1/6/12

Santorum on Gay Marriage and Polygamy


It looks like Rick Santorum is going to be around for a while.  In fact a horrible thought has entered my mind: he's eventually going to be Mitt Romney's running mate.  So we're going to have to listen to him on the subject of gay marriage and abortion for some time to come.  It's heartening that he was booed over his stance on gay marriage at a New Hampshire event yesterday.  But better push-back is needed.

The audience in New Hampshire let Santorum get away with the silly argument  that goes "if we allow gay marriage we'll have to allow polygamous marriage."   Listen to the video.  Santorum says "Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?"  Audience:  "Yes!"  Santorum:  "So anybody can marry several people?"  Audience erupts.  Santorum:  "So if you're not happy unless you're married to five other people, is that OK?"  Santorum keeps pressing the point:  "If it makes three people happy to get married, what makes that wrong?"  The audience says it's irrelevant.  Santorum says we should employ reason:  "Reason says that if you think it's OK for two, then you have to differentiate with me why it's not OK for three."   The audience doesn't rise to the occasion, but instead boos him as he leaves the lectern.

Liberals need to be better prepared for this sort of tussle.  The answer to the opening question--"Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?"--should be "No".  People can have whatever relationships they want, but legal marriage is an institution societies use to honor and incentivize relationships that are valuable to the society.  Two-way marriage, whether straight or gay, is socially valuable in a way that polygamy is not. Here's the differentiation Santorum was looking for:

In a two-way marriage, both people involved are desirous of the marriage.  The marriage is a kind of contract or exchange--I'll do certain things for you if you'll do them for me.  There are benefits to this for the society as a whole.  People need government support less when they have a long-term, intimate partner.

In polygamy, as it's actually practiced in the real world, three or more people don't suddenly decide to get married.  Rather there's a first marriage, and then more wives are added to the marriage (yes, wives--polyandry is extremely rare). The first marriage is mutual in the usual way, but then more wives are added to the marriage, contrary to the preferences of the first (second, etc) wife.  (If you think first wives welcome additional wives, dream on!)

It stands to reason that the additional wives put the welfare of older wives at risk.  And yes, of course the new wives do tend to get younger and younger.  Certainly, there's nothing consensual and mutual about the relationship created between the wives--they didn't desire a co-wife.  This non-mutuality does not pertain to gay marriage at all. Gay marriage is just as mutual as straight marriage.

Next differentiation: for each additional wife a man takes, some other man is deprived of the opportunity to marry.  This is bad on a personal level for bachelors, but also bad on a social level.  Bachelors have poorer health, but they also commit more crime.  The problem of the bachelors isn't a fantasy--it's a reality in countries like India and China where gendercide is commonly practiced. In southern Utah, where Mormons practice polygamy, bachelors wind up having to leave the community. One man's gain is another man's loss.

Same-sex marriage doesn't have that drawback.   When gay people marry each other, there aren't more bachelors and bachelorettes as a result, because whether they marry or not,  gay people are going to be in same sex relationships.   Only polygamy gives the benefit of marriage to some people at the direct cost of taking the benefit away from others.

Next differentiation:  men with lots of wives have lots of children.  With each additional wife, the father-to-offspring ratio becomes less favorable.  And it's just not true that a man can nurture and provide for two children as well as he can for 12 or for 24.  Gay marriage does nothing to worsen the ratio between parents and offspring, but polygamy does.

There are lots of reasons to honor and incentivize only two-way marriages.  So it's just not true that, in all consistency, we must legalize polygamy if we legalize same-sex marriage.  Polygamy is different in lots of ways, and you just have to think about it a bit to see why.

Another argument conservatives make is that if gay marriage is legalized, we'll have to let people marry their dogs.  Seriously, people say that, as if there's no conceivable reason why a society might honor and incentivize marriage between two men or two women, but not between a man and his golden retriever.  Help!



42 comments:

Simon Rippon said...

Great post - it deserves to be in the newspaper!

Russell Blackford said...

I have a piece relating to this topic - not to the US election, but just marriage, polygamy, polyamory, etc. - coming out soon on the ABC Religion and Ethics Portal. At least I assume they will publish it. It's based on my discussion of the same issues in the book, i.e. in Freedom of Religion and the Secular State.

My analysis is similar to yours, Jean, though not identical - I'm much more cynical about the role of the state in the marriage business. That's partly, but not entirely, because I'm more cynical about the role of the state in general.

Anyway, you might watch out for it.

Btw, what did you make of that recent Canadian case? I defend the view that the state should only be recognising marriages between couples, whether same-sex or opposite-sex. But Canadian law goes further. It actually makes it a crime to have a sufficiently marriage-like polygamous relationship. Not only will the state not register and recognise it; it will actually throw you in jail for it. For the purpose of the legislation, you may have to go through a religious ceremony or something for it to be considered sufficiently marriage like, but all the same I can't approve of the state using the criminal law to interfere in people's private lives in this way.

I suspect the legal position may be similar in parts of the US, thanks to the attempt in the 19th century to stamp out Mormon polygamy. But I haven't researched that aspect.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

(I think the internets eated my first comment, delete this one if it got through.)

