Polygamy is biblical, is it therefore moral?

The Chick-fil-A Biblical Family of the Day series highlighted how common polygamy is in the Bible.

This isn’t a handful of obscure cases, but dozens of examples, including some of the most prominent and exalted figures in the Bible. Our series here didn’t come close to listing every polygamist in the Bible, but just consider those we looked at: Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Simeon, Moses, Gideon, Elkanah, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Caleb, Ashur, Shaharaim, Abijah, Joash.

That list leaves out plenty of others, including those reviled as wicked (like Ahab, Manasseh or Jehoiachin) and any of the foreigners who worshiped other gods.

Note that for the characters listed above, polygamy is not presented as a flaw or a failing. On the contrary, it is almost always presented as evidence of prosperity and divine blessing for the righteous. Even the most extreme case, Solomon, is not criticized for the excess of marrying 700 wives, but only for including in that army of a household some of the wrong kinds of women — those foreigners with their foreign gods.

This is not an obscure feature in the Bible. It starts early, with Lamech, and continues throughout most of what we Christians call the Old Testament, shaping the stories of the most prominent characters — Abraham, Moses, David.

So OK then, how do we reconcile this praise and permission for polygamy with the white evangelical insistence that nothing the Bible praises can be immoral? Consider again the words of gatekeeper/witchfinder Owen Strachan:

There are “hard parts” of Scripture, to be sure. But the Bible is wholly inspired of God, without error, and therefore totally trustworthy (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Numb. 23:19; Ps. 19:7). Whatever God does is right. All that God teaches us in Scripture is right. Christ and his apostles do not indicate at any point that the Old Testament is immoral, and in fact say the opposite. To say otherwise is to indicate that God is not absolutely right, and his word is not trustable.

Do the gatekeepers therefore believe that Christians today must embrace polygamy as a moral, acceptable and sacred form of “biblical family”?

That’s not a tough question for someone like me because I don’t approach the Bible the same way the gatekeepers pretend we must. My hermeneutic — the way I read and interpret the Bible –doesn’t insist that all of its rules and teachings are sacrosanct and authoritative for all of time. My hermeneutic says that the Christward trajectory of the Bible — the long arc bending toward justice and Jubilee — must guide us above and beyond any given single rule or clobber text. That’s why I’m not just able, but required to move past such clobber verses on a host of topics where the trajectory demands that we do so, such as the full equality of women inside and outside the church, the celebration of same-sex love and marriage, the abolition of slavery, and the potential goodness of investment, insurance, revolution, and peaceable pluralism, among other things.

That’s also why I find myself outside the gates of the evangelical tribe, banished there by the diktat of the gatekeepers who reject my hermeneutic and who condemn such talk of trajectories as an abandonment of biblical authority.

The Bible’s commendation and celebration of polygamy thus presents them with a thornier problem. (As does their embrace of investments and insurance, which they seem to get around by pretending the Bible has more to say about sex than it does about money. It doesn’t. Not even close.)

I haven’t heard the gatekeepers say much about polygamy except as part of a desperate slippery-slope argument against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. Set aside the logical and factual flaws in that slippery-slope claim. What’s interesting here is that such an argument presumes that polygamy is self-evidently bad and immoral. That seems to contradict their insistence that everything in the Bible “is right.”

How do they make this leap — condemning a practice that the Bible teaches us God approved of for Abraham, Moses, David and Caleb?

I suspect they would begin by pointing out that those biblical figures lived a very, very long time ago. And that’s true, and pertinent, and an excellent point.

Just consider David. He’s a far more recent figure than Abraham or Moses or Caleb, but he still lived some 3,000 years ago. There are bits of Shakespeare that we find bewildering and indecipherable because his world, several centuries ago, is in some ways alien to our own. Chaucer even more so. The world of Beowulf even more. Augustine, Paul … keep going … Caesar, Alexander … keep going, further, centuries further. David was more distant to Alexander than Shakespeare is to us.

The world of 3,000 years ago is another world, a different world. David’s time and place and culture were, in numerous ways, radically different from our own.

I suspect the gatekeepers would also point out that polygamy becomes scarcer as we move forward in time through the stories of the Bible. By the time we get to the New Testament, monogamy has become the norm, if not the rule. The idea of wives as property that can be amassed and multiplied just like any other property, has by this point begun to recede into the background.

And again, that’s true. It’s another excellent point.

And now that we have two such points, we can draw a straight line between them — a line that travels from one point to the next. It’s a line, in other words, that has a direction. And we can follow that direction, that trajectory, beyond the second point to where it leads, to where those points point us.

“There is no such land,” the gatekeepers said. “The very idea of it is utterly inconceivable.”

And they did, in their voice of thunder, reiterate their command of silence, and threaten me with the direst penalties if I persisted.

 

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  • Jay in Oregon

    The Bible’s commendation and celebration of polygamy thus presents them
    with a thornier problem. (As does their embrace of investments and
    insurance, which they seem to get around by pretending the Bible has
    more to say about sex than it does about money. It doesn’t. Not even
    close.)

    I immediately thought of this scene from Babylon 5:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oz1VNbQYiTw

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    G’kar facepalming is wonderful in that scene.

    Also, before that:
    G’kar: When was that written in the book?
    Follower: In the beginning.
    G’kar: Exactly.  Over time I learned, as you will learn.

    And, seriously, follower, if this guy could have his eye ripped out by them and learn to forgive them, why can’t you?

    G’kar started off evil, and then moved toward more neutral, and finally ended up in a place of enlightenment.  Also, if I remember correctly, he was one of Arthur’s knights along with Marcus.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    The Bible’s commendation and celebration of polygamy thus presents them with a thornier problem.

    Unfortunately, their way around it seems to be to pretend the Bible doesn’t say what it does say. That wouldn’t have worked so well back in my fundy childhood when it was a status symbol to have read the entire Bible over and over, but I guess today’s fundamentalists don’t read. It might make them think for themselves, and that would be Bad.

  • stly92

     Exactly. There’s a whole universe of unwritten rules evangelicals go by in Bible reading. Even as they assume the whole thing is good and relevant and no one should ever question any of it, you are supposed to “know” and “pick up” on what verses are absolutely indispensable, and what verses to quietly pass over without comment.

    And as someone who had trouble picking up on those unwritten rules but was inclined to take assumptions at face value and examine them, this was an issue. Bring up one of those thornier verses, the ones quietly passed over and discuss it’s implications, both in light of other parts of the Bible and what we assume about the Bible? the most common response is that you are being rude and difficult for it’s own sake. Push a little harder, and you might get something like “The verse you sight may seem like it depicts God as immoral, or inconsistent with other parts of the Bible, but if properly understood it doesn’t. I had a pastor speak on this years ago, and the argument was difficult and obscure and I don’t really remember it, but you can accept the conclusion as the God’s honest truth.” Push even farther with someone who actually does know a thing or two, and you get, “You have to interpret verse A in light of verse B,” Where Verses A and B seemed to be wholly contradictory. To which I’d respond, “Doesn’t that just blot out verse A entirely, as though it’s not even there? And why not do it the opposite way, and interpret B in light of A so A gets blotted out?”

    It’s really, really difficult. 

  • Daughter

    Some Christians will say that certain NT precepts override OT ones, such as Jesus talking about “for this reason a man shall leave his mother and father and be united to his wife” and pointing out that that’s singular wife, not plural wives. (Of course, Jesus is addressing divorce here, not polygamy). And then there’s the passage about overseers being the husband of “but one wife,” which is a little more relevant, because it indicates that the example of a church leader should be monagamous.

    But that raises questions, of course, about Jesus’ teaching about peace-making, which contradicts many OT passages about war and killing. Yet they ignore that.

  • Worthless Beast

    I can sort of see it serving a practical purpose – say, a low population with more women than men and a need to make babies… or as a political thing of the time – (if the number Solomon’s wives wasn’t exagerrated, I’d have to think of them as some kind of marriage-for-alliances or some such thing because how can a man even remember the *names* of 700 people, let alone be husbandly to them)?  A different world, indeed.

  • arcseconds

     An easy way of ending up with more women than men is warfare :]

    Polygamy for kings as an alliance thing is, I think, pretty well attested to.

    I remember reading about a society in… Africa, maybe? which was ruled by a woman.  

    I can’t remember whether this was a one-off kind of event like european ruling queens or whether this society was always ruled by a woman.

    But anyway, the custom in the wider area was to cement political pacts with marriage.  As having a woman in charge doesn’t obviate the need for political pacts, this woman ended up with several wives.

    I’ve got a soft spot for these kinds of displays of pragmatism :]

  • stardreamer42

    Maybe Solomon had the talisman of the prince who shared himself with the thousand virgins. :-)

  • P J Evans

    At one point in the Prop8 trial, the  pro-8 guys were using an argument for ‘marriage is one man plus one woman’ that would result in polygamy being legal. (Serial marriages, but each one is between one man and one woman. Just not the same pair each time. Yes, it could be polyandry as well as polygyny.)

  • MikeJ

    Isn’t this where the nonsense about the different covenants comes in? I know they believe Jesus may have said “Love they neighbour”, but don’t do it yet!

  • Carstonio

    I strongly doubt that the women-as-property custom in any society has a purpose other than male power, no matter what era we’re talking about, and no matter how many wives a husband can have. As Worthless Beast suggested, population stress can (ahem) conceivably make multiple wives a necessity. But this need not be a gender hierarchy, either in the marriage or in society. It certainly wouldn’t require barring women from owning property, or from holding paid employment in fields other than child-raising.

