Last week, I railed against the persistent doubts of equal marriage rights. I said that marriage should be solely about consensual love of adults, and not based on the traditional, archaic, child-rearing institution of one man and one woman. Well, there was one concern that opponents of same-sex marriage often raised that I did not address, and I’d like to do that now.
Yes, you’re right, if we allow same-sex marriage, then we should also allow legal rights to polygamy, a marriage to multiple partners.
Because yes, if we define marriage to be about the pillars of love and consent, there is no logical or moral reason to deny that same right to polygamists. If we’re not going to legally advance an agenda of “one man and one woman,” why should we anymore advance an agenda of only two people, male or female, at all? Aren’t modern group relationships also built on the pillars of love and consent?
But no, that doesn’t help you make some kind of slippery-slope argument against equal marriage rights. The same reasoning applies to this debate as to the last one (which deniers lost, just so we’re clear): it doesn’t harm marriages to expand it to relationships that deserve it, so what is the problem with it? Your dreaded slope still clearly ends at love between consensual adults, so I had better not hear the same, very stupid arguments of leading to bestiality or child-marriage.
If your argument against has anything to do with the complication of the actual legal contracts of marriage, then you are also on shaky moral ground. Legal contracts between many vested parties have existed for a very long time, and besides even that, the ending of marriage contracts now (divorce) are already potentially complicated and arduous legally. It makes no moral difference at all between having a marriage contract between two people, or three people. If it’s morally acceptable for plural marriage, then we’ll build up the legal infrastructure for it.
In his June 26 Politico article, “It’s Time to Legalize Polygamy,” Frank de Boer writes to proponents of same-sex marriage that “given what you know about the advancement of human rights, are you sure your opposition to group marriage won’t sound as anachronistic as opposition to gay marriage sounds to you now? And since we have insisted that there is no legitimate way to oppose gay marriage and respect gay love, how can you oppose group marriage and respect group love?”
We can’t limit consensual love in this way; the exact same arguments for same-sex marriage apply. But don’t worry, it’ll be awhile before the country is ready to have this debate, and there are a few reasons for that.
First of all, polygamy has a similar kind of stigma of misunderstanding and mistrust that same-sex relationships had merely a few decades ago. But don’t you think they’ll be a similar growth of understanding that follows this latest marriage victory? I don’t see any reason why not.
Secondly, the July 6 article “Why Obergefell is Unlikely to Lead to Polygamy” on Real Clear Politics describes a few reasons why the debate will be a while yet, including familiarity: “But for now, it seems unlikely that a spate of relatable polygamists will emerge into the mainstream culture in the next few years. That remains a crucial distinction.”
And thirdly, there is an issue of political pragmatism. The gay-rights movement took up so much political capital, it is simply unrealistic for equal-rights proponents to immediately jump into the fight for plural marriage.
But keep in mind that it is entirely possible that after the undeniable (and rightful) success of the gay-rights movement, the argument for plural marriage already has some headway towards legalization.
Al Jazeera’s July 13 article “Could polygamy be legalised in the U.S.?” cites a reason for optimism for a speedy debate: “A recent Gallup poll shows that polygamy has been gaining acceptance over the last decade – from 5 percent in 2006 to 16 percent today.”
So, this political battle isn’t here quite yet, but we can certainly see it on the horizon. It is coming, but you have plenty of time to think it through for yourself. So please do; the argument is looming.
Jonathan Greig is a senior in anthropology.