I agree that there are relevant differences between monogamous marriage (whether gay or straight) and polygamous marriage. However, the "mutual exchange" argument is weak.

A "kind of contract or exchange" can be "mutual" even if one or neither party gets everything they want. So a first wife might accept additional wives as the price of being married to the particular man she wants to marry.

It's arguably unfair for a man to spring a second wife on his first wife several years in to the marriage. However, this can be avoided by giving people a legally-binding option to foreswear additional wives at the time they get marriaged, for so long as the marriage lasts.

Wayne said...

Here's the problem with your argument Jean... If we can find an exception to the norm, a fully egalitarian polygamous relationship, then what?

Santorum is pushing for the "worst case scenario" where we have lets say four people who are all in love with one another, and want to all marry. Why not? None of the spouses would be lesser to the other, and to make it easier, they all want to marry at the same time.

Now we don't have to assume that everyone is going to engage in such a practice, like in Mormon Utah, so its more of a fringe practice, like well.. Mormonism. So no worries about alienating and taking away brides from bachelors.

The child scenario is interesting, but lets say they don't want children, or they only want two amongst the four. Or we could imagine that one of them is a very successful banker, who can afford to care for 8 children.

If they love one another, and we shouldn't stand in the way of love, etc. Why not let them marry?

I think the easier answer to this whole shebang, is to look at the rights conferred by marriage, rather than why stop people from marrying. Part of marriage rights comes co-owenership of property, and certain rights to division of property if there is a divorce. In a polygamous marriage, that property division becomes really messy. Not that it isn't in normal divorce, but how does one divide property when one person doesn't want to be married to person 1, but still wishes to be married to person 2 and 3? What about benefit rights? Would spouse 1 who has insurance through their employer be able to extend that to spouse 2 3 and 4?

There are too many practical problems that stand in the way of polygamous marriage, that don't exist in gay marriage.

Oh and this is a interesting little essay I read not too long ago: http://www.philosophy.northwestern.edu/conferences/moralpolitical/10/papers/Strauss.pdf

Svlad Cjelli said...

The point about removing options for bachelors irks me.
Certainly, if it as you say results in many crimes then it is a worthy consideration. But it tastes like arranged marriage "light".

Jean Kazez said...

I like Simon's comment best;-)

OK, so I've made three arguments differentiating gay marriage from polygamous marriage: (1) only polygamous marriage creates the bachelor problem, (2) only polygamous marriage create unfavorable parent-child ratios, and (3) only polygamous marriage --as it's actually practiced in the real world--involves lack of mutuality, since some of the parties to a polygamous marriage don't welcome some of the other parties.

I think the bachelor problem is simplest to state and most straightforward. I'm not suggesting the state interfere with personal relationships to prevent some people from getting more than their fair share of partners (Russell, I agree that would be bad), but the state has good reason not to actively promote this kind of thing. That's what legal marriage does--it promotes a certain kind of relationship.

To promote some guy having 5 wives is to equally promote four other guys having no wife. Why would the state promote that? It makes no sense at all, because the four wifeless guys are statistically likely to have more health problems, engage in more crimes, etc. Wifeless guys are bad for society, and there's no compensating benefit to society in one guy having five wives. All the good of it is for that one guy.

So I think based on the bachelor argument alone, there's actually a very solid case for the state saying No to polygamy, and there's no comparable basis for saying No to gay marriage.

Crude analogy time. Suppose there are enough houses in the US for each family to have one house. The state sees some social value to home ownership, so they incentivize it with tax breaks. Does it follow they should incentivize people having five houses, so four others will have none? Of course not!

Chris Schoen said...

I wonder if you aren't ceding too much of the argument here to Santorum. After all, it's only for customary reasons that traditional heterosexual marriage isn't itself a slippery slope to polygamy--not because there is any objective reason why anything other than heterosexual monogamy is a deviation.

The slippery slope argument--"What's next, XYZ?"--is rarely anything more than a childish fear that any change whatsoever signals impending annihilation. It doesn't deserve a serious response. If we say we want to adopt more stringent animal rights laws for agribusiness, the slippery slope response is something like "I guess we should all just eat plankton burgers." You ignore it, and you continue making your case that if domesticated animals are going to remain a source of food for us, we need to be more humane about it.

I think it's a mistake to take Santorum's false equivalence seriously. Gay couples are simply asking for full enfranchisement. Most of the social obstacles to this have fallen away. The only real "argument" Santorum poses is that the prospect frightens him and grosses him out. The rational response is to say we will talk about polygamy--or plankton burgers another day. Right now we are talking about gay marriage. Do you really feel that people in a stable, lasting relationship, who love each other, should not be given the same rights and incentives by the state based on a redundancy of genitals? Given everything that we now know about LGBT history, can we any longer pretend that there is *any* road to romantic and personal fulfillment for gays that denies them the same right to choose their life partners that the rest of us take for granted.


That's the whole argument. We don't need to talk about polygamy or plankton because despite the fear-mongering, no one is actually proposing it.

Unknown said...

Interesting points , some of which I had'nt considered -
But I think if you let people like Santorum word associate Gay marriage with Polygamy /Incest/Bestiality whatever you play into their hands even your argument is a very well thought out one.