    My impression of the societies that treat women as property is that marriage is simply a survival necessity for the women since they’re prevented from supporting themselves on their own – the system is gamed against them. All the examples I know about of polygamy as a social norm involve patriarchy. It would be fascinating to see poly  marriages operate as democracies with all spouses being equal, including the one that is the sole representative of hir gender.

  • ReverendRef

    And they did, in their voice of thunder, reiterate their command of
    silence, and threaten me with the direst penalties if I persisted.

    Yeah, well . . . the Gatekeepers of Christianity here in my town did the same to me awhile back.  I’ll be the first one to welcome you in when you get there.

  • esmerelda_ogg

    overseers being the husband of “but one wife,” – Daughter

    Hmmm. I guess that could be read as “no polygamists” – I always thought it had to do with the very high divorce and remarriage level in the Roman world (the Romans being habitual serial monogamists) and read it as related to Jesus’ disapproval of divorce. (Of course, it would also bar remarried widowers, so who knows?)

  • Lunch Meat

    (Of course, it would also bar remarried widowers, so who knows?)

    This actually happens. I have heard of churches who take this to such an extreme that not only must the elders be monogamous and not divorced, they must also not be remarried widowers–in fact they must not be widowers at all (since if you’ve lost your wife you are no longer the husband of one wife). So an elder whose wife has died is required to resign. They also say that you cannot be an elder if you have no children or one child (since it says “children”). This makes me want to cry and/or bang my head against a wall.
    (Of
    course, it would also bar remarried widowers, so who knows?) – See more
    at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#sthash.wgOggwqg.dpuf
    (Of
    course, it would also bar remarried widowers, so who knows?) – See more
    at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#sthash.wgOggwqg.dpuf
    (Of
    course, it would also bar remarried widowers, so who knows?) – See more
    at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#sthash.wgOggwqg.dpuf

  • esmerelda_ogg

     People can be very, very, very strange. Also unfair.

  • Lunch Meat

    …Disqus is broken, apparently.

  • http://stealingcommas.blogspot.com/ chris the cynic

    Yeah, it’s definitely on the blink today.

  • http://www.joshbarkey.com/2009/05/polygamy-revisited.html josh barkey

    Ha-ha. I wrote a superlong screed about this, four years ago (I’ll link it with my name). Now, I find this all hilarious. And terribly, terribly sad. It’s like mathematicians got ahold of the Bible. But not, like, REAL mathematicians. More like bitter, failed mathematicians who became the sort of cruel Jr. High Math teachers who made me hate numbers.

  • flat
  • Tricksterson

    I don’t see a problem with plygamy given two conditions

    The women in the marriage have rights equal to the husband and to each other.

    Polyandry is cool too.

  • PrickliestPear
  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    That article’s explaining the problems with polygynous societies. I don’t see extending legal recognition to poly relationships as necessarily meaning we become a polygynous society.

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    …that Slate article is frustrating: it seems to claim that poly households aside from patriarchal Mormon splinter group polygamy don’t exist.

  • KNicoll

    Welcome to my reality.  I’ve had arguments with other poly people about whether or not I – with my two husbands – am really polygamous.

  • Tricksterson

    It also references African cultures in which the women are treated as chattel.  Thing is that polygyny in which all parties are treated equally under the law is much like gay marriage.  You can’t condemn it in terms of the past because it’s never really existed

  • Tricksterson

    Not really.  They lost my interest as soon as they hit the “good of society” button. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/jrandyowens Randy Owens

    Actually, polyandry is a kind (subset) of polygamy. It’s polygyny when it’s specifically multiple wives. Same root as “gynecologist”, if that helps mnemonically.

  • Tricksterson

    True enough but the popular, as opposed to the technical definition of polygamy is one man, more than one wife, so i went with that.  Be thankful I didn’t choose to call it Ralph.

  • Magic_Cracker

    I once had a student who argued (in an early draft of a public speaking assignment) that gay marriage would lead to polyphony.

  • ReverendRef

     I once had a student who argued (in an early draft of a public speaking assignment) that gay marriage would lead to polyphony.

    Well from what I’ve seen, most high churches (the smells and bells type) tend to attract more gay people, that student was probably right.  Do you think they had this in mind?:

    http://youtu.be/YiD6yuH-eLs

  • ReverendRef

     I once had a student who argued (in an early draft of a public speaking assignment) that gay marriage would lead to polyphony.

    Well from what I’ve seen, most high churches (the smells and bells type) tend to attract more gay people, that student was probably right.  Do you think they had this in mind?:

    http://youtu.be/YiD6yuH-eLs

  • Tricksterson

    And then to…dancing

  • Robyrt

    How do they make this leap — condemning a practice that the Bible teaches us God approved of for Abraham, Moses, David and Caleb?

    Easily. It’s explicitly discouraged for clergy (overseers should be “the husband of one wife”); it doesn’t fit with the broader move towards equality that Fred mentions; and the New Testament supersedes the Old anyway.

    Remember, Jesus himself sets the precedent for overruling the previous laws and customs on multiple occasions. He either loosens the rules (“Thus he declared all foods clean” or “What God has called clean, you must not call common”) or tightens them (“Moses told you to offer a certificate of divorce, but I say that whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery”) according to the larger, deeper meaning of the rules. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” For us, polygamy is wrong; for Moses, it was fine, because at that point the rule had not yet been established.

  • Lunch Meat

    Easily. It’s explicitly discouraged for clergy (overseers should be “the husband of one wife”); it doesn’t fit with the broader move towards equality that Fred mentions; and the New Testament supersedes the Old anyway.

    Remember, Jesus himself sets the precedent for overruling the previous laws and customs on multiple occasions. He either loosens the rules (“Thus he declared all foods clean” or “What God has called clean, you must not call common”) or tightens them (“Moses told you to offer a certificate of divorce, but I say that whoever divorces and remarries commits adultery”) according to the larger, deeper meaning of the rules. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” For us, polygamy is wrong; for Moses, it was fine, because at that point the rule had not yet been established.

    Hang on a second. First of all, the rules for clergy don’t apply to everyone else; they’re higher standards for a reason. It may be better to be in a monogamous relationship; that doesn’t mean polygamy is wrong. Second, it’s possible for a >2 person relationship to be equal. Third, the NT may supersede the OT but that doesn’t mean we can just discount something the OT condones and invent a rule against it. Jesus sets the precedent, but he never mentioned polygamy. “the rule had not yet been established”–what rule?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    And why should clergy be held to higher standards of anything that has nothing to do with how they relate to their congregation? A preacher can be the world’s most upstanding monogamous teetotaller and be a total bore in the church.

  • Daughter

     But that does raise the original question of Fred’s post. Jesus also says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And he says blessed are the peacemakers, and talks about resolving things before it goes to court, and forgiving seventy times seven, and that those who live by the sword die by the sword. Yet here is a man, making the argument that these Scriptures override the war and violence of the OT, and the evangelical tribe is ready to drum him out.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Well, I don’t object to the notion of poly in any form, as long as all parties can consent to the relationship without economic or social pressure to do so.

  • stly92

     And that always got me. At my Christian school, bring up Solomon’s 700 wives, (not to mention the hundreds of concubines,) and most of my teachers would get a bemused smirk. I’d hate that because it would fly in the face of their preaching on sexual ethics, how that should be massively sinful.

    My takeaway eventually became that if your a “powerful ManawGod,” some of those pesky sex rules get brushed under the table. Then that helped explain why so many pastors get wrapped up in sex scandals…

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    The problem is that when we talk about polygamy we’re usually talking about polygyny, and usually a very particular kind of patriarchal polygyny. For some reason it’s easier for our culture to take an extremist Mormon breakaway commune more seriously than a bunch of san francisco queers talking about open relationships, so when the plural marriage question comes up the Mormon breakaway commune is the model we think of.

    When people make the tossoff comment that same-sex marriage might lead to legal polygamy, my response is… well, I don’t use that particular word, but that’s sort of *my* goal next yes? I know a group of three people in a balanced three-person marriage (not a man with two wives– one man with two wives and two women who each have a wife and a husband) who are raising a child. The child only bears the genetic material of two of the three parents, but they are not raising the child as if it is “more” the child of any one of the parents than any other. Despite this being the way they look at it, one of the three parents has no legal rights whatsoever– no legal recognition she is involved with the other two, no legal relationship with the child, no maternity leave from her employer (who *does* offer same-sex maternity leave otherwise), no hospital rights, no nothing. She can probably get something like power of attorney for the hospital rights stuff, she might be able to bully her employer into granting parentage-related benefits, but in general for every tiny victory she’s going to be doing the same tooth-and-nail fighting a same-sex couple would have had to in 1995. Except in 1995 there was an organized (if embryonic) effort to start getting legal recognition of same-sex couples and there really isn’t any equivalent plan I’m aware of to bring any kind of legal recognition to situations like the one my three friends are in. My friends are three of the most organized, capable, loving people I know and I feel they’re going to do a better job raising their child (or children, if they have another) than most parents I’ve ever met, and I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to convince me they deserve fewer legal privileges than I do in my own completely normal lil’ two person lesbian marriage.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to convince me they deserve
    fewer legal privileges than I do in my own completely normal lil’ two
    person lesbian marriage.

