There is a fascinating new law in Italy that seems a victory for the growing population of polyamorists around the world. Italy may drop the promise for couples to remain faithful in marriage as a commitment that may be viewed as outdated or objectionable by many modern couples who do not view sexual “fidelity” as a precondition for marriage.
Senators supporting the change to the Civil Code maintain that the bar on adultery is a “cultural legacy from an outdated and obsolete vision of marriage, family, and the rights and duties of spouses.” This follows rulings in Italian courts rejecting the claim that a spouse’s infidelity can be treated as the cause for a divorce. The burden is on the other spouse to show that the infidelity led to the irreconcilable breakdown of the marriage.
Some sponsors tied the change to the advancement of status of women and children, noting that fidelity of women was viewed as the condition for determining the “legitimacy’ of children.”
A 2013 poll showed that 55 percent of men and roughly 33 percent women in Italy admitted to adultery.
The change is a victory for those who have long argued for the right to maintain alternative definitions of marriage — an issue at the heart of our “Sister Wives” case currently before the Supreme Court.
The term polygamy generally refers to any form of plural marriage and is derived from the Greek polys gamos, literally meaning “often married.” While polygamy is often used as synonymous with marriages composed of one husband and multiple wives (as opposed to monogamy), it can refer to any of three common forms of plural marriage. Polygyny is specifically a plural marriage of a man and more than one wife. Polyandry is specifically a plural marriage of a woman with more than one husband. Finally, there are some families who have multiple husbands and wives which are commonly referred to as “group marriages.”
While polygyny, polyandry, and group marriages are the three principle groups of polygamy, there is a fourth group that has a distinct history and meaning: polyamorists. That is the group that may be most interested in this change. Polyamory is subject to more varied definitions, but generally refers to consensual relationship where participants have more than one sexual partner. Polyamorists often express lasting relationships and expectations with their lovers. Under some laws, these relationships would qualify as common law marriage or cohabitation or conjugal unions – and thus treated as polygamy or bigamy. Polyamory may, for example, more properly describe some relationships in some communal homes where a subset of individuals consider themselves partners. This is sometimes referred to as polyfidelity. Polyandry and group marriage are particularly found in non-religious settings. In the 1960s and 1970s in the United States and Canada, such plural families were often found in communes or alternative communities. For example, polyandrous families (and polyamorist relationships) were not uncommon in the San Francisco area and group families were found throughout the United States and Canada in the 1960s.
The Italian legislation could reflect a trend toward a more varied definition of the foundations of marriage. Indeed, I have long argued for treating marriages legally under a uniform civil union standard as a binding agreement through the state. This would leave the conditions or expectations of marriages to the individuals and their specific religious or social values. While I do not agree with these alternative definitions of marriage personally, I have long been uncomfortable with the state policing matters of moral integrity or compliance. It is admittedly a more libertarian view that seeks to leave such issues to families or individuals to decide within their own faith structures. That said, however, I also believe that infidelity is a legitimate basis to terminate a marriage for most people. That should not change. Indeed, couples should be allowed to divorce on any grounds of incompatibility. I have never agreed with society imposing long waiting periods or forcing people to prove that they cannot remain married when they clearly do not want to do so. Couples can create these mutually binding agreements with the state and they can dissolve such agreements. Infidelity remains one of the primary reasons for seeking such a termination.
What do you think about the Italian legislation?