Polygamy Redux

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Romeo and Juliet, watercolor by Ford Madox Brown

Public Domain

Romeo and Juliet, watercolor by Ford Madox Brown

Romeo and Juliet, watercolor by Ford Madox Brown

Romeo and Juliet, watercolor by Ford Madox Brown

In a friendly riposte to my post criticizing his Sunday column, Ross Douthat insists that he wasn’t interested in pushing the old conservative slippery slope argument that legitimating same-sex marriage would inevitably legitimate polygamy.  “I really was writing (believe it or not!) about polygamy’s prospects in a spirit of curiosity rather than sky-is-falling polemic,” he writes. I’ll take his word for it, though I can’t quite efface my suspicion that he was not entirely motivated by the disinterested search for truth.

Be that as it may, Douthat continues to insist that polygamy’s prospects hinge on what he called “the now-ascendant model of marriage as a gender-neutral and easily-dissolved romantic contract.”

Silk’s argument elides the important distinction between legal tolerance of polygamy and legal recognition — “marriage equality” for the plurally-inclined. The former might indeed be furthered, as he suggests, by religious liberty arguments, but the latter possibility is only likely to be realized if current progressive arguments about marriage’s elastic, affection-based definition are more comprehensively applied.

No doubt it’s easier to get a ruling against a law like the one a federal judge threw out in Utah, which specifically targeted religious polygamists seeking no legal recognition, than to establish a legal right to polygamy, but so what? The question is: Why should legal recognition of polygamy depend more on a model of marriage as a romantic contract than on a robust understanding of free exercise?

It’s because, says Douthat, the romantic contract model “offers no compelling grounds for limiting the number of people who might wish to marry.” But neither does the currently ascendant conservative model of marriage as all about the procreation and raising of children. Traditional polygamy is far more about that than it is about romance.

As the Supreme Court’s Abercrombie decision this week indicates, free exercise rights are gaining strength in American jurisprudence today — in significant measure because of conservatives’ sense that they represent a minority whose ability to live according to their religious lights is in danger. That’s what polygamy advocates have going for them when they go to court to achieve legal recognition.

  • Greg1

    Woman + Man = Marriage
    Man + Man = Marriage
    Woman + Woman = Marriage
    Brother + Sister = Marriage
    Multiple men + Multiple women = Marriage
    Man/Woman + Pet(s) = Marriage
    I don’t see any slippery slope here, only Love.

  • Ben in oakland

    As I have often said, but have never yet received and answer to:

    If a man can marry a woman, why can’t he marry three? The answer to that question has nothing to do with gay people Marrying, and never has. After all, everywhere in the world that polygamy is practiced it is a heterosexual institution.

    The idea that marriage is an institution directed at the procreation and raising of children, and has nothing to do with romance, is belied by the actual facts of marriage for the last thousand years or so that Society has had increasing literacy among all classes. Marriage is a great many things, and one of those things is a civil contract created between two romantic partners.

    to the best of my knowledge, there isn’t a single jurisdiction in the world that requires children for marriage to be valid. For that matter, there isn’t a single jurisdiction in the world that require sex to occur for a marriage to be valid.

  • Larry

    This is what you get for taking Ross Douthat seriously.

    Never mind that there are plenty of rational and secular reasons for banning polygamy and incest but NONE EXIST WHATSOEVER for marriage equality.

    The problem with argument by analogy is many times the analogy is just plain terrible and inappropriate. The argument always devolves into defending and describing the alleged analogous situation rather than discussion of the subject at hand.

    Polygamy only works well unless you live in an autocratic environment. Where the multiple spouses have lesser or no equivalent rights with the singular spouse. The inherent gender neutrality under our marriage laws turns polygamy into a nightmare of rights and obligations which cannot be resolved in a just and fair manner.

    If Ross Douthat has never heard such arguments, he is either a bigger moron than I suspected or being willfully ignorant.

