Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Gay Marriage and Polygamy Tie the Knot

The law is capable of fine distinctions. A society could legalize homosexual marriage and not legalize polygamy, or vice-versa. But politics is not really capable of fine distinctions. If the proponents of same-sex marriage convince the courts that all adults have an equal-protection right to marry one another, then those same courts will conclude that any number of consenting adults have the same right. The political movement to keep the state out of the bedroom applies not only to the gay bedroom, but to all the adult bedrooms in the house.

I cite as just the latest evidence John Pomfret's Washington Post article, " Polygamists fight to decriminalize bigamy." Pomfret cites multiple ways in which the gay marriage and polygamous marriage movements are closely tied – whether the former want it or not:

Consciously taking tactics from the gay-rights movement, polygamists have reframed their struggle, choosing in interviews to de-emphasize their religious beliefs and focus on their desire to live "in freedom."

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, which voided laws criminalizing sodomy, also aided polygamy's cause because it implied that the court disapproved of laws that reach into the bedroom.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University … has written two op-eds for USA Today calling for the legalization of bigamy -- and same-sex marriage. "I find polygamy an offensive practice," said Turley, who has become something of a celebrity among polygamists in Utah. "But there is no way its practice among consenting adults should be a felony."

Turley is right – the political movement to let consenting adults marry any way they want to is a potent one. The action in polygamy prosecution has shifted recently as a result of these new political realities. Even the Attorney General of Utah, who is on the front line of this struggle, has publicly announced that he will not enforce the state's bigamy laws. Instead, he only goes after polygamists for rape, incest, and welfare fraud – as he would with non-polygamists, too.

Proponents of gay marriage are usually liberal. Proponents of polygamy are usually conservative. If they had their way, they might each write the law to include their kind of marriage and exclude the other kind. But the political movement they are both riding – marriage is a private choice of individuals that society should just accept – is a tiger they are holding by the tail. If they don't let go, the tiger will eat both movements, and much more beside. And then we will have no marriage at all. Only whatever private contracts any consenting adults want to make.


Alan said...

You do like this argument don't you? :)

And once again, I'll point out that we've changed laws surrounding marriage when the anti-miscegenation laws were abolished. And yet, that did not result in tidal wave of pro-polygamy, pro-bestiality, pro-polyandry laws.

It has also been pointed out here before that changing the legal definition of marriage to include more than two people would be an enormous undertaking that would be completely different than changing laws to simply include to members of the same sex. Inheritance laws, child custody laws, etc., etc., etc., would all have to be changed to figure out how to deal with 3 or more partners. That's obviously not the case with gay marriage.

But finally, the argument that we must sacrifice gay couples so that polygamists don't try to change the institution of marriage is, frankly, cruel. Interesting that you don't propose to sacrifice government regulation of ALL marriage in order to prevent the polygamists from winning. But then, that would require straight people to sacrifice some of their own rights, rather than simply denying gays those same rights and responsibilities.

Plenty of people, thinking people, can draw those lines without resorting to these slippery slope arguments, red herring arguments, arguments from fear, etc.

wha said...

The argument against criminalizing any bedroom behavior between consenting adults is a valid one, and one finding support in the Supreme Court. This argument falls short in this context, however; marriage is not a construction of criminal law. Marriage is family law. It is one of the few remaining areas of law where there still seems to be a “natural” law independent of, and perhaps higher than, even the Constitution.

I buy the argument that family is the bedrock microstructure of society. Families are given extra protection of the law for the betterment of society. If you look at any group of society that is having critical stability problems, you will also find a lack of stable family structures. It is hard to believe that polygamous marriage would help stabilize society.

The ultimate result of polygamy would be an increase in unmarried young men relative to women. This is the most dangerous situation in the world. Young men are full of vigor and without something productive to work their vigor for, they will turn to destructive activities. A roughly equal balance of unmarried men and women, and doubly a strong marriage pattern, act to convert the raw power of young men towards ends that are useful for society.

