Next Up: Polygamy

It is an unalloyed joy that marriage equality is spreading across North America. I know how this subject personally touches many contributors and commenters to this blog, and I revel in the joy they are expressing. Greater still is the ten years worth of evidence that Canada can offer demonstrating that marriage equality destroys neither heterosexual marriage nor society. As nations, states and major religions embrace same-sex marriage, there are fewer and fewer arrows in the quiver of the defenders of “traditional” marriage.

There is just one argument left that has not been sufficiently rebutted by the proponents of marriage equality, and that’s the slippery slope argument. For if we are to allow same-sex marriage, that could open the door to polygamy and group marriage.

And of course the proper response is: Bring it on.

It would get absolutely messy to try to suddenly recognize plural marriages. There would be an incredible problem with definitions and categorization. Are we talking about polygamy? Are we talking about group marriage? The legal ramifications would be similarly confusing. How are parental rights assigned among participants in plural marriages? What happens with divorce? Inheritance? These issues would take time to sort themselves out. Society would have to experience a critical mass of plural marriage to understand how our legal regime should recognize and administer these relationships. But, ya know, we’ve got to start somewhere.

Throughout Canada and the United States, all forms of polygamy are illegal. We are not talking about “illegal” in the sense that the government won’t give you survivor benefits; we’re talking “illegal” in the you’re-committing-a-felony/misdemeanor/crime sense. That such relationships are illegal is a farce.

When we think of plural marriage, our thoughts tend to go to Hildale, Utah or Bountiful, British Columbia. We worry about child brides, rape and human trafficking. All grave concerns, no doubt, but guess what, all those things are already crimes, regardless of plural marriage. To suggest that we need to outlaw polygamy to rid ourselves of human trafficking is the equivalent of suggesting we need to outlaw heterosexual marriage to rid ourselves of violence against women. It’s absurd.

Further, the laws are not necessarily tailored to outlaw polygamy-cum-child-rape. Let’s look at Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada:

(1) Every one who

  • (a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
    • (i) any form of polygamy, or
    • (ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,

    whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or

  • (b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),

is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.

So there are two incredibly ridiculous (or ridiculously incredible) parts to this section. First, if you form a sexual relationship with more than one person at a time, you can go to jail for five years. Let’s just get this out there, many of us have had multiple ongoing sexual relationships at the same time. Should that really be a crime?

Second, if you celebrate this kind of relationship, you can go to jail for five years. Seriously. Raise your glass to a plural marriage, that’s you going to the clink.

These are just the lingering impulses of the neo-puritanical streak of North America (we might think it’s dead, but it’s twitching up a storm). We are really bad about dealing with sex. We’re even worse with the idea of actual people having actual sex (yet we’re awesome at sexualizing people – way to completely fuck things up North America!). There may be many things wrong with partaking in multiple conjugal relationships at the same time, but can anyone offer up an excuse for the government intruding on these relationships?

(And if the government is so worried about deviant sexual behaviour, rather than inventing more crimes, maybe attack the scourge of prison rape instead.)

Consenting adults need to be considered just that, consenting adults. They can consent to celibacy, monogamy, serial monogamy, polygamy or just lots of sex with lots of people. No crime can justifiable come from this.

But, Jon, the neo-puritans will wail, what about all that human trafficking and child rape? Well, Bountiful, British Columbia isn’t the actual face of plural marriage. It’s just the sensationalized home of Evil Polygamy. All the rape, kidnapping and human trafficking is illegal, anyway. Canada and the U.S. are none too fond old men conscripting young girls into sexual service. If we suddenly wipe polygamy laws off the books, we’re not sanctioning some kind of perverted underground railroad to Utah. We are simply recognizing that many adults choose to establish relationships outside of our traditional norms. No biggie.

So grab your Crazy Carpet and take a ride down that slippery slope. It’s the only way to bring some sanity to our laws – and our perceptions – of sex, relationships and consenting adults.

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217 thoughts on “Next Up: Polygamy

  1. As far as it being a criminal act, I agree. To an extent. It shouldn’t be a felony unless you are attempting to use the existence of more than one spouse to illegally obtain benefits, and that should be illegal under the same statutes that getting benefits under false pretenses should be. Outside of that, the second marriage should simply be legally void and that’s that.

    Beyond that, though, I remain staunchly opposed to government-recognized polymarriage. Really, just as soon as gay marriage becomes the rule of the day, I become conservative on the subject of marriage. It’s really that one issue that makes me a marriage-hating liberal. Slate’s recent symposium on marriage reinforced this, somewhat recently.

    It is interesting watching the shift on the gay marriage side. Away from “No, this will not lead to polygamy” to a lot of supporters arguing that “Yeah, actually, plural marriage should be legal.” Jonathan Last has made this point about SSM advocates, and he is becoming more correct by the day. (Many others, such as myself, have not made this jump.)

    Ultimately, though, I don’t see a slippery slope here. A strong part of the argument in favor of gay marriage (and what the judges seem to have relied on) is that it doesn’t affect other marriages. The establishment of plural marriage inevitably would. In SSM debates, the anti side could not point to adverse effects on the establishment of gay marriage. Opponents of plural marriage will have things that they can point to.

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    • Why would plural marriage affect other marriages?

      I mean, it would have an affect on other plural marriages; one would assume multiple sorts of inheritance schemes or end-of-life decision making arrangements or whatever in a plural marriage, so you’d have to have some way of formalizing that for all plural marriages, so they would “affect” each other in that sense.

      But all those decisions still stay sorta in the monogamous partner framework if you’re not in a plural marriage, so I don’t see how that affects you much.

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      • The mere established approval of the alternate family arrangements that do not exist on a wide scale would represent a threat to the social order that cultivates marriage as it is.

        The same can be said of divorce. The existence of divorce, even if I never intend to partake, has changed the institution of marriage, and therefore has effect on all marriages. That doesn’t mean that divorce should be illegal (it absolutely should be legal). It does mean, however, that if we lived in a country that did not allow divorce, going to court over it, proponents of divorce would not be able to say that it would only affect divorced couples. Plural marriage, like divorce, would change the very nature of the institution in a way that gay marriage (or, for that matter, incestuous marriage) does not.

        Second, a lot of the laws and benefits to married couples exist based on the throttle on the number of partners we can have. Basically, one at a time. So Blue Cross can be relatively assured that I’m not going to just go and marry someone so that I can be on their insurance plans. The same applies to the lack of estate tax between spouses, which would have to be reviewed under plural marriage (particularly if we become allowed to marry family members also). And immigration law, where we allow Americans to bring people in from overseas because we’re not going to have people immigrating a harem of wives because you can only marry one person. We make it difficult enough for people who want to bring a spouse into the US. If we allow plural marriage, we’re going to have to make it even more difficult, we’re going to have to get rid of the privileges that spouses enjoy now, or we’re going to have to do something that adversely affects two-partner international marriages now.

        Now, you can look at all of these things and say “Hey, you know what? Like divorce, we should just allow it anyway because come what may it’s a matter of freedom.”