  • Glenn Harrell

    When I go and visit my doc, he reads my hands, listens to the heart and reads vitals. He uses a standard for normalcy that seems to work for him and all the docs before him. People have long since given up on re-defining these standards so locked in to the performance, health and well-being of the human body.

    Now we come to the human mind and the psychology of sexual behaviors.
    “Normal” in these matters is gone, save the bible-thumpers antique version. We must trust that our courts have the wisdom to let the people (majority) speak and vote their chosen versions of “normal” into the fabric of our culture.

    This may take a while. And if we are to be consistent, we must eradicate all the restrictions now in place concerning all prohibitions. These include, polygamy, adultery, bestiality and all the …uality’s around matters of sex.

    The new normal must be “whatever suits you.” Otherwise, we keep dancing around peoples archaic views of morality, wherever those views…

  • Larry

    How about instead of sweeping generalizations bordering on ridiculous hyperbole, one just uses their head. What goes on in one’s bedroom is of no concern of yours or anyone else if the parties are consenting adults and nobody is being harmed in the act.

    If you want to ban something of such a personal nature, cough up rational and secular reasons to do so. Our laws never have to follow the religious belief of the majority or any given group. Our laws must have a rational and secular purpose, lest it run afoul of being government established religion.

  • Glenn Harrell

    My point exactly Larry.

    WE the people ARE our religion in this purpose of rational and secular.
    Our majority votes establish us as the curators of our self-made religion as well as the policy holders in our self-determined government. WE say what is normal or acceptable or lawful in this way.

    The remaining trees in this privacy forest have land owners. As soon as our Supreme Court cuts one down, we see more clearly just how many remain.

    You say, “Our laws never have to follow the religious belief of the majority or any given group.” Really? In what country do you reside?

  • Ben in oakland

    1)) That,s because you have no morals, and favor things like incest and bestiality.

    2) That’s because you don’t understand a thing about what legal marriage is all about.

    That’s because you think marriage is all about sex with the purpose of making babies, because see #1and#2 above.

  • Ben in oakland

    I believe the words you are looking for are “blinded by ideology.”

  • Leo Sprietsma

    I watched a U-Tube documentary yesterday about a remote Tribe in the Amazon.

    In their culture, men sometimes have more than one wife. Women sometimes have more than one husband.

    The women know of a jungle herb that acts as a contraceptive, so that they regulate the number of children.

    ‘marriage” is not always the same for everyone in every culture.

  • ben in oakland

    Yet another man of low morals and limited understanding, especially of what the word NORMAL means.

    well, for that matter, what the word MORALS means.

    Funny, but the ONLY people who advocate for polygamy, bestiality, and incest are right wing Christians. I never heard of a marriage equality activist, and certainly not one of any kind of stature, who advocates for these things. It’s always the Christians.

    why is that?

  • Larry

    You are not getting it at all. Try less snark and more straightforward discussion.

    One cannot mention civil liberties with the notion of majority rules. Civil liberties are meant as a limit on such things. To keep the majority from voting away essential rights to a political minority using its voting power.

    “You say, “Our laws never have to follow the religious belief of the majority or any given group.” Really? In what country do you reside?”

    Its called the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. Our laws cannot be used for the purposes of furthering nothing more than a sectarian religious agenda. They must have rational and secular purpose, lest they be considered government sponsored establishment of religion.

    Religious freedom means nobody has to be compelled to live according to the dictates of the religious belief of others.

  • ben in oakland

    “Our majority votes establish us as the curators of our self-made religion as well as the policy holders in our self-determined government. WE say what is normal or acceptable or lawful in this way.”

    Actually, no you don’t. We live in a constitutional and representative republic. The constitution is the law of the land. Were it not the case, we’d still have segregation.

    So, apparently, you are also anti-Constitution as well as being of questionable morals.

  • Glenn Harrell

    You and I have only just begun to see the anti-constitutional element raise its head. Our votes amend such a constitution, and so we will!

