eat, where we live, whom we socialize with or marry. It determines our taste in clothing, our sense of humor, the value we place on formal education. Freud wrote about the “repetition compulsion,” which drives us continually to re-create our own past, whether we were happy in it or not. Do people in the mainstream argue that polygamists have been brainwashed because mainstream values are alien to polygamous ones? If so, were most people brainwashed to idealize monogamous marriage? Animal models suggest that monogamy is less natural than nonmonogamy. Yet violations of it serve as the basis for terminating otherwise healthy relationships. We are brainwashed into keeping pets, taking daily showers, thinking that it makes sense for nations to have inviolable borders; brainwashed about the morality of abortion, the necessity of medical marijuana. People are brainwashed into Jewish culture or Black culture or French culture.
The Dargers’ book came out a month after Jeffs’s final conviction. Alina, Vicki, and Valerie were terrified. One of Joe’s mothers-in-law, who had been swept up in the Short Creek raid as a child, called in tears, begging the family to halt publication. The publisher phoned Joe just before the book went to press, saying that she would understand if Joe and his wives had second thoughts. Kody Brown, who, with his four wives, had recently become the subject of the reality show Sister Wives, came to Joe in a panic, saying that his family was under investigation and that his lawyers had advised him to move to Nevada. Joe said, “I’m prepared to be arrested.”
After meeting the Dargers and other polygamists in the Salt Lake area, I drove four hours south to Short Creek, Warren Jeffs’s former stronghold, where the most concentrated community of Mormon-style polygamists still resides. It encompasses two towns straddling the state border — Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona — a location that long enabled residents to evade state authorities by crossing back and forth.
The majesty of the landscape — red rocks, red dust, red mountains — is arresting, but as you come into Hildale you pass a white concrete wall surrounding a large, depressing structure that Jeffs built for himself, to house his myriad wives. The town is dotted with other Jeffs buildings, including a gigantic ceremonial hall now converted into a community center; some homes still have the high fences that Jeffs made mandatory.
I walked around town with Donia Jessop and Shirlee Draper, both of whom had been born there in the early seventies and had fled as Jeffs’s reign intensified, only to return later with the aim of rebuilding the community. Shirlee works for Cherish Families, the organization set up by Alina Darger. (Vicki and Valerie Darger are her cousins.) Three years ago, Donia was elected Hildale’s mayor, the first woman — and the first candidate not endorsed by the FLDS — to hold the position. She proudly showed me a park that had just been replanted. The public school, long closed, is now in use again.
“If we purported to be married, that was the felony, but I could call them mistresses — not a problem.” — Joe Darger
Most residents here are or were FLDS members, and were therefore subject not only to polygamous unions but also to arranged ones; the ruling elders might pair them with a stranger, or someone they hated, or someone of a completely different generation. In addition, the property of Church members was held in a trust, so you didn’t own your house or land, and if you left you did so with only your personal effects.
Shirlee and Donia both came of age when Warren Jeffs’s father, Rulon, was the head of the Church. (He was incapacitated by a stroke in 1997, at which point Warren took control; Rulon died in 2002.) Donia managed to preëmpt assigned marriage by marrying her high-school boyfriend; they stayed in the community and had ten children. Shirlee’s experience was very different. When she was twenty-three, her father got a call from Rulon Jeffs, and she was married by five o’clock that afternoon. “Because I was raised in the FLDS, it was just the next step,” she said. “It was, like, Here are these crates of tomatoes that I have to bottle. It’s what you do.” She and her husband had three children in quick succession, one of whom had special needs, as did a fourth child, who was born a few years later. Shirlee hoped to fall in love but didn’t.
Shirlee came to bridle at the entrenched patriarchy of the FLDS, more so as Warren Jeffs’s edicts became increasingly extreme. He banned television, the Internet, the radio, and newspapers. He ordered divorces and remarriages, told people to remove their children from public schools, shut down all medical facilities, and expelled many members from the Church. Shirlee knew that she had to get out — and to leave her husband and the two other wives he had taken after her — but it seemed impossible; she had no bank account, no credit history, and hardly any friends or family outside the community. It took her four years to save enough money, and she packed her and the children’s suitcases over several months to avoid detection. She made it to St. George, Utah, fifty miles away, and set up home there. “Taking off your identity and going where you have no support, no sense of belonging is excruciating,” she said. She didn’t want anyone to know that she was a polygamist’s daughter and a polygamist’s wife; in a sense, she was still in hiding.