        That’s a stance I disagree with, but a stance that I think has a lot more weight to it than “It won’t affect the institution of marriage and by extension your marriage.” I think the SSM argument for “it won’t affect the institution of marriage and by extension your marriage” is much, much stronger.

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        • The mere established approval of the alternate family arrangements that do not exist on a wide scale would represent a threat to the social order that cultivates marriage as it is.

          But those alternate arrangements already exist on a wide scale and have done so for well over a thousand years, in the Muslim world and elsewhere prior to that, places where homosexuals can still be executed for perversion. Many Muslims with multiple wives have legal difficulties when they come to the US and Canada, merely because they have a small, traditional, happy harem (and something like forty kids, not all of whom headed Al Qaeda).

          Relaxing our religious hangups to allow over a billion people to more comfortably fit in would be a step forward, making America more open to one of the world’s three great monotheistic religions.

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        • The mere established approval of the alternate family arrangements that do not exist on a wide scale would represent a threat to the social order that cultivates marriage as it is.

          That’s a pretty bald assertion. You’d have to unpack that more than a bit before I’d buy it.

          I also don’t know that “threat” is the right word, in any event.

          The same can be said of divorce. The existence of divorce, even if I never intend to partake, has changed the institution of marriage, and therefore has effect on all marriages.

          Will, this is a very weird lens through which to view divorce. Divorce didn’t “change the institution of marriage”; as near as I can tell, divorce and marriage have co-evolved. There’s rules for divorce in the Bible that predate “Christian marriage” by a thousand years.

          Now, if you’re talking about divorce not as an institution, but as a cultural norm, then… well, sure. The stigma for and/or against divorce, socially, has changed the institution of marriage… but the stigma for and/or against divorce isn’t a thing that develops in and of itself, it’s sort of inextricably entwined with societal views on marriage, as an institution.

          You could just as easily say, “Cultural norms regarding marriage change the institution of marriage”, which is sort of tautological and I’m not sure it’s very interesting.

          It does mean, however, that if we lived in a country that did not allow divorce, going to court over it, proponents of divorce would not be able to say that it would only affect divorced couples.

          Wait… what?

          If we lived in a country that did not allow divorce, we’ve got no divorced couples. We have married couples, unhappily married couples, and single people.

          You make divorce legal, it affects happily married people not at all, it affects single people to the extent that it removes (possibly) a barrier to getting married in the first place (which could have both good and bad outcomes, in the long run, probably a mix of both), and it affects unhappily married people such that some of them will choose to get a divorce and some won’t. Some of those who choose to get a divorce, perhaps, might have been better off working it out… and some of those who choose not to get a divorce may have been better off getting one… but in order for this to affect your marriage you’ve got to have pretty much an unhappy marriage *and* also be one of those couples where you’d either choose not to get a divorce when you should (in which case, having divorce doesn’t help or hurt you) or choose to get a divorce when you shouldn’t.

          In the long run, though, I’d expect that this would result in a larger population of “people who are married” to be of the “happily married type”. Isn’t this a better thing, for the institution of marriage? Quality over quantity?

          Second, a lot of the laws and benefits to married couples exist based on the throttle on the number of partners we can have.

          Well, sure. But I’d go out on a limb and guess that the vast majority of marriages would be monogamous. Indeed, as a practical matter, I’d argue that if you had both polygamous and monogamous marriage, you’d kinda have to pick which one at the time of marriage. If you have a monogamous marriage and you and your wife decide to pick up a sister-wife, you’d have to divorce and start over. Procedurally, nothing else would really make sense.

          So Blue Cross can be relatively assured that I’m not going to just go and marry someone so that I can be on their insurance plans.

          Didn’t we make this mostly a moot point with PPACA? Blue Cross has to cover everybody now, right? (In theory).

          The same applies to the lack of estate tax between spouses, which would have to be reviewed under plural marriage (particularly if we become allowed to marry family members also).

          Certainly. But this isn’t going to affect monogamous marriage, it just means that inheritence laws for polygamous marriages would have to have its own structure. I don’t think this is necessarily a big deal?

          And immigration law, where we allow Americans to bring people in from overseas because we’re not going to have people immigrating a harem of wives because you can only marry one person.

          This is one of those “I see this as a feature, not a bug” moments. If you live in Somalia and you have two wives and nine children and you’re the sort of guy who really ought to both be seeking asylum in the U.S. and (from a justice princple) you’re also the sort of guy that we should be letting into the party, telling you that you have to leave one of your wives and half your kids behind to get in the door seems monstrously unjust. That’s just me.

          If we allow plural marriage, we’re going to have to make it even more difficult, we’re going to have to get rid of the privileges that spouses enjoy now, or we’re going to have to do something that adversely affects two-partner international marriages now.

          But… we do that now (see previous paragraph). We just say, “Piss off” to the multi-partner international marriages. I don’t see that as a great consequence.

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      • For the record, I advise strongly against polygamy because I have seen people try to work that dynamic and… well, to me it looks like it’s too much work for people of normal human strength. Open marriages make more sense than trying to navigate polygamy (unless you’re talking a straight matriarchal or patriarchal polygamy but there’s legitimacy problems there… but just because I look at it and say, “Shoot, I dunno how you can ever make that work out long run” doesn’t mean this isn’t a failure of imagination on my part.)

        But, I don’t see how the presence of legal polygamy is going to affect pretty much anybody who isn’t a polygamist. And I really don’t think there would be that many of ’em.

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        • Or at least not for long. I agree with all of this. Two people have trouble enough staying together. Three people increases the complexity geometrically. I’ve known a lot of poly folks in my last decade and their relationships fly apart and come together at a blinding pace.

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      • Well, one obvious possibility is that every couple would have the option of adding more people to the marriage.

        There’s also the likelihood that it would skew towards men having multiple wives, which means more men with none.

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  2. Is polygamy actually illegal in any meaningful sense, when underage children or welfare fraud are not involved? That is, how often are these laws actually enforced against people whose only crime is consensual adult polygamy?

    Not that having laws that are only enforced very selectively isn’t a problem, but how much of an issue is this in practice?

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    • To be honest, I don’t know what “polygamy is illegal” means. If the state issues a marriage license to someone who’d already married, that’s bigamy, and it’s illegal as a sort of fraud. Is there anything else? Surely people can have a ceremony that declares lots of them are all married to each other, and if no marriage licenses are involved it’s perfectly legal.

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      • Surely people can have a ceremony that declares lots of them are all married to each other, and if no marriage licenses are involved it’s perfectly legal.

        Based on Jon’s quote from Canaduan kaw, not only are all of them guilty of a crime, but everyone who danced at the reception or bought them a toaster oven is a criminal, too.

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        • Yes, I’m primarily coming from a Canadian perspective here (obviously). I’m much better versed in Canadian law than American law. Also, it’s a lot easier to discuss Canadian law because it doesn’t vary by province, unlike US laws.

          So, in Canada, polygamy is a crime, full stop. There needn’t be any other criminal aspect to it (eg child brides, human trafficking, welfare fraud), it’s still a crime. I would like Canada to change that.

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        • everyone who danced at the reception or bought them a toaster oven is a criminal, too.

