What’s a Unitarian Universalist? What’s Polyamory? Harlan White Explains.

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Interview with Harlan White, board member of the UUPA

“Hang on; let me finish that word,” I say as I’m writing furiously to capture Harlan White’s articulate words, “I’m old school—I don’t use a tape recorder,” I follow up, to which we both laugh.

White is a member of the board of the UUPA, which stands for Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness.

Let me back up for a moment.

Unitarian Universalism is a religious denomination that supports the “the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” They describe themselves as having a “broad and inclusive outlook” that bonds them. Their values are expressed in seven Principles and they are dedicated to social service, social justice, religious education, as well as a quest to include the marginalized and their expressions of love.

They promote seven Principles, yes. But their faith is comprised of diverse beliefs—the Principles exist to serve as guidance, not religious dogma and doctrine. Within the Unitarian Universalist Association are Atheists/Agnostics, Buddhists, Christians, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan and much more.

To say they are inclusive would be a gross understatement.

Now I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t extremely confused right about now. Until my interview with White, I’d never heard of Unitarian Universalism; I never knew such a religious denomination existed. (To learn more, visit their web site www.uua.org )

But in the interim I’m going to do my best to sum it up for you. And then we’ll get to the UUPA.

White has been working with the Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness. He’s been working with the group since they were UUPoly back in 1999, an email list created for the purpose of exploring ideas and challenges around polyamory and faith.

“The activities and interests of the organization are focused on polyamory within Universalism, which is a denomination,” begins White.

“There are a number of Unitarian churches across the country. The church has a principle interest in supporting and advocating free and responsible search for truth by the individual,” he continues to explain.

That doesn’t sound all that bad? Why have I never heard of Unitarian Universalists before?

“There’s also a strong orientation toward social service and making this world a better place to live in. Unitarian Universalists were at the forefront of the movement to abolish slavery, the civil rights movement, women’s suffrage, and civil and marital rights for the LGBT community.”


So there’s a lot more to the UUPA than I’d initially anticipated; not only is White involved with an organized dedicated to education and awareness of polyamory, but he’s involved in a religious denomination that seems to be doing some pretty fantastic things.

“The mission of the UUPA is to enlarge the sense of awareness and acceptance about polyamory existing within the UU denomination. Our vision essentially is for the UU denomination to become the first openly poly accepting religious denomination and also to enlarge and enrich the denomination’s capabilities in terms of meeting,” White says, to that end.

“Just to be clear,” I begin, “I want to make sure we’re communicating to our readers that the polyamory we are speaking of is not one and the same with polygamy that is typically associated with the Mormon FLDS church.”

“Right,” begins White, “Unitarian Universalist’s Polyamory is not polygamy nor is it affiliated with the Mormon Church FLDS, although the UU do not discriminate toward any religion or look down on another’s freedom to practice their chosen religion.  What we’re about is an egalitarian, gender-equal, inclusive, and highly flexible service in terms of the relationships. Not a religiously indoctrinated, hierarchical arrangement.”

Okay, so what exactly is polyamory?

“You’ll have to excuse me, Harlan, the last time I did an article on polyamory, I interviewed a group called Poly Austin in 2003; so it’s been a while,” I say. “Now in terms of relationship structures, are there still what you call ‘primaries’ and ‘secondaries’ and so forth?”

To this, White chuckles a bit. I suppose things aren’t so black and white. “Polyamory is an umbrella-like term that covers a lot of different relationships. Poly is among what some might refer to as a ‘designer relationship,’ meaning that it’s designed by the people involved in it. Some people can consider having a primary partner, and consider the rest to be either secondary or tertiary relationships.

“On the other hand, there are also relationship structures where there are group marriages and group families who’d consider all partners to be a ‘primary’ partner,” White finishes.

In short, it’s much like monogamous relationships: we’re all different. We all have what works for us as couples. Polyamorous relationships are no different in that aspect. In short, poly doesn’t always have to have a “hierarchy” of relationships; some relationship structures involve individuals who don’t believe in the process of ranking their partners in order of importance.

“One way I’ve thought of defining poly is to say it’s the principle of freedom of choice regarding relationships and family structure. It’s the freedom to build a relationship structure in their lives that they want to have,” says White, summing it up.

“In 2014 the Unitarian Universalist’s general assembly passed an amendment which added non-discrimination within the denomination on the basis family and relationship structure to the list,” White says.

“In the UUPA we’ve been working out what it means and the impact it might have on the poly community within the UU denomination. We’ve been working for 15-16 years, quietly and persistently, on this—to have success on expanding awareness on individual freedoms,” White finishes.

Harlan White was a pleasure to talk to; not only was he informative and understanding, but extremely dedicated. To work on a cause for close to 16 years before it comes to fruition is, indeed, dedication.

If only we had more people like White to spread the word and work toward acceptance of polyamory in the larger society. Hopefully he will inspire others to jump on the cause.

To learn more about what the UUPA does, visit their web site at:


And to learn more about the Unitarian Universalist religious denomination, visit their web site at:



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