The Unitarian controversy over polyamory

Most churches and theological traditions have their controversies, spats, factions, and schisms.  Unfortunately, that is to be expected among groups of people with strong beliefs.  One would think, though, that Unitarian Universalists would be relatively immune from internal controversies over doctrine, morality, or practice.  After all, Unitarians can believe anything, everything, or nothing at all.

But there is contention among Unitarians over the definition of marriage and whether the denomination should support the legalization of and perform weddings for those who have previously been denied that right.  Not gay marriage–Unitarians have signed on to that years ago–but polyamory.  (Not to be confused with polygamy, a relationship that is “poly,” to use the favored term, may include two men and three women or any other combination of multiple partnes.)

From Lisa Miller in the Washington Post:

Within the ranks of the UUA over the past few years, there has been some quiet unrest concerning a small but activist group that vociferously supports polyamory. That is to say “the practice of loving and relating intimately to more than one other person at a time,” according to a mission statement by Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA). The UUPA “encourages spiritual wholeness regarding polyamory,” including the right of polyamorous people to have their unions blessed by a minister.

UUA headquarters says it has no official position on polyamory. “Official positions are established at general assembly and never has this issue been brought to general assembly,” a spokeswoman says.

But as the issue of same-sex marriage heads to the Supreme Court, many committed Unitarians think the denomination should have a position, which is that polyamory activists should just sit down and be quiet. For one thing, poly activists are seen as undermining the fight for same-sex marriage. The UUA has officially supported same-sex marriage, the spokeswoman says, “since 1979, with tons of resolutions from the general assembly.” . . .

The UUPA has received its share of attention over the years – a PBS interview, a San Francisco Chronicle article – but mostly it has caused anguish and dissent among Unitarians. In 2007, a Unitarian congregation in Chestertown, Md., heard a sermon by a poly activist named Kenneth Haslam, arguing that polyamory is the next frontier in the fight for sexual and marriage freedom. “Poly folks are strong believers that each of us should choose our own path in forming our families, forming relationships, and being authentic in our sexuality.”

Over coffee last week, a friend of mine who is studying to become a Unitarian minister wondered aloud how she would feel if folks in a future congregation asked her to perform a polyamorous commitment ceremony. She is a traditionalist; she’s glad, she says, that the issue hasn’t come up.

via Unitarian Universalists would prefer their polyamory activists keep quiet – The Washington Post.

This future female minister is a traditionalist!  She is fine with gay marriage, but she draws the line at polyamory!  Why?

Isn’t this a case in which the slippery slope fallacy is not a fallacy?  If gay marriage is legalized, don’t the same arguments also justify other arrangements?  What possible legal objection could the state, having legalized gay marriage, make against polygamy (which can also be argued for on religious freedom and multi-cultural grounds, the monogamy laws arguably being discriminatory against Islam and fundamentalist Mormonism)?  What possible legal objection could be made against polyamory?  In fact, if we legalize gay marriage, shouldn’t we, as a matter of equity and consistency, go ahead and legalize all of the others?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • fjsteve

    The state, we are told, should not deny anyone the right to freely marry the person they love, so long as there is no coercion or oppression. The main argument that the government has a vested interest in strong families with male and female parental figures being replaced by the argument that strong families can involved loving partners of any gender combination, there is no reason the state should be in the position to assume that a person can only love one other person. Indeed, rather than homosexual relationships, history is jam packed with examples of polygamous societies and the ‘innovation’, just looking at it purely sociologically, seems to be the one husband-one wife paradigm. Polyamory would be harder to justify since there are not a lot of successful examples to study but, if the argument is that the state shouldn’t be in the position to determine what is and what is not a strong marital relationship, the quantity of partners in the deal seems inconsequential.

  • http://raisinghischild.com Romelle

    Yes! We should be open to any victim-less behavior regardless of biblical morals because the constitution of this country allows for it. By trying to legislate morality on these issues, we are expecting people in the darkness to live as if they have the light. It is God who works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure, not the Supreme Court. Let this world wax worse and worse, as we were warned. Let the Church stand for truth as a light in all that darkness.

  • Michael H.

    So it begins.

  • Orianna Laun

    It will be interesting to see this debate brought to the small screen this week on television. The show Wife Swap will have a conservative, traditional family mom swap with a mom in a polyamorous household. It will be interesting to see the juxtaposition and the spin the show may put on it. This is from our local paper saying the episode will air this week. I would venture to say the last line is an understatement. http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/columns/joe-holleman/former-stl-tea-party-pols-starring-in-wife-swap/article_4b4b9044-063b-5fa6-a00a-b61dc0f8904b.html

  • fjsteve

    @ 4, Why does the Hegelian dialectic suddenly come to mind?

