"After Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?" A wide-ranging look
After Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?
By Harry Cheadle
Gay marriage is going to be legal... no matter what the court says.... But if two men or two women can get married, what's stopping two men and two women from getting hitched?
Illustration by Alex Cook
The idea that after gay marriage is legalized, polygamy will be next — and then bestiality and legal unions between lawn mowers and volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and so on — is one of the main arguments that social conservatives trot out to “defend traditional marriage.”... Stanley Kurtz made that argument nearly ten years ago in The Weekly Standard, and it got brought up again in several briefs filed this week with the Supreme Court by anti-gay marriage advocates. It goes like this: if the purpose of marriage isn’t to produce children and traditional one-mom, one-dad homes, if it’s just a legal arrangement between folks who really like each other, what basis can there be to deny triads and quads who want legal recognition of multiple-partner marriages?
Actually, yeah — why are polyamorous marriages between consenting adults illegal?
“Kurtz was right for the most part,” Anita Wagner Illig, a polyamorous relationships advocate who runs the Practical Polyamory website, told me in an email. “Legalizing same-sex marriage creates a legal precedent where there can be no valid legal premise for denying marriage to more than two people who wish to marry each other… We just disagree as to whether it’s a bad thing.”...
...Many gay marriage advocates dislike that comparison — they don’t want the public to draw comparisons between gay relationships and “weird,” potentially abusive multi-wife setups.... “For as long as they could get away with it, [marriage equality advocates] disingenuously denied that we polyamorists even exist and swore that it was and would forever be a non-issue,” Anita said. “This was all politics as usual, of course, but it was pretty disappointing for us to be thrown under the bus that way, especially since the polyamory community has always supported marriage equality.”
...The problem is, it’s not clear at all that the poly community wants [this] battle. “We’re a pretty independent bunch,” Anita said. “Many poly people reject traditional marriage for themselves and consider polyamory to be an entirely new paradigm that doesn’t fit in the existing social and legal fabric. We make our commitments in our own way.”
Alan M., who runs the Polyamory in the News blog, agrees, and wrote in an email to me that, “The legalities [of group marriage] would be far more complex and innovative than gay marriage has been. Gay marriage maps exactly onto the vast, existing legal regime that has been developed for hetero couple marriage.”
In a short essay that he has posted on his blog several times, Alan expanded on this: “How would the law mandate, for instance, property rights and responsibilities in partial poly divorces? What about the rights and responsibilities of marriage that merge into preexisting marriages? Setting default laws for multiple inheritance in the absence of a will, allocating Social Security benefits… it goes on.”
The poly community is much smaller than the gay community (at least for now) and less organized and desirous of changes to laws — maybe that’s because they’ve got enough on their plate just navigating the complexities of their personal relationships.... But poly relationships are definitely becoming less “weird,” as all the “Get Ready for Group Marriage” articles in the media over the past several years have shown....
...Even Alan, who doesn’t see polyamorists getting their day in court anytime soon, said that change may be coming, if slowly.
“Good law follows reality rather than precedes it,” he wrote. “Fifty years from now when poly households are commonplace and their issues are well understood, I’m sure an appropriate body of law will have grown up to handle the issues that arise. At least that’s how it works when civil society is allowed to go about its business, free of religious or ideological compulsion.”
Read the whole article, which is much longer and touches many more bases (March 29, 2013).
More on this topic coming soon (hang on Angi).
P.S.: I also recently got quoted in Starcasm, an online celebrities magazine, in a Poly 101 article they did: What is polyamory? Are there any famous polyamorist couples? (March 26, 2013).