          The statute, which is criticized by anti-polygamists as “inefficient,” apparently does give the state the power to indict all of the members of a community or cult of polygamists by reference to activities (including “celebrations”) “purport[ing] to sanction” polygamous marriage. The notion of it exercising its power on someone who “raises a glass” in the way the post imagines seems, to say the least, unlikely, unless some zealot on one or the other side cooks up a way to make a point. It appears to be true that at some point long ago Canadians decided to take polygamy somewhat seriously, but there hadn’t been a successful polygamy prosecution in 60-some years when the BC Supreme Court, in the wake of two acquittals, took up the issue, leading to the 335-page decision that is said to have focused mainly on women’s rights.

          In short, the O.P. puts an obviously unsound reading on the statutes quoted, though on this second of Mr. McLeod’s two points, it may be as much a problem of un-realism as of the ignorance displayed on the first point and throughout the rest of the post regarding the difference between “sexual relationship” and “conjugal union.” The inability by some to comprehend the difference is a part of what values-conservatives mean when they refer to “progress” on marriage devaluing the institution, though their being right about that problem wouldn’t necessarily make them right about anything else (that’s another discussion). Specifically on that distinction, the Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court underlined that “polyamorous” groups had nothing to fear if they did not seek to “formalize their unions.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_polygamy#North_America

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      • I work helping immigrants. A lot of immigrants to the United States from polygamous cultures try to get around the issue of polygamy being illegal in the Untied States this way. The law does not look favorably on these arrangements, at least for immigration purposes, even if there is no bigamy in question.

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  3. Geez the next thing people will want to marry multiple people and all their pets to. This is what Rand Paul and Ricky Santorum warned us about; some guy with 18 wives, 6 of which are dogs, 3 cats and 2 box turtles. Marriage is only supposed to be between mammals….turtles are for soup at the wedding party.

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    • Err, Greg, Jonathan is right here calling for the next step that people warned about. Not the best thread to call the slippery slope silly. I mean, I am right here arguing that this slope don’t slide (and yes, bestiality is a moronic conclusion) but even so, here we are with people looking onward.

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      • I know and i agree. FWIW i don’t believe there will be any push for legalizing polygamy since there are few practitioners. Those that do practice it have mostly skated by under the radar as part of tight knit, bordering on cultish religious practices.I’m just not taking the push for polygamy all that seriously. There is also a Repub push for an amendment to make 1 man, 1 women the only kind of legal marriage. That isn’t going to happen either. I respect J’s argument but it doesn’t add up to any movement for polygamy. Heck i bet quite a few gay people would find the idea repulsive.

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        • I am confident that there will be a push. It’s almost a certainty.

          I would agree, though, it’s unlikely to be successful. Besides it being a bad idea, they lack sympathetic plaintiffs and a key point of logic for SSM is missing for plural marriage.

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          • I guess we would have to agree about the definition of a “push” in this case. But i’d bet the five chocolates kisses sitting on my desk there wont’ be a push. And two of them are mint so i’m not screwing around here.

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            • Personally, I don’t think there really is a slippery slope, not yet at least. I just used the idea because it seems to get thrown around a lot. (I also don’t think the slippery slope argument has been disproven yet, because there hasn’t really been a significant challenge.)

              I don’t know that there will be much a of a push for recognition of polygamous marriages (and, like you say, we’d have to define “push”). However, there is a polygamy advocacy movement.

              http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/05/26/polycon-2013-polyamorists-prepare-for-b-c-convention/

              I don’t know that that’s enough for you lose your chocolate kisses, but polygamy isn’t as far from mainstream society as a lot of people think it is.

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              • When the word “slippery slope” appears, it seems there’s a bit of a ruckus that probably doesn’t need to happen. In the context of the present discussion (according to the approximately 1/3 of the comments I have read so far), there are two questions: “should poligamy be illegal and if so, how illegal, and if not, how criminal/illegal?” and “does the gay marriage movement somehow make polygamy more possible.”

                Only the latter question is primarily a “slippery slope” argument, and frankly, I see little slipperiness. True, gay marriage challenges one traditional attribute of marriage (the gender identities of the married partners), and thereby it probably encourages some people to challenge other supposedly “traditional” attributes, such as monogamy. And the parade of horribles advanced by opponents of gay marriage requires or prompts people to opine on the wisdom or foolishness of polygamy. Therefore, polygamy is open for debate in a way it might not have been pre-gay-marriage.

                Nevertheless, I see few other ways in which the ssm-movement actually encourages the adoption of polygamy.

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                  • I find myself swayed sometimes away from policy A for fear of policy B coming next, even if I would otherwise be indifferent to policy A. People end up assuming that I must just be against policy A, though.

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                    • That makes no sense to me. Either you value A or you don’t. If you think that B is more likely given A and you reject B, then B shares some of the same attributes as A. So A tips the scales to the side of badness. It’s just as likely, tho – in an unnamed hypothetical, anyway – that there’s a slippery slope from A to C, which is all goodness. That you’re not considering A-C slippery slope, or have considered and reject because of a fear of B, indicates that you’re preference is against A.

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                    • Yeah, I doubt anybody was really all THAT concerned about banning 16-oz sodas in and of itself. But if the principle being used to justify the policy can be also used to justify other policies that you strongly disagree with, well, they can have my big-ass iced coffee with 9 sugars in it when they pry it from my jittery, twitching hand.

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            • I think there are more poly-families than people are aware of. I can think of three groups off the top of my head that I know personally here in Red State buckle of the bible belt. I’m sure there are many more that I don’t know about

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        • It is a muslim’s duty to push for laws that bring the secular state into better accordance with Sharia (at least in so far as I understand it, having listened to some moderately conservative Muslims). Since the Koran approves of polygamy, they ought to vote for whichever laws will support it.

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  4. It is clear that the government should not support the legality of relationships that are abusive such as child marriages or bestial marriages. I see polygamy as a bit of a grey area as far as this is concerned. I would guess that if one looked at polygamous marriages today comparing them to monogamous marriages one would find rather more of them reflected an unequal if not abusive relationship.

    But if what we are trying to address here is the slippery slope argument I would say it doesn’t really exist because law tends to follow the prevailing moral code of conduct which is opposed to inequality and abuse within marriage. Relationships which are abusive almost by definition would never be legalised.

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  5. These are just the lingering impulses of the neo-puritanical streak of North America (we might think it’s dead, but it’s twitching up a storm).

    You might think that, but I certainly don’t.

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    • James K,

      Are you saying that you don’t think the neo-puritanical streak of North America is dead? If so, we’re in agreement (that’s what my “twitching up a storm” comment meant). I think most (North) Americans don’t think N. America has much of a puritanical bent (and I think a lot of people hide it well), but, damn, if it doesn’t rear its head all too frequently.

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      • I don’t find accusations of “puritanical streaks” to be particularly useful.

        I think claims that there’s a “puritanical streak” are sometimes a red herring to mean “those illiberal people don’t believe what I would like them to believe, therefore, they must be uncomfortable with their bodies.” It can be a way of attacking people’s motives without addressing whatever concerns they actually bring up.