  • Dan K

    Romelle, Isn’t it our purpose to preserve against social decay? If our role as Christians is to be both Light and Salt, I guess I can see where you’re coming from – that our light will shine more brightly in an ever-darkening world. But I suspect that when that occurs and Christians say nothing, our behavior is more akin to “hiding our lights under bushels.” And salt was a preservative. If we are to be salt, we should have a leading role in preserving society against moral decay.
    Plus, I don’t agree with you that these “crimes” are victimless. The victims are – at a minimum – the perpetrators themselves. We have an obligation before God to speak the truth to them – humbly and compassionately – but truthfully nonetheless. Actually, the victims are the entirety of our culture who become exposed and normalized to more and more depraved ways of living with no one telling them it’s wrong. When that happens, and we in the Church stand by without engaging it, we become perpetrators as well.

  • fjsteve

    Dan K, we’re supposed to keep our religion and morality out of the public sphere–unless it has to do with immigration reform. Then we’re supposed to ruminate over 40 Bible passages until we change our minds.

  • Dan K

    Fjsteve: Nice.

  • Advocate

    I’m disturbed by the linguistic abomination of mashing together Greek & Latin.
    It should be either polyphilia or multiamory!

  • Tom Hering

    I don’t see where this is a controversy concerning “doctrine, morality, or practice” for Unitarian Universalists. It’s just a strategic consideration in their advocacy of social change: “Don’t push polyamory at this point, because it might confuse things, and so harm the campaign for gay marriage.”

  • http://raisinghischild.com Romelle

    We are called to do a lot of work in this world, but none of it is done through legislation. We are called to share the Gospel and make disciples. Did Paul or any of the Apostles spend any time trying to change the way of the world around them, bad as it was? No, they spread the Gospel and let the Spirit do the changing in the lives of people, not in the laws of man.

  • fjsteve

    Tom, @10, great point!

  • sg

    “We are called to do a lot of work in this world, but none of it is done through legislation.”

    BS

    Shall we repeal laws against murder, rape, perjury and robbery? I mean, we are just imposing our values rooted in the fifth, sixth and seventh commandments of our ancient superstitions, right?

  • sg

    Making stuff illegal does not eradicate the behavior. We still have murder, rape, perjury and robbery, but they are reduced because of the real penalties. When a murderer is put in jail, he can’t be out murdering, now can he? Punishing bad behavior protects the other members of society and provides stability and order. Instituting and enforcing good law is an expression of loving one’s neighbor.

  • sg

    Let’s take legalized prostitution as an example. Right now, prostitution is illegal in most of the US, and coercing people into prostitution is a crime. However, with legal prostitution, one could pressure his daughter to take a job as a prostitute, and it is legally no different from any other parent who would insist that his daughter work at the Chik fil A or MacDonald’s rather than lay about watching Oprah.

  • A Applegate

    Why shouldn’t a woman be able to marry her son, providing they agree to not have kids? Why shouldn’t we be able to marry our pet. Same rationales. Slippery slope..

  • DonS

    +1 to fjsteve @ 1. That is exactly where we are headed next, in our continuing and accelerating slide down the slope.

    Romelle @ 2 says:

    We should be open to any victim-less behavior regardless of biblical morals because the constitution of this country allows for it.

    Well, sure. The Constitution allows for a lot of things, because it is the job of legislatures, federal, state, or local, to make laws. Certain of us have the vocation of lawmakers. Your argument would lead to the repeal of ALL laws. Is that your intent?

    I read your follow-up comment @ 11 and that really seems to be what you are saying. No Christian has the vocation of lawmaking, and no laws should be passed if they incorporate any part of the 10 commandments or other Scriptural principles. We should not vote, nor in any other way try to act politically.

    Is that what you really believe?

  • Don Neuendorf

    “the slippery slope fallacy”? I think that recent decades ought to have been enough to refute that idea that a slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy.

    Yes, in a pure sense, you can’t argue that permitting one thing will *necessarily* lead to the next thing. But in the real world it seems to be more like the force of gravity. Moving closer to the source inevitably accelerates the force. And there is a threshold we can cross after which there will never be sufficient energy to pull us back. Because we’re talking in moral instead of physical terms the whole debate is imprecise. But that doesn’t make it less real – or the consequences less dire.

  • http://raisinghischild.com Romelle

    I don’t believe in repealing any laws or prohibiting anyone from making them. My point is, laws of the land is not what brings about the change we desire. We want women to keep their babies, not because they have to, but because they want to. We want people to accept who they are in Christ, leading them to His plan for marriage. We are all anti-murder, but that is not exactly a victim-less crime between consenting adults. Our ways will forever be foolish to the disbelieving. Trying to legislate good fruit from people not attached to the vine is a superficial fix at best. John’s cry in the wilderness was not, “Stop doing bad things that we can see and judge!” Paul never called on the people of Rome to stop any specific abomination. He called them to Jesus. I read once, “God doesn’t care about America as much as he does Americans.” So should we all.

