Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Same-sex marriage and polygamy

A commenter on the thread about the same-sex marriage debate raises the issue of SSM and polygamy. My Reason column on the subject from March 2004 can be found here.

11 comments:

Revenant said...

You seem to be suggesting, in your article, that legalized polygamy would give "binary" married couples the right to marry additional people without their partner's permission.

Is that necessarily the case? If I enter into an equal business partnership with another person, neither of us is legally allowed to add extra partners to the arrangement without the permission of the other.

Cathy Young said...

revenant: of course no one could marry an additional person without their partner's permission. I'm thinking about situations in which one spouse in a binary couple tells the other that he or she wants to take a second spouse, and the other spouse is facing the choice of either acquiescing or being divorced.

Revenant said...

That doesn't sound all that different from what's possible today, though -- e.g., a husband tells his wife to either divorce him or accept that he's keeping a mistress.

Cathy Young said...

True, of course. But presumably, if polygamous marriage were legalized, the husband could do that without facing a social stigma.

Of course, that may be an iffy presumption. I think one of the underlying assumptions of the marriage debate is that legalization has to translate into social approval. And that's not necessarily so. Today, for instance, it's perfectly legal for an 80-year-old man to marry an 18-year-old woman or vice versa, but I daresay social support for such marriages (especially ones where the woman is older) is almost nil.

I personally suspect that if polygamy were to be legalized, its practice would be limited to people who already practice polygamous or polyamorous lifestyles -- i.e., (1) members of traditional religions that sanction polygamy and (2) weirdos.

William R. Barker said...

Holy Robert A. Heinlein, Batman! (*GRIN*)

"Because I say so!" Sometimes... that's the answer. So it seems to me to be the case with polygamy and various off-shoots. The answer is "No!" because the vast, vast, vast majority of Americans find the idea abhorrent. Period.

Now... one might make the same argument concerning gay marriage... but the degree of public opposition to gay marriage isn't nearly as overwhelming as it would be to seriously considering legalizing polygamy.

While it might be intellectually stimulating to debate whether polygamy is a healthy social expression of love and committment and argue that the logic of legalizing polygamy follows the logic of legalizing gay marriage... there's really no point. Regarding polygamy... the answer is "No!" (*GRIN*)

I'm a straight, conservative Republican who leans libertarian. In a perfect world I'd be all for gay marriage. (Hell... I'd even consider polygamy!) In the world we live in... I'd be happy with gay civil unions. (*SMILE*)

bearblue said...

The "vast," majority says no, is not a sufficient argument or reason. The point of the republic/democratic set up in the states is to avoid the trampling of minority views by the majority.

Meanwhile, optimally, As a free adult, you have a right to say no, within your relationships, and have that be sancrosact. But other free adults should also have the right to form their relationships however they form them and have that be just as sancrosact.

Otherwise one is just using the government to gets one's way based on a mere bias (which happens appallingly often these days).

Anonymous said...

Cathy,

"I personally suspect that if polygamy were to be legalized, its practice would be limited to people who already practice polygamous or polyamorous lifestyles -- i.e., (1) members of traditional religions that sanction polygamy and (2) weirdos."

1. As the London bombings show, the assimilation of western-born Muslims is an urgent priority. Legal polygamy would make it easier for polygamous Muslims to function here, instead of giving up the lifestyle to emigrate or staying home, and that would be a major impediment to assimilation. The prospect of trying to assimilate American-born Muslims who grow up in poloygamous families does not thrill me.

2. My admittedly limited obervation suggests that "weirdos" who engage in polygamy-type relationships are very often mentally ill. The hair-raising dysfunction one reads about in polygamous unions are a cause and effect of their members' instability. Legalizing ploygamy, and tarring criticism of it as bigotry, will probably do little to help them get the treatment they need.

This is not to say that all polygamous/polyamorous people are mentally ill or that mentally ill people can never make competent decisions. But I don't think that the benefits legalized polygamy will give to its more competent practitioners would outweigh the problems I suspect it would cause the the less rational actors

Revenant said...

But presumably, if polygamous marriage were legalized, the husband could do that without facing a social stigma

I think he'd face the same stigma we place, today, on a man who dumps his wife just so he can marry somebody he likes more.

kat said...

Wouldn't it be possible to set up marriage contracts so that certain marriages were polygamous (or had the potential for polygamy) from the start, while others were strictly monogamous? I am not particularly invested either way in these types of relationships, but see no real moral reason why polygamy shouldn't be legal (though I can see a whole host of practical reasons, not least that religious cults that practice polygamy have been notorious for incest and sexual abuse due to power inequalities in their structure.)

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