    Yeah, but how are you going to get there from here? In a two-person marriage, if one spouse dies, the other gets a given percentage of the estate unless the will says the surviving spouse gets more. In at least some places, that’s one third. In a three-person marriage where one dies (no will), does each surviving spouse get one third or do they split one third between them? If it’s ‘each’, what’s left for other beneficiaries of the decedent in a four-person marriage? What happens if it’s a five-person marriage? In a three-person marriage, is it Anne and Bob are both married to Cathy but not to each other, or Anne and Bob and Cathy are all married to each other? If the first, what’s the legal relation between Anne and Bob? What happens in either scenario if Anne then wants to marry Debbie too?

  • Cathy W

    It’s certainly the case that the details need to be worked out – and it may be that the simplest way is “A poly marriage must come to the table with a prenuptial agreement that spells all this stuff out, including mechanisms for adding and subtracting partners” – but that doesn’t mean that it can never be made to work.

  • EllieMurasaki

    It’s certainly the case that the details need to be worked out […] but that’s not a case that it can never be made to work.

    No shit. But I do need to know what the answers are before I can support making poly marriage recognized by the government.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    KNicoll:
    “It seems to me that a standard-issue parent/child adoption opens up a giant can of worms regarding the potential for criminal incest charges, and I would not touch that one with a ten-foot pole, myself…”

    *Thinks* Hm, was I unclear? It is for exactly this reason I was wanting a legal status to exist which is similar to adoption in effect but doesn’t have those connotations.

    Train_star:
    “There used to be legal systems that did this, but most of them were done away with by colonialism.”

    I’d be curious which specific examples you are thinking of here.

    Ellie Murasaki:
    “No shit. But I do need to know what the answers are before I can support making poly marriage recognized by the government.”

    No you don’t. I mean, really you don’t. It’s not like this is a proposal before any legislature. We don’t have a ballot proposition for you to sign. We don’t have a single legislator on board. We don’t have a way to GET a legislator on board. The basic underlying issue here is one that most people aren’t even aware EXISTS. This entire discussion is way out in the realm of abstraction, or things that might be first attempted in ten or twenty years. The exact construction of a poly relationship recognition law is basically in the weeds, as it wouldn’t help either you or us any to have such a thing in front of us.

    I mean– are you really suggesting that your support of legal poly marriage– the concept, as opposed to a specific poly marriage law– is going to turn on exactly how priority in an inheritance situation is structured? What is interesting to me is the value question of whether family groupings other-than-a-romantic-dyad-plus-children *should* get legal recognition and privileges, not the policy question of how to reify this.

    And if you really do have a need to respond to a specific proposal rather than a general idea– do you have any response to my rather long comment above?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Of course I want legal poly marriage. But I can’t support it until I know what exactly it is I need to ask for. Compare it to the (hopefully far less likely to actually happen) scenario “I want a pony”–should I ever actually buy a pony, I first need to know where I’m putting the pony and how I’m feeding the pony and (oh yeah) how to ride a pony. Does that make sense?

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    EllieMurasaki: “Of course I want legal poly marriage. But I can’t support it until I know what exactly it is I need to ask for”

    OK. This kind of sounds like as much “support” as I’d ask for anyone *to* give at this point (since again we have no way yet to channel “support” toward a particular proposal)…

    KNicoll: “I was replying to the bit where you commented that some people have actually done this thing with that, mostly”
    Oh yeah that scares the heck out of me. Dunno. I don’t think I’ve ever *met* anyone who’s done this.

  • KNicoll

    *Thinks* Hm, was I unclear? It is for exactly this reason I was wanting a legal status to exist which is similar to adoption in effect but doesn’t have those connotations. – See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#comment-814732528

    I was replying to the bit where you commented that some people have actually done this thing with that, mostly.  I would be very cautious about a lot of stuff involving adoption-analogues.

    At the same time, I am absolutely in favor of legal structures that make it possible for people to declare various forms of kinship, in addition to all of this other stuff.  (I have several siblings not related to me by blood.)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I do need to know what the answers are before I can support making poly marriage recognized by the government.

    Well, you are of course the best judge of what you need before you can support marriage equality in that form, and I endorse you doing so, and I hope you get what you need.

    For my own part, I don’t have a problem saying that I support my government recognizing poly marriages, and that part of that involves someone who isn’t me working out a specific proposal for how to do that under U.S. law (or several people working out several different proposals, for that matter).

    I support feeding the hungry, also, even without specific menus or shipping routes.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If I were talking to someone who came from a culture where only the eldest child was understood to have any rights or external obligations with respect to their parents (e.g., only the eldest inherited when their parents died, only the eldest was held accountable for parental debts, only the eldest could make medical proxy decisions for the parents, etc. etc. etc.) and I explained to them that in the U.S., the standard model was that all children had these sorts of rights and obligations, I would expect similar sorts of incredulous questions.

    And my answer to all of them would be “Well, it depends. Generally, parents spell out inheritance in a will, and the courts enforce the terms of the will… though children can contest a will in court, and sometimes do so successfully. When someone dies intestate, there are some default ways things work, and again children can contest the will in court. For proxy decisions, any child generally is capable of making these decisions independently, so it’s first-one-past-the-gate, and if the children disagree they have to work it out amongst themselves somehow; if it gets too contentious again the courts step in and made a determination of how to proceed. For debts, the creditor generally hands the debt to whichever child seems the best bet for recovery, and again, if they can’t work it out the courts get involved. Etc.”

    And they might well shake their heads and say “Pfah, that’s too complicated and confusing. Our system is much simpler, there are only three people involved: the parents and the eldest child! Your system has any number of people involved, no wonder they can’t all agree and you need all these courts and judges and things!”

    And I would agree, their system would be simpler. It would merely be less just.

    And if they were explaining their system to someone from a culture where only the husband was understood to have any rights or external obligations with respect to the family, that third person might well say “Pfah, that’s too complicated and confusing. Our system is much simpler,
    there are only two people involved: the father and the eldest child!
    Your system has three people involved!”

    And I would agree, their system would be simpler. It would merely be less just.

    The arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
    It does not bend towards simplicity.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to convince me they deserve 
    fewer legal privileges than I do”
    “Yeah, but how are you going to get there from here?”

    So… you’ll notice I phrased my original comment very carefully. I stated a general goal or an ideal– they should have the same rights I do. They *deserve* this. That doesn’t imply, and in this case I think doesn’t require, that I have a specific idea of how to get there from here or what exactly the law will look like if we get “there”. I’m at this point only saying: this is the direction I want to head toward.

    I can think of quite a lot of practical difficulties that come up if you simply legalize n-more-than-two-person marriage– I assure you, I’ve had reason to have thought about this quite a bit– but I think of those as mostly just sort of an “engineering problem”. There’s probably more than one sensible way to legalize nonmonogamous relationship structures, and I’m not sure it matters which one we pick. Meanwhile the details are sort of beside the point since even if I had an incredibly detailed proposal for legal nonmonogamous marriages we would have no way to get this even considered to be put into law. We kind of need to move from the “first they ignore you” to the “then they laugh at you” part of Gandhi’s model before that becomes relevant.

    This said though, if you do want a specific policy proposal, here is what I would suggest if I had an opportunity to propose a law on this subject. Abstract adoption. Create a legal way to designate someone as “family” without specifying the exact relation. There is an existing concept in law– an *existing* concept, not some weird new indeterminate thing like civil unions– that immediate family members like a sister or parent have more rights to a particular person in terms of inheritance, hospital rights, etc than a stranger does. I think one good solution for poly relationship recognition would be to simply allow arbitrary people to be registered as having this same level of special status. (An option that exists now– and I’ve heard of some poly families doing– is to legally adopt the third partner as a child, which works, but perhaps it is unfair to expect someone to legally designate a person they have a romantic or sexual relationship with as a child.)

    There are several things I like about this idea. One problem with just allowing multiple marriages as an approach is that it doesn’t accommodate any polyamorous relationship structures other than a balanced triad or quad. Being able to simply define a “family” would provide *some* assistance to people in a balanced triad– people like my three friends I mentioned– or at least, would provide the basic legal rights we need most, while also fitting more freeform families where there is something like a primary partner and a secondary partner. (Once we had a working structure that accommodated all poly families like this, we could work upward to legal structures which recognize in some cases the importance of the third partner is equal to a marriage.) The idea avoids the interpretation problem we have if we simply allow multiple marriages, because while marriage law is written simply assuming exclusivity, family law is not– you can have more than one sibling or more than one mother. And this approach also accommodates nontraditional families that aren’t specifically polyamorous– say, a family has an “Uncle George” who lives with them and helps raise the children, but actually isn’t legally an uncle and isn’t either related to or in a romantic relationship with anyone in the household. If a family friend like that became so close as to actually be part *of* the family as far as the family’s concerned, why not legally recognize that? (There’s the godparent concept but that only relates to the relationship between the godparent and the child.) Something opponents of same-sex marriage sometimes drag out is that equal marriage is really an attack on the traditional family model– and as far as I’m concerned it *is*, or should be, because the traditional family model is *broken*, it works great for describing some families but it doesn’t necessarily describe the way people structure families and raise children in the real world today. I want a more realistic legal structure.

    And by the way, I didn’t come up with this abstract-adoption concept. Here’s the story I was told: There’s a district in New Zealand (and I don’t remember the name, so it’s possible this story is apocryphal) where for various reasons there are a disproportionate number of old retirees who have no living family or no family in the country. These retirees can’t take care of themselves, so many of them had live-in nurses. Some of the retirees became very emotionally close to their nurses, and wished to have them designated as having some special rights, say related to inheritance when the retiree dies. But the only options for doing this were to either marry or adopt the caretaker, which might not actually accurately describe the nature of their relationship. So they introduced the legal idea of adopting the caretakers as family– not a wife, not a daughter, just family. I like this idea, I want to adapt it.