  • DonS

    Romelle @ 19: Well, now, that is a much more agreeable statement than the ones you made previously. Yes, it is true that laws of the land cannot bring about a heart change — only the Holy Spirit can do that. But, that doesn’t mean laws do not have their place in ordering society. And certainly, some Christians have been called by God to serve as legislators.

    The homosexual marriage debate going on right now in the courts essentially involves the efforts by some to repeal marriage laws to permit government sanction, through a marriage certificate, of relationships never in the course of human history considered to be appropriate for that institution. Since you do not favor the repeal of laws, I assume you oppose this effort to do so through court action. And, assuming that you believe abortion is the murder of an unborn human baby, you would approve of a law prohibiting it.

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  • http://raisinghischild.com Romelle

    Yes. When given the chance to voice my convictions by voting, I do oppose the murder of the unborn. I am morally opposed to “marriage equality” but I don’t think anyone will be won over by our political opposition. Jesus said, They will know you are My disciples by your _______. Picket signs? Voting record? House representative? Whatever laws pass or do not pass I feel compelled to remind people, “We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

  • DonS

    Romelle @ 21: Good. We don’t make laws to persuade, we make laws to order society and to protect citizens (including the unborn, ideally). The Holy Spirit does the persuading.

    Just because laws don’t persuade doesn’t mean they have no value, or that Christians shouldn’t be lawmakers. That’s the point.

  • SKPeterson

    The main argument against polyphilia and multiamory is in the area of parental rights and the raising of children. For any children issuing forth from such an arrangement, the important thing will be the clear and unambiguous relationship to a biological parent in the event of a (probably highly likely) divorce or dissolution of the marriage enterprise. Where that is not possible, then such arrangements should be prohibited. Further, adoption into such families should also be restricted as legal responsibility for the welfare of the child is attenuated and unclear. Who would be making the decisions for the child and how unambiguous would those decisions be? While we have evidence that children are better socially and academically in two-parent families, with supporting evidence that outcomes are even better for two-parent, opposite-sex families, there exists mixed evidence at best for children raised in multi-parent households. However, these multi-parent households are generally the result of divorce and remarriage, but I think would be indicative of polyphilic households absent evidence to the contrary. With more opportunities for divorce and every-shifting marital alliances of temporal convenience, the outcomes for children are likely to be even further diminished. Perhaps there is ample evidence of well-adjusted commune-raised children, but I am not aware of it. Maybe kibbutzim? I’ll venture a guess though that such arrangements are not the ideal and are, in general, inimical to the long term interests of children.

    And this, coming from the guy who hates “Think of the children!” political arguments. However, in this case, I think it is entirely warranted.

  • R. Hall

    Michael H @3 — and on the note SKPeterson just left (23) — didn’t this really begin with no-fault divorce?

    If we didn’t have the divorce and remarriage rates that we do, I don’t think the table would have been set for other deviations from marriage.

    (I’m not saying all divorce should be illegal.)

  • fjsteve

    SKP @ 23,

    I actually don’t see much of a difference between a multiamorous relationship and a situation with two biological parents and two step-parents except that the latter requires the split of a natural family while the former does not. So it seems preferable to divorce and, indeed, the fact that half of all opposite-sex marriages end in divorce is one of the arguments advocates for same-sex marriage bring to the table.

    On a side note, I was hoping to stick with multiamory rather than polyphilia because, typically, philia is not used to describe romantic love—plus, it sounds creepy—but I suppose amorous doesn’t necessarily describe a lot of marriages.

  • sg

    polyerotic?

  • Grace

    Polyamory – definition – Dictionary
    “Polyamory (from Greek πολύ [poly, meaning many or several] and Latin amor [love]) is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved.”

    This sort of animal like behavior (group sex) has been going on for a very long time. Whether it’s legal or not will not make any difference.

  • Tom Hering

    Re: @ 27. Uh, there’s no confusion of polyamory with group sex in that dictionary definition, though the two things certainly can be combined. And do you mean it when you say group sex is an animal-like behavior? Seems to me the tendency of animals is to pair up (cf: Noah’s ark). Sometimes temporarily and sometimes permanently. Kind of like most people. :-D

  • Grace

    Tom,

    Polyamory, by it’s very nature is comparable to animals. It has nothing to do with Noah’s Ark.

    Those who choose to live within a sort of communal life, have no moral compass. Its cousin is the “swinging clubs” back in the late 70′s, another trashy attempt at self gratification.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    We have a name for polyamory: we call it “swinging/orgies”

  • tODD

    Well, that’s two people now who don’t seem to know the difference between polyamory and orgies.

