Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Discussion on Gay Marriage & Polygamy:

I'm glad my post on gay marriage and polygamy generated so much discussion among Timothy Sandefur, Ed Brayton, Jason Kuznicki, and Kip Esquire (also known as the top four bloggers of the world...well, the best four bloggers who regularly read my blog!)

I don't have time to address all the issues, but I must say that I'm a little taken aback by Ed Brayton's dismissive attitude towards my rationale; he doesn't even examine my underlying premise. But it's a premise that needs to be examined.

Throughout human history, polygamy has been very common and everywhere tried yields the same results: One man, many women marriages and large numbers of single males with no marriageable mates.

Now there are two responses that could be made in reaction to this historical reality: One, the liberty right of consenting adults to enter into whatever marital arrangements they choose, as long as they are truly consensual and adult, trumps whatever risk there might be of men hoarding women to the exclusion of lesser men. Liberty of contract is good in and of itself and tampering with it only makes things worse. An analogy: We know that respecting liberty of contract and property rights also leads to small percentages of individuals owning disproportionate amounts of wealth; but that's okay, because it's better than any alternatives. Equality trumping liberty makes things worse: see the past horrors of communism and failures of Marxism.

Fair enough. I anticipated this in my original post when I wrote,

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.


The second response is that polygamy as it historically has existed (where the Alpha males horde the women to the exclusion of the lesser males) is neither consensual nor adult. To take the traditional Mormon example to which Kuznicki linked, "Anyone who has grown up around polygamist groups recognizes certain dynamics of that culture: notably that women are fully subordinate to men, and the idea of equality between the sexes is laughable."

So what if we allowed for polygamy only where it were truly consensual and adult? How many women, whom we know to be monogamous and possessive by nature, would truly want to share their men with other women in a marriage? In this world, polygamy would probably exist only in the margins of society and wouldn't otherwise upset the norm: the overwhelming number of marriages would be one man, one women with a small sprinkling of gay and polygamous marriages existing in the margins.

Perhaps. But, as with gay marriage, this "new polygamy" has never been tried; it is as novel as gay marriage. We should all agree we don't want "normal, historical" polygamy, because everywhere it existed or exists leaves large numbers of single men without mates to marry and doesn't respect the true desires of women.

Question: What if, because of overwhelming drives in human nature, the new polygamy, put into practice in a system that does its best to ensure that it is consensual and adult, looks a lot like the "old polygamy"? What if, in this world, the Donald Trumps and Bill Gates of the world end up with hundreds of wives to the exclusion of "lesser" men? Would this still be okay?

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