“Traditional Marriage” Arguments and Polygamy (or: The slippery slope is on their side of the hill)

Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriageHe tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in separate posts as a kind of back-t0-basics review of our opposition.

I think the traditional marriage folks have really messed up.

One of their biggest bugaboos is that same-sex marriage creates a slippery slope to polygamy. In fact, though, their own rationale for “traditional marriage” makes a strong case for plural marriage. And the “unintended procreation” argument they’ve just offered the Supreme Court? It only compounds the problem.

Let’s start with Vogt’s rebuttal of “our” argument.

5. Same-sex marriage will not lead to other redefinitions.

When marriage revolves around procreation, it makes sense to restrict it to one man and one woman. That’s the only relationship capable of producing children. But if we redefine marriage as simply a loving, romantic union between committed adults, what principled reason would we have for rejecting polygamist or polyamorous — that is, multiple-person — relationships as marriages? Thomas Peters, cultural director at the National Organization for Marriage, doesn’t see one. “Once you sever the institution of marriage from its biological roots, there is little reason to cease redefining it to suit the demands of various interest groups,” Peters said.

This is crazy. It’s not just nonsense. It’s one of those cases where making your argument more clear just makes it more absurd.

Let’s imagine an outsider listening to this, someone with no preconceived notions about polygamy. He hears this talk about marriage’s biological roots, that its purpose is to keep a child’s biological parents together. He learns that some men have children with two different women. And that some women have children with two different men. What would this impartial, logical stranger conclude?

He’d conclude that the man should be married to both women. The woman should be married to both men.

Yes.

And consider this: whenever our opponents pretend to give us “science” about the dangers of same-sex parenting, they’re always citing studies about children from broken hetero homes, children whose biological parents don’t live together. So if you  argue that all children should have married biological parents, then you require polygamous marriage.

But let’s be fair. Try to imagine our opponents’ response. They’d argue these case are unfortunate. They go against the world as it should be. They are unintended exceptions. And we don’t build the law around exceptions.

The problem is that our opponents are building their Supreme Court case on exactly the opposite idea. See, they’re desperate to distinguish opposite-sex relationships from same-sexers. But it’s harder now that more same-sexers are having and raising children. So they’ve been forced to focus on another distinction: the fact that only opposite-sex couples can have kids by accident. From their brief to the Supreme Court:

Underscoring the state’s interest in marriage is the undisputed truth that children suffer when procreation and childrearing take place outside stable family units, which is the usual result, unfortunately, of unintended pregnancies outside of marriage… Indeed, a recent study estimates that divorce and unwed childbearing “costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year, or more than $1 trillion each decade.”… Because same-sex relationships cannot naturally produce offspring, they do not implicate the State’s interest in responsible procreation and childrearing in the same way that opposite-sex relationships do. Same-sex relationships “are thus different, immutably so, in relevant respects” from opposite-sex relationships for purposes of marriage.”

I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t analyze the legal merits of this argument. I’ll simply point out that it’s an argument for polygamous marriage, for getting all those biological parents under the same roof, not shacking up, but group married. If a man can have “unintended pregnancies outside of marriage” with multiple women (and he can), then the state has an interest in promoting his marriage to multiple women — according to this reasoning.

This isn’t a problem for those of us who recognize that marriage is more than a government breeding program, that it’s about having a partner you can depend on, who is committed to you above everyone else — who is the first to lift you up when you fall,  to warm you when you are cold, forsaking all others, as long as you live. We don’t have worry about the slippery slope to polygamy. The Marital Biologists do.

This changes the debate. Our opponents chose the arguments they chose. From now on, when they bring up the danger of polygamy, we can turn that burden around and place it on their shoulders. If our opponents are sincere, they can argue against same-sex marriage, or against polygamy, but not against both.

Monday: Vogt contorts himself explaining the difference between infertile opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

Note: I’d love to claim credit for the phrase “government breeding program, but I stole it from a recent commenter and am using it with his permission.

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8 comments to “Traditional Marriage” Arguments and Polygamy (or: The slippery slope is on their side of the hill)

  • 1
    MKandefer says:

    An excellent, and new argument I’ve never heard before. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention. I think you missed an opportunity though. I think the following should be changed:
     
    “This isn’t a problem for those of us who recognize that marriage is more than a government breeding program, that it’s about having a partner you can depend on, who is committed to you above everyone else – who is the first to lift you up when you fall,  to warm you when you are cold, forsaking all others, as long as you live[, like Maggie Gallagher]”

  • 2
    Jason D says:

    Good points. I’d like to add one to this. 
    Polygamy is not group marriage, at least most of the time. When you read about it, it’s more like serial marriage. A man marries 1 woman, then he marries another, then another. The wives are NOT married to each other. 
    Now their definition is 1 man 1 woman. Well, a man with six wives technically DOES fulfill this requirement. See this man has 6 wives because he has 6 marriages –and each marriage contains 1 man and 1 woman. 
    Read the Federal Marriage Amendment, and read any of the “one man/one woman” marriage restriction legislation. They say part of the aim is to stop the slippery slope to polygamy. Well not one of these bits of legislation limits the number of marriages a person can have simultaneously. It just says a marriage is 1 man and 1 woman. It doesn’t say the man can’t have multiple marriages to multiple wives, or that the wife can’t have multiple marriages to multiple husbands. 
    This just solidifies that they don’t actually care about polygamy. They’re not actually concerned with it, as their legislation focuses on the number of people in a marriage and their genders, but doesn’t make any mention of how many marriages an individual is allowed to have. 

  • 3
    Chris M says:

    I really like John Corvino’s take on this:

  • 4
    Jon Y says:

    That Supreme Court brief really troubles me.  First, the government’s promulgation of opposite-sex marriage–for what, the last two and a half centuries?–has not managed to decrease the number of children reared in single-parent homes; quite the opposite, in fact, which begs the question of how continuing to limit it to such will address this problem.  Second, allowing same-sex marriage would increase the number of “stable family units” available to raise children from unintended pregnancies, through adoption.

  • 5
    Kubrick's Rube says:

    <i>But if we redefine marriage as simply a loving, romantic union between committed adults, what principled reason would we have for rejecting polygamist … relationships as marriages?</i>
     
    I like to point out that marriage equality is about extending the right to marry <i>someone</i>, which is s distinct legal argument than what slippery-slopers try to suggest: the right to marry <i>anyone</i> or <i>everyone</i>.

  • 6
    Deeelaaach says:

    I vaguely remember that someone, somewhere for the anti-equality side tried to explain away polygamy in the Bible by arguing that polygamy was really just serial marriage – the man was married to one woman – just several different times.  If the anti-equality camp seriously tries to argue this, then they are arguing for polygamy – and that’s on them, not on us. 

  • 7
    Poly Marriage Equality says:

    Why do you object to extending “marriage equality” to plural marriage? If the opposite gender requirement is arbitrary, and/or predjudicial, and thus should be discarded, why not the number? 

  • 8
    robtish says:

    Poly, that’s answered in the post, a couple paragraphs from the bottom

     

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