The following instances are cited in Thomas 1906.
Group marriage occasionally occurred in communal societies founded in the 19th and 20th centuries.
An exceptionally long-lived example was the Oneida Community founded by John Humphrey Noyes in 1848. Noyes taught that he and his followers, which reached 200 in number, had undergone sanctification; that is, it was impossible for them to sin, and that for the sanctified, marriage (along with private property) was abolished as an expression of jealousy and exclusiveness. The Oneida commune lived together as a single large group and shared parental responsibilities. Any given male-female combination in the group was free to have sex, usually upon the man's asking the woman, and this was the common practice for many years. In effect it functioned as a large group marriage until about 1879-1881. Nor did the Oneida Community self-destruct as happens with many communes. Noyes heard a New York warrant was out for his arrest, perhaps for adultery, though apparently not for anyone else in the group, and he fled to Canada, not many miles away. He lived there the rest of his life. After some period without his leadership and acting at Noyes' suggestion, the group disbanded. Several dozen pairs of them quickly married in traditional fashion after disbanding. They and others nearby then created the Oneida Silver company that for many decades was a famous US company name in flatware and related items.
The Kerista Commune practiced group marriage in San Francisco from 1971 to 1991.
It is difficult to estimate the number of people who actually practice group marriage in modern societies, as this form of marriage is not officially recognized or permitted in any jurisdiction in the U.S., and de jure illegal in many. It is also not always visible when people sharing a residence consider themselves privately to form (or self-identify as) a group marriage.
Interest in, and practice of nonmonogamy is well-known in modern science fiction fandom. Group marriage has been a theme in some works of science fiction – especially the later novels of Robert A. Heinlein, such as Stranger in a Strange Land, Friday, Time Enough for Love, and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Stranger in a Strange Land describes a communal group much like the Oneida Society.
The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress describes line families in detail. The characters argue that the line family creates economic continuity and parental stability in an unpredictable, dangerous environment. Manuel's line marriage is said to be over 100 years old. The family is portrayed as economically comfortable because improvements and investments made by previous spouses compounded, rather than being lost between generations. Heinlein also makes it a point that this family is racially diverse. A passing reference to Heinlein's marriage forms is made in David Brin's Infinity's Shore, where a sapient bottlenose dolphin crewmember is noted as belonging to a "line marriage, one of the Heinlein forms."
Group marriages of three partners (called triples) are described as commonplace in the 1966 award-winning novel Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany. The novel's protagonist, a female starship captain Rydra Wong, once lived in a triple, until one member died and another was put in stasis for an incurable illness. Other crew members, especially those who worked in close three-person teams, are noted for this type of relationship.
Line marriage is also commonly practiced in Joe Haldeman's 1981 novel Worlds. Haldeman describes how individual families joined forces, both in bed and on paper, in order to avoid inheritance taxes. Many of these consensual corporations were made up of three-mate marriages called triunes.
Group marriage is a central plot element in Donald Kingsbury's 1982 novel Courtship Rite. A six-partner group marriage (three male, three female) is considered the ideal norm in the alien society described in the novel; the main characters are in a five-partner group marriage, and much of the dramatic tension hinges on there being more than one candidate for the sixth position.
Group marriage is briefly addressed in the 1989 Star Trek novel Star Trek: The Lost Years, by J.M. Dillard (published by Pocket Books). A minor character, Lt. Nguyen, enters into a group marriage and is portrayed as a relatively normal occurrence within the society of the Star Trek world. Additionally, in Star Trek: Enterprise, the alien Dr. Phlox comes from a world where this is common.
William H. Keith, Jr., under his pseudonym Ian Douglas, describes line marriages as the norm, with large family clans extending through many generations, in his Heritage Trilogy, and its two sequels Legacy Trilogy and Inheritance Trilogy. These three trilogies are about the US Marine Corps battling aliens over a period of a thousand years.
In the television series Caprica, the character Sister Clarice is a participant in a group marriage.
Several short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin take place on the planet O, where a four-person marriage, called a sedoretu, is common. The sedoretu consists of a man and a women from each of two moieties; since it considered incest to have sex with someone of the same moiety, each participant in the marriage has a sexual relationship with only two out of the three other participants.
Related topics in the Connexions Subject Index
Alternative Lifestyles –
Alternative Sexual Lifestyles –
Group Marriage –
Lifestyle Alternatives –
Open Marriage –
Open Relationships –
Alternative Lifestyles – Alternative Sexual Lifestyles – Group Marriage – Lifestyle Alternatives – Marriage/Sexually-Open – Monogamy – Non-monogamy – Open Marriage – Open Relationships – Polyamory – Polyfidelity – Polygamy –
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