Robert George: "Is Polyamory Next?"
Robert P. George — Princeton professor, fixture of prestigious conservative think tanks, and perhaps America's leading Catholic arguer against same-sex marriage — just gave us polyfolks some very good press while arguing that incest is sure to be next.
And in what looks like it's supposed to be a rebuttal, titled "Why Not Polyamory?", eminent sociologist Peter L. Berger presents a mildly entertaining, superficial ramble going nowhere.
Both pieces went up in the last two days on the website of The American Interest, a big-think quarterly journal with neocon roots.
First, from George:
Is Polyamory Next?
By Robert P. George
here –Ed.]. They are just like any ordinary Massachusetts opposite- or same-sex married couple. Only they’re not a couple. Doll, Kitten, and Brinn Young are a throuple. And, for now at least, Massachusetts, like other states, does not recognize as marriages “polyamorous” unions (romantic partnerships of three or more persons).
But Doll, Kitten, and Brinn think that’s unfair and should change. They want marriage equality for themselves and other polyamorists. They are proud that their home state was in the vanguard of legally recognizing same-sex partnerships as marriages....
If gender doesn’t matter for marriage, they ask, why should number matter? “If love makes a family”, as the slogan went when the cause being advanced was gay marriage, then why should their family be treated as second class? Why should their marriage be denied legal recognition and the dignity and social standing that come with it? Doll, Kitten, and Brinn love each other and are as committed to each other and their child and future children as are, say, Donald Trump and his third wife, or Elton John and his husband. They find fulfillment in their long-term sexual partnership, just as opposite- and same-sex couples find fulfillment in theirs. The dignity of their relationship, not to mention their own personal dignity, is assaulted, they believe, when their marriage is treated as inferior and unworthy of legal recognition. Their child and future children are stigmatized by laws that refuse to treat their parents as married. And to what end? How does it harm the marriage of, say, John and Harold, the couple next door, if the Commonwealth of Massachusetts recognizes the Youngs’ marriage? Indeed, what justification can be given — what legitimate state interest can be cited — for dishonoring Doll, Kitten, and Brinn and their marriage? Surely, the only explanation, apart from religious scruples of the sort that may not constitutionally be imposed by the State, is animus and a bare desire to harm people who are different?
Over the past couple of years, a number of mainstream websites, newspapers, and magazines — Salon, Slate, USA Today, Newsweek, the Atlantic — have run sympathetic stories about polyamory.... Polygamous and polyamorous relationships, often with children in the picture, are depicted as just one more historically misunderstood way of being a family — and those who enter such relationships as an often-victimized minority. The polyamorous partners profiled in the stories sometimes weave discussion of the ordinary challenges and simple joys of domestic life — dealing with disagreements, getting the kids to do their homework or practice the piano, celebrating birthdays and other special occasions — together with peek-a-boo accounts of what it’s like for throuples or larger polyamorous units to share a bed and have sex.
Many polyamorous people say that their desire or felt need for multiple partners is central to their identity, and that they have known from an early age that they could never find personal and sexual fulfillment in a purely monogamous relationship. The message is that they are the next sexual minority whose human rights, including of course the right to marriage equality, must be honored. They’re following the same playbook as same-sex marriage advocates in mainstreaming polyamory and putting in place the cultural predicates for its legal recognition. And it’s working. In the most recent polling, fully a quarter of Americans are now prepared to recognize polyamorous marriages, and among religiously unaffiliated citizens (whose numbers are climbing in the United States) the figure is 58 percent. These percentages represent far higher support than gay marriage had within the memory of more than a few readers of this essay.
....These and other open advocates of polyamory and its legal recognition now look like they were ahead of their time. With USA Today, Newsweek, and other respected publications sympathetically presenting polyamory, more and more polyamorists and allies of their cause will feel safer coming out. The politicians aren’t there yet, of course, but in this late season of our experience we all know that they are almost always among the last to arrive at the party. Soon enough, a small number will break the ice, just as they did on same-sex marriage. They will, to use President Obama’s famous description of his own flip-flop on same-sex marriage, “evolve.”