Others were fleeing Short Creek, and Shirlee, wanting to help them, studied social work at the University of Utah. (She later also got a master’s degree in public administration.) But she found that most of the organizations offering assistance to those who had fled also campaigned against polygamy and required the women they helped to take a public stance condemning the practice. Shirlee found this exploitative and went to work for the Dargers’ non-profit, which doesn’t seek to change its clients’ beliefs or to persuade them to engage in public self-disclosure.
In 2005, a court froze the assets of the collective that owned the FLDS’s land and buildings. In 2015, Shirlee was appointed to the board of a trust that is gradually redistributing those assets to the people it sees as rightful owners. When she was first approached, she said, “Oh, hell no — my job is to help people get out of Short Creek.” She wanted nothing to do with the place. Still, she believed that those who had built the town deserved ownership. She noticed that most of the residents had left the FLDS but that all the city council members were still part of the Church. She investigated and exposed extensive election fraud, and led a voter-registration drive that helped get Donia Jessop elected. Since then, Shirlee has set up classes for women on topics including self-defense and financial management — and even a dating class for people unacquainted with the etiquette of romance.
Shirlee rejected her experience of polygamy but believes that her misery was caused not by polygamy per se but by patriarchy. Once, after leaving, she was doing daily household chores on her own and felt an unaccustomed loneliness. “Women are quite social pack creatures,” she said. “We need women.” I often heard similar things among the polygamous wives I interviewed. One recalled being a child and seeing a TV spot that showed a depressed woman lying in bed and told viewers that they didn’t have to be alone. Loneliness is epidemic in contemporary life, but, to a child of polygamous parents, the condition seemed implausible. “My life was so full of people that that didn’t even sound like it was a real thing,” the wife said. What struck me most during my interviews in polygamous and polyamorous communities was that these extensive families created a world sufficient for even their most hesitant members.
Shirlee still seemed to struggle with her ambivalence about the system into which she was born. “Patriarchal structures are horrifying for women, and that includes monogamy,” she said, as we walked around the town. “But if some people choose to live polyamory or polygamy and it works for them, hallelujah, right?”
It was a beautiful afternoon, and she pointed up at the great cliffs that surrounded the town. “Growing up around it, I did not appreciate it,” she said. “It was like wallpaper. After I moved away, it was triggering, because this was the place where so much horrible stuff happened. Only now, recently, I’ve started to really appreciate how beautiful it is.”
Joe Darger was confident about the chances for decriminalizing polygamy in Utah. He believed that, in effect, it already had been decriminalized, thanks to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, in 2003, which rendered a slew of state laws about cohabitation unconstitutional. “It was just a matter of getting the public to recognize it,” Joe said. He approached other fundamentalist Mormon families, urging them to become more politically vocal. It was hard, not only because people feared legal consequences but also because the many sects were often hostile to one another and resistant to forming a united front. “Early on, I realized this was going to require a three-prong approach — legislative, legal, and public relations,” Joe said. “The public sways the courts.”
Even before the Dargers’ book was published, Joe had started seeking out receptive Utah politicians. Rather than framing the issue as one of freedom of religion — an argument long rejected by Utah and federal courts — Joe framed it as a free-speech matter. “If we purported to be married, that was the felony, but I could call them mistresses — not a problem,” he told me. “Speech is our fundamental, most important right. Everything arises in language, and your identity is defined by language. If you can’t claim your identity, you grow up under a grave injustice.”
In 2008, he met Deidre Henderson, who was just entering politics. Twelve years later, it was she who, as a state senator, sponsored the successful decriminalization bill. (She recently became the lieutenant governor of Utah.) Another early ally was Connor Boyack, the president of the Libertas Institute, a libertarian-leaning think tank in Salt Lake City. Boyack, a mainstream Mormon with no polygamous forebears, supported the decriminalization of polygamy on libertarian grounds. “As a practicing Mormon, I don’t think God has condoned polygamy, just like I don’t think that it’s okay to be injecting yourself with heroin,” he told me. “But that doesn’t mean that I should be supporting laws that punish other people who choose to do those things. I don’t drink coffee, but I don’t think Starbucks should be prohibited.”
