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No, Polygamy Isn’t the Next Gay Marriage

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This may be helpful for all those that still don't understand why marriage equality is not a slippery slope towards polygamy.

No, Polygamy Isn’t the Next Gay Marriage

I am a gay marriage advocate. So why do I spend so much of my time arguing about polygamy? Opposing the legalization of plural marriage should not be my burden, because gay marriage and polygamy are opposites, not equivalents. By allowing high-status men to hoard wives at the expense of lower-status men, polygamy withdraws the opportunity to marry from people who now have it; same-sex marriage, by contrast, extends the opportunity to marry to people who now lack it. One of these things, as they say on Sesame Street, is not like the other.

Yet this non sequitur just won't go away: "Once we stop limiting marriage to male-plus-female, we'll have to stop limiting it at all! Why only two? Why not three or four? Why not marriage to your brother? Or your dog? Or a toaster?" If there's a bloody shirt to wave in the gay-marriage debate, this is it.

The shortest answer is in some ways the best: Please stop changing the subject! When you straights give yourselves the right to marry two people or your brother or your dog or a toaster, we gay people should get that right, too. Until then, kindly be serious.

If I sound exasperated, it's because the polygamy argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny. That doesn't stop it from popping up everywhere. A good example of the species can be found in this publication, where Fredrik deBoer welcomed Politico Magazine's readers "to the exciting new world of the slippery slope."

"Now that we’ve defined that love and devotion and family isn’t [sic] driven by gender alone, why should it be limited to just two individuals?” he asked. “The moral reasoning behind society’s rejection of polygamy remains just as uncomfortable and legally weak as same-sex marriage opposition was until recently."

The assumptions here seem to be two. Point 1: If there’s no good reason to oppose same-sex marriage, then there’s no good reason to oppose polygamy. Point 2: The Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that gay marriage is a fundamental right, so polygamy must also be a fundamental right.

In his dissent in Obergefell, the ordinarily astute Chief Justice John Roberts goes in for this logic. Point 1: The majority, he says, "offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not"—implying that, because the majority offered no rationale against polygamy (in a case that was not about polygamy), none exists. Point 2: "It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage." And so, says Roberts: "There may well be relevant differences that compel different legal analysis. But if there are, petitioners have not pointed to any."

No relevant differences? Let's help him with that.

Unlike gay marriage, polygamy is not a new idea. It's a standard form of marriage, dating back, of course, to Biblical times and before, and anthropologists say that 85 percent of human societies have permitted it. This means we know a thing or two about it.

Here's the problem with it: when a high-status man takes two wives (and one man taking many wives, or polygyny, is almost invariably the real-world pattern), a lower-status man gets no wife. If the high-status man takes three wives, two lower-status men get no wives. And so on.

This competitive, zero-sum dynamic sets off a competition among high-status men to hoard marriage opportunities, which leaves lower-status men out in the cold. Those men, denied access to life's most stabilizing and civilizing institution, are unfairly disadvantaged and often turn to behaviors like crime and violence. The situation is not good for women, either, because it places them in competition with other wives and can reduce them all to satellites of the man.

I'm not just making this up. There's an extensive literature on polygamy.

Here’s a 2012 study, for example, that discovered “significantly higher levels of rape, kidnapping, murder, assault robbery and fraud in polygynous cultures.” According to the research, “monogamy's main cultural evolutionary advantage over polygyny is the more egalitarian distribution of women, which reduces male competition and social problems.”

The study found that monogamous marriage “results in significant improvements in child welfare, including lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death, homicide and intra-household conflict.” And: “by shifting male efforts from seeking wives to paternal investment, institutionalized monogamy increases long-term planning, economic productivity, savings and child investment.”

There’s more, but you get the idea.

In this article, I noted other research suggesting that societies become inherently unstable when effective sex ratios reach something like 120 males to 100 females, such that a sixth of men are surplus commodities in the marriage market. That's not a big number: "The United States as a whole would reach that ratio if, for example, 5 percent of men took two wives, 3 percent took three wives, and 2 percent took four wives—numbers that are quite imaginable, if polygamy were legal for a while."

By abolishing polygamy as a legal form of marriage, western societies took a step without which modern liberal democracy and egalitarian social structures might have been impossible: they democratized the opportunity to marry. It's no coincidence that no liberal democracy allows polygamy. Here's the map:

20150630_rauch_polygamywrong_ap.jpg

With all due respect to the Chief Justice, if reducing rather than expanding marriage opportunity and destabilizing rather than stabilizing society aren’t “relevant differences” between polygamy and same-sex marriage, I don’t know what would be.

Now, people who want to take issue with the theoretical and empirical literature on polygamy should feel free to do so. What they should not do is what Chief Justice Roberts and Fredrik deBoer do, which is to ignore the literature altogether. Blandly asserting that there's no good reason to oppose polygamy once gay couples can marry makes no more sense than saying there's no reason to oppose date rape or securities fraud once gay couples can marry. It doesn't follow, and it isn't true, and the intellectual laziness implicit in asserting it is epic.

Next, a point of law: In order to stand up in court, a challenged law normally needs only to survive what's called a rational-basis test. That's a low bar: the government merely needs to be able to claim that its law is rationally related to a legitimate government purpose.