  • KNicoll

    It seems to me that a standard-issue parent/child adoption opens up a giant can of worms regarding the potential for criminal incest charges, and I would not touch that one with a ten-foot pole, myself…

  • train_star

    There used to be legal systems that did this, but most of them were done away with by colonialism.

  • P J Evans

    This sounds to me like a reasonable start.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I don’t think “But it would be administratively complicated to sort out how it would legally work and what to put on forms” is a very compelling argument against poly marriage.

    What I do think is a bit more concerning is that marriage confers a set of benefits. There are legal privileges to being married which aren’t granted to unmarried people. And the reason we let that happen is that the state has decided that there is a compelling public good that comes out of marriage that is sufficient to justify giving these special additional privileges to one group over another.

    Unlike same-sex marriage equality, formal legal recognition of plural marriage would not just be extending current set of marriage-related privileges to a group currently denied it; it would in fact be granting additional privileges to a group.  For example (and I choose this just on the basis of it being easy to explain), when I married my wife, one of the privileges I got out of it was that there is now one person who can’t be compelled to give testimony against me in court.  Now, if I were able to marry several people, I’d have more people who couldn’t be compelled to testify. I’m not trying to play one of those cheap “But if we legalize X, what’s to stop someone from abusing it by doing X'” games here and propose that crime gangs will start entering into polygamous marriages of convenience, but we have to consider the fact that some of the privileges we grant to married couples would “stack” when applies to poly marriages.

    And most of that may be just fine and harmless. But it still means that plurally married people would get a set of extra privileges denied to anyone who isn’t plurally married — it would be creating a de jure privileged class out of the polyamorous.

    And that’s not out of the question, but it’s something we need to consider: is there some public good for the state that is served by plural marriage that justifies granting additional privileges above those granted within a single marriage? And if not, is there some other kind of accommodation we can make for those who want to be plurally married? (You think plural marriage would be administratively complex? How about serialized marriage, where n people automatically rotate through (n^2-n)/2 marriages at fixed intervals, so that at any given time, everyone’s only married to one person, but over long periods of time, they have all been married to each other approximately equally)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    And that’s not out of the question, but it’s something we need to consider: is there some public good for the state that is served by plural marriage that justifies granting additional privileges above those granted within a single marriage?

    Polyamorous families are families.

    Legally recognizing polyamorous families is a subset of legally recognizing families, just like legally recognizing adoptive families is, or black families, or mixed-race families, or Buddhist families, or same-sex families, or other kinds of families.

    What public good does legally recognizing families in general serve? I won’t try to answer that here; I merely point out that we are in the habit of doing it. If someone wants to propose that we stop doing it, I’m willing to listen, but I don’t think anyone’s actually proposing that.

    What public good does legally recognizing polyamorous families in particular serve? For my purposes, it is sufficient to observe that discriminating against some families by refusing them legal recognition which we grant to other families is fundamentally unjust, and living in a just society is a public good.

    There may be other specific benefits as well. Or there may not be. There may not be any specific benefits to legally recognizing marriages between Buddhists and Muslims, either, but we should do that too, because not doing so is unjust.

    I don’t take seriously the idea that legally recognizing polyamorous families as families constitutes “special privileges” for them, any more than legally recognizing families with children as families constitutes “special privileges” for them. No, not all families are identical.
    But recognizing all of them as families is simple justice.

    Yes, it’s complicated and difficult to implement.

    The correct thing to do with a difficult task that ought to be completed is to start.

    And that’s
    not out of the question, but it’s something we need to consider: is
    there some public good for the state that is served by plural marriage
    that justifies granting additional privileges above those
    granted within a single marriage? – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#comment-814747476

  • Carstonio

    Yes indeed, legally recognizing polyamorous families is about justice. The concept of “special privileges” probably doesn’t exist except as a propaganda tactic by opponents of same-sex marriage.
    <For my
    purposes, it is sufficient to observe that discriminating against some
    families by refusing them legal recognition which we grant to other
    families is fundamentally unjust, and living in a just society is a
    public good. – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/comment-page-1/#comment-377924
    For my
    purposes, it is sufficient to observe that discriminating against some
    families by refusing them legal recognition which we grant to other
    families is fundamentally unjust, and living in a just society is a
    public good. – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/comment-page-1/#comment-377924&lt;

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I have already given an example of “special privileges” that would apply to a plural marriage but not to same-sex ones.

    And by what authority do you declare that “justice” demands recognizing plural marriage in the same legal way as singular marriage, but “justice” has no problem with the fact that when Barbara and Jessica have a child, FMLA means that between the two of them, they’re entitled to take off 24 weeks to care for their baby, but if Tim and John and Sally have a child, they get 36?

    We decided long ago that it was worth it as a society that when two people marry, society values that family so much that they grant about 1400 legal rights to them which single people don’t have. Does “justice” say that a marriage of three people is a family so valuable to society that it deserves, say (picking a lowish percentage of “stackable” benefits), 2000?

    Yes, if we were staring a society from scratch, maybe we’d get rid of legally recognized marriage altogether (or keep it but drop a thousand or so of the legal benefits) — heck, I think plural marriage is a better argument against the state recognizing marriages at all than same-sex marriage ever was — but that (1) isn’t the reality we live in and (2) now we’re back to “Let’s take rights away from people to make things more equal”

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Is a marriage of two men so valuable to society that it deserves the same benefits as a marriage of two women? Beats me; my support for marriage rights independent of gender doesn’t depend on that calculation. But if you want to argue that our recognition of families ought to depend on such a calculation, or that it does in fact depend on such a calculation, it seems like you should be prepared to answer that question.

    I don’t see how you can do it, except in the question-begging style of “well, we’ve all accepted that these families get equal treatment, because that’s conventional, but those families are conventionally discriminated against, so we need to justify treating them equally.” Which I don’t find compelling.

    But if you’ve got an answer, I’m willing to listen to it.

    Does “justice” say that a marriage of three people is a family so valuable to society that it deserves, say (picking a lowish percentage of “stackable” benefits), 2000?

    Justice says that if we provide families with certain rights and privileges and obligations because they are families, then we provide those rights and privileges and obligations to all families.

    Justice says that if we instead evaluate families to see which ones create enough value to the public as a consequence of legal recognition that it’s cost-effective to recognize them as families, then we evaluate all families.

    Similarly, justice says that if we endorse equal rights for individuals, then I get the same rights that you do, even if it costs ten times as much to provide me with those rights, and even if you create ten times as much value to society as I do.

  • Carstonio

    “justice” has no problem with the fact that when Barbara and Jessica have a child, FMLA means that between the two of them, they’re entitled to take off 24 weeks to care for their baby, but if Tim and John and Sally have a child, they get 36?

    Is that your assumption based on how the law currently works? I couldn’t find anything about how FMLA would actually work for plural marriages. 

    Society’s interest here is in protecting the rights and responsibilities of people who choose to form families. Partly because of any children being raised by the families, although that’s certainly not the only reason. It’s not about whether the type of family benefits society. 

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     Ross is making the “special privileges” argument explicitly in this thread.

  • Carstonio

     Yes, and it doesn’t make sense that Ross is using it as though it were credible on its own. It’s like defending literacy tests for voting on the principle that voters should be able to understand the ballot, without knowing anything about how and why the tests were actually used.

     You’re exactly right that the principle here is about the rights and obligations of all families. And Mcc is right that the burden is on those who assert a state interest in restricting those for certain types of families, not those who assert a state interest in equal treatment.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    I am fairly sure that societies have more ways available to them for legally recognizing families than marriage. The question isn’t whether or not families should be abstractly legally recognized. The question is whether the “recognition of families” is served by marriage in a way that justifies giving a set of special legal benefits to people that scales with the number of people they marry — whether there is benefit enough to legally counting this group of people as married to justify the fact that they get N-times more legal privileges out of marriage than any singly-married couple, and N-plus-one times more legal privileges than a couple that chooses not to get married. Legal marriage isn’t the state saying “We approve of your fornication” — it’s the state saying “Your union is so important to the good of society that we are willing to treat single people unfairly in order to help you.”

    (Also, the thought occurs that, in terms of the whole ‘but the laws would be COMPLICATED!’ thing, we actually have a whole lot of corporate law that has already solved the problem of legally accounting an arbitrary number of people as part of a single legal unit)

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Again, no, I don’t agree that “the question” is whether there is benefit enough to recognizing a family with two women, one man, and two children as a family in the same way that we recognize a family with one man, one woman, and five children, or two men and no children, or one woman and three children, or various other combinations.

    Families come in different shapes and sizes. Yes, a family with five people in it gets more benefits from being legally recognized as a family than my family with just two people. I’m OK with that. So is pretty much everyone else I know, as long as no more than two of those people are adults. I’m also OK with it when more than two of those people are adults.

    And you’re right, legal marriage isn’t the state saying “we approve of your fornication.” It also isn’t the state saying “your union is important to the good of society.” Nobody evaluated the value of my union to my husband when I applied for a marriage license, nor is there any way they could have.

    Legal marriage is the state saying “we recognize your family as a family.”

    As it should, because it is.

