I'm James Maxey, the author of the Dragon Age fantasy series of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, the Dragon Apocalypse series of Greatshadow, Hush, and Witchbreaker, as well as the superhero novels Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Answering the Polygamy Equivalency

Yesterday in New Hampshire, Santorum explained his opposition to same-sex marriage by equating it to polygamy:

Santorum retorted, “Are we saying that everyone should have the right to marry?”
When the audience member told him yes, he shot back, “So anyone can marry can marry anybody else, so, if that’s the case, then everyone can marry several people.”

I hear this a lot, and I always find it a bit perplexing. It seems to be arguing that, if we allow monogomous gay marriage (which is growing in societal acceptance), it opens the door to polygamy (which is opposed by a much wider margin).

But, it doesn't seem to me that gay marriage is the real slippery slope to polygamy. Instead, the slippery slope would be "everyone can marry several people," which is certainly legal and widely practiced by some heterosexuals. Newt Gingrich has married three women, John McCain, two, and Rush Limbaugh, the paragon of all values conservative, is on wife #4. Admittedly, they obey the legal nicety of abandoning their old wives before remarrying, but still, if a heterosexual person wants two, four, or ten spouses, our laws allow it, as long as it's sequential. Isn't the social acceptance of multiple sequential spouses far more likely to lead to polygamy than monogamous homosexual marriage?

Again, I think that people who worry that homosexuals might destroy the meaning of marriage are ignoring the reality that heterosexuals have already devalued it substantially on their own. Homosexual enthusiasm for the institution might be society's best hope of making it mean something again. I suspect that the first generation of legally wed gays will fight extra hard to make their marriages work, since they won't want to give gay marriage opponents the satisfaction of saying, "See, I told you this wouldn't work."


Quinn said...

Well put, sir.

I was watching his inane and circuitous reasoning this morning and shook my head. But, I also got a little nervous. If he can reason that an institution that is defined as being two people (for the most part, one man and one woman), opens the door to allowing polygamy if it is changed in any way (to allow two men or two women to marry), then he is even more dangerous than I thought.

Eric James Stone said...

James, you're misunderstanding the argument. (Admittedly, Santorum did not express it well.) You have to see it in the context of arguments that have been made on both sides for years.

A: Marriage laws restricted to a man and a woman do not discriminate against gays. Everyone, gay or straight, is free to marry someone of the opposite sex and gain the legal benefits of marriage.

B: But they do discriminate against gays, because they don't allow a gay person to marry the person they love. Everyone should have the right to marry the person they love, and thus gain the legal benefits of marriage for their relationship.

A: If your argument is based on an individual's right to marry the person they love, then your argument applies just as well to someone who wants to enter a polygamous marriage and thereby gain the legal benefits of marriage. And if, as you claim, this is a right that must be extended even if the majority disagrees, then the fact that a majority does not approve of polygamy is irrelevant.

I will agree, though, that easy divorce has done more to weaken the institution of marriage than I think same-sex marriage will.

James Maxey said...

Thanks, Quinn.

Eric, thanks for attempting to reframe the argument, but I'm still not following how anyone make the leap from marriage being the union of two consenting adults of either sex to marriage is the union of any number of people. As I point out, the rule for heterosexual marriage is already that you can love and marry as many people as you wish, just sequentially. I don't know how adding the homosexual element changes that one-at-a-time cultural structure.

Also, I'm not sure I've claimed that homosexual marriage is a right, either in this argument or elsewhere. Have I? I'm actually find the legal arguments that such a right has been written into our laws for two centuries and we only just noticed it in the last two decades to be a bit hard to swallow. Gay marriage is something new under the sun. But then, so is having a man and a woman live together unmarried for years before they actually wed, which would have been scandalous fifty years ago and even illegal in some places, but is the majority practice today. (I just googled some data that said that it was now practiced by 70% of couples, which certainly meshes with my personal observations.)