I would think that the smart money is on word associating normal marriage with gay marriage i.e. ask him to prove that gay marriage is different from hetero marriage.

Unknown said...

@chris
i agree with you. Damn!

Chris Schoen said...

i agree with you. Damn!

Comrade!

Unknown said...

Chris Schoen was right — polygamy in the context of gay marriage discussions is a patent red herring. That said, I disagree with him (and Deepak Shetty) about the need to discuss polygamy — there is actually a good reason to argue against it (at least as it is practiced by Mormons and Muslims, i.e. patriarchally, unfairly and often oppressively).

@Jean: I don't buy the "some people have bad polygamous relationships, therefore we should proscribe polygamy" angle — it's just too generalized. Wayne's "consider the practical challenges" argument is the best one, it seems.

This bit from your comment jumps out at me:

"That's what legal marriage does--it promotes a certain kind of relationship."

No, it doesn't. I think you misapprehend the state's role and intentions in recognizing marriage. The simple fact of history (which is borne out by current US law) is that states recognize marriage for pragmatic economic reasons chiefly concerning property rights. That's what state-rec'd marriage has been about as far back as the historical record goes (indeed, even when religious institutions were the state, they were still concerned with property issues and legal names after they got the ceremony and pabulum out of the way).

It's not the intention of any western states (afaik) to "promote" a certain kind of relationship, be it gay, straight, polygamous, monogamous, hermaphroditic, bestial, or whatever. People were cohabiting and co-owning stuff anyway — states just formally recognized it because it's practical given that government courts inevitably end up arbitrating the property issues which arise from such co-doing-of-stuff.

Either you misapprehend the role of state-recognized marriages or you give the state far too much credit in shaping popular behavior. Maybe a bit of both? I mean, I don't know anybody who thinks the state's recognition of marriage lends their marriage meaning or gravitas. People think their partners lend that stuff, and/or that their religious tradition does (if they have one).

Yes, people want the services a government may render to a married couple (legal inheritance, tax/insurance benefits, whatever), but they only want that if they were getting married anyway. There aren't many couples who think, "Yeah, we hate each other, but let's have a go at this because the government will give us buckets of cash if we do."

Religious institutions would go on blathering about the celestial implications of "mawwage" and people would go on generally living in pairs even if the state stopped recognizing marriages entirely.

Also, I think I dislike the mere implication that states should concern themselves with fostering specific sorts of relationships. It's got far too much of an Orwellian/Draconian vibe. But them I am extremely liberal wrt social issues (I would say libertarian but I don't like the baggage that term has).

Unknown said...

@Jambe
That said, I disagree with him (and Deepak Shetty) about the need to discuss polygamy
That was in context of gay marriage and not in general .

Jean Kazez said...

Chris (and others)--I can see that in some contexts, it's a good idea to refuse to engage with a person who links gay marriage to polygamy and people marrying their dogs and the like. In fact, I rather like Dan Savage's response to all that. It is precisely a refusal to engage. Well, it's beyond that--it's punishing Santorum for his stupidity. Fine by me!

But then again, in a philosophical sense, I think Santorum is actually perfectly right to ask what the principle is behind defending gay marriage, and what else that principle would lead to. In an ethics class, that's exactly how we'd proceed, if we were debating gay marriage. I think there are enough people out there (on both sides) who see that's how we need to proceed that Santorum's argument has to be given a serious response.

So my serious response is--the principle behind the push for gay marriage is NOT what Santorum thinks it is--it is not "Everyone can marry anyone." Rather, we need to think about why the government is right to honor and incentivize heterosexual marriage, as opposed to just letting people be free to have whatever relationships they like. Why should a society put money and resources (courts, judges, etc) into supporting marriage? Once we know that, we can tell what other marriages should and shouldn't be legal.

I think the answer is stuff like this: married people take care of each other, so they depend on the state less; married people have better health and commit fewer crimes; and married fathers are more likely to provide long-term support for children. Lots of stuff like that.

When you think about marriage in those terms, polygamy is very quickly "out" because it actually decreases the total number of people who will have the benefits of marriage! At least, that's how it is in a culture where only polygamy is practiced, never polyandry.

Unknown said...

@Deepak Shetty: gotcha! Sorry.

@Jean: I should point out that I'm trying to be something of a DA here — I'm not at all in favor of the crazy "I essentially own my wives" polygyny common to Abrahamic religions. I simply care very much about the truth — the actual, factual veracity of the claims which must underlie this discussion.

"Why should a society put money and resources (courts, judges, etc) into supporting marriage?"

Do you have any evidence (anecdotal or otherwise) to suggest that government arbitration of co-doing-of-stuff issues "supports marriage", and not vice-versa as I suggest? I just don't buy the claim. Again, I think you give the government way too much credit on this issue! I can be convinced if you provide a good argument or link to a germane study or suggest a book or whatever!

"When you think about marriage in those terms, polygamy is very quickly "out" because it actually decreases the total number of people who will have the benefits of marriage! At least, that's how it is in a culture where only polygamy is practiced, never polyandry."