    So do you both also think that polygamy=orgies? Because polygamy is just a particular form of polyamory.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    tODD@31,
    Well then, what IS polyamory? Because in the strictest sense of the word, all of us are polyamorists. I love my wife, my daughter, my son, my mom, my in-laws (usually), etc., thus I have “many loves.”

    So unless they’re talking about the above definition, then polyamory suggests the idea of more than one sexual lover, and the impression given from polyamorists is that this is done with consent. Again: that’s called “swinging,” and certainly does not shut out the idea of the orgy.

    Now granted, all of this is in violation of the 7th/6th commandment (depending upon what edition of the Ten Commandments you subscribe to), so the fact that it’s a sin is out of the question. But what exactly are we missing here, tODD? Please… enlighten us common folk.

  • tODD

    J. Dean (@32), assume for a second a “poly marriage” involving two men and two women. An orgy would be all of them being naked and having sex with now this person, now that person, at the same time. But from the little I’ve read, it likely isn’t like that at all.

    Again, consider the men with multiple wives in the Bible. They had a polygamous marriage — a particular case of polyamory in which there is only one male. But do you assume that when there was sex, that all the wives were there, naked? Um, no. The husband typically slept with just one wife per night. No orgies.

    Now imagine a situation in which a husband has two wives. But one of those two wives also has two husbands (including the first husband I mentioned). If they’re all straight, then they might switch who they’re sleeping with every so often. But that doesn’t mean they’re all having sex together.

    Now here’s an interesting question. Is polygamy against the Ten Commandments? Are you sure?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Regarding the linguistic question (#9, #26, and others), I’m thinking “polyerotica”, or some variant thereof to correct the Greek, says it pretty well.

    One fun thought is that while there is a slippery slope fallacy, the actual fallacy depends on a string of consequences that are not logically connected. In this case, what we have is that the Unitarians (and a lot of others) have abandoned the principle of sexual fidelity from Scripture that protects us against a host of perversions. Hence we might dub it a “slippery slope verity”. Abandon the rationale for marriage as defined in the Scriptures, and you’re going to get some interesting effects.

    Or, put differently, the Unitarians hoisted on their own petard!

  • SKPeterson

    Interesting question regarding the Commandment against adultery and multiple partner relationships. Was David an adulterer? Yes, but that was because he slept with the wife of another man. He also had other wives before and after he married this woman, Bathsheba (maybe Michal at the time, although her later status is unclear, Ahinoam, Maacah, Abigail, Abital and Eglah that are named). Solomon is said to have had 500 wives and concubines. While both were godly men, they were also both manifest sinners whose marital and familial relationships were the oft chosen vehicle for many of their sins. When exactly marriage in Jewish culture began to dwindle to one man, one wife relationships is unclear, but probably occurred as a result of the Exile and persisted after the return. To some extent this simply underscores that human sexual relationships reflect most intimately original sin and the Fall.

  • kempin04

    Bike, #34,

    Ha! You said, “slippery slope fallacy” when talking about sex. (giggles immaturely)

  • http://www.thinkpoint.wordpress.com Steve Cornell

    The discussion here concerns what responsible citizenship looks like for Christians when they are welcomed to be a voice at the table discussing public law and policy. Does non-participation (from believers) equal neglect or a form of disobedience? More importantly, what does Christian participation look like in attitude, posture, voice, and overall influence?

    One of the challenges in answering this question is the fact that the role of Christians in a representative form of democracy has no explicit parallels in Scripture.

    Certainly Biblical truths and principles about government reach God’s people in all places with both binding authority and overlapping application (Daniel 4; Acts 17:26-27;Romans 13:1ff; I Peter 2:13-14). We can look to the prophets and learn much about God’s concern for justice and protection of the vulnerable. In Jesus, we find teaching on non-resistance as a personal ethic for His followers (although, we should not make the mistake of the pacifist and force applications of this on how the followers of Jesus function in government — particularly in law enforcement).

    The apostle Paul’s appeal to Caesar is one of the more unique examples of leveraging provisions of law for personal reasons. As a Roman Citizen, Paul asked that his case be heard by the emperor as he had done nothing deserving of death (Acts 25:1-12). Of course, we learn many things in the NT about how Christians should respond to authority when living in non-participatory forms of government.

    Yet a point that cannot be ignored is that Biblical instruction on these matters is not presented to people who lived in democratic forms of government. We are simply not living in the same political situation as the apostles. And that’s an important point for those committed to proper interpretation and application of Scripture. It’s also what makes our function more complicated as we navigate a course of participation in the formation of law and policy.