    And we have the Supreme court to thank for reminding us of our powers.

    Of, by and for the people who have the power to amend anything presently on paper as long as we are a majority vote..

  • Larry

    The fact that you consider “majority rules” to be an overriding concern when it comes to civil liberties shows a lack of understanding of Constitutional principles in general.

    I see you have forgone any attempt at pretending to have a rational, informed discussion and are going into empty threats of “might makes right”. How very autocratic of you. If you can’t get your way through democratic means, threaten to undo the democratic system in your favor.

  • Glenn Harrell

    “Religious freedom means nobody has to be compelled to live according to the dictates of the religious belief of others.”

    There is no such thing as “nobody” in a pluralistic government, “Somebody” is always on the opposite end with a whimper, grudge,chip on their shoulder or much worse.

    WE all take what we can get and at many points we all are compelled to live according to the dictates of the religious beliefs of others.

    WE just all want to be the “others” because we are right and they are wrong.

    Political minorities may vote away the essential rights of majorities, no?

    We are merely trading religions these days. As soon as we are finally free of the Christians and their bible, we have a secularist religion and corresponding agenda to beat back from attempts at national dominance.

    We have the Islamic traditions to weigh in the balance as well.

    Hold tight to your “essential rights”.

  • Larry

    I am sure you thought you were writing something profound, but it appears just confused and ignorant instead.

    There are people with legitimate, rationally supportable interests which can be justified, and those who do not. Having a gripe is not the same as having one which demands color of law.

    “WE all take what we can get and at many points we all are compelled to live according to the dictates of the religious beliefs of others.”

    People in Saudi Arabia and the Iran would agree with such a statement. But here its just bullcrap. Our laws must have a rational and secular purpose if they are not to run afoul of our 1st amendment.

    Political minorities are so because they DON’T have the power of the majority vote to enforce their interests.

    Calling secularism a religion shows you have no concept of religion or secularism. We are not trading one religion for another because there was never a state religion to begin with.

    You have no clue what you are talking…

  • Greg1

    Larry, what happened to your tolerance and inclusiveness? What happened to Love and marriage equality? You apparently only want your version of marriage to reign supreme.

  • larry

    Tolerance and inclusiveness never meant I took leave of my senses, or any notion of rational thought and knowledge of material facts. Nor does it mean I have to tolerate or include oft repeated knee-jerk brain dead nonsense.

    Its interesting you say I am tolerant and inclusive in nature and are somehow bemoaning what think you see as a temporary leave of such noble traits. Thank you for the compliment.

    How does it feel to have a position which can’t be supported rationally or without invoking religious hoodoo? It must be tough on you.

    My version of marriage, which is any union among 2 consenting adults which has no rational and secular reasons to ban them is far more tolerant and inclusive than yours.

    Fundies should really stop trying to be clever. They stink at it.

  • Greg1

    Actually, it would be fun to watch a four way debate between you, Mormon polygamist, a gay activist, and a conservative all proclaiming they had the correct version of what marriage should be. When can we schedule it?

  • But only two of us would be require use of rational, secular and consistent arguments. It would not be the Mormon or conservative.

    Its an easy concept to follow for those being intellectually honest and not religious fanatics:

    Marriage laws are permissive towards a union absent rational and secular reasons not to do it. There are rational and secular arguments against all of the “slippery slope” examples used by the anti-gay crowd against marriage equality If you were interested in a serious discussion I could bring them up. [Other than polygamy, they all deal with issues of consent]

  • Greg1

    I guess I should have said a radical gay activist who believes ONLY gay marriage is true marriage. Short sighted of me, I know.

  • Ben in oakland

    Don’t worry. No one will ever accuse you of being either long-sighted or broad minded.

  • Larry

    “I guess I should have said a radical gay activist who believes ONLY gay marriage is true marriage.”

    Which is like saying I would be debating with a unicorn. Makes sense given the fantasy premises being put forward by the conservative set.