Yasmin Nair

Polyamory, Thy Name Is Newt

Filed By Yasmin Nair | January 20, 2012 9:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Callista Gingrich, family values, Marianne Gingrich, Newt Gingrich, open marriage, Polyamory

From the world of Newtlandia, where picket fences and stable marriages and...oh, never mind.

I can't even be sarcastic about this guy. Surely, by now, even his most ardent fans, including the Nevada billioniare Thumbnail image for Polyamory_pride_in_San_Francisco_2004.jpgSheldon Anderson, who pumped five million into the Gingrich campaign, recognize that he is, shall we say, conflicted about the morals he espouses.

We already knew that Gingrich, who once berated Bill Clinton's morals, apparently left his first wife just months after she was diagnosed with cancer, and supposedly left his second wife months after she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Now, Marianne Gingrich is revealing that Gingrich wanted an "open marriage" where he could remain married to her while continuing his affair with Callista, his current and third wife.

There's a real danger for anyone on the left in discussing Gingrich's marital issues, and that's the easy rush to make exactly the kind of moral judgements about marital fidelity made by the Right. Even if we ignore the infidelity, it's tempting to throw moral scorn at Gingrich for, allegedly, leaving his spouses when they were very ill. But, please, let's just admit that life is not a romance novel, and that not everyone who finds themself tied to a very ill person--let us not forget that disease can be crippling, body-and-life transforming, and just plain ugly and smelly--really wants to or should have to stick around.

Yes, that's a brutal way to put it, but perhaps we might be better off acknowledging the truth: that not everyone is made to be a caretaker. Or that marriage does not have some magical ability to automatically bind people together through sickness, health, and all the rest. Or that perhaps illness serves to highlight the already prevailing discordance between two people. Perhaps, more importantly, instead of rushing to criticize Gingrich for his hypocrisy, we might even reconsider our fetishization of the marital state.

More than ever, people are ignoring the institution of marriage, and this has caused a backlash of hysteria that Bella DePaulo refers to as "matrimania," the societal obsession with marriage as the only desirable state for adult humans.

Teh gayz, of course, take it even a step further, insisting that only marriage will legitimize their sad and unworthy existence, the poor things, and how awful it is that Newt Gingrich/Brittany Spears/Sinéad O'Connor/[insert random name here] can just keep getting married, for just forty seconds each time while they, these wonderful creatures who mate for life, like rare black swans, can't even get married once. And so on.

Perhaps Gingrich's marital adventures--and those, it seems, of nearly every family values politician--simply point out that marriage is not inherently sacred or worthy or something that even needs saving. Perhaps the larger point might be: let's leave it alone and consider other arrangements, different and more flexible kinship arrangements more worthy of the benefits so far only given to marriage.

Or, perhaps, and here's a really radical idea, let's not make any kind of relationship the gateway to any kinds of benefits: let's just give them to anyone who might need them, regardless of whether they even know to ask. Shocking, I know.

But this latest revelation about his wish to reconfigure the meaning of marriage, at least for himself alone, brings me to my second point. Who knew Newt Gingrich was a polyamorist?

In all the discussion about this matter among straight and gay people, no one seems to have pointed out that what he was asking for from Marianne Gingrich was, in effect, a polyamorous relationship.

This made me laugh out loud because, really, on the face of it, polyamory, the formation of multiple amorous relationships between people, is not something we associate with the likes of Gingrich.

I'm not, let me be clear, a huge fan of polyamory (or Gingrich, either). I understand the need for some to find a roadmap of sorts before they engage upon potentially complicated sexual relationships and I appreciate some of the expressed desire to prevent the kind of wounding we are apt to engage in as we stumble around in the messiness that constitutes well, every human relationship.

Yet, I also find the discourse of and on polyamory tiresome and a bit onerous, with all its prescriptive and detailed agonizing over primary and secondary partners and relationships. And, frankly, I don't think it's at all liberating, and I think it really just fetishises a peculiar form of monogamy (disguised as the opposite) and long-term relationships. Caught between people who wanted me to be part of their polyamorous relationship, my response has usually been to flee. Really, people, can we just fuck and let it be?

That being said, polyamory is a long way away from Gingrich's avowed family structure(s), and yet that's exactly what he wanted. I can see polyamorists shaking their heads and wanting to distance themselves from him but I wonder if it's worth, even temporarily, claiming Gingrich as one of their own, even just for laughs. It would be grand, I think, if a prominent spokesperson for polyamory stood up and welcomed Gingrich into their open arms.

Newt Gingrich: Polyamorist. Who knew?

Note: Irony, sarcasm, and plain humor may be dead on the internet, but please don't let that prevent you from reading this carefully.

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