Do you have evidence to suggest that polygamous or polyandrous marriages are incapable of providing the same benefits as monogamous marriages? I certainly do not like the oppressive nature of, say, Muslim polygyny, but it doesn't seem like they're incapable of flourishing with that sort of system (or are they? is any given Muslim population in decline because of polygyny?). Suppose you kept the polygyny (and allowed for polyandry and, er, whatever you would call "two women and two men marrying each other") but lost the oppressiveness. Would you argue that such relationships cannot be egalitarian, or that they wouldn't work as well as monogamous relationships? Or something else?

Jean Kazez said...

Just a quick response to part of your comment (because I need to run)--when I say polygamous marriage decreases the number of people who get the benefit of marriage, I'm saying something very simple and indisputable. It's not a point about the people in a polygamous marriage. It's a point about how many people wind up in the married state. If one guy marries 10 women, that means another 9 guys will never be in the marital state. A state that wants to see people in the marital state will not want to support polygamous marriage. It's a simple question of math!

Unknown said...

@Jean
In an ethics/philosophy class there is no argument with your post :).

If one guy marries 10 women, that means another 9 guys will never be in the marital state.
And it gets worse in places like India where we have I think it was 90 women per 100 men.

Unknown said...

You're quite right, Jean, but I never disagreed with that point (it is, as you say, an issue of elementary maths).

The problem I have is with the implication underlying the claim — that monogamy > polygamy. Hence my asking you to clarify your stance on that issue. It may well be, for example, that good studies exist which indicate that polygamous marriages are naturally non-egalitarian, or that the uneven distribution of the sexes in polygynous or polyandrous relationships has made known societies less viable, something along those lines. I'm unaware of any such studies, but if good ones exist, I will be easily persuaded!

Jean Kazez said...

Jambe, I've stayed away from that issue because I'm skeptical that the state ought to decide which types of marriage to permit based on which relationships are better and which worse. I do think polygamy is likely to be worse (especially for the older wives who are pushed aside for the youngest wife), but that's not one of the reasons I'm giving for polygamy not to be legal.

But OK--I'll tell you why I think it's got to be no fun being in a polygamous marriage (at least for the wives). One source is the book Nine Parts of Desire, by Geraldine Brooks. She interviews older wives and finds them pretty miserable. I have to say, though, I've also read happier reports. A Mormon woman in a polygamous marriage wrote a NYT editorial a couple of years talking about how great it is to share childcare with your sister wives. Er, I just think it's got to be fairly unpleasant to share other (um) things with your sister wives.

But I'm deliberately not making that sort of thing a reason why polygamy shouldn't be legal. I'm trying to restrict myself to things that are clearly the state's business.

Unknown said...

I agree that sharing a spouse seems unpleasant but that strikes me merely as a cultural idea (i.e. I was taught that polygamy is bad — I don't know that it is).

I was curious about whether any robust studies of polygamous relationships have been done — ones which might point to the relationships' viability (or lack thereof) in fairly discrete terms (psychological and physical health, financial security, level of education and success in their children, etc). The anecdotal stuff doesn't move me much — "yes, Mormons have crappy polygamous marriages" isn't evidence that polygamy itself doesn't work — just that Mormons do it badly.

"But I'm deliberately not making that sort of thing a reason why polygamy shouldn't be legal. I'm trying to restrict myself to things that are clearly the state's business."

Right, but from what do you derive the idea that it is the "state's business" to be deliberately shaping relationships? I'm unaware of any Constitutional reference to such things, and I don't know that any federal legislation is germane, either. Again, I think you conflate "the state has laws regarding marriage" with "the state sponsors marriage". Those two things are not the same, and if the latter statement is false the validity of your argument would be precluded, would it not?

I think part of the reason your post sat wrong with me was the repeated use of the term "polygamy". As far as I can tell, these are your arguments, stated (perhaps) more clearly:

1) polygyny (not polygamy generally) is inegalitarian for the women involved, which is bad because egalitarian relationships are the best kind

2) polygyny (not polygamy generally) reduces a society's pool of marriageable women, and this is bad because bachelors are more troublesome than married men

3) polygyny (not polygamy generally) results in fathers having too many babies to effectively nurture, which is bad because kids need effective nurturing to be good people

Fair? I agree with these three points, broadly, assuming that the crazy Christian/Muslim way of doing it is the only way it'll ever be done. That's a big assumption to make, though, especially if a baldly discriminatory law is to be based entirely on that assumption! Actually, as far as I am aware, no proscription of polygamy actually says why it's proscribed — merely that it is! But I haven't delved into all relevant legislation, admittedly.

I mean, recall Russell Blackford's comment — suppose four bisexual men and one bisexual woman (or vice-versa) have lived together all their lives, and they're perfectly capable of having an egalitarian, healthy polygamous marriage... but they can't, because "those Mormons (or whoever) have bad polygamous marriages."

Surely that's not fair, right?

And again, I just genuinely find this topic fascinating and like to work out the details logically. I hope I haven't given the impression that I'm just a troll, or that I'm anti-gay marriage or pro-polygamy (I'm actually just undecided on polygamy, neither for it nor against it, broadly speaking).

March Hare said...

