Alternative Forms of Marriage Multilateral or Group Marriage Part 2

About the alternative form of marriage known as multlateral or group marriage, history of the practice and people who have them.

Alternate Forms of Marriage


The multilateral marriage is a spider's web of complexity. In a group of six people, there are a possible 15 pairs, 20 three-person combinations, and 15 four-person combinations, plus six ways to leave one person out. Because of this, multilateral marriages, to survive, demand structure. Same-sex relationships, particularly between women, often develop. The marriages almost always break up for nonsexual reasons, usually personality conflicts.

Practitioners: The most renowned practitioner of group marriage was John Humphrey Noyes, founder of the Oneida Community. This experiment in group living began with adulterous feelings between Noyes and someone else's flirtatious wife, escalated into a four-person marriage, then mushroomed into the complex marriage of the community itself.

Most modern experiments have taken place quietly, without publicity, mainly in large cities where anonymity is possible. The Kerista movement, headed by Jud Presmont and Dau, has fostered several such large-city communities. Its 1967 attempt to start a group marriage on Roatan Island in British Honduras failed for a number of reasons, among them, as Presmont has said, that "the number of people who came down with the right spirit and attitude was few." They have had problems with "dilettantes and dabblers," who have been more interested in picking up sex partners than in pursuing the commitment of group marriage.

Where It Stands Today: Though many people are ostensibly interested in multilateral marriage, the chances for its becoming a full-fledged movement seem slim. Albert Ellis, along with other sexologists, feels that it will never realistically attract more than a few select people. It demands too much commitment.

All states in the U.S. prohibit legal marriage to more than one person, so those who marry multilaterally do so without benefit of law. They are vulnerable to charges such as adultery, running a bawdy house, and contributing to the delinquency of minors. Zoning ordinances in some places prohibit large numbers of "unrelated" adults from living in a single-family dwelling. Schools and financial institutions can also be difficult for such groups to deal with. In practice, however, most multilateral marriages have been left alone by the law, particularly in states where sex between consenting adults is legal.

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