I’ve made the argument in the past that state sanctioning of homosexual marriage will inevitably lead to state sanctioning of group marriage. Charles Krauthammer, one of the most gifted conservative columnists living today, makes that argument much more effectively than I ever have.
As Newsweek notes, these stirrings for the mainstreaming of polygamy (or, more accurately, polyamory) have their roots in the increasing legitimization of gay marriage. In an essay 10 years ago, I pointed out that it is utterly logical for polygamy rights to follow gay rights. After all, if traditional marriage is defined as the union of (1) two people of (2) opposite gender, and if, as advocates of gay marriage insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one's autonomous choices in love, then the first requirement -- the number restriction (two and only two) -- is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.
This line of argument makes gay activists furious. I can understand why they do not want to be in the same room as polygamists. But I'm not the one who put them there. Their argument does. Blogger and author Andrew Sullivan, who had the courage to advocate gay marriage at a time when it was considered pretty crazy, has called this the "polygamy diversion," arguing that homosexuality and polygamy are categorically different because polygamy is a mere "activity" while homosexuality is an intrinsic state that "occupies a deeper level of human consciousness."
But this distinction between higher and lower orders of love is precisely what gay rights activists so vigorously protest when the general culture "privileges" (as they say in the English departments) heterosexual unions over homosexual ones. . . .
To simplify the logic, take out the complicating factor of gender mixing. Posit a union of, say, three gay women all deeply devoted to each other. On what grounds would gay activists dismiss their union as mere activity rather than authentic love and self-expression? On what grounds do they insist upon the traditional, arbitrary and exclusionary number of two?
Indeed, once the law is untethered from the definition of marriage which has dominated Western civilization (especially since the beginning of the Christian era) for at least two millennia, then there is really no legitimate basis for arbitrarily upholding any part of that traditional definition. And if, the Lawrence v. Texas holding that “[t]he State cannot demean [homosexuals’] existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime” becomes a foundation for the establishment of homosexual marriage, then it is not an unreasonable leap to conclude that the law against polygamy likewise “furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private life of the individual” and is therefore equally infirm on a constitutional basis. Hence the need for marriage amendments on the state and federal levels to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.
UPDATE: Eric at The Liberty Papers takes on the issue of homosexual marriage and polygamy from a libertarian perspective.
One of the strongest arguments in favor of gay marriage that I’ve encountered is the one that says that the government has no right to intrude into the personal relationships of consenting adults and forbid them from entering into a legal status, in this case marriage, that they wish to enter into freely. This doesn’t mean that government is endorsing the relationship, any more than it endorses a producer of pornographic films who forms a corporation to run his business. It merely means that the government is allowing people to engage in consensual activities that affect nobody but themselves. The logic, if you accept it, seems to me to be unassailable and its hard for me to find an argument that says that polygamy is per se different.
As much as I would like to endorse his position, I can’t, because the legal recognition of homosexual marriage brings with it government imposed legal burdens upon those not party to that personal relationship. After all, giving legal status to homosexual couples then subjects those who have moral and/or religious objections does not just give the parties to that marriage standing and status before the government. Rather, it also gives them certain special status regarding retirement and healthcare benefits, non-discrimination in housing, and other so-called rights (legal privileges, actually, that are framed as rights) in relationship to private individuals and entities. As such, the recognition of a legal status for homosexual couples forces non-consenting individuals with moral and/or religious objections to act in a manner contrary to their sincerely held beliefs.
So long as such parties to homosexual marriage are in a position to use the power of government to force non-consenting individuals and entities to recognize and reward a relationship that is repugnant to them, then the argument that nobody is harmed by permitting homosexual marriage (or polygamy) must fail – unless we redefine the benefits conferred by the granting of legal status to those relationships. But if we do that, don’t most of the arguments in favor of granting legal recognition to those relationships evaporate?
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