It’s amazing sometimes, how much insight can be housed in a child’s naïve, innocent little mind. During a slightly more interesting than normal morning commute, I posed a question to our kids: “Why do you belong to mommy and daddy?” Beta, our little boy, responded immediately, and very sincerely by saying, “Because I love you both very much.” Aside from melting my heart, his response touched the core of what I love about the concept of marriage for myself.

Anillos de Matrimonio, Aros de Matrimonio

So many people, especially (but not exclusively) detractors of the concept of exclusivity as it relates to marriage, focus solely on the ownership side of things. For a pretty clear example (though she isn’t really maligning marriage), consider Jada Pinkett Smith’s comments regarding her relationship. (Thanks to @cunningminx for tweeting the link.) Her discussion/argument is focused almost exclusively on issues of ownership and control, and how those concepts are in direct opposition to trusting and loving your partner(s). An argument that I totally agree with, even in the context of an monogamous marriage or a closed polyamorous relationship. But there’s another side to the coin of ownership.

English: Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith at ...

When she asks, “Should we be in relationships with individuals who we can not entrust to their own values, integrity, and LOVE…for us???”, Ms. Pinkett Smith touches on the other side of the coin. But, I don’t think she takes this point to it’s conclusion. What if someone’s “values, integrity, and love” give them a sense of belonging? What if, then, that sense of belonging includes a desire to be exclusive? My sense of belonging to Êta does not, in and of itself, mean that she owns me, even if that sense of belonging includes exclusivity.

A typical slave collar with ring for possible ...

This is quite easily understood when it comes to BDSM. It is generally accepted without question that any true BDSM relationship requires the willing submission of the sub. The sub, is voluntarily putting their trust in some combination of the values, integrity, or love the Dom/me has…even in an Owner/property relationship, the “Owner” doesn’t own until after the “property” has voluntarily acknowledged that their ‘belonging’. It functions similarly across the spectrum of BDSM relationships.

This connection is a little less clear when it comes to polyamory which, I guess, is part of the reason I feel the need to write this. If you have a day or two (because it’ll easily take that long to read them all and give them justice), read through the comments on the SexGeek Polynormativity post. A suggestion that showed up somewhat frequently (in different variations) as it relates to rules/boundaries, is that they should be expressed in terms of the party to whom it would apply. So, for example, instead of one spouse imposing a rule on the other by saying, ‘you aren’t allowed to bring your ‘secondary’ lover into our marriage bed’, the suggestion is that the rule is expressed by the second spouse: ‘I understand your need for our marriage bed to be a place of refuge, so I will not bring any of my ‘secondary’ lovers to our marriage bed.’ (This is just my crude example of the concept that was presented in the comments and does not represent anyone else’s ideas or words.) This concept of the phrasing of the rules makes clear the distinction I’m trying to make. This was not universally accepted, though, and some seemed to have a problem with rules altogether.

Really, however, my point in all of this is not that monogamy, marriage, exclusivity, or even rules in polyamory are perfect concepts. It’s obvious that not everyone expects, wants, or is able to give exclusivity to their partner(s). Likewise, monogamy is not for everyone. And marriage, in addition to not being for everyone, has the added complication of it’s shortcomings as a cultural institution…not the least of which is that it is not accessible to everyone who wants it, and is not equally fair even for those to whom it is available. Ultimately, my point is really that these are all valid choices, even for those who consider themselves to be part of the poly or non-monogamous community.

English: Humorous flags of "commie" ...

I make this point because I see another necessary application for the difference between belonging and ownership. Community and Identity. We find other individuals and we like what they have to say, or we share any number of commonalities, ideals, or beliefs with these people. (Often, we discover or create a label to apply to whatever it is that binds us. For the sake of this post, I’ll take politics as an example, but it is only one example of many where I see this applying.) We feel a great sense of companionship and comradeship with these individuals…we feel like we belong. For some, though, that sense of belonging gets to be so strong, and they begin to use that label as part (or in the case of some individuals, all) of our identity. We may say, “I AM a republican/democrat.” Or, expressed another way, “Democrats/Republicans, they are my people.”

The problem arises when that sense of belonging to a group, turns into a sense of ownership. Going back to my example of politics, there’s a great, institutionalised machine of ownership in American political process. You tick the box, and automatically the Republican/Democratic platform is thrust upon you. (Even if that box is unchecked you have your own set of independent/swingvoter expectations thrust upon you.) It’s all very organized, and very controlled.

But, this same thing happens on a smaller scale in other groups. These are minority issues; these are black issues; these are feminist issues; these are trans issues; these are poly issues; these are kink issues; these are atheist issues; and so on. Someone who’s achieved recognition through their identity as a feminist, or as polyamorous, or as a kinkster is dubbed the ‘voice’ of the movement. Gene Demby writes about this here, but in the context of race; he calls these individuals “officials”. This person then has a great opportunity to speak for others who share that identity. What happens, though, when this person speaks from their individual experiences and circumstances. Invariably it differs from (or at best misrepresents) the experiences and circumstances of someone who shares that identity. Does that mean, then, that they don’t both belong to the same community?

Ultimately, that’s up to each individual to decide. The thing is, we probably never believed that those commonalities, ideals, and beliefs we shared with the group were all of us to begin with. So, the solution in all cases is the same. Give to the group what is the groups, and keep for yourself what’s yours. And remember that belonging to a group, even identifying as a member, does not equate to ownership of the group, the groups beliefs and ideas, and definitely not the groups members. This applies even if the group is yourself and your family. I voluntarily give Êta and any partner(s) we may have my exclusivity & fidelity, because those are ideals and beliefs associated with our relationship and marriage that I identify with. I can do whatever I want, with whomever I want, and Êta can do the same. But we share the trust in each others “values, integrity, and love” to know that we do these things because of our own belonging and not from the others’ ownership.

Edwards' Venn diagram of six sets