Since we seem to have reached watershed status and state after state is now allowing same-sex marriage, many of us have come very accustomed to hearing slippery slope arguments about how gay marriage will ultimately lead to similar laws allowing people to marry multiple spouses, children, or even animals and household appliances.
Usually, these arguments are rightfully ignored, but let's consider the question honestly for a moment.
Marrying your Mr. Coffee or pet poodle is simply ridiculous. Neither is capable of expressing consent. Similarly, children are considered to not be capable of rendering consent. Although, the laws establishing the age of consent and the ability to marry with parental permission vary widely across the states.
But when we reach the question of polygamy, I think the doomsdayers may have a point. It is, in my opinion, entirely plausible that the next fight after gay marriage will be for multiple marriages. After all, we allow unlimited serial marriages, as evidenced by this Indiana woman who is considering her 24th husband. Totally legal.
So is we are ok, legally, with somebody marrying 24 men one right after the other, why are we so frightened by the idea of someone marrying two men at the same time, with everyone involved consenting?
Unfortunately, polygamy carries with it the stigma of some very famous cult-like communes in which young girls were forced into plural marriages with much older men. But that is a separate issue of age of consent and should not be lumped in with the debate over polygamy.
Meanwhile, tv shows like Big Love and Sister Wives are raising awareness and priming the country for a discussion about the limits of marriage. And in fact, the family featured in Sister Wives was the subject of a recent court case which resulted in the weakening of Utah's bigamy prohibitions, essentially allowing people to choose polygamy as a lifestyle without fear of prosecution, while upholding the state's right to decline recognizing the marriages.
Colorado currently has a similar law, making it a class 6 and class 2 felony respectively for "Any married person who, while still married, marries or cohabits in this state with another."
This decision could easily be compared to the Supreme Court case in 2003 which struck down sodomy laws. Once gay couples could be "out" without fear of government persecution, the public was able to see how common it was and how many "normal" people were gay. We may see a similar effect as state cohabitation laws begin to fall all over the US and plural marriage families begin to live openly.
So perhaps some on the right are correct when they say that the next step in the liberalization of marriage is polygamy. But they are wrong in thinking that the gay rights movement is the first step, this progression began long before gay rights. And they are wrong to draw that line farther by concluding that children, animals, and objects will follow, because those prohibitions are not based in religious preference, but rather in the question of consent.
As for me, I maintain the position that marriage is not the business of the government. I would rather see governments at every level end recognition and regulation of marriage altogether and replace those laws with a system that allows any number of adults to unify their finances and property if they wish, regardless of their romantic relationship with one another.
But since that is unlikely in the near future, I will continue to support the movement towards recognition, or at least decriminalization, of consenting adults who choose to be in uncommon relationships, whether they are interracial, same-sex, or polygamous.
Well put, Indy. I've long believed the only arguments against polygamy are based on Biblical views and social mores — the very same things that condemn homosexuality. So, if gay marriage is okay, why not plural marriage.
About a year ago I consulted with a young woman in a "polyamorous" relationship and helped her write a will that recognized her situation as well as the law can given the present state of affairs. Actually, the Bible gives unequivocal denunciations of homosexuality but in some situations not only sanctions polygamy but mandates it! If your brother dies, a surviving brother should marry his widow, even if he already has a wife. It's the Biblical form of Social Security Survivors Benefits. So if we're cool with Billy has two moms, get ready for Suzie has two moms and a dad. or even two moms and three dads.
Until the advent of Chrisitianity, the Bible was fine with men having up to 4 wives. In places where it is the state religion, Islam still allows this. But I always thought this was bass-akwards. Somee men have enough difficuty managing fidelity to one woman, let alone four. Women, on the other hand, I think could easily handle four husbands and surely get one of them to clean out the gutters..
Let's cut to the chase: How does one manage toilet seat lids with three husbands?
You know, I hadn't considered that.
LOL. My guess is that toilet seat lids are a relatively recent post-polygamy-wise invention, and the baneful end to many good marriages.
I can't find a single mention anywhere in either the Constitution or the Holy Bible. If the GOP was seriously pro-family, they'd just outlaw the damn things altogether.
The same way I do with one husband. I just look before I sit. He has other sterling qualities. I've come to accept that putting the seat down isn't ever going to be one of them. No biggie.
Well, there is an recent invention that automaticaly closes toilet bowl lids via a motion detector–might help.
Really good article. And great point that we've had polygamy long before the recent drive for gay marriage. I'll stick with one wife but if others want to have a larger unit – more power to them.
One husband is enough. See toilet seat discussion.
Polygamy was certainly accepted in the Old Testament, so all those supporters of Biblical marriage should be just fine with it.
The problems we've had recently with polygamy involve control. FLDS hasn't had a sterling reputation when it comes to the "traditional" Mormon lifestyle. They've been caught abusing the welfare system, bringing up their children in a very isolated manner that trains them that their way is the only way, and in so doing they abuse those women and also engage in under-age relationships with them. While they're at it, they dump their "unwanted" boys out of their little enclaves and onto the streets so that the male-female ratio is preserved. It isn't pretty.
In the sense that we should be away from the marriage business anyway – assuming it's consensual – I agree. But if the government is going to recognize marriages for tax purposes, I don't think the current tax laws could accommodate such a marriage structure properly.
I am actually surprised. I was nervous writing this post. I expected a strong negative reaction, either from people who opposed the idea of polygamy or from those who felt that talking about it hurts the current gay rights movement (both of which are common every time I have tried to talk about this in the real world).
I am happy that presumption was incorrect here.