Saturday, November 04, 2006


Another bothersome issues regarding the marriage debate was brought to mind, here (if you missed it, my reasons for allowing legal marriage for gay couples are at the top right of this blog).

The comparison between same sex marriage and polygamy is often made, claiming polygamy will follow from legal marriage for gays. But two apples are not a bushel of oranges:

1. Refusing legal polygamy is discrimination based on the number of people. Refusing legal marriage for gay couples is discrimination based on a person’s sexual anatomy, an undeniably inborn trait with a long history of nondiscrimination law.

Not all discrimination, of course, is bad. But we are guaranteed equal rights as individuals and individual gay men want the rights in their unions they’d have if the state was blind to their anatomy, the rights a female citizen in their same place would have (not to mention the rights of other family legally diminished for the same reason).

In general, I’ve no problems with discriminating based on the number of people and I don’t think anyone honestly does. I’d not think twice about the state rejecting two people interviewing as a couple for a certain job in favor of one, even if the two together had better qualifications. That’s a world apart from the state doing so for a person’s sex, and, if number is a person’s reason for discriminating against polygamists, I’ve no counterargument to it. You can, in that way, reasonably want legal marriage for couples regardless of the constituent individual’s sex, but not for more than two people.

2. Polygamists are not asking for the same rights as current legal marriage; they are asking for a whole new body of law. They cannot have the same rights or obligations by simple and inflexible mathematics, not law or cultural prejudice.

Without a will, for example, how do you decide SS, inheritance, and so on for a polygamist? Do they all get the same, even the wife there for only one month with no kids, when there is a wife there for 40 years with 10 kids? Do they decide medical decisions for an incapacitated husband by vote? What if there’s a tie? What about alimony? Are the remaining wives responsible for a divorced wife? What about child custody? Is a sister wife the default parent if her husband and one of his wives dies? Or is it the dead wife’s other next of kin? What is the legal relationship between wives? Do they get on another wife’s health insurance? Do they have automatic rights of inheritance, and if so how is the math done? One could go on.

It’s a legal mess, and a whole new set of law would need to be pounded out for polygamists; but gays want the same rights and obligations. For gay couples nothing is changed in law but two words about a person’s apparent sex.

3. Polygamists families can already have these rights, with one person (with the same legal limits placed on same-sex couples).

This already gives polygamist families far more rights, legal stability, and economic freedom than families headed by monogamous gay couples. Funny, as it’s as though the anti-gay rights folk seem to think polygamists are even lower than gays in respectability, in warning us “they’re next.”

The problem is that our opponents insist on ignoring such differences. They are fixated on framing this debate as discrimination between union types, gay marriage vs. heterosexual marriage vs. polygamy. If gay marriage wins that supposedly means a blow for heterosexual unions, us vs. them, and so on, but this is legally about an individual’s rights (It makes one want to search up old editorials from when the same sort of folks were up in arms against interracial marriage).

But for PR reasons they connect the two, as they know those who may be for gay marriage tend to also be against polygamy, due to its popular history of abuses and misogyny (No, certainly not the case for all polygamists, but those most in the public eye; I’ve known some who are very decent). What’s worse is that our opponents will even go so far with their union type non-discrimination arguments as to attach it to relationships between human and beast, somehow never thinking of the ease with which we can and do justify discriminating between a human and, say, a box turtle :-).

Simply, if polygamy ever did follow from gay marriage, it will be, in large part, the doing of the modern opponents of gay marriage. They are the ones who hope to convince the public the two are tied together.

Now if anyone wants to get into whether legal polygamy, as a separate issue, should be implemented or not, I’m game :-), but, in the comments (My posts get way too long).


Chris said...

Scot - thanks for taking up the discussion here that started on my blog. I have not had the marriage discussion on my blog yet, and didn't intend for my rant about gay bashing Republicans to turn into a discussion about same-sex marriage.

I have actually long thought that polygamy ought to be legal, so it's never bothered me when the issue is raised in discussion of same-sex marriage. But the comparison is, as you point out, problematic. I appreciate your willingness to take up the torch and will link to your post from blog.

jason said...


I've never read your blog, but was directed to it by Chris. I was the post on Chris's blog that first asked the question, in the context of the discussion on same sex marriage, what Chris thought about polygamy. As I stated in that post, as a straight married guy, I'm actually rather agnostic on this issue. I'm just trying to approach this logically - I was not throwing the polygamy reference out there as supporting my stance opposing gay marriage, because right now I'm not saying I'm opposed. Again, I'm agnostic.

While I certainly appreciate your well thought out and reasoned analysis of the issue, your analysis does not answer what I think is the underlying fundamental question at hand. Does society have the right to define marriage? If it does, then morals come into play and the morals of the majority will most likely prevail (putting aside equal protection arguments, which can be discussed separately). If it does not, then it does not - and that should apply to the recognition of all consenting adult relationships. As I said over on Chris's blog, a numbers legal distinction is just as artificial as a gender distinction if imposed by the law. If society does not legally have the right to define what constitutes a legally protected relationship among adults (i.e. what is the legal definitin of "marriage") then all of the other problems you point out in your post must be worked out. It's not a question of how far off from the current legal apparatus we must go to recognize the unions - it must happen if society cannot dictate the legal definition.