The government should not be regulating legal or sexual matters between consenting adults. But, given that they do (and many appear to want them to!?!) then it should be done on the basis of what is good for society. What you have done here is list stereotypes of behaviour that may well have been accurate in times/places where women were unable to earn a living on their own and needed the financial, societal, legal and possibly even physical protection of a man. To say that this would perpetuate in a western 21st century country is disingenuous.

You say:
(1) only polygamous marriage creates the bachelor problem

Which is a false problem. Most people want a monogamous relationship so it would be a small minority whose rights you are trampling over in order to avoid a problem that simply wouldn't exist in the real world. Not to mention the (completely false) underlying assumption that there is someone for everyone and removing one woman from the pool will leave one guy short. (And that there is a 1:1 ratio!)

(2) only polygamous marriage create unfavorable parent-child ratios

That's just nonsense. As most legalised polygamous relationships happen in religious institutions that massively favour large families it seems you are targeting the wrong thing (look at the Quiverful for example). In the real world kids cost money and so there would be a financial restriction on how many kids/wives/husbands people would have.

(3) only polygamous marriage --as it's actually practiced in the real world--involves lack of mutuality, since some of the parties to a polygamous marriage don't welcome some of the other parties.

So have the marriage contract giving all partners the right to veto a new entrant. Problem solved.

Just because some religious people misuse a freedom it doesn't mean you can use that as justification for restricting the rights of the rest of us. Especially on something that only affects a tiny minority of the population. I believe that is known as tyranny of the majority. It's exactly what people used to do to inter-racial couples and gay couples.

Jean Kazez said...

Jambe,

The state deliberately shapes all kinds of things. For example, it offers low-interest college loans, but not low-interest vacation loans. That's because the state has a legitimate interest in people getting an education, but less of an interest in people going on vacation. The US constitution doesn't spell out all the state interests--it's not that kind of document.

I do think the state has an interest in promoting marriage, for lots of reasons that I've explained. Marriage improves health and decreases crime, for example. I have no trouble with the government doing a variety of things to increase health and decrease crime.

The US does promote marriage--not just regulate it. For example, it gives married couples (but not friends) the ability to pass along social security benefits to each other. So the question then is whether to promote just heterosexual monogamous marriage or also gay marriage and polygamous marriage and people marrying their dogs, etc. etc. The question then is whether the relevant interests are advanced by these kinds of relationships too.

I don't think you can justify extending marriage to further groups by just giving one example of a marriage in that group that advances the relevant interests. This would be like extending low-interest loans past education, to vacations, by citing a case where someone took an extremely educational vacation. The issue has to be about the average case, or how things typically work. So the hypothetical case of the four bisexual men and one bisexual woman who live happily and stably together for life does not do much to support legalizing polygamy.

Jean Kazez said...

March Hare, I haven't the slightest idea why you see my argument as you represent it in your first paragraph. I think you're completely off track.

As to everything else--you're quoting out of context. Santorum's challenge was to differentiate between gay marriage and polygamous marriage--i.e. give some coherent basis for allowing one but not the other. Polygamous marriage but not gay marriage, creates a bachelor problem. However large the bachelor problem, it's still a genuine differentiation.

Yes indeed, another differentiation is that polygamous marriage alters the father-to-children ratio, and gay marriage doesn't. There are other things that alter that ratio, but that's immaterial.

As to your point about (3)--I don't think the law should be based on philosophical fantasies about group marriages closed to new entrants, but on how things actually work in the real world. To see how polygamy actually works, you have to read about real world polygamy. I recommend Geraldine Brooks (Nine Parts of Desire) and Jon Krakauer (Under the Banner of Heaven) on this subject.

March Hare said...

Jean, the reason I don't like (people) engaging with Santorum's challenge is that you have allowed him to frame the discussion and have given in (even just by avoiding it) to the unspoken allegation that there is something inherently wrong with polygamy.

All of a sudden you're comparing why gay marriage is 'better' than polygamy. It's not, it's just different.

So, now you're off attacking polygamy based on a non-issue like 'the bachelor problem' as something that gay marriage doesn't lead to. That's not the argument you want. It is the comparison Santorum wants.

As to the books you suggest, they both deal with extreme religious problems (Islam and Mormons) and not what would happen in broader, modern society. We don't legislate for everyone based on what some religious fringe group may do (okay, we do, but we shouldn't!)

Santorum's challenge should be thrown back in his face - explain to us how gay marriage is different from regular marriage! Not a slippery slope argument, not a ridiculous man-on-dog argument, a factual difference between gay marriage and heterosexual marriage. Anything else panders to Santorum's viewpoint.

Jean Kazez said...

I actually do think polygamy is a bad thing, based on reading accounts of what it's like being one of multiple wives. It's not just different being wife #6, as opposed to the only wife, it's worse. I think this is an empirically based judgment.

But I'm not using that as a basis for saying polygamy should remain illegal, because it's the wrong kind of consideration. We need to think about the state interests involved here, and I do think some sorts of relationships advance them, and some don't.