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  6. I think plural marriage has a problem that same-sex marriage did not. Mainly, its going to be hard to nearly impossible to come up with legal regime for plural marriage that is both equitable and isn’t a legal cluster fu*k. Most of the problems come from the end of marriage. Lets say that Woman A is married to Men A, B, and C. She become pregnant with Man A’s kid. As the kid turns school age, Woman A and Man A take a traditional turn and want to raise their kid in a monogamous family situation. So she divorces Men B and C. Are Men B and C going to be liable for child support? Can they demand visitation rights? What if it was Man A with Women A, B, and C. The battle over estates in plural marriages is going to be immense to.

    There are going to be problems with the formation of plural marriage. Lets say that Man A is married to Women A, B, and C. Women B wants to also marry Man B. Should this be allowed or will plural marriages require a type of anchor spouse, either a man or woman, that everybody has to be married to like the traditional polygamist marriage practiced in patriarchal societies except a bit more equitable? Should there be a limit to how many spouses you can have at a given time?

    I’m also more than a little skeptical about the ability of most people to manage a polyamorous relationship on an emotional level.

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    • Lee,

      This: “Should this be allowed or will plural marriages require a type of anchor spouse, either a man or woman, that everybody has to be married to like the traditional polygamist marriage practiced in patriarchal societies except a bit more equitable?”

      is in my view a major potential problem with state-recognized polygamy, too, and one that a legislature can cite for not recognizing polygamous marriages, should a case come before courts.

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  7. Oh, I think it’s coming boys and girls. The flood gates are opening. It wasn’t but a few days after last November’s ratificaiton of SSM in a variety of states that posts were going up advocating for this. Frankly, the logic is consistent, the rights and issues are similiar, and to all you had advocated that SSM was ok but now THAT’S the line in the sand, welcome to what the “traditional marriage” folks faced.

    “I think plural marriage has a problem that same-sex marriage did not. Mainly, its going to be hard to nearly impossible to come up with legal regime for plural marriage that is both equitable and isn’t a legal cluster fu*k.” True, but see above, i’ll get figured out.

    I think it would have been a lot easier to just end the whole gov’t recognized marriage thing in the first place, but no, no one wanted that. We’ll, we’re going to end up at essentially the same place, with the gov’t recognizing everything and nothing…

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    • I think it would have been a lot easier to just end the whole gov’t recognized marriage thing in the first place…

      Hmmm. “Easier”. That’s an interesting word choice. I seriously doubt that it would have been easier according to any metric you can think of.

      It might, however, have simplified things quite a bit.

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      • Easier in the sense that the rules are stated more simply, not in the sense that it’s easier to get there politically or people’s lives will be easier afterward. It’s like arithmetic getting eaiser if we assume that all numbers are equal.

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    • “I think it would have been a lot easier to just end the whole gov’t recognized marriage thing in the first place, but no, no one wanted that. We’ll, we’re going to end up at essentially the same place, with the gov’t recognizing everything and nothing…”

      Not really. It always easier to expand a right than to take a right away. I firmly believe that the fight for gay marriage is significantly easier than a fight for taking away all the nice-state benefits of marriage for heterosexual couples. And considering how hard the fight for gay marriage is, this is saying something.

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      • Mark T outlined a pretty compelling case in favor of state intervention into the parameters of marriage, as I recall. I think it was in response to an argument that government legislation could be eliminated in favor of individual contracts agreed to by the parties involved.

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      • Yep, by ending the whole gov’t recognized marrriage deal, you ARE expanding rights. And really, is it that hard?

        “the US gov’t no longer conveys any legal benefits to marriage”. Federal agencies: make it so.

        I can’t image the “dirty work” to change all federal regulations to allow for SSM is simpler than simply removing them.

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        • Do you really think you can get the entire political class to agree to this? Anyone who did this would be out the door in about two seconds.

          Getting rid of marriage benefits is really an unpopular issue and I am inclined to believe wrong/incorrect as well. Most people want there to be benefits for marriage from the government and there are probably more people who would rather make it more inclusive than just strip it away. Recognizing gay marriage, makes the state officially recognize homosexuality as acceptable, moral, normal, etc. See Rus talking about how equality is a wonderful thing. The “get rid of marriage benefits” strikes me as an area where the alternativey part of the Internet just likes to whine very loudly and show how special they are.

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          • Oh yes, marriage benefits are very popular. As are the mortgage tax deduction, the dependant deduction, interest payment deductions, etc. What does popularity have to do with consistency and logic? Hey, maybe if america supported everyone having a ferrari f40 we could all have one!?

            You made a very good point: “Recognizing gay marriage, makes the state officially recognize homosexuality as acceptable, moral, normal, etc. See Rus talking about how equality is a wonderful thing.” except what you’re advocating is increasing inequality, because you’ve increased the size of the group getting a benefit at the expense of the rest of the population.

            Do I think it can be done? Doubtfull, but I wasn’t making a point about the practicality of doing it.

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        • Damon, here’s the Mark T post I mentioned where he writes:

          I take the core question here to be, in effect, “can’t we just do most of civil marriage through private contract? If not, why not?” To which I think the response is that in some cases, we absolutely cannot, and in other cases we wouldn’t want to.

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            • Thanks for the reminder. There was one, asserting that individual contracts are no big deal, and that all tax policy is discriminatory and that changing tax policy is hard.

              From the OP: This is because one of the special civil recognition of marriage’s primary functions is to, in effect, supply default terms for any marriage contract. Marriage is obviously an exceedingly common arrangement, and rarely do both spouses have the level of sophistication – nor, historically, reasonable equality of bargaining strength- needed to fairly negotiate many/most essential terms of the marriage contract.

              And

              Is this tax policy discriminatory against single people? Perhaps. But, particularly as the battle over SSM is gradually won, it is not discriminatory on the basis of any innate characteristics of single people. There has never been anything to prevent a single man and a single woman from entering into a sham civil marriage in order to obtain tax benefits, at least not as as long as they both agreed to make the sacrifices and take the risks required by civil marriage.

              I think you just disagreed with him since. Did I miss the refudiation?

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            • Damon- in addition to Stilwater’s response to what you wrote in that post, I’ll just point out the solution that you offer to one of the issues I rely upon. Specifically, I wrote:

              The medical decisions and hospital visitations issue is an example of where simple private contracting would not work.”

              To which you responded:

              Create your marriage contract how you want, file it with the county/state/etc. clerk. Done. Spouse not availabe, that’s handled in the “alternative POA” section. Dont’ fill out the forms, revert to default postions x,y,z.

              There’s not anything actually wrong with this solution. The problem is that it’s actually a pretty accurate description of how civil marriage already works.

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    • “It wasn’t but a few days after last November’s ratificaiton of SSM in a variety of states that posts were going up advocating for this.”

      Which doesn’t prove much. Ten bucks says there were plenty of posts up advocating this a few days before as well, along with plenty of other things.