I appreciate your thoughts on this and for letting me post. Again, my intent is not to bash or to be defined as an opponent of gay marriage. But I do want to have a better understanding of the underlying implications either way. I think honest questions such as these by folks like me that are trying to figure this out for ourselves have a right to be a part of the discussion without being categorized as gay bashing or gay marriage opponents.

Thanks for your time.


Scot said...

Truth be told, Chris, it’s nothing. I’ve got files and files. On a topic like this it’s mainly a matter of cut-and-paste when something rouses me :-).

Anyway, I agree.

What legal polygamy has in common with heterosexual marriage, gay marriage, interracial marriage, and any legal marriage is that it would put legal bite into the obligations of family, families that exists right now. In this way the arguments for legal polygamy are many of the same arguments for having any legal marriage in the first place.

Being in the rare position of a gay man having known religiously conservative polygamist families (okay, not too rare in this crowd :-)), I too find I’ve no problem with enforcing their obligations and giving them similar rights. Personally I’d like to see some of the wives of the more chauvinistic and unkind polygamist husbands I’ve encountered gain some legal power in their marriages (not to mention get off “single mother” welfare).

On top of that, I’m a fan a religious freedom, an angle that more polygamists have going for them than gays. Simply :-), yes, they are different topics.

Scot said...

Jason, thank you for the comment and I’ll address it in a bit. I just want to be clear, again, I cut and pasted a lot of that and wasn’t really thinking of your comment in particular when I posted it (I wasn't, for example, thinking of you as my nebulous “opponent” and such). You just brought it to mind on a day I didn’t know what I’d post :-).

Scot said...

“Does society have the right to define marriage?”

In short, yes and no. :-)

What is it they say? 99% of all arguments are over vocabulary.

I may have briefly addressed this in the very
last section
of why society should want gay marriage. Anyway...

As my last 3 posts coincidentally detail, society, right or no, will do as it pleases and can do much worse to gays than define our families out of Social Security. Of course, in the US our legal rights come from law, The Constitution (moral rights are another can of worms) and we all know where law comes from, our vote and elected representatives (sausage factories :-)). Laws give individuals, the things that think and feel, rights; societies do not have them and only appear to have them by those rights held by their constituents.

The legal power behind the word “marriage” is being fought over by individuals (personally, as I’ve said, keepL the word :-)). If given enough individuals they have the legal right to make any law they want (no moral right, though); they could even go back to burning gays. If they want, they can and will alter the constitution, recall representatives, and remove judges, and we, a constant minority, are at their whim.

But, funnily enough, society already defines gay couples as married. As my last post shows, they even saw a “marriage” being performed between gay couples when they were torturing them to death for it. Today, we’re comfortable enough with gays being married that it’s even made its way into our dictionaries. That fight is over. Societies and the evolutions of their languages are really more like weather than a conscious process anyway. Individuals, though, will always be free to define “marriage” (or, say, “toaster”) however they want, as they should be.

All that and it comes down to what your question means. Does “define marriage” mean can government take tax dollars from me, a US citizen, and go on to discriminate against me, my children, and my spouse because of the geometry of my sexual anatomy? If so, then no. They do not have that moral or legal right. Here is why equal protection can’t be set aside, as they may legally discriminate by the number of individuals, as is the case with polygamy. People have rights; relationships do not (the crux or your question, right?).

For now, there are, in our state and federal constitutions, grantees of equal rights put there by society, and society will have to ditch that wonderful ethic first, to legally keep those in our families from equal rights, to legally “define marriage” in terms of sexual anatomy for their neighbors.

I hope that didn’t cause more debate than it settled :-).

Maybe this would make my rambling clearer:

If society does not legally have the right to define what constitutes a legally protected relationship among adults

It does have this right. For example, the relationship between a prostitute and their john is not protected. But the case here is more like wondering if society could, say, make adult relationships of prostitution legal for every such relationship but those involving two caucasians. They could not legally do that, as it restricts the rights of an individual to have such a relationship with a caucasian because of their race.

Finally, I ardently hope you don’t feel categorized as a “gay basher”. When I refer to gay-rights opponents, I’m thinking about the guys out there doing nothing but thinking up new ways to attack my family for a living, not people trying to find an answer to this question in good faith. I'm sure you do give this serious consideration.


Chris said...

I'll vouch for Jason. He's good people.

-L- said...

I really owe due diligence to the topic, but I'm too lazy to read all Chris' comments and all of the above. I agree with much of what you've said, though. Maybe I'll be able to read it all shortly.

The thing that offends me about the comparison is the dismissive way most people don't give it any thought at all before taking a position. Of course gay marriage is acceptable in a way that polygamy is not some of my medical school classmates would say. Of course polygamy is a matter of religious right while gay marriage is nothing but a shell game of rights some of my conservative family members think.

The issues are analogous in some ways and not in some ways. But the slippery slope argument and the tidy way people side-step careful thought in order to align themselves with their own long-standing biases does get under my skin.