“It took time to recognize that human sexuality is not as square as we make it out to be. Polyamory and even the single life are just as valid as a heteronormative, husband-wife, picket-fence, three-children conversation.” — Derek Kitchen
To Boyack, the fact that the polygamy ban was generally unenforced offered a new way of pursuing the campaign against it. He went on a listening tour, documenting incest that had never been reported, interviewing women who had never testified to heinous abuse because they were afraid their children could be removed, meeting one woman who had never told anyone that she had an autistic child because she feared she would lose him. Henderson held public hearings at which polygamist victims of abuse told similar stories. Boyack said, “When we started talking to legislators in that light — not that this is freedom for polygamists but, rather, that the status quo empowers abusers — we very quickly garnered support.”
Still, the Bigamy Bill faced an uphill battle in Utah’s legislature, which is eighty-six per cent Mormon — although only about sixty-four per cent of the state’s residents are. The LDS Church was thoroughly opposed to polygamy. Boyack believes that mainstream Mormons are embarrassed by the Church’s polygamist past.
The practice began around 1835, when Joseph Smith, the Church’s founder, took a second wife after receiving a revelation about polygamy; he eventually had more than thirty. The 1856 Republican Party platform railed against “those twin relics of barbarism, polygamy and slavery”; the South and the West were both deemed immoral, and a line was drawn between “civilized white society” and that of “backwards savages.” In 1862, Lincoln signed the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. By the late eighteen-eighties, it was clear that polygamy would prevent the Utah Territory from securing statehood. In 1890, the Church’s president, Wilford Woodruff, also prompted by a revelation, issued a manifesto renouncing polygamy — a decision that fundamentalist Mormons dismiss as political expediency. The practice became a felony in Utah in 1935. In 2013, it was temporarily decriminalized — not by the legislature but by a judge, who ruled, in a case brought by Kody Brown, that the state’s anti-bigamy statute was unconstitutional. But three years later the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, because Utah did not actually prosecute polygamists unless there were other crimes, the plaintiffs did not have standing, so the practice became criminal again.
By February, 2020, the Bigamy Bill had the cosponsorship of Derek Kitchen, one of only six Democrats in the Utah State Senate and its only openly gay member. Seven years before, he and his partner had sued the state in a case, Kitchen v. Herbert, that challenged its ban on same-sex marriage. They won, and the case led to the legalization of gay marriage in the Tenth Circuit and influenced the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, eight months later. “The LGBTQ movement and, in particular, a lot of gay men really embrace polyamory,” Kitchen told me. Many Mormon polygamists were more than happy to make common cause with the gay-marriage activists. “A lot of our first allies were LGBTQ, and that was brave of them,” Alina Darger told me. “I’ve come to an appreciation for their struggle, and I am a very firm champion that rights are for every person.”
One detail of Kitchen v. Herbert has remained out of the press. “During that time, my partner and I were involved in a polyamorous dynamic,” Kitchen said. “We feared we would jeopardize our case if people found out about us having a third, a boyfriend. But we were with him for three years.” So Derek Kitchen was in hiding about his sexuality even when he was the most visible gay person in Utah. “It took time to recognize that human sexuality is not as square as we make it out to be,” he went on. “Polyamory and even the single life are just as valid as a heteronormative, husband-wife, picket-fence, three-children conversation. I sponsored the Bigamy Bill because there’s plenty of relationships made up of three and four people. When we were debating it, I asked the primary sponsor and our legal counsel, ‘This also means non-married multiple partners, like a polyamorous situation?’ They said, ‘Didn’t think about it, but yeah.’ ”
Eventually, the mainstream Mormon leadership, whose anti-gay policies had increasingly drawn outrage in Utah, concluded that it was fighting a losing battle on polygamy, too. Last February, when Henderson brought her decriminalization bill to the Utah legislature, Church leaders told legislators to vote their consciences. The bill passed nearly unopposed.