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  8. A few thoughts:

    1. The slippery slope is slippery only insofar as recognizing gay marriage makes recognizing plural marriage more likely. The only way I think such recognition will be substantially more likely is if the Supreme Court declares a national right to gay marriage on the grounds of “everybody has to be allowed to marry whomever they want,” with the implication being that the circumstances don’t matter. I don’t see that happening in any Supreme Court declaration.

    It is possible, I suppose, that a new plural marriage movement might grow and become so powerful that it will convince state legislatures to adopt it, and the movement will spread to all 67 states (I’m assuming we’ll a few more members to the union by the time such a move will be made). That occurrence would in my view be largely an outgrowth of other forces, and not an outgrowth of legalizing and recognizing ssm.

    2. If we accept that the state ought not recognize plural marriage, or if we accept that it is okay for the state not to recognize it, then I can see a couple reasons for it to remain criminalized, although perhaps with tailoring the criminality more narrowly to legitimate goals (I’m too ignorant of current law on the topic to know how narrowly tailored it is (or not) already):

    2a. Identifying and making criminal those plural marriage arrangements that result in loss of autonomy for children. (I’m thinking of the FLDS.) I’m not sure how far is too far to go in the direction, but I think that because some types of polygamy seem to be (I’m going on hearsay) vehicles for creating oppressive, coercive arrangements, those kinds of polygamy should be subject to greater scrutiny from law enforcement.

    2b. Making it difficult (or keeping it difficult) for someone to marry one person and then, without obtaining a divorce, marry another without that other’s knowledge of the prior marriage. At least one person above has pointed out that such an action could be covered by fraud statutes, but maybe that type of fraud can be more usefully prevented or acted against by some sort of blanket rule against plural arrangements. (Of course, if all parties go out of their way to acknowledge that they assent to the arrangement, then perhaps that another matter.)

    3. I concur with LeeEsq’s comment above that, if I read him correctly, suggests that there are a lot of potentially logistical problems with plural marriage that we don’t have with dual marriage. Dual marriage, in our dual marriage society/polity/legal system, comes with a pretty well established bundle of rights, privileges, obligations, and claims. The contents of that bundle evolve, of course, but they do so within well-established parameters. It is hard to complicate those types of arrangements with a plural marriage scheme. (This is an argument against recognizing plural marriage, not for making it criminal, except as it relates to point 2b above.)

    4. Along with point 3, and with the other part of Lee’s comment, one way in which to resolve the logistical difficulties is to create an “anchor spouse” with greater authority than the other spouses. Such a solution might not be necessarily implied in a state that recognizes plural marriage, but I think a pro-recognition polity has strong incentives to go into that direction.

    5. I’m undecided on the final policy outcome:

    5a. I think, at the moment, that criminalizing bigamy when it is a means to fraud is probably still called for, although perhaps the law needs to be tweaked or narrowed from what it is now.

    5b. Maybe criminal polygamy laws aren’t necessary to protect children from alleged FLDS-style arrangements (I say “alleged” because I don’t know much is hearsay and how much is documented). Maybe more robust child-protection statutes (or maybe current statutes) provide all the legal authority we need to prevent or combat them as effectively as possible.

    5c. I tend to think that parties that want to live in a polyamorous relationship, without claiming or pretending to the benefits of marriage, ought to be able to do so without being criminals. I don’t know how the current criminal laws in the U.S. apply to such situations, but as a legal matter, I don’t think I want them to be crimes.

    5d. I could be convinced, although I’m still undecided, that polyamorous arrangements ought to be realizable and state-recognizable provided all the legal hurdles are hammered out. Translation: lots of lawyers and legal expenses, and not the default bundle of rights, privileges, obligations, and claims that dual marriage now brings. The chief obstacle to convincing me is that outside of establishing some financial trust arrangement, where the plural “marriage” is more like a business proposition, it’s hard for me to imagine a legal arrangement that would account for all (or if not all, a “critical number of”) the possible contingencies that arise in family situations.

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  9. I have three arguments against polygamy as a recognized legal status, and I offer them as someone who has personally known successful polygamous unions.

    First, deciding to ignore the gender of a marriage partner is easy, but adding additional partners is legally very complicated. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does impose a cost on society that we seem to be doing okay without so far having incurred.

    Second, deciding to allow future same-sex unions does not meaningfully change the status of any current marriages. Allowing future polygamous unions clearly does change the status of every current marriage — from “full” to “possibly not full.”

    Third, when we look around the world, polygamy in theory is just about always polygyny in practice — it’s just about always one man and many women. The polygamous unions I’ve known have all been triads of gay men or lesbians, but they are demographically the exception and not the rule. The rule is one man with patriarchal authority.

    This is a bad deal for all women, married and unmarried. It’s also a bad deal for the unmarried men, whose status in society inevitably suffers. We have worked so hard for women’s equality, and it took so long to get here. We shouldn’t throw that away, and that’s just what we would do if we allowed legal polygamy.

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    • Jason, I tend to agree with you (I wrote something similar a couple of years ago when polygamy was touched on at the policy convention for the New Democratic Party). But I’d like some clarity, if you don’t mind.

      First, you write:

      “I have three arguments against polygamy as a recognized legal status…”.

      I agree with this.

      But you end with:

      “…and that’s just what we would do if we allowed legal polygamy.”

      In this sentence, how are you defining “legal polygamy”. Do you mean legally recognized polygamy, or do you mean de-criminalized polygamy? I’m only arguing for taking the polygamy laws off the books, not for having the government recognize polygamous marriages.

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    • There was a Slatey debate on this on Wednesday and Thursday. Recently the Double XX blogs have been arguing what keeps passion alive with various articles*. When Wednesday’s decisions came out, Hanna Rosin wrote a post about how many gay couples are “monogamish” (phrase hattip: Dan Savage) and hinting that this is the future of marriage perhaps. A gay man countered on Thursday saying that most gay couples are monogamous not monogamish.

      Obviously there is a debate about how heterosexual couples perceive homosexual couples.

      Interestingly most of the poly/open relationship couples I have known were not gay/lesbian but were heavily involved in fandom. My observations from way back when seem to indicate that fandom has a decent sized group that strongly overlaps with various fetish/kink scenes including open relationships/polyamory. This was present in the SF/Fantasy club at my college that was heavily into proving open relationships as being superior and were all about some book called The Ethical Slut.

      I don’t really care about whether people are in open relationships or not but from my observation most begin to spiral into chaos because one party begins to feel less important. Usually this person started as being the primary lover. Also I think a lot of open relationship people can be off-putting with feelings about superiority. A lot of them seem to think (or justify) that people are not meant to be monogamous and that those that try are deluding themselves and being mundane.

      *One article was by a pastor about how he and his pastor wife liked to have a lot of group sex with other pastor families. For some reason this raised a lot of anti-clerical thoughts in me. I wondered whether he was a pastor at a liberal or conservative church and what he preached in his sermons.

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      • …from my observation most begin to spiral into chaos because one party begins to feel less important.

        Most monogamous relationships break up too, often acrimoniously – sure, monogamous and polyamorous relationships have different typical causes of breakup, but the basic fact remains: Most relationships of all types end in a break-up.

