The Advent of Polygamy

November 23, 2011

Elizabeth Marquardt, writing in the Huffington Post, explains why changes to how our society regards marriage will almost certainly lead to the official recognition of polygamous or polyamorous marriages:

The debate about legal recognition of polyamorous relationships is already well underway. A major report issued in 2001 by the Law Commission of Canada asked whether marriages should be “limited to two people.” Its conclusion: probably not. A British law professor wrote in an Oxford-published textbook that the idea that marriage meaning two people is a “traditional” and perhaps outdated way of thinking. Elizabeth Emens of the University of Chicago Law School published a substantial legal defense of polyamory in a legal journal. She suggested that “we view this historical moment, when same-sex couples begin to enter the institution of marriage, as a unique opportunity to question the mandate of compulsory monogamy.”

Mainstream cultural leaders have also hinted at or actively campaigned for polyamory. Roger Rubin, former vice-president of the National Council on Family Relations–one of the main organizations for family therapists and scholars in the United States–believes the debate about same-sex marriage has “set the stage for broader discussion over which relationships should be legally recognized.” The Alternatives to Marriage Project, whose leaders are featured by national news organizations in stories on cohabitation and same-sex marriage, includes polyamory among its important “hot topics” for advocacy. The Unitarian Universalists for Polyamorous Awareness hope to make their faith tradition the first to recognize and bless polyamorous relationships. Meanwhile, a July 2009 Newsweek story estimates that there are more than half a million “open polyamorous families” living in America. Nearly every major city in the U.S. has a polyamory social group of some kind.

What is interesting about this is that it goes to the claim by gay marriage advocates that Christians are merely engaging in a slippery-slope fallacy when they claim the sanction of gay marriage will make any number of human relationships open to official recognition. Such an argument misses the essential claim of traditional marriage advocates – namely that there is an ideal or preferable familial relationship based on biology, history, sociology and moral and religious calculations. That ideal is that of one woman and one man joined together in a monogamous relationship. This arrangement has proven to be consistent with human flourishing, whether we consider that from the perspective of child rearing, health, wealth or the stability of consistency of human communities.

Insomuch as this is true, the rejection of this ideal by gay marriage advocates constitutes a fundamental evisceration of our society’s ability to promote human flourishing and argue against inherently unstable human relationships of the sort Marquardt writes about here. As she notes in her conclusion:

All of which begs questions: How do children feel when they are raised by three or more persons called their parents, especially when those people disagree? If their three-plus parents break up, how many homes do we expect these children to travel between? And why would anyone watching news coverage of arrests at polygamist compounds in Texas or British Columbia — seeing hundreds of pale women wearing identical ankle-length dresses and braided hair amid reports of widespread abuse of and pregnancy among girls — think that polygamy is compatible with a society that values women’s rights and children’s safety?

Why indeed. It seems fairly obvious advocates of sanctioning non-traditional marriages can’t even begin to answer these questions.