    That said, if you want to propose other ways for the state to recognize families, and restrict legal marriage to those families (of whatever composition) that can prove they provide more social value when married than the social cost of allowing them to marry, I’ll listen.
    whether
    there is benefit enough to legally counting this group of people as
    married to justify the fact that they get N-times more legal privileges
    out of marriage than any singly-married couple – See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#comment-814850106

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    crime gangs will start entering into polygamous marriages of convenience

    Someone needs to write this novel.

    TRiG.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    And nobody, ever, in criminal history, has ever married for convenience to keep from being compelled to reveal testimony about someone else.

    *rolls eyes*

    When people start trotting out the most absurd possibilities as reasons not to do something they remind me of people who invent reasons not to do a simple thing because of X, Y, and Z easily surmountable obstacles.

    Any parent here will undoubtedly have experienced it and anyone here can probably recall an occasion or three when, as a teenager, they’ve “added epicycles” to an increasingly skeptical parent to avoid doing something.

  • Carstonio

    Yes, that scenario sounds too much like the wild claims that gay marriage will lead to people marrying dogs or toasters. But I thought there had been a few cases many years ago of gay couples pursuing adult adoption as a substitute.

  • Tricksterson

    I woudn’t marry a taoster but I might marry a skinjob provided it was a Six or Eight.

  • KNicoll

    I was struck, back when I was at the hearings for marriage rights for same-sex couples when they were had before a relevant committee here in Massachusetts, by the fact that I am apparently the monster in some people’s closets.  “This will lead to … polygamy!” one man said, as if his portentous proclamation would be followed up with a “dun dun dunnnnn”.

    Being the monster in the closet is exhausting, but I had to laugh.  Still do.  Because otherwise I’ll scream.  (Yeah, I’m so weird that the fear of me is used to motivate people to act against the legal security of my friends.  I may scream anyway.  Fucksake.)

    (Meanwhile, I’m reminded I need to bounce the draft wills to the other members of the family to try to keep the kids with surviving parents if something dreadful happens.)

  • Isabel C.

     Yep, I had that happen in my high school public speaking class. Resident Douchebag was all “…and then what’s to stop *three* people from getting married?” and, during the critique section, I said something about how if he was going to use it as a threat, he needed to explain why it was a problem.
    At which point the teacher told me that everyone would find that obvious. Sigh.

  • http://www.facebook.com/angelia.sparrow Angelia Sparrow

    The way my churches always approached it was to say “Yes. look at the problems that arose from all those women. Monogamous marriages in the Bible don’t have nearly the same amount of strife. So clearly, we are being shown by negative example that polygamy is bad.”

    God himself is depicted as a polygamist in Ezekiel. 

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    “I haven’t heard the gatekeepers say much about polygamy except as part of a desperate slippery-slope argument against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. ”

    Wow. Good point.

  • Parisienne

    On Solomon’s 700-strong harem. I think the fact is that he quite possibly *couldn’t* remember what half of them were called. I can’t imagine he saw most of them all that often.

    Compare the harem of Asaheurus in the book of Esther. Basically the way it works is that the women go through a year of beauty treatments before being packed off for one night in the king’s bed. If he likes them, he calls them back. If he doesn’t, they get shut up in the harem and forgotten about for the rest of their lives. At the time of the dramatic crisis in the book of Esther, she hasn’t been called into his presence for several weeks, and she’s supposedly his favourite. Others of them would never have been called back again.

    I find it ironic that Esther is often presented by churches as a romantic Disneyfied little fairytale story, to women especially. It really, really isn’t. It’s deeply horrible. (In a way, I kind of prefer this. Disney didn’t write the script to my life, and I’d rather see the book of Esther as a tale of extreme courage in the face of a frankly appalling situation.)

  • christopher_y

    As I understand it (open to correction here), back in the day it was common practice for kings to confirm treaties and alliances by exchanging royal women (think of it as the bronze age equivalent of confirmation by the Senate). So if you were a diplomatically successful king, you’d quite quickly find yourself with a couple of dozen foreign princesses hanging around your palace; and since they were princesses, they each had a substantial retinue of handmaidens etc., and the more senior handmaidens would have had attendants of their own, and so it wouldn’t take long for the population of your women’s quarters to get into the hundreds.

    Of course your royal propagandists would credit all these to you as your concubines, just as they would round up the numbers of your army and your treasury and anything else that would make you look more powerful. 

    I think we’ve made progress since then. Probably.

  • Stentor

    @EllieMurasaki: Those are questions that don’t have immediately obvious consensus answers, but they’re hardly questions that are fundamentally unanswerable. Any push for poly marriage that became strong enough to start getting legislative proposals on the table would, by that point, have answers worked out for such things.

  • Ursula L

    It’s certainly the case that the details need to be worked out – and it may be that the simplest way is “A poly marriage must come to the table with a prenuptial agreement that spells all this stuff out, including mechanisms for adding and subtracting partners” – but that doesn’t mean that it can never be made to work.

    I don’t think we want, as a society, to let the legal rights and obligations in a poly marriage be completely defined by the members of the marriage, any more than we let the rights and obligations of a two person marriage be completely defined by the people involved.

    Yes, a couple can make premarital agreements and wills that partially define their marriage.  But there are also laws that set the default rules, such as estate law creating a default will for everyone, in the absence of them making their own will.  And there are laws that override the will you might write, such as the “elective share” in New York’s estate law, which lets a surviving spouse claim a legally defined share of the estate, instead of whatever they were or were not granted in the will. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elective_share  (So one can’t completely disinherit a spouse, leaving them destitute.)  

    For example, as a society, we might decide that, even if some of the poly/Mormon type groups want to define their marriages as each wife being married to the husband, but not each other, all property held by the husband, etc. as a larger society we may insist that the law treats all of the people related by common marriage as equal to each other and equally related to each other.  

    I’m particularly hesitant to let laws about plural marriage be politically defined by looking to people currently in plural marriage, simply because the poly/Mormon groups are by far the most effectively organized block, and their religious customs should not be allowed to color the laws about plural marriage at the expense of principles such as equality.

  • KNicoll

    Certainly, if a law allowing group marriage were passed it would not help me, as I am not willing to perjure myself in order to get access to legal protections.

    I am not married to my husbands’ other wife, and if I were required to claim to be so I would say “fuck it” and continue to hack together what level protections I can manage that do not carry with them a lie about my relationship to that other person.

    (The fact that group marriage is seen as much more acceptable to some people than multiple marriage does not make it less shuddersomely horrifying to me, personally.)

  • Ursula L

    I am not married to my husbands’ other wife, and if I were required to claim to be so I would say “fuck it” and continue to hack together what level protections I can manage that do not carry with them a lie about my relationship to that other person.

    I’m not saying that the law should define the emotional nature of the relationship.

    I am saying that the law would need to treat people in such situations in an equal way.  If a person is added – whether married to one or married to all – then all must agree, if a person leaves – whether married to one or married to all – then the law must account for an equitable outcome for all, if one dies, then the law must address all survivors within the group equitably.  

    If one person has two spouses, who are not married to each other, those two still have economic and social links, via the shared spouse.  Both have a claim on the shared spouse’s resources, both have obligations towards the shared spouse, and both will have their personal social and economic condition affected by any change in the shared spouse’s relationship with the other, such as if one person divorces, and is owed child support, which would come out of the resources of the couple remaining married.  If the shared spouse wanted to take on a third spouse, who would not be married to the other two, the other two would still be effected, socially and economically, as the shared spouse’s attention and resources would now be divided among three spouses rather than two.  

    And if one spouse left, for the leaving spouse and the shared spouse are treated, in the divorce, as if the remaining spouse didn’t exist, and didn’t have a very real interest in the outcome, the outcome will almost certainly be unjust.  

    A lot of people kicked and screamed when marriage laws were rewritten and/or reinterpreted to create more equality between a husband and wife.  But equality before the law was correctly treated as more important than some people’s comfort with the old, unequal, situation.  

  • KNicoll

    It seems to me that mandating that things be falsely treated as a group creates inequities.  Consider a situation such as my own: if one of my spouses were, gods forbid, to die suddenly, one could either divide his resources between his actual spouses or, if this is some kind of group thing, in thirds, one fraction to each adult person we would consider part of the household.  Which is all well and good if we assume that everyone remains on good terms, but of course in a discussion of divorce and death we are not so assuming.

  • Ursula L

    On the other hand, if one of your spouses were to divorce you, the finances of the divorce couldn’t be fairly settled as if the two of you were the only people involved.

    Some of your property you own solely, some, presumably, in conjunction with one spouse, some in conjunction with the other, and  perhaps some shared equally.  The details in your personal situation don’t matter for the larger point of what the law has to consider.

    It would be a problem if you could shift your personally owned property to joint ownership with the non-divorcing spouse, and have it therefore taken out of consideration when the divorce is settled with the divorcing spouse.  Or if you could transfer it to sole ownership of the non-divorcing spouse, again, taking it out of the equation of the divorce.  

    It would also be a problem if the divorcing spouse could claim a share of all property you own jointly with the non-divorcing spouse, or to claim a share of the private property of the non-divorcing spouse through your interest in that property.  

    It would also be a problem if the division of property was such that the spouses remaining married controlled the bulk of the property in their combined interests, with what was left for the divorcing spouse being so little that they are left destitute.  (Particularly a problem with most extreme the poly/Mormon style marriages where one man might have a dozen wives, and one wife wanting divorce would need to have a claim to enough of the larger groups resources to be able to successfully establish her own independent life.)  

