Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Gay marriage and polygamy

There's a judge in Utah who has recently appealed to the state Supreme Court, after a commission that oversees judges ruled to remove him from the bench. Their complaint against him? His marriage. Or rather, his three marriages. Judge Walter Steed is a polygamist.
So what?

A lot of the opponents to gay marriage love to make the "Slippery Slope" argument against it, and frequently, the next step they cite on that slope is polygamy. Well, I'm a seventh generation Mormon, and I'm not impressed. Why not let polygamy be legal?

Plural marriage in America was outlawed in the late 19th century, during a time of utter hysteria about Mormons. This was the "gay marriage" debate of the 19th century. Preachers ranted, politicians bloviated, and the federal government passed questionable laws banning the practice. The Mormon church challenged these laws all the way to the Supreme Court, and lost.

Yet as so frequently happens when the government tries to legislate taste, those who did not agree with the law kept up the practice anyway. Polygamy was forced underground, where, like the drug trade, it tended to attract some shady characters. While the mainstream Mormon church abandoned the practice of polygamy (though not the theology) in a bid for respectability, these schematic polygamists still live across the mountain West, in numbers estimated at anywhere from 30 to 100 thousand. They are not alone in their peculiar institution. Much of the world still allows plural marriage; most famous is Islam, which permits the taking of four wives by one man. When the anti-gay crowd rants about marriage being a sacred institution thousands of years old, they miss the fact that for much of the world, and over much of those thousands of years, marriage included polygamy. The Old Testament is quite evident proof of just that.

To all of which I say, so what? The Mormon Church shouldn't have to deny its theology of plural marriage. Forget the freedom of religion issue, whose business is this anyway? Provided that we are talking about consenting adults choosing to marry each other (not always the case in American polygamous communities, but that is as much a result of their closed underground status as anything) why is it my affair if one man and two women, or vice versa, wish to be married? Andrew Sullivan, in attempting to truncate the gay marriage debate from the issue of polygamy, has said that plural marriage could be disqualified on the grounds that the marriage bond is "so deep and profound that it can only be felt between two human beings". But on what grounds does he say that? There are numerous polygamists who will testify that their marriages are deep and profound, just as gay couples also testify. Why discount a form of marriage that has been widely practiced throughout history in such a manner? The modern twist on this is that if we were to allow polygamous marriage, we would of course allow it both ways; by making it possible to have matriarchal plural marriage ( a rarer, but not unknown practice across cultures) we deal away with the feminist objections to polygamy as intrinsically demeaning to women.

Look, personally, I think that anyone who wants to be married to more then one spouse at a time is a total nut. I don't claim to know exactly how polygamy works. I do know, however, that it does work for lots of people on this planet. Unlike the real objections to bestiality and pedophilia (both of which demand the sexual involvement of a partner incapable of giving consent) polygamy is a practice of adults who choose, whether for religious reasons or not, to engage in their own idea of marriage. Why should the government veto that? The legal opposition to polygamy in U.S. law is the hangover of a fit of 19th century religious hysteria, based on a silly, hypocritical interpretation of the bible. It's just another reason to get the government out of the marriage business altogether.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your argument seems to be that the only basis for if something should be legal (or moral) should be whether it is 2 (or more) consenting adults. As examples you stated bestiality and pedophilia. But should this be our only criteria? That you would suggest that the only thing wrong with bestiality is that there is no consent is disturbing. I fail to understand why consent would be required when we kill & eat animals without there consent. I hope you are a vegetarian!

It is somewhat enlightening that the same feminists who were in support of gay marriages between 2 consenting adults are now opposing polygamous marriages. How about incest? I wonder how you would personally feel if it was your 18 yr old daughter who decided to marry your father (her grandfather)? I'm also wondering if you would feel the same way if it was your wife that wanted to enter into a polygamous relationship with another man?

I think we often see these issues from a different perspective when it affects us personally.

The biggest problem is that many of these issues slowly erode the family unit, which is bad for children, usually the worst for women, and bad for the family.

11:25 PM  

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