Speaking as a somewhat ideologically removed observer of the gay marriage battle still raging in the national discourse, I have to say that there are some very amusing elements to the current “GAY POINT 2” argument taking place. I say this with all due respect for my traditional marriage supporting, conservative brethren who consider the matter a cornerstone of faith and a rightly viewed threat to the religious liberty rights of Christians who would opt to not participate in such ceremonies, but even you must surely be able to see some comedic value to the arguments currently coming from the Left. Having won the war for same sex marriage in the Supreme Court, more and more of them seem to be jumping on the dog pile of folks who insist – contrary to Chief Justice John Roberts’ arguments – that plural marriage can not possibly be just around the corner. I completely disagree, and have even come before you to say why plural marriage proponents now have a legally solid argument, but I’m forced to wonder where this sudden zeal for opposing them on the Left is coming from.
I suppose one possible explanation is that, even though there was zero value seen in the traditional definition of marriage as being the union of one man and one woman, the math underlying the equation was somehow sacrosanct. It didn’t really matter what genders filled the values of A and B in the principle of sums so long as C was still equal to two. Any other number would be an insult to… something.
A perhaps more cynical argument might be phrased as follows: Holy cow! We spent so long arguing against that slippery slope theory where letting gays marry could lead to polygamy that we’d damned well better come up with a convincing policy presentation now or we’re going to look like a bunch of self-serving asses! Find us an ethicist, stat!
I didn’t have long to wait to find out how that one would play out. Two examples popped up almost immediately. One came from Jonathan Rauch at Politico, who explains in no uncertain terms that Polygamy can’t be supported in the courts because it’s bad. And why is it bad? Well, it’s unfair to the men who don’t get wives, DUH.
Opposing the legalization of plural marriage should not be my burden, because gay marriage and polygamy are opposites, not equivalents. By allowing high-status men to hoard wives at the expense of lower-status men, polygamy withdraws the opportunity to marry from people who now have it; same-sex marriage, by contrast, extends the opportunity to marry to people who now lack it. One of these things, as they say on Sesame Street, is not like the other.
Wait… wait. I must have read that incorrectly. It almost sounds as if you’re saying that powerful heterosexual males would be gathering up all the desirable women for themselves and leaving the other heterosexual men without any women for themselves. But that can’t be right, can it? I mean, aren’t you sort of treating women like… property here? I must have misinterpreted it. Let’s read on.
Here’s the problem with it: when a high-status man takes two wives (and one man taking many wives, or polygyny, is almost invariably the real-world pattern), a lower-status man gets no wife. If the high-status man takes three wives, two lower-status men get no wives. And so on.
This competitive, zero-sum dynamic sets off a competition among high-status men to hoard marriage opportunities, which leaves lower-status men out in the cold. Those men, denied access to life’s most stabilizing and civilizing institution, are unfairly disadvantaged and often turn to behaviors like crime and violence. The situation is not good for women, either, because it places them in competition with other wives and can reduce them all to satellites of the man.
Nope. That’s what he’s saying alright. The women will be forced to fight it out for a position as the property of the desirable men… presumably the ones with the large bank accounts and nice houses. (And good genetic heritage one supposes.) What a horrible fate! But, you know, that doesn’t really sound very feminist friendly to me. In the 21st century, wouldn’t the women be equal partners in those choices? And all of that doesn’t even scratch the surface of why Rauch is assuming that it’s always going to be one man and many women. That sounds awfully Biblical to me, but we’ve already abandoned that thinking as useless relics of an imaginary, Holy Land past. What about the seventeen men who want to marry Jennifer Garner now that she’s suddenly gone back on the market? How do we square these things up, Jonathan?
But enough fun with Rauch. I was also contacted on Twitter by one Cathy Young, who has a new article at Time on the subject. To her credit, Cathy goes a bit further in recognizing the legal precedents noted by Chief Justice Roberts in terms of the raw courtroom arguments, much has I have already done here in the past. But she quickly retires to the SSM corner of the boxing ring and huddles with the faithful in finding a way to explain why it’s just different.
By contrast, the entire existing structure of modern marriage is designed for a dyad. DeBoer argues that there were similar practical objections to same-sex marriage—for instance, having to discard marriage license forms with the words “husband” and “wife” and replacing them with ones that list “Spouse 1” and “Spouse 2.” But this onerous task hardly compares to the massive overhaul multi-partner marriage would require: including revising the rules on post-divorce property division or survivor benefits for three, five, or 10 people instead of two; adjusting child custody arrangement for multiple legal parents; and determining who has the legal authority to make decisions for an incapacitated spouse.
Oh, I agree wholeheartedly on the point that it might be complicated. But let’s face it, Cathy. Marriage is an accursedly complicated proposition to begin with even when you’re talking about two people, their emotions, their needs and the horrors of splitting up their communal property if the entire arrangement goes pear shaped. But what about their rights? What if three of them insist that they are all Americans with the same rights as you and that they deserve a chance to dip themselves into that legal and spiritual blender should they truly love one another? I hear no answer from you beyond saying that it just might be too complicated.
Cathy then presses on to take up a more subtly stated version of the argument from Rauch.
Attempts to stop same-sex marriage floundered partly because no one could show how male/female unions would be harmed or even affected by same-sex ones. Legalizing multiple spouses, on the other hand, would immediately affect every couple by opening a potential door to new partners in the marriage. Yes, this would presumably require everyone’s consent, but at the very least, those who want monogamy would have to explicitly stipulate this, and even then a monogamy clause could probably be renegotiated later.
Opening a potential door? Once again you have denied the right of the individuals involved to take the plunge… to dare the daunting… to shake their fist at the whim of the gods and proclaim that they can carve out a little corner of happiness in this doomed world. Who are you to make that choice for them if heterosexuals can’t deny gay lovers from rolling the same dice? I see no answers here… only rhetoric which proclaims that this is somehow a sacred rite which is good enough for me, but not for thee.
But then we finally we come to the kicker of Cathy Young’s entire argument. I sincerely hope that everyone stuck with me this far into the diatribe, because this is the true cherry on top of the cake. With no further prelude, I offer you this closing argument from the author: (emphasis added)
In a free society, the private sexual choices of adults should not be criminalized. But they are not automatically entitled to cultural approval or societal support systems.
My, my my… that sounds awfully familiar. Where might I have possibly heard it before? Could it be some argument about how Christians really aren’t concerned about what gays do in the privacy of their bedrooms, but they just don’t want them redefining the concept of marriage? It is at this point where Young has gone full Animal Farm on us. Having taken over the formerly unassailable position of the farmer and his wife in the farmhouse, she is ready to begin banning the rest of the animals from having any of the apples and milk. After all, we don’t want Boxer the horse to get any strange ideas.
Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
Am I the only one with a nose picking up the distinct waft of the Bruce Jenner v. Rachel Dolezal argument here? You can decide which gender you are! That’s your right! But you can’t decide which race you are.
Because we said so.
And now you can’t say which genders can be married. That would be wrong. But there can’t be more than two and you shouldn’t be so impertinent as to ask why.