    And of course, if there are children involved, then all children need to be ensured suitable support, even though if the children you have with the divorcing spouse are in the custody of that person, and you owe child support, it would affect the finances of the spouse you remain married to, because it affects your joint finances as people married to each other.  

  • KNicoll

    Generally speaking, I’m in favor of requiring explicit legal consent from extant spouses in order to form a new marriage relationship, because of the fiduciary complexities that such things introduce.  It strikes me as totally reasonable to require agreement from all affected parties as to the terms of dissolution of the financial relationships with which they are involved.

    However, this will not fix the problem of patriarchal polygyny, because the way those things are frequently structured, at least in the US, does not take into account any notions of financial responsibility in the first place.  (It is apparently somewhat routine for the schismatic sects to use welfare fraud to support non-legally-recognised wives: since they are “unmarried” it is harder to legally compel the patriarch to actually support his children in the first place.)  Those are an attempt to act in a manner more consistent with Biblical economics: in which children, once they hit working age, are resources and count towards one’s wealth because they are functional laborers – which is no longer the case in a monetised and wage-based society, as children take a lot longer to achieve ‘old enough to work’ and soon after that become adults with technical legal control of their own financial resources, no longer funneling their gains towards the patriarch.

  • Ursula L

    The problem of patriarchal polygamy won’t be completely solved by having an egalitarian legal structure for marriages involving more than two people, but such a legal structure might help control the worst abuses.  

    A requirement for consent from all involved in the marriage web (whether group or a series of interconnected couple-relationships), legal equality of all involved, legal claims on the groups’ community property, legal rights and protections for someone wanting out of the relationship, and legal guards against using other spouses to shelter property in the event of divorce, etc. would at least give people, particularly the women and children, caught up in the problem of patriarchal polygamy a certain amount of status, power, and legal protection. 

  • KNicoll

     

    The problem of patriarchal polygamy won’t be completely solved by having an egalitarian legal structure for marriages involving more than two people, but such a legal structure might help control the worst abuses.   – See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#comment-814351322

    That’s the non-personally-relevant reason I would love to see some sort of structure that would allow for multiple marriages – in the hope that some of these under-the-table patriarchal-polygynous marriage setups would start getting the sort of legal backing that would get them some kind of protections and make the patriarchs actually responsible for the consequences of their actions might start happening….

  • PatBannon

    (The fact that group marriage is seen as much more acceptable to some people than multiple marriage does not make it less shuddersomely horrifying to me, personally.)

    I do have a tiny bit of reservation at you fiercely defending your societally-unorthodox living arrangement only to turn around and attack another societally-unorthodox living arrangement as “shuddersomely horrifying.” Are the people living in happy, loving group marriages somehow different from you in your happy, loving multiple marriage situation?

  • KNicoll

    I assume that, unlike me, they won’t be miserable in that situation, so yes, they’re different than me: they wouldn’t want to die in that sort of arrangement.

  • PatBannon

    So your horrified reaction is visceral horror that only states “I am horrified by this thing” and does not continue to “, therefore, nobody should do this horrifying thing”?

    S’cool. I’m like that with a lotta things.

  • KNicoll

    Pretty much, yes.  It is a course of such relentless and unmitigated misery for me, with such a dramatic lack of any conceivable upside, that I Do Not Go There.  That other people can be happy with such a thing is occasionally a source of amazed bafflement, but I assume that they, like most other people, do not value the things I value or need the things they need, and that my own needs and values are likely as alien and confusing to them as theirs are to me.  Bemusement serves me better than most other things in many social situations….

    (I do occasionally run into people who are doing it that way who appear to me to talk like they feel like I do about the matter, and I worry sometimes that they have been led to believe that group relationship is the only way to do things, or the only moral/ethical way to do things.)

  • PatBannon

    …I assume that they, like most other people, do not value the things I value or need the things they need, and that my own needs and values are likely as alien and confusing to them as theirs are to me.

    As a Dom, I have this conversation with subs all the time. I can understand on paper what’s going through a sub’s head during an, uh, exercise, but I simply cannot grasp the enjoyment they get from such things. My last partner was equally baffled as to the enjoyment I got from my Dominance.

    I generally arrive at “It’s a damn good thing that there are people out there whose needs and values are alien to mine, else I’d never find a decent play partner.*”

    *And, uh, a lot of other things, but that’s the context in which I’m considering this, so, yeah.

  • KNicoll

    Oh yes, there are a lovely great number of “How great it is that people like different things!”, so many of which come with a side order of “… because that means that some of them want to do stuff with me….”

    (Heterosexuality, for example.)

  • Carstonio

    I haven’t heard the gatekeepers say much about polygamy except as part of a desperate slippery-slope argument against the legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

    The gatekeepers describe same-sex marriage as inherently hedonistic, a sexual free-for-all, and they probably think of poly marriage the same way. I encounter quite a few people who treat opposite-sex monogamous marriage as a social obligation, partly to establish paternity.

  • Tricksterson

    Because God forbid you should be in a relationship you don’t consider a burden.

  • Carstonio

    If we did create a workable legal instrument for poly and group marriages, I doubt that it would work much differently for one than for the other. It might not matter to the government whether the wives or husbands on one side of a poly marriage are married to each other or not. The government’s concern would be in safeguarding the rights and responsibilities of everyone in the marriage. Ursula is right that the legal goal is equal treatment.

  • MaryKaye

    Any default will be wrong in some cases.  If you know that it’s wrong for your case it would be a very good idea to have everyone involved write a will.  Then the defaults don’t apply.  (For death, anyway.  Divorce is inherently messy, and more so with more people.)

    It does seem that both multiple pairs and groups are reasonably common, though, so having the law treat either as the default would be worth avoiding if at all possible.

    What *do* you think is the equitable default for the death of a person married separately to two partners?  Dividing their estate in half could very likely easily in partner A owning part of partner B’s house, especially in a community-property state like mine.  Partner B would probably not want that to happen as they are not married to partner A and would be faced with an awkward situation.  (In my personal experience houses are the awkwardest thing about death settlements as you can’t divide them.  I am living in a house inherited from my parents which is worth well over 1/3 of their estate; there is no way to divide it with my two siblings, so we worked out an arrangement where I pay them rent for a set term and then own the house.  They did live here for a while but there are now far too many of us for a house with only 1 bathroom!)

  • KNicoll

    Unfortunately, my feeling is that the best response when there are no kids is the “dividing the estate in half” thing.  We spent a lot of time wrangling with this as part of our estate planning and are currently working with wills set at an “I’m not happy with this on multiple levels, but it will do at the moment and makes sure that the kids are appropriately taken care of which is right now our big concern” sort of arrangement.

    In the long run – and this is resources that a lot of people don’t have in lawyer-time if nothing else – my preference would be to move the family home into a real estate trust, because trying to make the lines of inheritance work with the multiple adults and the kids is a huge mass of mess.  Put in a buyout clause in case of separation, make sure that all the kids are included as inheritors, waugh.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    One simple place to start can be worked in tax systems like Canada’s, which don’t allow joint returns for married couples.

    Remove the restrictions on transferring deductions, so that any person you name, if you can’t use a deduction yourself, can take the deduction instead. Example: I usually don’t take the federal/provincial tuition and education credit, but the tax code says I can only transfer to a spouse (married or common-law) or to a parent/grandparent. If I was in a poly relationship and the tax code had the restriction removed, then I could transfer the credit to anyone within the poly relationship.

    This would at least partially go to alleviating the current heavy favoring of monogamous couples only in terms of how finances get treated.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    You have to give up using “We’re not trying to take away anything from ‘traditionally married’ couples!” when debating the sort of people who insist that marriage equality is somehow invalidating their marriages if you plan to make things more equal by actually taking away something from existing married couples. I mean, it might be a good idea, and it might make things more just, but you really have moved from “we just want the same rights you have” to “we want to take away some of your rights to make things fair”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    You know what they say about complicated tasks? And doing them?

    Break the task into simple steps you can accomplish as you go instead of trying to do it all at once.

    You wouldn’t stuff a whole chocolate bar into your mouth to eat it; you’d break off pieces and eat those as you go.

  • Tricksterson

    Unless you’re me as a teenager.

  • Leum

    Ross is making the “special privileges” argument explicitly in this thread.

    The marriage argument for any group has always been about special privileges. That’s what marriage is. Special privileges given to people in a relationship that aren’t given to people outside of it.
     Ross is
    making the “special privileges” argument explicitly in this thread. –
    See more at:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2013/02/26/polygamy-is-biblical-is-it-therefore-moral/#disqus_thread

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    That’s what marriage is. Special privileges given to people in a relationship that aren’t given to people outside of it.

    No, this just isn’t true.

    Marriage is how unrelated peers in my culture come together to form a family. (Adoption is how unrelated non-peers do so.)

    And family isn’t about being given special privileges by outsiders. It can include that, just like it can include being given special obligations or special rights, but that’s not what it’s about. For example, families remain families even if the society they live in removes all of an individual’s existing rights and privileges when they join a family.

    That said, I understand how someone who sees family as primarily about getting special privileges can believe that it’s in their best interests to refuse to acknowledge families other than their own… after all, that way there’s more in the pot for them!

    It makes sense. It’s merely unjust.

  • Leum

     My apologies, Dave. I should have said that’s what legal marriage is about. It’s obviously about more than that, but I thought we were just discussing the legal ramifications, since those are the only ones that are relevant in terms of extending marriage to groups currently denied the right to a legally recognized marriage.