Gay marriage really has no historical precedent. No one has ever been able to point me to a sizable culture where it was a common practice any time or any where. Gay marriage was only introduced as a cultural concept about thirty years ago, and only began to seriously be debated twenty years ago. I think that we can see the results of the twenty years of debate among younger people, who seem to be much more open to the idea than older people. But, I grew up in an age where homosexuals were mostly closeted. Very few people knew if they had homosexual friends or relatives. Now, people are very open about it. Conservatives who still love their gay children might change thier minds on gay marriage when their kids fall in love.

I think in fifty years, the generations who have a gut level dislike of homosexuality will mostly have passed on, and there will be clear majorities in favor of the practice.

I don't think that same sex marriage is a constitutional right, but I also can't point you to the section of the constitution that makes it the federal governments job to give it's blessing to opposite marriage. Marriage is just a cultural construct, and cultures can and do redefine themselves. Mixed race marriage was illegal fifty years ago. Today, no one bats an eye. Polygamy is legal and accepted in many parts of the world, a common practice for literally hundreds of millions of people. But, opinions change; in the Old Testament, polygamy was A-okay. By the New Testament, it had faded away.

If you accept the premise that culture and morality are the shared creation of man, and not something imposed on us from above, will you still oppose gay marriage if and when clear majorities endorse it?

Eric James Stone said...

James, I'm not saying you claimed that same-sex marriage is a right. (My A and B above were meant to represent generic people involved in a discussion about the issue.) What I'm saying is that some same-sex marriage proponents have claimed that there is a right to marry the person you love. Some opponents of same-sex marriage counter that argument by saying: if that's true, then that same right can be claimed by those who want polygamy.

I think your position (which I interpret as: SSM is not a Constitutional right, but you're in favor of allowing it) is a very rational position, and (unlike the "it's a right" position) it does not require you to support legalizing polygamy in order to remain logically consistent.

I'm not arguing with your position; I'm merely trying to show that Santorum's comments make sense within the context of an ongoing argument in which some people assert that people have a right to marry the person they love. It's not actually a slippery slope argument (if you legalize A, then it will lead to legalizing B), but rather an argument about the consequences of premises (the premise you use to support legalizing A also supports legalizing B).

James Maxey said...

But the consequences of the premises argument is absurd. Santorum's premise is, if people are allowed to marry anyone they love, it will lead to polygamy. But, heterosexual couples are allowed to argue the people that they love, aren't they? Does this lead to polygamy?* If not, what is different about homosexual love that would make it more prone to polygamy than heterosexual love?

And, if Santorum is arguing that being allowed to marry out of love isn't a right that even hetersexuals should enjoy, that's pretty hard core.

*I will concede that there is perhaps some merit to the argument that if you allow heterosexuals to marry anyone they love, it will lead to polygamy. To my knowledge, in culures where polygamy is practiced, 100% of the time the polygamy is heterosexual. I.e., one husband may have 20 wives in various cultures, but I know of no culture where one man may have two husbands. So, if the primary goal is to halt the spread of polygamy, I'd say that the smart move would be to outlaw heterosexual marriage and promote homosexual marriage, since the first has a proven track record of leading to polygamy among billions of people on multiple continents, while the second has no recorded cases of ever leading to polygamy, period.

Eric James Stone said...

> Santorum's premise is, if people
> are allowed to marry anyone they
> love, it will lead to polygamy.
> But, heterosexual couples are
> allowed to [marry] the people that
> they love, aren't they?

First, there's a clear difference between "The law allows X" and "There is a right to X."

The law allows heterosexual people to marry the people they love (subject to certain restrictions: e.g., they can't be too closely related, they can't currently be married to anyone else, etc.)

That does not mean that heterosexual people have a right to marry the people they love. (Frankly, love plays no part in the laws related to marriage.)

Therefore, the allowing of heterosexual marriage is not premised on a "right" that applies just as well to polygamous marriage.