Queer Non-Monogamy Hits the Legal (Marriage) Fan: Relational Citizenship in Portugal

Monogamous coupledom remains at the core of laws and social policies related to family life and other forms of intimate citizenship. This premise both results from, and actively contributes to, the replication of a relational model, which is embodied by the cohabiting, reproductive, (and until 2010) heterosexual couple.

The tendency to somewhat crystalize the legal – and hence legitimate – “couple” is in sharp contrast to an ever-changing reality. Recent data show that divorce rates in Portugal are high and increasing, at the same time that remarriage has continued to grow. However, despite significant changes in recent decades regarding a gender-neutral marriage law, the decriminalization of adultery and the cultural acceptance of serial monogamy through divorce and remarriage, the ability to openly engage in simultaneous relationships in any given moment in time remain unrecognized under the law. Even at a time that has been described as ‘plastic sexuality’ (Giddens, 1992), in which it is increasingly rare to meet anyone who has only had one sexual or romantic partner throughout their life, monogamy remains the by-default-position according to dominant cultural expectations.

The absence of formal recognition of non-monogamy contributes to the narratives of intimate dissonance produced by participants in the INTIMATE study I conducted in 2015 in Lisbon, for whom the polyamory closet is still very hard to break. Despite the consensual character of their relational experiences, participants’ accounts display a tendency towards polyamory remaining a secret shared only with a handful of people, and certainly not with co-workers or employers. In this context, the lack of formal and cultural acknowledgement of consensual non-monogamy generates an asymmetry between the ‘normal’ intimate citizen, who the state is willing to acknowledge, and the dissident intimate citizen – the uncoupled, the non-parent, the uncohabitant / solo living, the non-monogamous –, who remains, at best, an outsider. Therefore, full intimate citizenship understood as “the freedom and ability to construct and live selfhood and a wide range of close relationships … safely, securely, and according to personal choice, with respect, recognition and support from the state and civil society” (Roseneil, 2010: 81-2) remains a political and theoretical aspiration, rather than an actuality. Both of these consequences will be further developed in the paper, suggesting the need to de-mononormalize the law and advancing the notion of relational citizenship.