    The distinction is important to me. After Lawrence v Texas I can, as far as I’m concerned, be married in any state I wish to be. That is, I would feel perfectly entitled to call myself “married” if I had a partner and we’d had a formal commitment ceremony, even if the government refused to recognize the marriage. I want same-sex marriage legally recognized not so that I can get married, but so I can gain access to the special privileges that the law would grant me wrt my partner and any children we adopt.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    No apology required, but I still disagree with you.

    I was “married” in the sense you use in the second paragraph nearly twenty years ago. Getting married in Massachusetts nevertheless made a difference to me, and would have made the same difference even if all of the “special privileges” afforded to married couples were removed from the law.

    What difference? The difference between my family being treated like other people’s families, and my family not being treated like other people’s families.

    If that’s not a difference that matters to you, that’s fine, I’m not saying it has to.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Then why do you care about legal recognition of marriage? WHy not just call yourself married and leave the state out of it?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    Because legal recognition is one of the ways that  my culture acknowledges a family as a family. If other people are entitled to it, and I’m not, then my family is not being treated like other people’s families.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    Ross:
    “And the reason we let that happen is that the state has decided that there is a compelling public good that comes out of marriage that is sufficient to justify giving these special additional privileges to one group over another.”

    Um.
    So for starters, I think that like with same-sex marriage, it should be the obligation of those taking the position that we should restrict privileges to show there’s a state interest to restrict– not the obligation of those saying, my relationship should work like those other relationships to show there’s a state interest in equal treatment. Whether there’s a public good in only-monogamous marriage or not, that law didn’t come to be in that form *because* it was a public good to make it so; it got to that form because dyadic relationships were a societal and religious norm when our country was founded. Therefore we can’t presume the people who originally wrote those laws had a rational basis for the way they chose to do it, and a state interest should need to be established to argue the state should *not* recognize poly relationships.You go on to claim people in a more-than-two-person relationship would gain more benefit from their families being state-recognized because there are more people in those families. Um, yes, there are? By definition? There’s not really anything “special” here beyond the mere fact of our existence. I don’t see your argument on poly as any different from people claiming gay people wanting our relationships honored are getting a special right straight people don’t get, because straight people don’t enter into gay relationships. Well, straight people don’t enter into gay relationships, and monogamous people don’t enter into poly relationships, and some people don’t enter into relationships at all, but the idea should be that all parties have the right to enter into the relationship appropriate for them, and all benefit from having a choice whether or not they utilize it.You give the specific example of being forced to testify against a spouse. Okay, I can see why it might be problematic to allow may people to potentially allow a group of many people to get that kind of mutual protection against testimony (although I’ve never been crazy about the idea of people being compelled to testify in the first place). However first off, who the heck would actually do that? Marriage comes with obligations as *well as* privileges and that would probably not work very well. Second off it seems very strange to be talking about one fiddly and rarely invoked right of marriage when, as mentioned, my friends don’t even have a particularly simple way of establishing all three of them have the right to make medical decisions about their child. I think most poly people would be happy for ANY AMOUNT of legal protections for their relationship, at this stage, and if poly marriage were enacted but the spousal testimonial immunity rule legally applied only to the first marriage you entered into… well, the poly community might push back on that, but I don’t think we would really treat this like the government boot on our necks.Finally, none of these objections of yours apply to the watered-down poly relationship recognition I suggest on the previous page as easier to enact into law as a first pass (ie treat spouses outside a dyad structure as being granted family rights rather than marriage rights), as (1) the government currently places no caps on the number of sisters you can have, so apparently there’s no problem there and (2) one of the main arguments I’d have for that proposal in the first place is it accommodates nontraditional families who are not specifically polyamorous.

    “FMLA means that between the two of them, they’re entitled to take off 24 weeks to care for their baby, but if Tim and John and Sally have a child, they get 36?”

    Under FMLA each individual gets 12 weeks of *unpaid* leave. This is a pretty crappy right. You’re suggesting there’s something selfish about all the parents of a child wanting to take unpaid work leave to spend time with a newborn without getting fired.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    So for starters, I think that like with same-sex marriage, it should be
    the obligation of those taking the position that we should restrict
    privileges to show there’s a state interest to restrict– not the
    obligation of those saying, my relationship should work like those other
    relationships to show there’s a state interest in equal treatment.

    ANd I think that, unlike with same-sex marriage, if the state is to create a new legally priviliged class, the onus is on the state to show a compelling interest for making them privileged. .

    Under FMLA each individual gets 12 weeks of *unpaid* leave. This is a
    pretty crappy right. You’re suggesting there’s something selfish about
    all the parents of a child wanting to take unpaid work leave to spend
    time with a newborn without getting fired, which strikes me as a
    somewhat crass complaint

    It certainly does suck.  It is a crappy right. But it’s a right that exists, and after 24 weeks, my child needed to find someone who wasn’t his parents to care for him*. And you say that it’s “just” that if I had been inclined to get me an extra husband or an extra wife, my child could put that off for another 12 weeks?

    How am I suggesting that it is selfish for the parents of a child to want to take unpaid leave? How am I suggesting that what the parents want has anything to do with it?

    (*Actually, 12 weeks as per 825.120(3))

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    unlike with same-sex marriage, if the state is to create a new legally priviliged class, the onus is on the state to show a compelling interest for making them privileged

    Can you clarify why it’s different for same-sex marriage?

    I mean, in 2000, my husband couldn’t be covered by my health insurance. Now, he can be. It follows that same-sex couples now have privileges we didn’t have in 2000. Why isn’t the onus on the state to show a compelling interest for making us privileged in this way?

    Just to be clear, I agree that it isn’t, but my reason for believing that is that we should treat families the same. You don’t seem to believe we should treat families the same, so I’m curious about your reasons for supporting extending marriage privileges to previously unprivileged couples like mine?

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Are you deliberately misreading me, or do you really not see that I am claiming that it would not be treating families the same? Because I’ve given examples. With numbers.

    Legal recognition of plural marriage would of necessity entail giving those families not “the same” privileges as all other families, but a new set of privileges which are greater than those we give to all other families.  In my family, if I am put on trial, I get one person who can’t be compelled to testify against me. Someone in a three-party-marriage family gets two.  In my family, the pitiful scraps of unpaid medical leave we get to take for the birth of a child is 24 weeks; in the three-party-married family, it’s 36. In my family, I’m exempted from certain taxes and fees on transfers of wealth to and from one other person; someone in a three-party marriage gets that with two people.

    And if you try to resolve this by modifying the various rights and privileges granted by marriage, you’re either taking away what existing married couples have, or you’re creating some new kind of marriage-like situation for the plurally married rather than giving them “the same” marriage as everyone else — and why isn’t that just like “Why aren’t you same-sex couples happy with civil unions?”

  • Tricksterson

    Actually I have to wonder why  a spouse shouldn’t be compelled to testify.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There are in fact several valid reasons to remove spousal privilege: one would be to take away a tool abusive husbands can use to collapse a case against them, since their wife would not perjure herself or otherwise incur contempt charges by failing to testify upon invoking spousal privilege.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Plus, you could effectively make it illegal to be the spouse of a criminal, since they’d have to choose between perjuring themselves or ratting out their spouses.

    Wait, no, that’s actually not a good thing.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Excuse me, how do you get from removing spousal privilege in a trial to being illegal to be a spouse? This chain of logic, I do not brain it.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    @Invisible_Neutrino:disqus : “Your honor, clearly the defendant’s wife knew or should have known about his illegal activities. Since she did not testify against him, she is therefore an accessory.”

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    If it bothers you that much, the law can carve out specific exemptions to spousal privilege that negate it when charges of assault, battery, rape, or attempted murder are laid which involve the husband against his wife.


    Addendum: The terminology I use above encompasses the statistical majority of gender distributions in spousal harm cases. None of this is to be taken as negating the possibility of same-sex partners, or with the genders reversed in terms of harmer and the one being harmed.

  • Ursula L

    “Your honor, clearly the defendant’s wife knew or should have known about his illegal activities. Since she did not testify against him, she is therefore an accessory.”

    That might not be such a bad thing. 

    At least for certain categories of crime, such as abuse of children within the household.  If spouse A is beating the children, spouse B is in the best position both to directly witness the beatings, to see evidence of the beatings such as bruises, when doing child care activities like helping the child bathe, and to see changes in the children’s behavior.  Both spouses also have a specific obligation to protect and care for the children within their household.

    Otherwise, it comes out much like the Catholic hierarchy using the privacy of the confessional as an excuse to cover up when priests abuse children.  The intimacy of the relationship between adults trumping the duty of adults to protect children within their care. 

    There are actually two types of spousal privilege – the right of one spouse not to be forced to testify against the other, and the right of a spouse to have communications between spouses kept confidential, even if the other wants to testify. 

    I can see the sense of the first, in some situations, although I’d toss it when it comes to crimes committed within the household against members of the household. 

    I’d toss the latter completely.  If spouse A tells spouse B in private that spouse A murdered someone, with lots of corroborating details, and spouse B goes to the police and wants to testify, spouse A should not be able to stop it. 

  • EllieMurasaki

    Actually I have to wonder why a spouse shouldn’t be compelled to testify.

    Historically it’s because a husband-wife pair were legally the same person, I believe. But that’s no longer true.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    I understand that a three-adult family (call that F3a for convenience) ends up with a different set of numbers associated with their benefits (e.g., two protected witnesses, 36 weeks, etc.) than a two-adult family (F2a), as you describe.

    And I understand that you consider those different numbers to be “a new set of privileges” that F3a gets, and that this means we wouldn’t be treating F3a and F2a the same even if we applied the same laws to them both.