Still, even as polygamy gains legal standing, the institution itself looks harder to sustain. Kitchen notes that it’s neither environmentally nor financially viable, and that it requires inhuman energy. In this same period, Utah has seen an upswing in gay couples having babies. “They’re mostly nonmonogamous,” Kitchen said, adding that he hopes to have kids, but not in the context of a monogamous relationship. Kitchen and his husband, despite having won their case for marriage, are now divorcing. “To be completely frank, I don’t know that I’ll engage in marriage in the future,” he said. “It’s nice to know that I’m no longer prohibited. I think marriage entirely is going to fade away. As people feel empowered to take the question of monogamy into their own hands and iron out the displeasures or unhappiness in their lives, they’ll find polyamory.”
Tamara Pincus is a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., who works with clients who are exploring alternative sexualities, including polyamory, kink, and LGBTQ relationships. She defines herself as a bisexual woman who has sometimes dated genderqueer people. Her husband, Eric, is cheerful and geeky and talks about his apostasy from conventional marriage with a nearly religious fervor.
They met in 2000, when Tamara, in her mid-twenties, was working with Eric’s mother at a Jewish community center in Washington. They moved in together within months and were married in 2002. For a decade, they lived a monogamous life, but after the second of their two sons was born they began exploring kink and going to sex parties. Soon, they opened their marriage. Eric accompanied Tamara on her first serious date and sat around awkwardly while his wife and the other man made out and started to remove each other’s clothes. But he recalled how happy and affectionate she was afterward.
The first person to move in with them was a girlfriend of Eric’s. There were other girlfriends, some more full-time than others. One had a jealous husband trying to control her; Eric had no idea how to respond to his intense aggression, and he and Tamara realized that they needed to manage the expectations — and the baggage — of others who entered the setup. “I’m in this committed relationship to Tamara, so if that’s something they can’t handle we have to go our separate ways,” Eric said.
“People should understand the difference between what we’re creating legally and what you want to vow to emotionally. You don’t need to get married to become a social-welfare state of two or three or four.” — Diana Adams
When their younger son was in first grade, he drew a picture of his family on vacation — Tamara and Eric, the two sons, and Eric’s girlfriend. “He drew a car with the four of us in it,” Tamara said. “Then he put the girlfriend in a sidecar. She’s this extra person who came along and played games with them. But they could recognize that she was not in our car.”
Within a few years, Eric had established a relationship with a woman who had two children and was separating from her husband, who is himself polyamorous. Four years later, she and her children moved in. “I love her and wanted her to be part of us,” Eric said. “And Tamara was very happy with her.” Tamara has a boyfriend of nine years. Eric said, “When I was supportive of her doing things, it came back much stronger, because she was, like, ‘Thank you, you made that possible.’ I’m not a very jealous person.”
“The sexual relationship is just easier with newer partners,” Tamara said. “A lot of children of the eighties and nineties saw our parents split because of affairs. We are finding more sustainable ways of doing family. Often, monogamous married people feel like ‘This is what I have to do,’ not ‘This is what I choose to do.’ Every day, Eric and I make a choice to keep this relationship together.” They have both had pangs of jealousy, but less so with time. “Where I mostly get resentful,” Tamara said, “is when he’s fixing something at someone else’s house — because there’s always a huge list of tasks around our house.”
Another partner of Eric’s, whom he has known for three years, stays over occasionally, with her child. Tamara’s boyfriend stays over at least once a week and has a child who regularly stays over with him. The children in the house all regard one another as siblings. Every Friday, Tamara and Eric host a big dinner for everyone, including ex-partners and close friends. “In that picture, we’d all be in the car now,” Eric said. Tamara admits to having worried that her kids would be isolated or bullied because of their unconventional family; Eric had been equally worried that they would encounter anti-Semitism. So far, the children have encountered only tolerance, but they have an awareness that tolerance does not necessarily run deep. After the shooting at the Pulse night club, in Orlando, in 2016, one of them asked, “Do people hate us like they hate gay people?”
Tamara and Eric are out as polyamorous in most contexts, but Tamara’s long-term boyfriend is not. “If he came out at work, he would likely be fired,” Tamara said. According to Eric, the ex-husband of one of his less frequent partners argued that her poly life style was evidence that she was an unfit parent and sued for full custody of their child. The judge declared that her erotic life was immaterial and assigned joint custody. “But another judge might have bought the husband’s argument,” Eric said. “We have no legal protections at all for the way we live.”
