What Relationships Should the Law Recognize? (Reality T.V. meets legal reality)

As much as we collectively love to hate reality television, reality T.V. seems to identify hot issues and take our cultural pulse. The Real World tackled race, sexual orientation, health issues, and September 11. Hoarders on A&E attempts to tackle a mental illness that was not discussed in America, let alone pop culture. The SBS network in Australia has a new reality show discussing both immigration and H.I.V. Some may tune their televisions to Showtime and say, “What the heck is Polyamory?”
polyamory im with themAt first glance, I perceived the show Polyamory as manufactured and fake. I can imagine a reality T.V. producer sipping cocktails and dreaming this stuff up (like a friend of mine brining this show to the U.S.). Gawker reviewed the show and called it, “hilarious, shocking, poignant, titillating, and cringe-inducing…also important.” It seems that the show Polyamory takes Conservative pundits’ arguments against gay marriage and runs with them. Most liberals who support gay marriage claim that they just want gay marriage, and don’t want the law to recognize every weird type of relationship out there. Then walks in Showtime stirring the pot.

But, it’s easy to disregard reality television, so we turn off Showtime and say to ourselves, “That will never happen.” Then out of Brazil—Polyamory meets legality. In August, a notary public (they have more power in Latin countries) granted the first civil union to a triad of lovers. The notary called this relationship a Uniao Poliafetiva—or polyfidelitous union. The relationship? Two women and one man in their 30’s.

The participants on the Showtime show Polyamory attempt to distinguish themselves from polygamy—describing their relationships as more transient, flexible, adjustable, and not shrouded in misogynist principles. Yet some of these same participants lament at only being able to marry one of their lovers. The world’s first recognized polyamorous relationship—something claimed to be “progressive” in form sounds more like regression to polygamy than progress. Yet, we have a horrid reality T.V. show about polygamy as well (Sister Wives).

Brazil may be at the “progressive forefront,” but there seems to be no consistent principles underlying these relationships. I think through the lens of reality T.V., society is struggling with what relationships we are willing to accept and which ones we are willing to recognize. The tendency of reality T.V. to take everything to extremes may itself have an effect on how we perceive these relationships. If you believe in gay marriage because any two people that love one another should be able to marry—how do you logically argue against three people in a polyamorous relationship? There are also practical problems. In a three way civil union who gets property and support when it dissolves? Do the first two to marry get more than the third one who joins?

It seems the slow-moving legal system in the U.S. is advantageous in that in doesn’t jump on any band-wagon too quickly. Like a real-worlder popping an Alka-Seltzer after an all-night bender, I think Brazil might wake up, look back and feel a little silly about the Uniao Poliafetiva.

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