    So, if those understandings are correct, then I’m not misreading you. But I’m not sure I agree with you about what treating families the same looks like, either.

    For example: today, a two-adult-and-one-child family (F2a1c) ends up with a different set of
    numbers than a two-adult-and-five-child family (F2a5c). F2a5c gets 5 child dependents on their taxes, for example, while F2a1c only gets one.

    If I apply the same reasoning you seem to use here, it seems to follow that we don’t treat F2a1c and F2a5c the same; F2a5c receives a
    “new set of privileges” that F2a1c doesn’t.

    Would you agree with that? Or would you say that we treat F2a1c and F2a5c the same today, despite each of them getting different numbers?

    If you would say we treat F2a1c and F2a5c the same, but we’d be treating F3a and F2a differently, can you say more about how those cases differ?

    Conversely, if you would agree that today we treat F2a1c and F2a5c differently, how do you recommend we deal with that? Is that a problem we need to fix somehow? Or is it OK that different families get different numbers?

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “Are you deliberately misreading me, or do you really not see that I am claiming that it would not be treating families the same … Legal recognition of plural marriage would of necessity entail giving those families not ‘the same’ privileges as all other families, but a new set of privileges which are greater than those we give to all other families.”

    You’re claiming this, but it is not credible. The privileges are the same per individual; they’re larger across the group, but they’re the same per individual. (If not the same per individual, in your examples they’re at least the same per any two pairs of married individuals.) If the group collectively receives more benefits between them, this happens at the same time that the obligations per individual also increase (i.e. financial or other responsibility for your other spouses’ deeds; spousal support for 3 people rather than 1 person, etc); in some cases, the privilege can be said to be specifically needed in order to meet one of those obligations. For example, the situation you yourself identify where a spouse needs spousal testimonial immunity in order to protect their *own* fifth amendment rights (given the necessary entangling of an individual’s affairs with their spouse, community property laws etc). Here the increased “privilege” (more people you receive immunity from) is balanced by an increased obligation (more people you receive liability from).

    Overall, you’re acting as if we should in all cases judge fairness based on how raw numbers line up comparing benefits received per whole marriage collective– as opposed to comparing benefits received per individual, or benefits received per dyad, or benefits received per obligation. This is arbitrary, and in some cases leads to absurdities. You’re then claiming that a single privilege, which applies to one of these collectives with greater strength than the other, should in fact be thought of as a completely different privilege, which is not convincing. As Dave points out, this kind of thinking would lead us to conclude all kinds of strange things if we applied it to existing, non-poly-related laws.

    In any case, these things you raise are at *worst* not blockages on the abstract idea of poly marriage, just things to be addressed by a poly marriage implementation. Let’s say that the electorate, or a court, decide it would be unfair for a 3-person marriage to collectively receive 36 weeks of FMLA unpaid-leave time, but a 2-person marriage to only collectively receive 24. Okay, fine. Rewrite the law so that any married collective receives 24 weeks total per child, to be split between the members as deemed appropriate. This would surely be no more work to toss in than any of the other dozens of patches to various points of the law that would be needed to make the law no longer gibberish in the context that spousal relationships are no longer exclusive. *I* might consider this particular 24-weeks-total patch unfair to the *poly* couple, but certainly if we make the patch then your objection no longer exists (and we have made the patch without at all reducing the rights of a married couple).

  • Carstonio

    How does legal marriage for poly relationships create a legally privileged class? 

  • Dac131956

    The bible is totally irrelevant, except to kooks, weirdos and fanatics.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Speaking as an atheist, I think the Bible has immense literary and cultural value. Am I a ‘kook’, a ‘weirdo’, or a ‘fanatic’?

  • AnonymousSam

    And philosophers, humanists, historians, sociologists, psychologists, theologians, and generally any person who’d rather better know how to understand the past and how it affects present development rather than dismiss people as kooks, weirdos and fanatics.

    Protip: You’re talking to a group of Christians of multiple flavors (Lutheran, Protestant, Catholic, Mormon), Jews, Muslims, pagans, atheists, nontheists, agnostics, Pastafarians and one Satanist. Who do you think you’re trolling?

  • KNicoll

    Don’t forget “people who want to be able to understand literary references”!

  • AnonymousSam

    I was counting those as historians, although maybe they’d fall under literary historians to be specific…

    Or maybe we should just count pedants in general, if that makes the peanut gallery happy. *Mock-glare*

  • Tricksterson

    And at least one worshiper of Celestia and Luna.  Not going to use the term Brony because not all bronies are religious.  Although I suppose Reynard could be squezzed into the pagan file, I don’t want to do so without hir permission.

  • AnonymousSam

    While I’m not going to dismiss pony worshipers or Jedi or the Church of Kopimism, I’ve yet to meet any whose faith seemed more sincere than tongue-in-cheek — or for whom it could actually be called “faith” and not “philosophy loosely based upon.”

    Those who do no harm can believe whatever they feel called to believe, though. There are many things I don’t believe that I am content to let others enjoy.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    Is pedantism a religion

  • AnonymousSam

    Yes, and its tenets are strict, inflexible, and when based on the English translations of their scripture, simultaneously arbitrary and derivative. :D

  • http://timothy.green.name/ Timothy (TRiG)

    There was at least one case of a gay couple who used adoption to form a legal bond. I can’t remember any more than that.

    And of course any right can be abused occasionally, which isn’t generally an argument against it. So the bit about immunity from being compelled to give testemony is hardly a serious argument against polyamory (and I don’t think Ross was presenting it as such). I just found it amusing.

    I have seen (on Daylight Atheism), an argument that all poly marriages should legally be group marriages, for some of the reasons mentioned here (and also, they said, because long-chain marriages could be used to circumvent immigration law, whereas people were less likely to use group marriages to the same effect: I don’t know how serious that objection was).

    Meanwhile, multiple marriages remain both legally and logistically complicated. (That article is an investigation of how we embed our values in our technology.)

    TRiG.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    Personally I do usually intentionally use the “privileges” language rather than the “rights” language when discussing marriage, because although I do believe marriage rights are rights, I also have another point I want to drive home: If people are receiving government privileges, *I deserve them too*.

    I do feel like the “privileges” language went to a kind of a weird place in this thread though. I’m not sure I look at things like, for example, FMLA as a “privilege” of marriage. Rather it seems like someone who is raising a child has a particular *need*, an obligation, which someone else would not have; FMLA is a government way of getting that need accommodated, and marriage is how the government happens to determine who appropriately needs that accommodation. This particular way of figuring out who needs the accommodation will fit many cases, because a child being raised by its married parents is a common case— but IMO this does not cover enough cases in the Modern World Of Today. Similarly, many of the other things about marriage we might describe as “privileges” are not really like special gifts or anything but simply mirrors to marriage’s obligations. You receive these things not because the government decides that your Marriage is so super special that you deserve extra perks, but because they are things that, as a person in a committed relationship, you need.

  • Carstonio

    Good perspective. Instead of saying one has a right to get married, I say that one has a right to equal protection under the law. If government is going to accommodate the obligations of marriage, it has to do so for all marriages.

  • http://twitter.com/mcclure111 mcc

    “ANd I think that, unlike with same-sex marriage, if the state is to create a new legally priviliged class, the onus is on the state to show a compelling interest for making them privileged.”

    The position of same-sex marriage opponents is that same-sex marriage *does* create a new legally privileged class. You don’t have any clear sense in which you can distinguish your argument from theirs, and if we accept your arguments we probably must accept many of theirs.

    “But it’s a right that exists, and after 24 weeks, my child needed to find someone who wasn’t his parents to care for him”

    I would assume the rationale for something like FMLA is not just the need for a caretaker but also an acknowledgement that it is a good idea for a newborn child to spend time around those that will be raising it. At any rate however if there is some individual who has a need to take unpaid time off but who the FMLA does not currently cover, I would consider this a defect in the FMLA and thus an argument for expanding the FMLA rather than a justification to deny *other* government rights and privileges to a random societally scorned group which happens to be unusually impacted by this feature of the FMLA. Frankly, an abstracted FMLA which expanded FMLA rights to any designated “caretaker” of the child (thus providing the benefit to poly families without creating a situation where poly families receive any more benefit than other kinds of extended families) would be far more likely to pass than a law which in any way involved legal registration of a polyamorous relationship.

    One last thing. The reasoning you are using here is not reasoning we use when weighing the justness of other laws. You are suggesting that because a poly family would receive more benefit from the FMLA, that this would make poly benefits under the FMLA unjust. However, we have many laws in which some citizens “naturally” benefit more from the law than others simply because they have more occasion to make use of it, and this is not usually treated as a defect. The existing FMLA, for example, has this property. Someone who has more children will, over time, be able to use more FMLA off-weeks than someone who has few. A married couple will receive twice as much FMLA time as a single mother. We see similar patterns with other laws. A law giving government coverage for catastrophic illness will naturally benefit people who become sick more than people who do not. Many laws involving protection from theft or tax structuring of property, will naturally provide more benefit to those who have more property. If the circumstantially unequal benefits provided by these existing laws is not by itself treated as a violation of equal protection, this suggests that there would be something suspicious about singling out *only* those benefits that would give relatively more benefit to this one particular type (more romantic partners) of larger families. (We *do* see complaints that laws like affirmative action or the Voting Rights Act are unfair because they provide relatively more benefit to racial minorities; I find these complaints also suspicious.)


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