    We cannot draw a direct parallel from the NT to our political circumstances. But as we pursue a common good with others and each one brings his or her beliefs, morals and values to the table. Robust and respectful debate is necessary and we should not shy from it or allow others to marginalize our voice. We should not approach this as a matter of “winning culture wars.” Such language (and the demeanor that often accompanies it) is not fitting to responsible Christian engagement in a representative form of democracy. But neither should we become passive when called to engage.

    As Christians, we should try to be as informed as possible and work hard to be examples of those who are considerate and kind toward opponents. At the end of the day (or process), we also must recognize that some of the laws will conflict with our beliefs, morals and values. If those laws force us to violate our beliefs, we will find more explicit application of Scripture for how to respond.

  • rvs

    Great point. I teach logic and am often amused by the discussions of the slippery slope fallacy in textbooks, most of which seem entirely unaware of the wisdom behind this great line in Shakespeare: “Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.” Kierkegaard–that brilliant Lutheran–takes up this issue of momentums and slippery slopes, good and bad, in The Sickness Unto Death, among other places, for those who might be interested.

    Thanks for the lucid, intriguing post.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Kempino; I’d love to take the blame (#36), but our host got that one started. Thank you, though!

    OK, seriously, on the topic of polygamy, the Biblical argument against it is more complicated than that against fornication or theft, but it centers, ironically, around Mark Twain’s citation to the Mormons about the same: Matthew 6:24. Now look at Jesus’ words on marriage and divorce, as well as what Paul notes in 1. Cor. 7 on the topic.

    First of all, the singular is used, not the plural, and Paul further notes that (verse 34 and surrounding) that the married person cares about the needs of their spouse (singular again). Now put that note into the context of Paul’s prohbition of polygamous elders and deacons–that is prohibited because the man would be servant to too many women!

    Now look back at the polygamists of the Old Testament. How did it work out for them? Be honest–not too well, did it? It’s because the husband is to be, as Twain said, something of a servant to his wife, and per Genesis 1, she needs a whole husband, not part of one.

    Polygamy, or polyerotica, is (here you go Kempino) a slippery slope into sin, and because the Unitarians abandoned any attempt at Biblical teaching decades/centuries ago, they’re defenseless.

  • Pam R.

    I find polyamory much more dangerous than same-sex marriage ever could be; the former opens up a world of unconventional choices that may someday be widely accepted by society.

    For example, I know of a number of same-sex couples, and many of them want to get married. I can’t see how this harms me or any other straight person.

    But polyamory introduces a profound change in society: the end of monogamy as THE accepted norm. So, if I, as a straight person, fall for someone who desires the options polyamory provides, I’ll be in a terrible place emotionally and psychologically because the person I love will have the option of not only being in a relationship with me, but also with Sue, Jane, Laura, etc.

    Monogamy is seen as sacred, but also unnatural by a growing number of people. Polyamory could very well become the norm, since so many people would find it a much more natural alternative to monogamy. Those who prefer monogamy will find themselves shattered, unsupported by a society that swoons over its own sense of being “progressive.” Monogamists will be deemed “bad” and bigoted by a world that opposes their perceived provinciality.

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    “If gay marriage is legalized, don’t the same arguments also justify other arrangements? ”

    There is at least one pretty significant difference. Marriage of one person to another is a right granted, in this country, to everyone but gays. The right to marriage multiple individuals is a right granted to no one. It’s not a case of one segment of the population being denied a right granted to others.

    This is not, to be clear, an argument against polyamory. I’m merely pointing out a way in which gay marriage and polyamory are disanalogous.

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    Right to marry, I meant to say.

  • tODD

    David (@41), ah, but your conclusion is due to the way you chose to frame the question:

    Marriage of one person to another is a right granted, in this country, to everyone but gays. The right to marriage multiple individuals is a right granted to no one.

    Put differently, the right (I’ll use that word for now) to marry whomever you want is granted, in this country, only to straight monogamists. In certain states, it is also granted to gays. But it is not granted to polygamists at all.

    Heck, to put it differently again, the right to marry one person of the opposite sex is granted to everyone. But only straight monogamists enjoy using that right.

  • fjsteve

    David E.

    Marriage of one person to another is a right granted, in this country, to everyone but gays.

    That’s not true at all. The right to freely marry one individual who is of marriageable age, of the opposite sex, and is not an immediate family member is a right granted to all people of marriageable age.

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    “The right to freely marry one individual who is of marriageable age, of the opposite sex, and is not an immediate family member is a right granted to all people of marriageable age.”

    That they be of legal age and not immediate family are pretty obviously sensible restrictions. I don’t think it does much to offset my point.

    “Put differently, the right (I’ll use that word for now) to marry whomever you want is granted, in this country, only to straight monogamists.”

    Gays have NO right to marry a person they would want to marry. Straights ALL have the right to marry. The fact that they can’t do it with multiple individuals at the same time is not analogous to not being able to marry at all.