        And even if 100% of polyamorous relationships ended in breakup, I don’t think that invalidates them in any way. It seems odd to me in the extreme that we as a society broadly consider any relationship a “failure” if both all parties to it survive it. If someone moves out of their home, we don’t consider them a failure at living in it. If someone retires or changes jobs, we don’t consider their career a failure.

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    • Polygamy decreases the status of the “mistress” (0r whore), by codifying the relationship.
      When one is a mistress, and one tires of a man, one simply walks off and finds a new one.
      (I’m pulling this from some modern chinese discussions, where mistresses are more a solid fixture in society)

      In Polygamy, there is a hierarchy of wives (actually, there are two, one is by seniority, and the other is by male preference — which in of itself is an issue). This means that pecking order fights have a real tendency to break out.

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    • The rule is one man with patriarchal authority.

      It’s funny that you put it like that. Because, historically, the norm of one man with patriarchal authority was extremely common for monogamous marriages, too; the difference was how many women were under that authority at a time. Most historical societies, monogamous or polygamous, were set up along patriarchal lines.

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    • First, deciding to ignore the gender of a marriage partner is easy, but adding additional partners is legally very complicated. That doesn’t make it wrong, but it does impose a cost on society that we seem to be doing okay without so far having incurred.

      Except for those perfectly happy multi-unions that waste an incredible amount of time on extra paperwork, legwork, and methods to remain relatively happy while living in the shadows. Kind of like how gays were 20 years ago.

      Second, deciding to allow future same-sex unions does not meaningfully change the status of any current marriages. Allowing future polygamous unions clearly does change the status of every current marriage — from “full” to “possibly not full.”

      Deciding to allow both cars and trucks on the road does not make a Honda Civic any less a vehicle than a Ford F-450. Allowing future polygamous unions does not make a monogamous marriage any less a marriage.

      Third, when we look around the world, polygamy in theory is just about always polygyny in practice — it’s just about always one man and many women.

      Handwaving handwaving assertion assertion… no facts, no studies? Ok then. When we look at historical polygamy we also look at societies where wars and strife regularly created a dearth of available men for marriage.

      The rule is one man with patriarchal authority.

      This is a bad deal for all women, married and unmarried. It’s also a bad deal for the unmarried men, whose status in society inevitably suffers. We have worked so hard for women’s equality, and it took so long to get here. We shouldn’t throw that away, and that’s just what we would do if we allowed legal polygamy.

      You do a lot of work to portray every polygamous union as a Warren Jeffs model when that’s a hard stretch to make.

      It’s just as easy to argue that if we had legal methods for dealing with this, polyamous societies like Jeffs’ would inevitably become MORE open to society. Part of the reason that they fight so hard against outsiders and keep everyone in walled compounds is the remembrance of government raids like Short Creek.

      It’s much like the drug war, and it’s a pity that Libertarians haven’t clued in to that fact yet.

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  10. While, if we concede that polygamy is necessarily a bad thing (I don’t think it is inherently bad, but tends to be in practice for a variety of reasons), it is certainly the best, if not the only non-religious argument against same-sex marriage. However, I don’t think it’s an easy argument, because the maker of the argument has to show how same-sex marriage will produce a bridge that goes from a change in who we’re allowed to marry to a change in the structure of legal marriage itself, which is what adding more partners amounts to.

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  11. I’m not a fan of plural marriage due to the legal complications and the step backward for women, as several folk have already pointed out.

    But I typically respond to plural marriage talk with, “Well, I think a woman deserves as many husbands as she can handle.”

    And it’s really surprising how often the advocates of polygamy finds this shocking.

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    • Just as an exercise in social theory, I wonder what we would have to do to make polygamy potentially more egalitarian. Marriage has become more egalitarian by reducing barriers to exit and increasing reproductive freedom, making if and when women have children a choice, which, along with increased access to the job market, make both getting married and staying married more of a choice than a necessity for women. I wonder, if there are similar large-scale social changes that could do the same for polygamy.

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      • My guess is that if such a change were to happen, it will be because of environmental change.

        (Excuse me, I’m wearing my sci-fi junkie hat now; I also have a migraine, and words are not coming to me as easily as they should.)

        But my guess is such change will happen due to the increased phytoestrogen in the natural environment, released from excessive plastics, tamping down the aggressive testosterone-driven male-centric cultures we’ve lived with for so long. In this future world, there is less difference between the sexes based in general, and a wide variety of expression from masculine to feminine is acceptable in both genders.

        It will be much more difficult to conceive a child (lower sperm counts, women opting to have fewer children), so women who want a child naturally need several potential fathers.

        Also, we’ll have left behind the binary codes of ‘straight, gay,’ and accepted that most people function in a spectrum here, attracted to specifics biological compounds, not to specific gender, with a great deal of variation amongst individuals ranging from always straight, mostly straight, bi, mostly gay, always gay.

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        • “tamping down the aggressive testosterone-driven male-centric cultures we’ve lived with for so long”

          Amazonian culture was genocidally exterminated for being entirely too violent and psychotic (perhaps part of the problem was that with women rulers, and men fighting, the decision makers weren’t on the front lines).

          In a world with less testosterone-driven culture, you’d likely see more deadly violence. Women hold grudges, and when they get serious, they kill people (women are far more likely to use contract killers).

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  12. How do custody rights work in the end of a plural/open marriage?

    Suppose Man A is married to Woman A and B. Man A and Woman A have a child together but they both work and B stays at home with the child. Man A and Woman A divorce. Woman B wants to fight for custody because she feels like she has done more to raise the child and has a closer parental relationship. Woman A wants Woman B to have nothing to do with the child.

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    • There are interesting models from serial families; couples who marry folk with children from other partners and then divorce.

      I know one couple that had an ‘open’ relationship (they were never married). She had a child already, and they had a child together. The relationship eventually fell apart; and he wanted visitation rights to both children, since he’d essentially fathered her elder child since the child was an infant.

      He won that right in court, too.

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  13. Interesting that the piece of the law shown implies that having an affair is also gets you 5 years.
    ” (ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
    whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage” I am not a lawyer, but an affair for
    a married person would also seem to fall under the terms of the law, as a conjugal union as defined in the law.

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    • Yes, it would, wouldn’t it?

      The only thing that might change that is that (IIRC) laws against adultery have been taken off the books in Canada. Since the legislature chose to make adultery legal like that, Section 293 might have to construed more narrowly.

      Still, your observation really underlines the folly of the law.

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    • I imagine they’ll get divorced at the same rates they do now.

      I also imagine that there will be a lot of chicks out there who rankle at the thought of being Numba Two (or Three!).

      I’d be interested in seeing how polygamy would work in a society with a whole bunch of feminism. My criticisms of polygamy all involve societies without it.

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    • China doesn’t allow polygamy but are facing a similar situation. Thanks to their ill-conceived Family Planning policy and traditional culture favoring sons over daughters, China has an excess of men over women. This means that a sufficient number of Chinese men aren’t going to have the chance to date let alone marry. The fact that Chinese dating culture tends toward the materialistic doesn’t help. The result isn’t pretty, especially for women. Its not uncommon for women to be kidnapped and sold to bachelors as brides.

