Colombia Sees First Gay Polygamous Marriage. Sort Of.

Three men declare themselves wed. It's not clear if the government will recognize it.


Wedding rings

Last year Colombia became the fourth country in South America to legally recognize same-sex marriages. Now three men are trying to push the boundaries of the law further by getting a marriage including all three of them recognized as a singular family: a gay polygamous or polyamorous relationship.

If the authorities legally recognize their marriage, it will be a first for Colombia. But that's a big "if."

Western reporting indicates that the three men have signed legal papers with a lawyer in Medellin in an attempt to establish themselves as a family with inheritance rights. That's not the same as saying they are legally married, and Google Translate's version of the original news coverage from the Columbia-based Semana doesn't clear up the confusion. It's clear they've submitted a notarized document declaring themselves a family. It's unclear whether it's legally enforceable and whether a court will recognize it.

We do know they can't be punished for polyamory, and that may be driving some ambiguous reporting. Colombia struck down its laws criminalizing polygamous relationships in 2001. That's not the same as legally recognizing polyamorous marriages as valid. It just means you can't be arrested and imprisoned for it.

These men aren't the first same-sex trio to try to seek out legal recognition. They aren't even the first in South America. Three women in Brazil made a similar effort in 2015, hoping to define their family as they wanted and to raise their future children together.

If this is the future of marriage, it's worth exploring how it aligns with a libertarian philosophy of self-rule. Instead of the government telling citizens what kind of families they're allowed to have, these people are going to the government and essentially saying, "We're going to decide what our family looks like, thank you very much." As one of the men in the Colombian relationship put it, "We wanted to validate our household…and our rights, because we had no solid legal basis establishing us as a family."

This is a form of freedom of association, and it should be encouraged. To the extent that the state should play a role in defining a family, it should focus on intervening in cases of harm or abuse, and overseeing the various legal matters that result from having government involved with complex matters such as inheritances and the guardianship of children.

While polygamy does raise complicated legal issues, they're not unresolvable. In Reason's "Open" issue, published in 2015, family lawyer Diana Adams discussed ways to open marriage to a variety of nontraditional formations, including polyamory. As it stands, she noted, the lack of legal recognition for polygamy certainly doesn't stop people from trying to hammer out ways to make contracts work:

Three-way marriage is not legal in the United States. To create parity between three partners, I've divorced happy couples so that their third partner wouldn't feel left out of the marriage, with the burden of fewer legal rights and protections. I've also helped triads decide whether any two of them should get married strategically to protect a partner's parenting rights, health insurance, or immigration status. This triad might go on to have a polyamorous commitment ceremony that is as elaborate, expensive, or deeply felt as any wedding but not legally binding.

If a triad wishes to share finances or buy a house, we can create a three-person cohabitation agreement. It would include all the factors that make a two-person cohabitation agreement valid and binding, with the intention to set them up for stability that would keep them out of court, but also to create a document that I hope would be enforced by a court to clarify that a three-person cohabitation agreement can be binding. My clients are advised that depending on their jurisdiction, the courts may refuse to enforce the contract.

Read more here. Same-sex couples used to have to jump through similarly absurd legal hoops to define their families in such a way that the government would respect them.