Homosexual marriage may be somewhat different. While I question how long (male) homosexual marriages would last, working through the analysis, time and time again I conclude that for the sake of children we should recognize gay marriage as long as we allow single adults to adopt children. While gay relationships cannot create children, they are willing to adopt, and take good care, of children that are created in heterosexual relationships that are not able or willing to take care of them. Unless we want to place a burden on an already overloaded adoption system to somehow weed out gay adoptors, we cannot eliminate homosexual singles and couples adopting children. In the best interest of these children, we should therefore give these families equal protection of the law that we give to heterosexual couples.

While polygamous and homosexual movements may be using some of the same language, their positions are obviously different. It is the duty of those of us who understand the difference to disseminate our knowledge to others and not to be hoodwinked by the spinsters.

Mark Smith said...

Sorry, but I'm disappointed with you, Beau.

You claim that the same arguments in favor of gay marriage are being made in favor of polygamy. Interestingly, those same arguments were made when the battle over interracial marriage was fought. The decisions in both Lawrence v. Texas and Loving v. Virginia reference the 14th amendment, due process, and individual decisions concerning the intimacies of physical relationships.

Does that mean that when a white woman marries a black man it causes gay marriage?

I think not - this is yet another attempt to link homosexuality to Scary Things that might happen someday.

Mark Smith said...


Young men are full of vigor and without something productive to work their vigor for, they will turn to destructive activities.

You've got to be kidding me. All criminal acts committed by young men are a result of not getting any?

I can accept that the lack of stable family structures (single-parent families, lack of parental contact) would have an effect on the behavior of young people. It seems a stretch to me to say that the lack of sex causes crime. Particularly since we are telling people NOT to have sex before marriage, and NOT to get married too young.

wha said...

The "something productive to work for" I was refering to is family. A married man with children works harder than a single man because he, in his mind if not in reality, is working to provide for his wife and children. (Research by Linda Waite supports this claim.) By no means did I mean that a lack of sex in young men destabilizes society.

wha said...


It also looks like things aren't getting much better. Extramarital births have increased, especially among Hispanics who many American thinkers were hoping would help to improve marriage trends in the US.

Anonymous said...

What, then, is to be the guiding principle(s) that serves to define marriage as our society ought to define it?

Of course, there are those who believe in an evolutionary argument; that is, the human race depends on male/female parenting relationships, and as such, that relationship deserves special appreciation in the legal code. Ironically enough, these typically are the most religious (and routinely, anti-evolution) people on the planet. They go beyond the evolution part, though, in holding that these relationships are to be lifelong commitments between the two people, and often the rationale for that is based on religious text. The principle is further substantiated, though, in recent social science which documents that children enjoy improved well-being when parents remain together in something other than a high-conflict marriage. (ASIDE: Notable, too, that Waite and others have concluded that their overall well-being does not improve with divorce from a high-conflict marriage, but rather, remains approximately the same.)

Add or subtract from this.

If we alter the parameters of marriage to include two men, two women, one man and several women, one woman and seveal women, or for that matter, any combination beyond these... what are those parameters that we can apply consistently that make it all come together to make sense for future generations?

Anonymous said...

Among the likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take
us down a slippery slope to legalized polygamy and "polyamory"
(group marriage).

Anonymous said...

Well, when our opponents are reduced to arguing that gay marriage is bad because
it might lead to ebony lesbian sex, we have won the argument. When they have to change
the subject, it means they do not have any good arguments against gay marriage itself.

You would think if the religious right were really so worried about polygamy — and
whatever they privately think they do argue that way — they would use their energy to a)
explain clearly how gay marriage could plausibly lead to polygamy and b) explain clearly
why polygamy is bad. Yet they make little effort to do either.

Perhaps that is because nothing in the principles supporting gay marriage provides
any support for the legalization of any other type of ebony pussy, much less polygamy
And the legalization of polygamy seems very unlikely anyway in modern societies like the U.S.

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