First, let me assure regular GetReligion readers that I am not writing this post out of the desire to be able to put the trendy word "throuple" in a digital headline. And, besides, the wits at The New York Daily News had already put the rather obvious "Three women and a baby!" in their lede.
No there were some real, live religious questions that nagged at me after seeing several news references to the polygamous relationship between Brynn, Doll and Kitten Young, a trio of either lesbian or bisexual women (the personal histories are complex) who are testing the limits of legal relationships in the always edgy state of Massachusetts. Here is a key section of the story, which points back to its origins in the splashy pages of British newspapers:
Doll, 30, and Brynn, 32, had been together for 2-and-a-half years when they decided to spice up their relationship with an additional partner.
Smitten after meeting Kitten, 27, through a threesomes' website, they decided to tie the knot to each other last August. And, after undergoing IVF with an unknown sperm donor, the youngest of the group is now with child.
"The three of us have always wanted kids and wanted to grow our family," Kitten, who like Doll took IT expert Brynn's surname because she is the main breadwinner, told The Sun.
"We decided that I'd be the one to carry the babies because I'd like to be a full-time mom," she added.
Massachusetts became, in 2004, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage. It does not allow polygamy, however, meaning the trio's marriage is not officially recognized. Despite this, they claim their union is the real deal.
So, my first Godbeat question: They walked down what brand of aisle? A newspaper photo makes it clear that this is an outdoor wedding, so the religious context for the rite could be just about anything. The art also shows what appears to be a formally dressed man who is leading the brides through their vows.
Now, the mainstream media stories about this social development answer all kinds of questions, both intimate (yes, who sleeps where, plans for future conceptions, etc., etc.) and legal. However, the precise nature of the religious rite -- one that they appear to have done everything in their power to make similar to a wedding -- goes completely unexplored.
Why? Isn't that, potentially, one of the most newsworthy elements of this story?
However, the coverage across the pond in The Daily Mail offers another crucial clue.
Readers are given a clues about the scene at the "wedding," a term that all agree tests the limits of current Massachusetts laws. There is one crucial term in this passage, so look for it.
Doll, Kitten and Brynn Young married in a ceremony in August 2013, when each of their fathers walked them down the aisle. All three women wore white wedding gowns and exchanged rings.
The so-called 'throuple' worked with a specialist family lawyer who drew up the paperwork and drafted the ceremony so that all three of them were obligated and bound to each other.
While Brynn and Kitten are legally married, Doll is handfasted to both so the threesome are as equally married to each other as legally possible. Doll, 30, says: 'As far as we know, there aren't any other three women who are married like us.'
Ah, what does that term "handfasted" mean? As it turns out, that could be a clue as the religious tradition that is at the center of this drama. Or maybe not. That's another reason why I think that the journalists involved in covering this story needed to ask some religious questions.
So are we talking "handfasting" as in:
: an irregular or probationary marriage contracted by joining hands and agreeing to live together as man and wife
Or maybe this?
Handfasting is an alternate form of marriage ceremony. It dates back hundreds of years, and spans several cultures. In some cultures (as in the Scottish Highlands), it was a marriage of a "year and a day". If at the end of the year, the couple found that they were incompatible, and there were no children, they could part. Otherwise, they could agree to remain together, and the marriage then became a legal and lifelong bond. In other cultures, it was a complete, fully binding ceremony from the start. In some remote areas, it was a simply a means of marriage between two people where no "clergy" or other official party could be found to perform a ceremony.
Or, in light of that outdoor setting, are we talking about this religious alternative:
— n ...
3. a contemporary pagan (esp Wiccan) marriage ceremony
Clearly, for these women, the key was that the rite resemble a wedding. Thus, the crucial question is who performed the wedding, legally, and from what tradition was the rite drawn, to one degree or another. One of the wives notes:
Kitten says: 'I had always wanted to get married and I guess Doll and Brynn indulged my wishes! I had a very traditional upbringing and marriage had always been an important symbol of commitment for me. We wanted to celebrate our love in a wedding like everyone else.' ...
The threesome spent several date nights planning their dream wedding -- making decorations and shopping for matching traditional, white gowns. Brynn says: 'Planning our wedding was hectic. It took a lot more organizing because there were three brides involved.
Kitten, Brynn and Doll had to work with the legalities of the state to get married to each other. As being married to more than one person is not currently legal, they had to combine handfasting, legally binding documents and legal marriage.
A family lawyer drew up paperwork -- in terms of assets, wills and legal rights to children -- to bind them all together as much as they could without an actual three way marriage.
How could a reporter journey into this cultural minefield without asking a few religious questions about the nature of this "very traditional" wedding?