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.

 

  • 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.

  • 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!)

  • 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

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.)

  • 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….

  • Tricksterson

    And then to…dancing

  • Tricksterson

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

  • 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.

  • 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

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

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • train_star

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

  • 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?

  • 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://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.

  • 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://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

    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)

  • P J Evans

    This sounds to me like a reasonable start.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

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

  • 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.

  • 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://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.

  • 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.

  • 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

     

    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.

  • 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.

  • 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?


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