The trouble that gay-marriage opponents kept running into was that they could not surmount this very low bar, because they couldn't explain how preventing gay couples from marrying served any of the state's claimed goals. Nor could they show any plausible harm from gay marriage. Justice Anthony Kennedy's opinion for the majority in Obergefell makes this point explicitly: "With respect to this asserted basis for excluding same-sex couples from the right to marry, it is appropriate to observe these cases involve only the rights of two consenting adults whose marriages would pose no risk of harm to themselves or third parties."

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I'm so tired of hearing that if gay marriage is legalized so should polygamy.

If they let Homosexuals have their rights to marriage, then Hetrosexual should have the same freedoms.....

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What I find interesting is that all of the 'studies' done on polygamy assume that it will ALWAYS be one man with multiple wives and that cluster marriages of women, cluster marriages of men or one woman with multiple men are all things that would never ever happen in a culture that didn't have a cultural ownership of women by men once married.


Met in 2010 on a forum for a mutual interest. Became friends.
2011: Realized we needed to evaluate our status as friends when we realized we were talking about raising children together.

2011/2012: Decided we were a couple sometime in, but no possibility of being together due to being same sex couple.

June 26, 2013: DOMA overturned. American married couples ALL have the same federal rights at last! We can be a family!

June-September, 2013: Discussion about being together begins.

November 13, 2013: Meet in person to see if this could work. It's perfect. We plan to elope to Boston, MA.

March 13, 2014 Married!

May 9, 2014: Petition mailed to USCIS

May 12, 2014: NOA1.
October 27, 2014: NOA2. (5 months, 2 weeks, 1 day after NOA1)
October 31, 2014: USCIS ships file to NVC (five days after NOA2) Happy Halloween for us!

November 18, 2014: NVC receives our case (22 days after NOA2)

December 17, 2014: NVC generates case number (50 days after NOA2)

December 19, 2014: Receive AOS bill, DS-261. Submit DS-261 (52 days after NOA2)

December 20, 2014: Pay AOS Fee

January 7, 2015: Receive, pay IV Fee

January 10, 2015: Complete DS-260

January 11, 2015: Send AOS package and Civil Documents
March 23, 2015: Case Complete at NVC. (70 days from when they received docs to CC)

May 6, 2015: Interview at Montréal APPROVED!

May 11, 2015: Visa in hand! One year less one day from NOA1.

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I think men should be allowed to marry sheep too.

When science creates a sheep capable of understanding a marriage contract, I will fully support a man's right to marry a sheep.


Met in 2010 on a forum for a mutual interest. Became friends.
2011: Realized we needed to evaluate our status as friends when we realized we were talking about raising children together.

2011/2012: Decided we were a couple sometime in, but no possibility of being together due to being same sex couple.

June 26, 2013: DOMA overturned. American married couples ALL have the same federal rights at last! We can be a family!

June-September, 2013: Discussion about being together begins.

November 13, 2013: Meet in person to see if this could work. It's perfect. We plan to elope to Boston, MA.

March 13, 2014 Married!

May 9, 2014: Petition mailed to USCIS

May 12, 2014: NOA1.
October 27, 2014: NOA2. (5 months, 2 weeks, 1 day after NOA1)
October 31, 2014: USCIS ships file to NVC (five days after NOA2) Happy Halloween for us!

November 18, 2014: NVC receives our case (22 days after NOA2)

December 17, 2014: NVC generates case number (50 days after NOA2)

December 19, 2014: Receive AOS bill, DS-261. Submit DS-261 (52 days after NOA2)

December 20, 2014: Pay AOS Fee

January 7, 2015: Receive, pay IV Fee

January 10, 2015: Complete DS-260

January 11, 2015: Send AOS package and Civil Documents
March 23, 2015: Case Complete at NVC. (70 days from when they received docs to CC)

May 6, 2015: Interview at Montréal APPROVED!

May 11, 2015: Visa in hand! One year less one day from NOA1.

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Although you are correct, we must assume that those who favor polygamy would also support polyandry. After all, multiple spouses should mean just that, doesn't it?

Of course you and I know that the entire polygamy argument is a red herring. It was tried back with the same SCOTUS ruled on Loving v. Virginia, and back then the same argument was made. Yet, some 50 years later, marriage between white and Asian and other individuals continue, much to the chagrin of those who must issue these couples with marriage licenses.

The real cherry on top of this heap of manure however, is that one should find so much unmitigated unawareness in regards marriage equality in a place such as VJ, that caters to many a interracial marriage, which can be considered the cornerstone of marriage equality in America. Ironically, we must thank all those who married a foreign national of a different race for supporting marriage equality and making the recent SCOTUS ruling a possibility for so many couples here.

What I find interesting is that all of the 'studies' done on polygamy assume that it will ALWAYS be one man with multiple wives and that cluster marriages of women, cluster marriages of men or one woman with multiple men are all things that would never ever happen in a culture that didn't have a cultural ownership of women by men once married.


I support your right to marry sheep.

Fair is fair. Why should us sheep shaggers be discriminated against?


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www.ffrf.org




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