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    • China doesn’t allow polygamy but are facing a similar situation. Thanks to their ill-conceived Family Planning policy and traditional culture favoring sons over daughters, China has an excess of men over women. This means that a sufficient number of Chinese men aren’t going to have the chance to date let alone marry. The fact that Chinese dating culture tends toward the materialistic doesn’t help. The result isn’t pretty, especially for women. Its not uncommon for women to be kidnapped and sold to bachelors as brides.

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      • Which is only made worse by the “doting mother” archetype. Chinese men don’t want to have to shower their women with gifts, they want “substitute mothers”… which doesn’t go well with what feminism china has.

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  14. Is it possible to have a polygamous system in which I can have multiple partners who themselves can have multiple partners who may or may not be married to me?

    I can imagine it as a short story or novella in which, after a while, everyone is married to everyone.

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  15. It’s disturbing how two weeks ago you’d be yelled at for saying this. It’s part of what Gavin McGinnis calls “hate facts”: things that are obviously true, but we’re supposed to reject because they offend people.

    Of course the redefinition of marriage is a long process that’s still underway. Part of it is no-fault divorce, gay marriage, polygamy, pedophilia. There are other parts of it – some beneficial, actually. But the overall theme exists of turning marriage into a temporary agreement between x number of people. Any time a conservative points this out, he’s shouted down. Scalia pointed out that the reasoning of the majority in Lawrence v. Texas could be used to promote gay marriage, and he was laughed at.

    So why are people so easily deceived by incrementalism?

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  16. Didn’t we have a very detailed conversation about polygamy a while ago?

    I remember writing a long comment on why extending marriage to cover unions of more than two people was very legally difficult/impossible, but we could offer some sort of standardized legal contract with some benefits to polygamous couples, while also requiring some monitoring of such couples through social services (or something( to monitor the sort of sexist-abusive-cult-like behavior that anti-polygamy laws were meant to stop. Certainly, we shouldn’t jail people who aren’t harming each other with polygamy criminal laws. But there hasn’t been a demonstration that polygamy is as safe and harmless in actuality as gay marriage, and there is a tradition of polygamy (especially when paired with religion) of creating toxic situations, so the situation is different on a lot of fronts.

    There is a lot to disagree with about the details of how we should treat polygamous unions, but it is kind of a non-issue right now, IMO.

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      • I think this ignores how much we currently practice polygamy (and incest, and child kidnapping).

        I think it also ignores the prevalence of polygamy in societies where it was approved of. Generally the village headman got a second (or a third, or sometimes even a fourth wife). Everyone else had one.

        You only got the number of wives you could afford, so they were a status symbol.

        We’re not talking 100% of the marriages being polygamous. Maybe 10%, if that.

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        • If every man in the 10% can afford on average two wives, that’s already a very serious gender imbalance, far worse than China’s.

          Note also that it would be impossible for 100% of all marriages to be polygynous. There just wouldn’t be enough women.

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  17. Worth noting for readers outside Canada: a recent Canadian supreme ruling limited very much the scope of what constitutes a “conjugal union” and its “celebration”.

    It seemed to me a very weird ruling. basically saying
    a) those words don’t mean what they clearly mean
    b) this court is absolutely not redefining those words, and any assertion to the contrary is ridiculous

    Basically, if I understood the ruling, to pass the threshold into criminality, the union pretty much has to have
    1) externally imposed rules of conduct within the union (internal rules based only on the mutual agreement of the parties to the union don’t pass the test)
    2) a community that will enact punishment or ostracism upon breakers of those rules
    3) a recognized leader figure of that community who recognizes the union on behalf of the community, and has the authority to call down the above punishment on the parties to the union.

    So, secular polyamorists who have a respected friend with no formal leadership role host a ceremony in which the couple themselves publicly declare their love and commitment, fail on all three fronts, and are not breaking the law.

    IANAL (probably obviously), but my reading was, the ruling came was a way to continue forbidding certain religious communities from practicing their forms of marriage, without admitting that this was about religious oppression, since that would violate the charter of rights – because, I guess, a hypothetical-and-ridiculous-on-its-face secular trade union could start defining rules of plural marriage, having shop stewards preside at the weddings, and denying adulterers strike pay…

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    • That is interesting.

      I can imagine wanting a rule that this is only illegal when children are raised in the community and are pressured (harshly) to follow the rules of the community. That is where freedom is taken away, when kids are psychologically tortured into staying into these places into adulthood.

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      • I still don’t see how the prevailing form of marriage has anything to do with it – how is it different when kids are coerced into accepting homophobia rather than plural marriage?

        Because when a poor Catholic kid commits suicide when they’re ostracized for being gay, we don’t currently imprison the Cardinals, burn the cathedrals, and salt the earth where the Catholic schools once stood.

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  18. “We worry about child brides, rape and human trafficking. All grave concerns, no doubt, but guess what, all those things are already crimes, regardless of plural marriage. To suggest that we need to outlaw polygamy to rid ourselves of human trafficking is the equivalent of suggesting we need to outlaw heterosexual marriage to rid ourselves of violence against women. It’s absurd.”

    To be a little contrarian, here’s my take on the plausible reasoning behind broad polygamy criminalization. The above passage sees to assume that these existing statutes (ie. rape, human trafficking, etc.) cover all or most instances that we (or at least I) view as harmful to individuals and society. Despite a limited number of prosecutions for sexual assault, some of which have been overturned, older men engaging in ‘celestial marriage’ with 16 year old girls would rarely be illegal (as long as the girls buy in). The marrying off of young girls to older men without the girls having any voice in the matter strikes me as immoral and harmful to both the girls and society, even if the young women are true believers.

    The problem is that it is an argument against FLDS religious practice (and to a lesser extent some Muslim marriages), which, if targeted at the people and practices we wish to stop, would make for a highly unconstitutional law. The next best arrangement is to outlaw polygamy broadly, and use selective enforcement to go after those society feels are in harmful relationships.

    I think there is also an argument that criminalizing these relationships may also be a counterproductive way to end the practice, as these young women could be less likely to publicly dissent when the consequences are so severe. The giant raid a few years ago in Texas was actually a hoax called in by an outside woman, not one of the affected victims.

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  19. So much great stuff in the comments already.

    My position on this issue is pretty much the same as Jason’s above — I would not favor license for polygamy, but I would not have it be criminal, either. Which is where I surmise Jonathan stands on the issue, too.

    My only added comment is to contrast my opposition to polygamy with those who have opposed SSM. I think polygamy is a bad idea, for reasons laid out by (I believe) NewDealer and by Jason. It would be interesting (as Jaybird notes) to see how (or if) polygamy could work in a society where feminism and equality between the sexes is valued. But, rather than froth about how horrible I think polygamy would be, my attitude about the question is “Let them make their case.” If proponents of polygamy want to agitate for it, I’m willing to listen to them. Maybe they’ll change my mind and will address my objections soundly. I’m willing to be convinced going into the conversation. That has not been my experience of most people who have opposed SSM.