  • Monimonika

    Hi, I’m a non-Christian, so I’m going to be ignoring all arguments involving the Bible and concepts of so-called sins. With that said, I am in favor of same-sex marriage being legal and am on the fence regarding polygamy (which actually means having more than one wife or husband at the same time. Polygyny is the correct “one man with multiple wives” term).

    During my reading of the ruling written by Judge Walker for Perry vs Schwarzenegger, I came across the idea that both spouses are assumed to have the same legal rights within modern U.S. marriages. In earlier times, wives were automatically considered under the headship (or just property) of their husbands and laws were clear in delegating lesser (at least, very different) rights to the wives’ side of marriage than to the husbands’. Thanks to the expansion of women’s rights, modern laws regarding marriage do not assume different rights for either spouse based on their sexual anatomy. Obviously, I found this to be a strong argument for legalizing same-sex marriage.

    The idea that spouses have equal rights within a marriage, I think, contributes to the disapproving view of polygyny. I think that the only way polygyny (and polyandry) works is to inherently have unequal statuses applied to the spouses involved. Back when women had lesser rights, it was much easier for a man with enough financial clout to keep control over multiple dependent wives (and/or mistresses). Don’t like that your husband is abusive and his new wife/mistress is evil incarnate? Divorce (if it was even an option) would put you out on the streets and no one wants your “used goods”. So, try not to displease the dictato-, I mean, husband. If only one sex can have multiple spouses of the opposite sex, of course laws and society will assume unequal rights based on the sex of the spouse(s).

    I personally don’t have anything against the idea of marriages involving more than two people becoming spouses of equal status to one another if that’s what they all agree on. We already have courts trying to sort out which spouse’s rights trumps the other spouse’s, even when it’s just two people involved, so adding more may be more complicated but still somewhat doable (but would require strict ground rules prior to any marriages, see below). Parental rights are also already complicated when “what’s best for the child” is the standard and “what’s best” does not necessarily mean “biological parents”.

    What I really have a problem with is that I’m not sure what would constitute a “married group”. Let’s say person (A) was married to person (B), and person (C) was married to person (D). If (A) married (C), would (B) and (D) be automatically married to each other? Would (B) and (C) be considered married to each other? Could (B) object to and prevent (A) from marrying (C)? If (A), (B), and (C) all agree to marriage, can (D) alone object to and prevent the marriage, or would (D) be able to claim to be the only spouse of (C) at the same time (C) claims three spouses?

    Unless the above kind of practical questions are answered prior to any disastrous marriage hookups, I cannot fully get behind legalizing polygamy. Same-sex marriage, on the other hand, has already had most of the complications smoothed out thanks to husbands and wives having equal status under modern law and the lack of a procreation requirement (child-less opposite-sex marriages abound! Adoptions as well!). Same-sex marriage does not need to answer questions like, “But, to which spouse are we going to apply the laws designated to husbands? To wives? Which one is the head of the family?? There can’t be two heads!” etc.

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  • fjsteve

    David E @ 45,

    Is it sensible to keep siblings from marrying even if they love one another and are both consenting individuals of marriageable age? Why is that?

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    fjsteve, it’s an interesting ethical question. I think we have enough on our plate with the polyamory issue so I intend to stick with that rather than get off topic. You can, of course, go on that tangent if you like.

  • fjsteve

    David E,

    That’s not really a tangent as it speaks directly to your entirely incorrect assertion marriage “of one person to another is a right granted, in this country, to everyone but gays.”

    You can, of course, ignore the flaw in your assertion if you like.

  • kenneth

    One thing we may be overlooking is the fact that polyamory/polygamy is already happening. A lot. The question, if we are truly concerned about the women involved, is whether their interests are better served by legal recognition and the protections of marriage, or by keeping them in secrecy and beyond the eyes of the law.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Kenneth, a good point of reference to “making it legal” is what happened when prostitution was legalized due to the same argument. Interestingly, the use of force/drugs/etc.. to compel women into the trade increased–more or less, the nations which have either de facto or de jure legalized prostitution have found that the reason for the brutality wasn’t because it was illegal and therefore hidden, but rather because very few women will voluntarily prostitute themselves for any amount of money. Hence legalization removed the stigma from only the demand side of the equation, with predictable results.

    http://www2.lse.ac.uk/newsAndMedia/news/archives/2012/12/Legalised-prostitution-increases-human-trafficking.aspx

    And regarding polygamy and polyerotia? Well, take a look at history–both you and Minimonika and others, really–and see what you see. Did Joseph Smith and Brigham Young steal the wives of others to fuel polyerotica/polygamy habits? (yes) What about King David? What about the owners of harems in the Islamic world? Did many of them end up killing or castrating their rivals, or otherwise rendering them incapable of marrying the women in their harems? Absolutely.

