Q: What is a Line Marriage, as envisioned by author Robert Heinlein?
A: Line marriage is a form of group marriage found in fiction in which the family unit continues to add new spouses of both sexes over time so that the marriage does not end. The advantages are numerous, not the least of which are stability, a large pool of talent, resources and knowledge to draw upon, dispensing with a need to carve up property and assets upon the death of a partner, a close-knit familial support system that meets the emotional, sexual, and financial needs of its members, and an ever-growing circle of influence that transcends generations.
Q: Why is your House organized like a corporation?
A: Our intent is for House Makai to be a multi-generational poly marriage that literally lasts for hundreds of years. Long after the original members of House Makai have passed away, it will not only still exist but, hopefully, will be thriving. In order for this concept to become a reality, House Makai will become a 501(c)3 S-corporation in the eyes of the law, with the stated legal purpose of polyamory education and research.
Here are some commentaries on the concept of a line marriage:
“Heinlein played around a lot with polyamory, but I think line marriage is my very favorite of all of his ideas about sex, if only because it’s so functional.
Basically, a line marriage is a poly marriage where every few years, as the older members of the marriage die, they marry in young people to replace them. So the marriage always has (usually it seems like a dozen or so) members ranging in age from teenagers to elderly. As a result, the marriage itself never dies. Children of a line marriage marry into other lines, and don’t inherit from their parents, all the assets remaining with the marriage. In a lot of ways, a line marriage is like a corporation, only less soulless and with more sex.
Anyone in a line marriage is free to have sex with anyone else in the line, but sex and romantic love are not really the important part. And there are often complicated sub-relationships within the line, with some pairings and participants far more sexual than others, and also things going on around seniority, with lots of room for cross-generational goodness. The oldest members lead the family, but it requires a unanimous vote to add a new member.
I love line marriage; I rather suspect it’s the best idea Heinlein ever had about sex. Line marriage is a fun way to do a family-of-choice that’s a bit more structured and might outlive its founders, especially if you like adding a bit of incestuous overtones and/or age difference for spice. ”
“Whenever I’m feeling closed-minded I like to turn to Robert Heinlein’s excellent sci-fi novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. In addition to rebelling against Earth, Heinlein’s moon-people are also fond of a peculiar institution he dubs the “line marriage”: in effect, an eternal marriage, perpetuated by the occasional addition of younger spouses. These marriages involve quite a few people, and the oldest member of the marriage might be as much as several decades older than the youngest. It is certainly a… novel idea. But I think that such a marriage would actually have a kind of endearing big-family charm, in that all of its members would probably have to cooperate in raising their many children. I also imagine that such a marriage would inevitably involve great, big, convivial family dinners—the appropriate forum perhaps for bawdy jokes about everyone’s sexual proclivities. In any case, what Heinlein tries to demonstrate is that a family unit based around a line marriage would be quite able to accumulate wealth over time and to provide financial stability to all of its members. Marrying one person, as we know from demographic data, is lucrative; perhaps marrying two people is even better.
Thus we shouldn’t vilify polygamy as unnatural or entirely without merit. All it is is an uncomfortable idea. But even if we never grow to accept, or even to understand, polygamy, how we feel about it has no bearing whatsoever on whether it should be legal. An opponent might argue—not unlike those who oppose same-sex marriage—that allowing groups of people to marry would somehow sully the institution of marriage as a whole. There are two problems with this idea. First, it seems rather unlikely. Unless you believe that with the legalization of polygamy people everywhere will spontaneously start realizing their long-secret desires to get hitched to multiple partners, or that the local wedding chapel is eagerly awaiting the day it can offer wildly generous group discounts to all, the odds that many group marriages will be performed are small. If few are performed, how can their impact be significant? Second, even if polygamy were likely to become a popular choice, the “sanctity” of marriage is not something the government can be called upon to define and protect. There is no rational basis on which to do so. The “sanctity” of your marriage is between you and your spouse. If I should choose to marry several people, it would not prevent you from practicing whatever kind of marriage you see as “sanctified.” So why is my marriage any of your business?”