Diana Adams, a family lawyer in New York, has become the leading figure in the conversation surrounding the application of existing laws to polyamorous and other unorthodox arrangements. In 2017, Adams, who uses the pronoun “they,” founded the Chosen Family Law Center, which undertakes many such cases pro bono. They work with polyamorous clients who would marry if they could, helping them craft a legal dynamic for their shared life. Adams believes that the establishment of gay marriage produced a backlash against expanded relationship rights, and they encourage their clients to consider other options. “An LLC model is not related to romance, but it’s related to how they can share finances,” they said. “It’s an option I have realized with polyamorous triads and quads. You could say, This family is an LLC — they own properties in multiple places, have a common health-insurance plan and bank accounts, and pay taxes as an LLC People should understand the difference between what we’re creating legally and what you want to vow to emotionally. You don’t need to get married to become a social-welfare state of two or three or four.”
Legalizing poly marriages would require revising the tax code and entitlement programs to accommodate multi-partner families. If joint filing were eliminated from American income tax, the system would no longer favor married couples at the expense of non-dyadic families. The sheer number of rights associated with civil marriage places this country alone among Western societies. Gay people fought, justly, to be included in those rights. But, Adams said, “we’d like to get out of the business of the government deciding whether your romantic relationship has passed scrutiny such that you receive immigration benefits, health benefits, tax benefits, Medicare at death.”
They went on, “We’re seeing a movement away from parenting being defined by DNA and toward its being defined by intention. Getting out of the model of a two-person monogamous marriage as the basis of family is the next frontier.” They note that in earlier eras monogamy was expected of women but not of men. “When we were deciding to make this more equitable, it could have gone in a different direction,” Adams said, adding that they wished society, instead of pushing men toward monogamy, had allowed women nonmonogamy. They went on, “Divorce specialists will tell you we have an epidemic of people saying they’re monogamous, then breaking up families with lies and infidelity. What is harmful is that that infidelity breaks a covenant. What if we think about what we would actually like to create?”
Adams thinks that platonic co-parents, too, should be entitled to some form of recognition. They described a woman who became disabled and whose sister moved in and became the primary parent of the disabled sister’s child. Adams drafted a complex trust so that they could make hospital visits, have shared finances, and buy a house together. “Family is really about people who want to take care of one another because they love one another,” they said. In another case, two male-female couples bonded as a polyamorous quad and were living together. In giving birth, one of the women had a massive heart attack and became severely disabled. Her husband spent the next year taking care of her in rehab centers while the female partner in the other couple became the primary parent of the baby. The husband of the second couple became the breadwinner for all of them. “Despite that horrific and tragic incident, they’ve been together eight years in that format, and they’re a beautiful family,” Adams said.
Adams and their husband both identify as queer, and their relationship has been polyamorous from the start. In addition to their husband, Adams is in long-term relationships with two women and also has a boyfriend; Adams has a five-year-old daughter with their husband and has considered parenting with a gay male friend. Though they live with just their husband and daughter, they are open to cohabiting with another romantic partner. Their work both reflects and facilitates the complexities of their own life.
Adams is wary of making common cause with polygamists. “The very conservative, male, patriarchal image of polygamy is in radical contrast to the very modern, evolved world of polyamory,” they said. All the same, they believe that the women’s decision to lead a polygamous life should be respected — “just as we trust them if they choose to be exotic dancers or sex workers or gestational surrogates.”
“Everyone told me that what I wasn’t feeling was one of the cornerstones of a healthy, intimate relationship as an adult. And I was pretty certain that healthy, intimate relationships were what I wanted.” — David Jay
Polygamy and polyamory share many features but remain sociologically distinct. Polyamorous behavior exists across social groups, but the terminology is of the chattering classes. Elisabeth Sheff, the author of The Polyamorists Next Door, speaks of people who are “safe and privileged enough to come out as polyamorous.” Texts on polyamory have tended to focus on the concerns of white, middle-class, college-educated readers, and skate over historical and cultural boundaries that constrain individual choice. Sheff, noting that Black people are already burdened by stereotypes that depict them as sexually voracious and unable to form stable family relationships, describes “perversity” as “a luxury more readily available to those who are already members of dominant groups.”