    Now I’m aware that many claim that there are cases where one spouse is glad to share their spouse with others in an “open” relationship, but I’d argue it’s the exception that proves the rule–that people generally do not do this without something seriously wrong happening. As such, it should not be protected by law, as it’s an inherently abusive form of “family.”

  • kenneth

    “Now I’m aware that many claim that there are cases where one spouse is glad to share their spouse with others in an “open” relationship, but I’d argue it’s the exception that proves the rule–that people generally do not do this without something seriously wrong happening. As such, it should not be protected by law, as it’s an inherently abusive form of “family.””…………….

    In other words, you have no direct knowledge or facts about polyamory, but you’re qualified to pronounce that nobody would do such a thing unless “something seriously wrong” was happening. Funny thing, that. It’s word for word what they said about gay people and about interracial pairings.

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    “That’s not really a tangent as it speaks directly to your entirely incorrect assertion marriage “of one person to another is a right granted, in this country, to everyone but gays.” ”

    Everyone but gays does have the right to marry someone they’d be attracted to. That’s not the same as being able to marry ANYONE you’d be attracted to. A straight person who’s denied a license to marry his/her sibling is not in the same situation as a gay person who is able to marry no one they’re attracted to.

    Or are you saying that there is some previously unknown class of individuals who are only able to be romantically/sexually attracted to their siblings?

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    “Kenneth, a good point of reference to “making it legal” is what happened when prostitution was legalized due to the same argument. Interestingly, the use of force/drugs/etc.. to compel women into the trade increased–more or less, the nations which have either de facto or de jure legalized prostitution have found that the reason for the brutality wasn’t because it was illegal and therefore hidden, but rather because very few women will voluntarily prostitute themselves for any amount of money.”

    I suspect that lots of people would prostitute themselves for $10,000 or more. What’s likely happening is that not enough will prostitute themselves for amounts that those seeking prostitutes can or will pay. Which would have the same effect in terms of sex trafficking.

  • fjsteve

    David E.,

    Is “attracted to” the defining factor in marriage? Certainly it’s one but I thought we were talking about the ability to marry the individual you love. Is love expendable? As it, “I love her but under the law I can’t marry her so I’ll dump her and get someone I don’t love but that I can legally marry”? If that’s the case, can’t everyone do that?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Kenneth; I’m quite aware of the practice, how it’s a 1% or less phenomenon, how jealous rage and the like are never far from the surface, and how its practicioners seem to go through partners like an infant through diapers. (e.g. in Jenny Block’s writing) I’m also aware of cases, e.g. that of Bob Crane, where it has ended rather badly. Therefore I not unreasonably conclude that the practice is contrary to human nature as I understand it.

    David; it may be true that the “supply curve” for prostitutes would trend in the direction you suggest, but until the demand curve goes there, it’s an entirely irrelevant point. Regarding your point about “marry someone you’re attracted to,” that should also be an irrelevant point, as government involvement in family law is not because Congress likes wedding cakes and ice sculptures and the like, but rather because maintaining a society requires that we protect those who are more vulnerable, like mothers and children.

    Alas, we may be forgetting this, but that does not change the history of family law.

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    “Is “attracted to” the defining factor in marriage? Certainly it’s one but I thought we were talking about the ability to marry the individual you love.”

    I referred to someone one is attracted to because of the occasional claim “well, gays CAN marry. They can marry someone of the opposite sex—just like straights.” Which is, of course, pretty ridiculous. More importantly, I see little point wasting time on debating whether someone should be allowed to marry their sibling. It simply isn’t relevant to the question we were discussing: whether gay marriage and polyamory are analogous in the sense of the arguments for the former being valid for the latter. If you want to get off topic, again, that’s your choice. I don’t have to follow you there.

  • http://cthulhuvariations.blogspot.com/ David E

    “David; it may be true that the “supply curve” for prostitutes would trend in the direction you suggest, but until the demand curve goes there, it’s an entirely irrelevant point. ”

    I don’t think you’re understanding my point. I was agreeing with you that the legalization of prostitution probably does have the effect you describe. I’m only disagreeing with the statement that it’s because there are too few women willing to become prostitutes “at any price”. It’s the fact that women are, quite sensibly, unwilling to enter the overwhelmingly largest, low pay segment of the prostitution market and, in light of this imbalance between high demand and low supply, criminals see an opportunity resulting in increased sex trafficking. I was only disagreeing with a very small part of your point and agreeing with the more important, central idea.

  • kenneth

    “…… its practicioners seem to go through partners like an infant through diapers. (e.g. in Jenny Block’s writing) I’m also aware of cases, e.g. that of Bob Crane, where it has ended rather badly. Therefore I not unreasonably conclude that the practice is contrary to human nature as I understand it…..”