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    • While I had some issues with the arguments they made in the Canadian supreme court case, the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association takes a shot at it here
      http://polyadvocacy.ca/majority

      As to how things can work out in an environment of egalitarianism and feminism – I can’t directly address your objections when I don’t know what they are. I can say from my own experience that it is truly heartwarming to me to see the affection and mutual support of my wife and her lover, to see our daughter hug him, to feel his support and appreciation for our marriage.

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      • As was referenced above, polygamy has typically thrived in patriarchal societies where the man had multiple wives who were subservient to him. It’s never really been tried in a society (to my admittedly limited knowledge) where women had the option of multiple spouses, were given equal standing in the household, etc. I’m not saying it’s impossible, merely too new or rare to have much basis for making a judgment, and I’d be curious how it would work in practice.

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        • Well, that’s the crux of the argument I linked to – we think it’s ‘too rare in practice’ to tell how it might work. Really though (goes the argument – I don’t know how accurate their figures are), in secular Western states, there is more egalitarian polygamy than there is patriarchal polygamy.

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  20. I dont buy any of JK’s 3 arguments against polygamy, but this one really rankles: “Second, deciding to allow future same-sex unions does not meaningfully change the status of any current marriages. Allowing future polygamous unions clearly does change the status of every current marriage — from “full” to “possibly not full.”

    Hogwash. Every current marriage is subject to a potential divorce, and similarly subject to a redefinition/renegotiation of the original agreement, whether the impetus for such a divorce or renegotiation is legally sanctioned or not. This sounds a lot like the argument that gay marriage changes my current marriage because, by giving my husband/wife an option they didn’t have when we originally got married (i.e., to marry someone of the same sex), our marriage could change from “perfectly acceptable” to “unacceptable.” I’m pretty confident JK, and other SSM advocates (including myself), would reject this out of hand.

    Third, when we look around the world, polygamy in theory is just about always polygyny in practice — it’s just about always one man and many women. The polygamous unions I’ve known have all been triads of gay men or lesbians, but they are demographically the exception and not the rule. The rule is one man with patriarchal authority.

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  21. Hogwash.

    If you meant to say that my claim was untrue, then it appears you never got around to it. Nothing you say above achieves the effect. Not even “hogwash.”

    Yes, every marriage is potentially subject to redefinition/renegotiation/divorce, even today. But some terms are definitely off the table,, and adding a third partner is one of them.

    In this respect the analogy you’re looking for is to no-fault divorce. Its introduction altered the terms of all existing marriages.

    I could see perhaps a grandfather clause in which no existing marriages could become polygamous, but that would probably leave many would-be polygamists unhappy.

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    • I don’t know that adding a third partner is really off the table, right now.

      Unofficially, it’s pretty easy. Officially, it’s not terribly hard to add third partial partners, anyway. Inheritance, child custody, medical power of decisionmaking, power of attorney, you can do all sorts of things to add – effectively – certain sorts of third parties. Depending upon your state’s local laws, they may not be full partners, but they’re there. Heck, in some states parents can butt into a marriage arrangement if they can afford enough in the way of attorney’s fees.

      But again, as I mentioned above, the whole “full” vs. “not full” thing assumes that monogamously married people can decide to convert their marriage to polygamous marriage.

      I’d say that’s right out. You enter into monogamous marriage as an agreement between two parties. You’d have to divorce, get together with your potential third partner, and hammer it out again.

      This “just add another one!” thing is a feature of polygyny, not polygamy.

      Everybody I know who has tried the polyamory thing seriously has talked about adding another partner to the mix and from the description of the thing, it’s basically a start-from-scratch negotiation with all parties involved, not a “hey, let’s add this other person and see how it goes” deal.

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    • I meant to say its a bad argument, which it appears, despite your protestations otherwise, you understood.

      So your argument is that the addition of any legally allowed marriage-related or -affecting activities after you get married changes the status of every current marriage.

      How about Lawrence v. Texas. I mean, when i got married, cheating on my wife by having sex with another man was, “definitely off the table”, because, like polygamy, it was illegal and subject to prosecution. So your position in Lawrence v. Texas was that one argument against overturning anti-sodomy rules was that overturning these laws changed the terms of all marriages (in jurisdictions with anti-sodomy laws anyway) because now, I’m not only allowed to be legally adulterous with other women, I can be legally adulterous with other men? I think you’re forgetting that the reason, and I’m guessing here, that most married couples don’t enter into polygamous relationships is because, based on their particular definition of marriage, that is simply not an option, whether legally accepted or not, that is compatible with their particular conception of marriage. Likewise, the reason I do not have sex with other women, or men, has nothing to do with whether it is legally sanctioned or not. I do not, because it is not compatible with my and my wife’s conception of marriage.

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  22. Maribou watched “Sister Wives” there for a while and it struck me as, sure, maybe potentially healthy the way that they were doing it but, dang, it struck me as a multiple murder/suicide waiting to happen.

    How many polygamous marriages do we really have to worry about happening if we pass the law? I mean, if they passed a law tomorrow, *MY* marriage wouldn’t change much. We’d make more jokes about marrying someone with certain domestic skillsets but I doubt that they’d materialize into so much as dating.

    A couple dozen per state (making allowances for more in parts of Utah and parts of Michigan)?

    Say what you will about SSM, it’s only going to be used by? What’s the percentage? 10% was what we threw around in the 90’s, but it’s probably about half that, right? 5%

    It seems to me that polygamous marriages won’t even be seen as an real or serious option for people outside of the 1% or living in some of those wacky places mentioned earlier… right?

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  23. Redefining marriage means redefining the basic building block of society. Father, Mother, Child(ren). That is what makes the world tick. Removing one of those 3 means damage to society. Single mother, deadbeat dad, poor school performance child. Welfare. Crime. Poverty. Drugs.

    So yeah – redefining marriage takes away vital resources from normal (yeah I said it) families and redistributes it to people that can’t even procreate. Tax breaks – look it up.

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    • Okay, here are some questions for you then.

      First, I’ll grant everything you say in your comment, even the “normal” bit. I understand and readily appreciate that gay isn’t normal — just like red hair isn’t normal. (That’s fine with me, I never really wanted to be normal anyway…)

      Now: A young unmarried woman with no job gets pregnant. She wants nothing to do with the father and vice versa. But she’s pro-life and brings the baby to term.

      She also knows a gay couple, who have been together for a few years and who would love to have a kid. She asks them to adopt her baby, and the gay guys say yes. The kid is born, and the gay guys take her home from the hospital and raise her.

      Does it hurt or help the kid if the guys get married?

      Does it hurt any other kids? If so, how?

      How exactly does it lead to “Single mother, deadbeat dad, poor school performance child. Welfare. Crime. Poverty. Drugs.”?

      I ask because what I described is my own situation, with my husband and daughter, and if I’m hurting anyone, I have been completely unable to see how that might be.

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    • the basic building block of society. Father, Mother, Child(ren). That is what makes the world tick

      Notably, asserted without supporting logic or evidence. If we’re going to deprive people of equality, we need to base it on more than an assertion.

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