But--yes, point well taken. I think as much as possible the burden should be placed on someone like Santorum to explain why gay marriage is different from hetero. marriage. But then, if he starts talking about marrying dogs, and 25-way marriages, and the like, people need to be prepared. My post started with quotes from that New Hampshire because they seemed unprepared. They just couldn't respond when Santorum asked about polygamy. Some will want to say "yes, that too, anything goes," but I think there's another option--we can say gay marriage is good in the same way as ordinary straight marriage, and hold the line there. No polygamous marriage, no marrying pets, etc. I'm not sure these issues can really be avoided, since they're standard items in the conservative toolbox.

March Hare said...

"I actually do think polygamy is a bad thing..."

Okay. But you're wrong. Polygamy CAN be a bad thing, but so can regular marriage, particularly when there is a strong anti-woman religious component to it. In and of itself it is neither good nor bad.

"I think this is an empirically based judgment."

Based on the only cultures that allow polygamy which are anti-women religious cultures. I previously mentioned Quiverful, I don't think the wives lives in those communities are a blast either but they're not polygamous. I think you're blaming the wrong thing for the unfortunate lives of many women. Or you're basing it on ancient history which has no relevance to a country where women have (virtually) equal rights to men.

As for answering Santorum's challenges - marriage is a legal contract and dogs cannot enter into contracts, neither (really) can children. Plus consummating the marriage is illegal in most states if you were to marry a dog or a child. Marriage is a binding contract with exclusive terms that can only be altered with the agreement of both parties, hence if a man wants a 25th wife the 24 previous wives have to agree or they all get divorced and only those willing to be in the new arrangement are involved. Yeah, tough legal issues abound, but that doesn't stop us allowing incorporation of companies or any other detailed legal entanglements that humans are silly enough to get involved with - that's what lawyers are for.

Jean Kazez said...

"But you're wrong."

Oh, I see. Thanks for letting me know.

Russell Blackford said...

Point of order. Jean, you keep saying things like: "But I'm deliberately not making that sort of thing a reason why polygamy shouldn't be legal."

But you made clear in your first reply to me that you don't want it to be illegal. You don't want polygamous marriages to be registered and valorised by the state, and you approve of this as a way for the state to mould how we tend to live our lives. But you expressly said that you don't want polygamous relationships to be made illegal.

This may seem like splitting hairs, but it's a very important difference indeed! And I'm surprised how often I see people use language that conflates these two very different things - so they end up saying things that they don't actually mean.

Personally, I think it's the insistence on strict monogamy that is very destructive of people's lives. In Western countries, any problems caused by poly relationships are small beer indeed in the problems that they cause.

Nonetheless, traditional polygamy might well be even worse than the ideology of monogamy.

I think the long-term approach should, indeed, be for the state to get out of the marriage business and stop trying to mould its citizens personal lives. My personal life is none of the state's bloody business - it's pretty much as simple as that.

At the level of positive morality, we should all abandon the ideology of monogamy and recognise that most people, except perhaps at the height of first infatuation, usually have sexual feelings for more than one person in their lives. This is a perfectly normal, healthy thing that sensible people can, and often do, quietly work around in various ways ... it's not an area of life where people should be feeling all the guilt and betrayal that they allow to wreck their lives. People with a more sensible attitude, who don't buy into the ideology of monogamy, seem from all my observations to do much better in life, with happier relationships and, if their relationships do break up, more amicable break-ups.

But I don't think it's the business of the state to promote any of this. I think the state should keep out of all these personal things as much as possible.

That said, I don't think the state has any choice, at this point in history, but to recognise same-sex couples' relationships as marriages, where that's what a couple wants. It can't, without being blatantly discriminatory, fail to do for same-sex couples what it does for different-sex couples. Likewise, I don't think we, as individuals, have any choice at this point in history but to support the provision of state recognition of same-sex couples' relationships as marriages.

We can do that while still thinking that, long-term, the state should get entirely out of people's bedrooms.

March Hare said...

"But you're wrong."

Oh, I see. Thanks for letting me know.


I'm sorry Jean, but I think it had to be bluntly said. All you have pointed to is examples of where, in a highly religious regime, polygamy can be harmful to women. There is nothing intrinsic in polygamy that is harmful to men or women and demonising it due to religious factors is ignoring the issue and the facts.

Now if you want to show me how polygamy, or polyamory in any of its forms, is intrinsically harmful to participants, children, or society at large I'm all ears, but the bachelor problem is a dead end path due to the exceedingly limited number of people who would participate in poly marriages; child parent ratios are untested outside of religious situations that promote exceedingly large families (plus the number of participants in poly would make this a rounding error nationally); and given the small numbers the pool of available women (think about that phrasing, seriously) would not be noticeably diminished.

Doesn't mean Santorum's not a bigoted A-hole, but pandering to his arguments and playing along with his game, even if you truly believe what you are saying, is naive and harmful to people's rights.

Jean Kazez said...

Russell, Right, I got more sloppy as the thread got very long. What I'm arguing here is that people should remain free to have whatever relationships they want, but the government can legitimately be selective about which relationships it promotes and incentivizes through the institution of marriage. The relationships that aren't recognized as legal marriages aren't therefore forbidden.

Jean Kazez said...