    If we’re going to use this yardstick, you’re building an excellent case for saying that monogamy is contrary to human nature as well. The odds of “normal” couples staying married is not a hell of a lot better than a coin toss. When it comes to the game of “going through partners like diapers”, poly folk are bit players, at best. Online dating sites are absolutely full to the brim of married people “dating” on the sly. There are even massive sites dedicated to helping people cheat. Look up “Ashley Madison” sometime. That outfit does so much business that it has the juice to underwrite major sports team and mass transit sponsorship deals.

    Bob Crane’s life and death had nothing at all to do with polyamory in any contemporary sense of the word. He was a well to do actor who lived a playboy lifestyle and who got involved with celebrity hangers on and stalkers. He also got involved in some activities which were very taboo in his day and which left him vulnerable to blackmail.

    Questions of public policy on prostitution have no relevance at all in this discussion. Some of you are trying to draw lines between a commercial transaction and the desire of adults to form family units of their own free will. There are concerns of exploitation in both situations, but there is no evidence to show that prohibition has ever helped the plight of the exploited by forcing them underground.

  • Stan’s Avocado

    I don’t see anything wrong with polyamorous marriage as long as everyone in the triad, quad or whatever is aware of everyone else and gives their full, unforced consent to be married to them. The harm of bigamy or adultry is that one partner is being lied to and misled. In polyamory, everyone is supposed to be honest about what is going on.

    I suspect that the number of people wanting polyamorous marriages would be low, even if it was legalised. Most people get jealous of rivals and prefer monogamy.

    Children who were raised by people in polyamorous relationships wouldn’t suffer from instability anymore than the children in coupled households would. Monogamous relationships break up all the time. DNA tests are easily available, so if they wanted to know who their biological father was, it would be easy enough, and who their mother was would be obvious. They might benefit from having more than one father figure/mother figure about, since if they wanted to talk or needed an adult, the odds are higher that there’d be one available. It would help the child’s mother and father to have an extra pair of hand to help change nappies/diapers and get up to feed the baby in the night. And the extra income would help too, assuming all the adults worked.

    There is a problem with polygamy in Mormon and Muslim communities, where young women are pressurised into marrying a husband with many other wives. This to me isn’t an issue with polyamory so much as it is an issue of consent. If young women are pressurised by their parents and their spiritual leaders into marriages they don’t really want, can their consent really be called consent? I don’t think so. There’s a world of difference between a woman deciding for herself she wants to share her life with another woman and a man, and a woman being forced into such a marriage by her community. Forced marriages are illegal and should stay that why, however many people are involved.

    As for the slippery slope arguement- there’s a difference between adults giving their fully informed consent to enter into a legal contract with each other and a woman marrying a dog, or a man marrying a child. Dogs cannot give consent. They can’t enter into legal contracts. They can’t say ‘I do’. They have no concept of marriage and would be just as likely to hump the sofa as their spouses leg. The same goes for all the other non-human animals. Even if we legalise polyamorous unions, interspecies marriage is never going to happen.

    The same is true of child/adult marriages. Children’s brains are still developing, they don’t understand much about the world around them and they’re vunerable to being forced to do things by adults because of the power imbalance and their naivety. For those reasons, children aren’t considered capable of entering into contracts. Besides which, most adult/child sexual encounters involved rape, either through force, or the threat of force or some manipulation, by the adult against the child. It’s pretty obvious who is being harmed. So, children can’t give meaningful consent and most of them don’t want to get married anyway (the ones that do are too young to understand what they’d be getting into).

    Incestous marriage between adults passes the test that they can both consent freely, as long as they have genetic counselling to understand the ramifications for their children. So, they should be able to marry too. If one of them is underage, the arguement against marrying children applies.

    I’m not a UU member but I think they should follow my position and support consensual polyamorous and incestous marriages. Or even gay, polyamorous, incestous marriages, damn it! As long as all parties are consenting adults.

  • fjsteve

    David E.

    I see little point wasting time on debating whether someone should be allowed to marry their sibling.

    Then can we also dispense with your claim that prohibiting a person from marrying their sibling is a “obviously sensible restriction”? Because one of the main arguments about restricting sibling marriage is pretty similar to that of restricting same-sex marriage: the argument being that marriage is for procreation.

  • fjsteve

    Then again, if you’re saying marriage is about procreating and rearing a family–which is the only basis for the prohibition of sibling marriage–then there can be no more fruitful marriage than a polygamous one.

  • http://ideariff.com Michael

    Interesting post, Gene. It seems that if humans are going to be truly accepting of one another, then being accepting of consenting adults who are oriented towards polyamory and polygamy should be no exception.


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