The problem with this? It's that marriage is supposed to be, according to moral and legal tradition (and especially, though he doesn't say it, the doctrine of the Catholic Church),
a conjugal union in which a man and woman consent to unite in a bond that is (1) founded on their sexual-reproductive complementarity, (2) consummated and renewed by acts that unite them as a reproductive unit (“one flesh”) by fulfilling the behavioral conditions of procreation (whether or not the non-behavioral conditions happen to obtain) [He means fucking. –Ed.]; and (3) specially apt for, and would naturally be fulfilled by, their having and rearing children together.
The idea of marriage as a conjugal union explains the structuring features of marriage in our moral and legal traditions, including (1) the rules of consummation (including annulability for non-consummation, but not for infertility); (2) the requirements of (a) monogamy, (b) sexual exclusivity (fidelity), and (c) permanence of commitment (“till death do us part”); and (3) the treatment of marriage as a properly public matter, something that law can and should recognize, support, and regulate, and not a merely private or religious matter, like baptisms, bar mitzvahs, and ordinary friendships (even the closest and most intimate).
This understanding of marriage is radically different from the revisionist conception that one must adopt if sexual-reproductive complementarity is irrelevant to marriage. According to revisionists, marriage is essentially a union at the affective level. What sets it apart is a certain emotional bond. It unites partners in an especially close or intense form of friendship, one which ordinarily involves sex but just as a way of fostering and expressing affection. Sex is thus, strictly speaking, incidental, not inherent, to the relationship....
if one grants the premises of sexual liberalism — that consenting adults have a right to enter into whatever types of sexual relationships they like without state interference,
then acceptance of adult incest is inevitable.
Read the whole 4,200-word article (August 25, 2015). If you ever need to cite a heavyweight reference for slippery-slopism, this would be a good pick.
Then from Berger:
Why Not Polyamory?
...What is avoided in such a discussion is demonization of all who disagree with one’s own views. If at all possible, democracy seeks reasonable compromises.
Those are the only bits I find in the article that are pertinent to his title. Mostly it's a directionless ramble about polygamy in one part of the world or another, and the small part about polyamory shows how little he's followed the subject. See for yourself. (Aug. 26). People pay $8 an issue for this?
● The Slowly Boiled Frog (David Cary Hart) posts a clearer reply to George: Robby George is (still) trying to undo marriage equality with fear of polyamory and incest (Aug. 26).
● Also yesterday, sure to add fuel to the fire, came this news: ‘Sister Wives’ point to same-sex marriage in fighting Utah’s polygamy appeal:
SALT LAKE CITY — In a court filing challenging Utah’s appeal of a judge’s decision to strike down part of the state’s polygamy ban [i.e. criminalization, not just non-recognition], reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives point to the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling on same-sex marriage.
In a response filed with the 10th U.S. Circuit Court in Denver, Kody Brown and his wives, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, ask the judges to reject the state’s appeal. They cite cases involving same-sex marriage (United States v. Windsor and Obergefell v. Hodges) and a case that struck down the ban on gay sex (Lawrence v. Texas).
“From the rejection of morality legislation in Lawrence to the expansion of the protections of liberty interests in Obergefell, it is clear that states can no longer use criminal codes to coerce or punish those who choose to live in consensual but unpopular unions. This case is about criminalization of consensual relations and there are 21st century cases rather than 19th century cases that control,” Brown family attorney Jonathan Turley wrote.
The Browns, who appear on the TLC reality show “Sister Wives,” sued the state of Utah over its ban on polygamy, arguing it violated their right to freely practice their religion and their right to equal protection under the law.
Or read the Salt Take Tribune's longer story with a similar headline: ‘Sister Wives’ family points to same-sex marriage cases in arguing against Utah polygamy ban (Aug. 27).
Here is Turley's filing, dated Aug. 26.