Those who said that gay marriage wouldn’t lead to poly marriage often argued that being gay is an intractable condition and being poly is a chosen life style. Helplessly gay people are therefore a protected category; electively poly people are not. But Edward Stein, of Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, notes that many polyamorists claim to have been drawn to nonmonogamy for as long as they have experienced sexual desire, and that many nominal monogamists have intractable difficulty remaining that way, suggesting that a polyamorous orientation may be both innate and immutable. Sheff said, “For some people, it isn’t a choice — it really is an orientation.” But even if, for the sake of argument, we say that being poly is a choice, is that a reason to say that it warrants no protections? Surely, when we defend the rights of Jews or Muslims, we don’t imply that they can’t help being that way; rather, we confer dignity on a chosen way of life.
By the time that David Jay was about fourteen, his friends had all begun experiencing attractions that he could hardly understand. “Everyone told me that what I wasn’t feeling was one of the cornerstones of a healthy, intimate relationship as an adult,” he told me. “And I was pretty certain that healthy, intimate relationships were what I wanted.” He began to identify as asexual. In 2001, at the age of eighteen, he founded the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network and, soon after, the Web site asexuality.org, which now has more than a hundred thousand members. David is one of the most prominent activists for asexual people — or “aces,” as they are sometimes known.
Some aces don’t seek romantic partners; others want romance without sex; many want to be parents. David found that forming relationships with people who were not asexual was often painful. He would immerse himself in the intensity, but if the person found a sexual partner they would shift their emotional energy toward that other relationship.
In 2010, David, who was then working as a software developer, met Avary Kent, who worked in impact investing, at a conference, and they hit it off; a few months later, Avary introduced David to her boyfriend, Zeke Hausfather, a climatologist. David and Zeke spent many hours talking science. Gradually, David began to introduce intentionality into the relationship. “I said, ‘Hey, I want to have one of those conversations where we name where this relationship fits in our lives, and how we want to build on it, if that’s something you’d be interested in?’ ” They were.
After Avary and Zeke married, they told David, “We’ve decided we want to have kids. There’s a number of people we want to invite into that process in an intentional way. The person we want to invite in most of all is you.” For more than a year, the three of them discussed what this arrangement might look like. They went to a mediator to try to identify areas where there could be disagreement. “We considered how David could do anything from being Uncle David, who drops in from time to time, to being an actual legal co-parent,” Avary said. Ultimately, it was decided that David should move in with Avary and Zeke and be an equal third parent.
Avary found out she was pregnant at the beginning of 2017. The three of them went to birthing classes together. In August, their daughter was born, and they gave her all three of their surnames; she is Octavia Hausfather Jay Kent (Tavi for short). David initiated an adoption process as soon as Tavi was born, and the three adults signed a co-parenting agreement that stipulated what should happen if any of the relationships frayed.
I first met the family when Tavi was four and a half months old. They were living in San Francisco, in an airy, spacious apartment that had a vaguely hippie vibe. Zeke said, “The more people we have involved with raising Tavi, the easier it is for each of us individually, and the easier it is for us, the better it is for her.” Avary had disliked the version of new motherhood in which sleep deprivation was “a badge of honor.” She believed that their arrangement was deeply traditional. “I think that the whole nuclear-family thing was a strong departure from how humans were accustomed to being in community and in family and raising children together,” she said. The three of them continued doing quarterly counselling — “to make sure we can air things out in front of a neutral third party,” Zeke said. David patted him on the arm. “Fourth party,” he said.
Thanks to shared parenting, Zeke and Avary are able to go out on date nights, and David sometimes goes blues dancing. They all belong to a sci-fi book club, and they hold a family check-in every Sunday, to divvy up household chores and allocate time with Tavi. When she was a baby, Avary and Zeke would take her to David’s room every night, at around three o’clock. The three of them opened a joint account for child-related expenses and contribute to an educational-savings account for Tavi. They have noticed that, if Zeke and David take Tavi out for a walk around their neighborhood, people usually assume that the two men are a married gay couple. It’s an assumption that no one could have made a generation ago.