And since I'm on a gay marriage kick, Joe Carter, reacting to the latest decision finding a "right" to same-sex marriage, writes:
When the facts are taken into account, the reasons for favoring gay marriage while excluding polygamy are completely arbitrary and based on personal preference. If you truly believe that gays have a legal right to marry then you have no grounds for barring polyamorous groups from doing the same.
This leaves proponents of same-sex marriage with two choices. They either have to accept that polygamy is just as legitimate as gay marriage or they must admit that there is no inherent "right" to expand the definition of marriage.
In this post, I demonstrate that Mr. Carter is wrong, that we indeed can meaningfully distinguish between gay marriage & polygamy. Note, I don't argue that ultimately we, as a society, must outlaw polygamy. It could be that competing principles, for instance the freedom and right of consenting adult individuals to enter into contractual relationships, ultimately trumps the arguments against polygamy. What I argue is that if you want some meaningful grounds in which to argue why we should recognize gay marriage but not polygamous ones, we have them.
Carter notes that our legal society increasingly argues that traditional moral prohibitions are insufficient grounds for denying marriage licenses. After all, as the judge in the recent NY decision noted,
The challenges to laws banning whites and non-whites from marriage demonstrate that the fundamental right to marry the person of one's choice may not be denied based on longstanding and deeply held traditional beliefs about appropriate marital partners.
And this is exactly correct -- just as homosexual relations have been condemned by longstanding tradition, so too have interracial relations. If being frowned upon by tradition is what connects homosexuality to polygamy, incest, and bestiality, this also logically connects all four of them to miscegenation. So we have to do better than, "tradition condemns the practice."
But wait, does long-standing cross-cultural tradition really condemn polygamy? Out of all five of these categories -- polygamy, bestiality, incest, homosexuality and miscegenation -- it's polygamy that has the strongest cross-cultural traditional support. And the reason for this is found within human nature. And when we understand the natural reasons why polygamy developed and received so much human institutional support as it did, we realize why such an institution is problematic and why the problems that polygamy engenders are separate from same-sex marriage issues (or if anything the reason why we outlaw polygamy gives support to legalizing gay marriage).
Polygamous societies have been not only widespread and rampant throughout human history, but also are almost always one-man, many women. The desire for men to have more than one wife stems from the fact that men -- especially the more dominant, Alpha types -- seek to spread their seed farther and wider than other males. Richard Posner, in Sex & Reason, estimates that in our evolutionary state, only one half of the male population actually mated and they mated with the entire crop of fertile female women.
[And even within that 50% who did mate, they probably didn't equally share the crop of fertile women, the most dominant males would have the greatest number of women with the lesser ones having fewer down the line. For an illustrative anecdote, check out the astonishing prevalence of uber-Alpha male Genghis Kahn's genes in Asian male populations.]
This is the natural explanation for why polygamy not only has been so cross-culturally widespread, but also almost always one-man, many women. And given that there are roughly equal numbers of men and women, widespread polygamy invariably equates with significant numbers of males with no female mates. That is unfair and wrong. And that's what we seek to avoid by outlawing polygamy.
Note that the grounds for prohibiting polygamy seem entirely different than the ones for prohibiting same-sex marriage. But the two are related in this sense: We outlaw polygamy for precisely the same policy reason why we would demand the recognition of gay marriage: the meaningful chance for any individual to marry a person they love. The gay man, like the single-unlucky male in a polygamous society cannot marry any person he loves.
This argument was briefly alluded to by a commenter in Carter's post, to which Carter responded:
Isn’t it a bit sexist and homophobic to assume that all polygamous marriages would consist of one man and several women? Why not have numerous men intermarrying or one woman and five men? This is a pluralistic country. We could have a wide permutation of relationships.
Given that gays are only 3% of the population, I'll ignore the "numerous men intermarrying" and instead focus on one women, many men. Human nature tells us that this won't happen to the degree that one-man, many women will. Human nature tells us that if widespread polygamy is allowed, its most common form will be one-man, many women and this invariably leads to large numbers of men without mates.
This is what we see in Islam, and the sexual frustration of these men leads an innordiate number of them to practice situational homosexuality, and because it's situational (the acts are homosexual, the desire is heterosexual), younger teen-boys who are proportionately closest in size to adult women are abused -- forced to play the sexual role of the female -- as they are chosen as substitutes for unavailable women. Moreover, this frustration no doubt drives many of them into terrorism and Jihad-war.