Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Fine Line?

An interesting article in this week's Newsweek has gotten me to thinking. The article is about a new push from some quarters to make polygamy legal--as of now the practice is illegal in all 50 states. The attention and rhetoric of the movement to make same-sex marriage legal, it seems, has rubbed off on those in support of polygamy, and a small move has started, including a lawsuit working through the courts, to test the legality of restricting marriage to twosomes.

At first blush, this all seems a bit bizarre--but in trying to be honest with myself I was soon stumped. Why shouldn't polygamy be legal? After all, I'm very much on the side of those fighting to make gay marriage legal--the notion that a man who loves another man and wants to commit his life to him can't legally, not in the way that he could if he loved another woman in the same way, makes no sense to me. But then why aren't I equally in support of legal polygamy? The gay marriage argument hinges on the notion that it's not the state's business to say that a man shouldn't love another man. Then why is it the state's business to say that a man shouldn't love--and commit to--two other women?

I tried to lash on to the creepier aspects of polygamy to right my moral mast--the fact that many polygamists (while it may be illegal, estimates are that from 20,000 to 100,000 men and women in this country and in polygamous marriages) end up featuring incest and pedophilia, with older men taking teen brides, for example. But I was soon reminded of the arguments anti-gay marriage activists and pundits have made about how gay couples are promiscuous, pointing to sordid gay clubs and rampant partner-hopping as illustrations of why gays should not get the right to marry. My argument was, and is, that one has nothing to do with another. Sure, many gays are wildly promiscuous--but so are many straights. And the argument plays here, too, no? Many polygamists may commit pedophilia or near-pedophilia, but, well, that's already illegal, isn't it? What about a man and two women in their twenties, or thirties, who want to marry? Why does my moral mast protest at the notion?

In the end, I don't know. I can't figure out, on an intellectual level, why I'm "against" polygamy. All I know is that the idea makes me queasy, and I object to it on an almost instinctive level. Which, of course, is the same level that so many object to homosexuality on. Should polygamy be legal? I want to say no. But I'm not sure I can. Or should.

Until Whenever


Roger Owen Green said...

Indeed, there were people in the anti-gay rights movement who predicted that it was a slippy slope to an argument in favor of polygamy.

My own antipathy towards polygamy is the assumption (however valid) that while a man and a woman, or two men, or two women have a fighting chance at a (more or less) equitable relationship, it's unlikely in a situation where the man chooses which wife to be with each night, e.g.

For me, it's a power thing, not unlike the issue with pedophilia.

If this makes any sense.

Tosy And Cosh said...

It does. But I'm still left with the issue of why the gov't should be regulating that. After all, many a plain-old traditional marriage has power issues. And if the government were concerned with issues loike power, then wouldn't it make sense for, for example, men of over 50 to not be allowed to marry women under 25? Just as one example. It's a tough nut to crack for me.