MH, I haven't made an argument that polygamy is intrinsically bad--as in, bad in every conceivable instance. That's not the issue, when we're trying to decide what types of marriage laws should exist. The issue is what polygamous marriages would actually exist, if they were legal, and what their benefits or problems would be. In the US, the marriages that would exist, under such laws, would be among Mormons and among Muslims. They would be the type of thing where a man starts off with one wife and then adds one after another, with new wives being younger and younger than him. I don't see anyone else in the US wanting to be in polygamous marriages. The American male who wants to have sex with more than one woman just has affairs--he doesn't want to have 10 wives living under the same roof. Americans with open marriages don't want all these people under one roof. So legalizing polygamous marriage, in reality, will mean more of X--and X is the Mormon/Muslim type of thing.

You say the bachelor problem is unreal, but that's not true. In Jon Krakauer's book Under the Banner of Heaven, as I recall, he talks about Mormon men in southern Utah being driven out of their communities because they can't find wives. They want to live among Mormons, and the practice of polygamy screws it up for them. It's safe to assume there would be even more polygamy if polygamous marriage were legal, since it's a deterrent that it's illegal--and I say that based on hearing interviews with Mormons.

Do we seriously want to let Mormon and Muslim men with multiple wives avail themselves of US courts to adjudicate the problems that result? Do we want US judges to have to figure out how to divide an inheritance between two wives, when one was married to a man for 10 years, and another for 50 years? This isn't one of the things I've been talking about, but if you get into the details, it's the kind of thing that makes legalizing polygamous marriage out of the question. Gay marriage, by contrast, creates no such perplexities.

March Hare said...

In reverse order:

"Do we seriously want to let Mormon and Muslim men with multiple wives avail themselves of US courts to adjudicate the problems that result? Do we seriously want to let Mormon and Muslim men with multiple wives avail themselves of US courts to adjudicate the problems that result?"

Yes. Abso-frigging-lutely. That's what a legal system is for in a pluralistic society. Marriage contracts can be drawn up in any manner chosen and the legal ramifications are what they are regardless of the situation. It's what we do, except when they are egregious and/or completely unreasonable. There is no rational defence to limit people's rights on the basis that the legal outcomes in certain circumstances may be messy. Ever read the T&C on your credit card? Why should marriage, inheritance or any other matter be any less legally proscribed beforehand? It is the very standardised nature of the marriage contract (which no-one reads and is therefore null and void in a legal sense!) which makes it seem so problematic with more than two people - customise it for your purposes.

" In Jon Krakauer's book..."

... about an extreme, fringe religion that views women as little more than baby incubators, he finds that women are treated badly, owned by men and that leaves men with few women available. Well who'd a thunk it? Try that in NYC, see how far treating women like that there gets you.

"The issue is what polygamous marriages would actually exist, if they were legal, and what their benefits or problems would be..."

That's not what you argued when talking to Russell. You didn't say it should be illegal (which is a whole different ball game) you said it should not be incentivised. Which is an argument I could have sensibly, but defining what sleeping arrangements people can have (common law marriage in Canada, I think, for example) would lead polyamorous people to be breaking polygamy laws even if none of them were married. The marriage part then becomes a virtual red herring, and even if it isn't we are still limiting who can have access to someone they love when in hospital based on some arbitrary legal position, who can inherit etc. etc.

"They would be the type of thing where a man starts off with one wife and then adds one after another"

Marriage is a contract between consenting people which binds them financially and legally. No party to that contract gets to unilaterally rewrite it and add another party to it. I am confused why you think this would be the case?

March Hare said...

for "proscribed" please read "explicitly defined" (it's after midnight and I'm tired!)

Russell Blackford said...

BTW, Jean ... for your book about Elevators: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/09/shantel-mccoy-killed-in-l_n_1193838.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

Jean Kazez said...

MH,
I don't buy it that a legal system is "for" supporting just any contracts people in a society want to enter into....which is what you seem to be saying. Two people can't contract so one owns the other. We don't allow mothers to marry their sons, even if they both like the idea. There are some limits to what people can contract to do, based on what's good for the society as a whole, how the courts should be used (the public pays for them, after all), whether we think people could possibly give free and informed consent to certain arrangements, etc. So I think it's perfectly fine to be thinking through what we, as a society, want to honor and protect as a marriage, and what we don't.

Russell Blackford said...

Just on the business of getting the American courts involved if polygamous relationships split up ... actually, I think that's inevitable. Trust law in the US and elsewhere has long recognised non-financial contributions to domestic partnerships, and the principles applying would apply no matter how many people were involved.

In fact, that's one reason why we don't need state-recognised marriage. The courts have become pretty good at this sort of thing, based on their experience with de facto relationships. They will tend to treat de facto couples much as they treat formally married couples - though that may be more true in some jurisdictions than others - and there's no reason why the ideas they've developed (relating to resulting and constructive trusts and the like) couldn't be extended to poly relationships of one sort or another.

None of which favours extending the law to cover recognition of traditional polygamous marriages. Where I do agree with Jean is that this extension is unnecessary and would probably do more harm than good. I think that public policy should currently favour:

1. Extending marriage as we currently understand it (a romantic relationship between two people that may well not involve children in any way) to same-sex couples.

