Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Same-sex marriage, civil unions and polygamy: Tacitus replies

Last week, I pointed out that the widely circulated "gay marriage leads to polygamy in the Netherlands" story was inaccurate, since the trio that recently "married" in a small Dutch town did not make use of same-sex marriage or even civil union laws but instead utilized a samenlevingscontract ("cohabitation contract"), which gives the participants some marital-like rights but largely allows them to define the terms of the partnership.

Now, Tacitus, one of the conservative bloggers who had made the "slippery slope" argument, replies:

[T]he substance of my argument changes not at all: the setting-up of alternative structures meant to ape marriage in any form, be it civil unions or
samenlevingscontracts, while evading or negating the fundamental features of marriage, serves only to negate marriage itself by opening the door to the slippery slope toward the world wherein hideous Dutchmen can marry multiple women simultaneously. And that's in a better-case scenario.

What, then, does Tacitus suggest? No legal protections of any kind for same-sex relationships — not even essentially private, legally enforceable contracts? Leaving aside humane and moral considerations, would that even be politically viable, in this day and age? It seems to me that the answer is clearly "no."

Hence, I repeat the question I asked in my original post. If the chief concern is the dilution of marriage by "alternative structures," isn't the full legalization of same-sex marriage the "safest" option, as Andrew Sullivan argued years ago? Or, at least, a Vermont-like civil union system that is not available to heterosexuals or to people already married?


Dean said...

I agree with Mark B. Many, many conservatives have learned not to say so, but their belief that homosexuality is offensively immoral is what is at the root of their opposition.

I, myself, have problems with the erosion of the the word 'marriage', but only because I have seen the financial protections for people who sacrificed in order to raise children erode at the same time.

I agree that all people should be treated equally, but the institute of marriage arose to give people who either had children or who had the strong possibility of having children a shot at doing so without winding up starving.

The need for such things (financial aid for married people) has become very cloudy since the middle of the last century, when children became optional. Is a union between a heterosexual couple who have no intention of having children any different from that between two men, who can't? I don't think so.

Given that we are moving toward a society in which the non-traditional arrangement is becoming accepted, we need some other model to help people who choose to have children.

If you gather from this that I think the 'slippery slope' is a reality, I do. And I think it's a good thing.

* I've just reread this, and it's a little confused. Blame the cold medication, please.

Anonymous said...

dean wrote, "the institute of marriage arose to give people who either had children or who had the strong possibility of having children a shot at doing so without winding up starving."

I don't think that is correct. The historical evidence suggests that marriage arose in order to protect a man's property interest in his woman and his offspring. A man provided for his household out of self-interest, not out of any legal duty, just as he would provide for his pigs and cows. The "duty" to provide for one's family was added to marriage after the institution had come into existence.

Iguana said...

Actually, I think this is a superfluous debate. As a good libertarian (classical, or whatever!), you might want to consider advocating that government get the hell out of marriage all together.

The fact is that marriage is nothing more than a legal contract between two people. The only difference between a marriage and a private contract is that people in the former are being lazy allowing the state to define the terms of their union and potential disunion.

It would be much better of two people - whatever their sex - decided between themselves what the terms of their union will be and how it might be dissolved in the future. If they don't want to deal with it, they could seek out a group or a religion that produces these contracts for them based on a set of principles. This would require that people think about what they are getting into, which are far cry better than how most people go into a government licensed marriage.

Everywhere government sticks its hands in personal relationships it makes a mess with unintended consequences that far outweigh whatever "problem" policy makers are trying to correct.

Anonymous said...

iguana -

most libertarians see protecting children's rights, at least against their biological parents' whims, as a legitimate function of government.

Cathy Young said...

Iguana, I noticed that you still refer to "a legal contract between two people." If the government "gets out of the marriage business" altogether, is there any reason not to recognize such a contract between three or more?

Anonymous said...

While I agree with iguana, it is worth noting that one of the reasons that many gay couples don't simply draw up a contract, but instead wish to be able to marry, is that marriage provides for more than just the terms of their union and how it may be dissolved in the future- it also provides economic benefits such as tax breaks, and legal benefits such as being able to make a decision regarding an incapacitated partners health treatment, and other benefits, which aren't available in many states to non-married couples.

Anonymous said...


That is true, but it should be noted that many of those gay and lesbian couples who are pursuing legal marraige, already have drawn up cohabitation agreements, living wills, powers of attorney, etc.

I have to tell you... being 'illegally' married is very expensive.


Revenant said...

First of all, let me say that I support gay marriage.

But I don't see the argument for preventing the "dilution" of marriage by recognizing gay marriage. What further dilution will that prevent? Allowing gays to marry is a lot more radical and untraditional than allowing polygamy, after all.

Also, a comment about this:

The historical evidence suggests that marriage arose in order to protect a man's property interest in his woman and his offspring.

That makes it sound like women got nothing out of the arrangement, which is of course ridiculous. The institution of marriage served to protect men AND women -- it guaranteed a man exclusive access to a woman, and guaranteed the woman support for herself and her children.

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