2. Not trying to extend marriage in any other way - the anomaly of not recognising same-sex couples is pretty clear given the current understanding of marriage in Western societies (a valorised romantic relationship between two people). There is no such anomaly beyond that.

I think that traditional polygamy has a lot of problems and that public policy should, if anything, lean against it.

There are various kinds of "modern" polyamorous relationships (science fiction fandom is rife with them!), but I don't see any point in the state getting involved with them. I see nothing wrong with these relationships, but trying to fit them into a marriage template is simply, as far as I can see, more trouble than it's worth.

Unknown said...

This thread has been very interesting. Thanks, Jean, Russell, and March Hare for taking the time!

Russell's position seems very much right to me — that state recognition of monogamous marriages is a sort of necessary evil that, while better done away with, should at least be extended to gay couples if we're recognizing straight ones anyway.

State discrimination between monogamous and polygamous marriages always seems to be defended with appeals to religiously-zealous polygyny (and yeah, that stuff is bad). I would just rather stop the state from having a position on the issue altogether, and have it prosecute the rare instances of polygamy-engendered psychological and physical abuse as it would anyway.

Russell's last paragraph was trenchant:

"There are various kinds of "modern" polyamorous relationships (science fiction fandom is rife with them!), but I don't see any point in the state getting involved with them. I see nothing wrong with these relationships, but trying to fit them into a marriage template is simply, as far as I can see, more trouble than it's worth."

Right! And in some sense, the same can be said for state-recognition of monogamous relationships as well (that they're unnecessary). I know many people that have been in unmarried monogamous relationships for decades, and their relationships are very healthy!

@Jean: I concede the point about social security — you're quite right. That sort of tax structure is quite unfairly discriminatory though, isn't it? It subsidizes marriages on the backs of polyamorous and single persons, right?

It just seems wrong to take money from less-healthy and less-civil single people and give it to their healthier, more civil married counterparts. Hm.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, it's been an interesting discussion. Thanks, everyone, for all the comments. I have to bail out soon, because the semester is upon us.

Russell, Care to expand on this?

"I see nothing wrong with these relationships, but trying to fit them into a marriage template is simply, as far as I can see, more trouble than it's worth."

What trouble is involved? I'm curious how else one could make the case against legalizing polygamous marriage, besides how I've done it.

Russell Blackford said...

Jean, ahem, read the book.

No, seriously, there's not a lot more in the book on this particular issue than I said above. All I meant is that it seems like a lot of trouble for legislatures to go to to try to work out a specific legal regime that applies flexibly to a wide variety of arrangements involving only a small precentage of the population. After all, there are many other pressures on the time of legislatures.

Unless I hear evidence otherwise, I'm going to assume that if, say, a property dispute, or maybe a child custody dispute, arises from the breakdown of a sexual relationship involving three or four people, the courts have the skills and the general legal doctrines to deal with the issues fairly.

Maybe someone will pop in and tell us that the courts in his/her jurisdiction did a bad job of sorting out the breakdown of their menage a trois, or whatever. In that case I'd be open to changing my mind (though of course such a person might be biased, so we'd probably want more evidence than just that).

Russell Blackford said...

On traditional polygamous marriages - which I think is a rather different issue from what non-monogamous arrangements might be worked out by people who've read Stranger in a Strange Land too many times [joke] - I'd make the case for not giving them state recognition in a fairly similar way to you.

Scott said...

Marriage is a special case which usually becomes coercive when one party wishes to end it. Marriage is a contract which was not designed for divorce.
The state lost its interest in marriage when:
1) it stopped prosecuting men who were engaged to marry and then reneged after a time (a Felony, up to 10 years in prison in California), [adultery used to be a crime too]
2) it started allowing divorce for all kinds of reasons, eventually leading to no fault divorce,
3) it severed parental rights and duties from marriage.
That marriage stills confers certain rights and privillages is an affront to those of use who don't wish to enter into a potentially coercive relationship.
When all marriages have severance procedures intrinsic to them then there will be nothing to stop any consenting person from entering into one! The state has already severed child rearing and SEX from marriage!
As it is, divorce is designed as a penalty, but since it still confers legitimacy, gay people and polygamists want it.

By the way I was just in Colorado City aka The Compound! It was freaky! Besides the crazy hair-doos, the long ugly dresses and the houses with 5 front doors, the people I met were retarded and inbred (deformed). Scary.
Also, for the record, Mormons say they are against polygamy now, but they still marry single women into polygamist marriages after they are dead so they they can "meet God." Wow, right?
Most of Africa has polygamist marriage, by the way, and I can't help thinking polygamy might be good for the African American Community, but that is an argument for another day.
How can we possibly jive our marriage policy with freedom of religion.
Santorum was willing to debate, his audience wasn't.

Unknown said...

"Santorum was willing to debate, his audience wasn't."

If you consider this a debate:

"gay marriage gay marriage gay marriage gay marriage polygamy gay marriage gay marriage"

... then shame on you. Shame on you.

phil said...

Deepak Shetty said...

"I would think that the smart money is on word associating ..."

Dan Savage is on the case.