There are a lot of really stupid, fuzzy-headed ideas being floated around in academia, and Stanley Kurtz defends the validity of a one such "deconstructionist" argument, in attempting to prove the larger point that "if we allow for gay marriage, then we must, according to the same principles, allow for polygamy."
Perhaps there are convincing arguments to be made on behalf of polygamy (for instance, in my opinion the strongest is "if it's truly consensual, and truly adult, -- something that polygamy rarely is in the real world -- government has no business in regulating such voluntary arrangements) but you will find no convincing case here from Kurtz and his left-wing foil, Elizabeth F. Emens.
The reason why their case is so weak is because it attempts to make an equivalence between the "polygamous" orientation and the "homosexual" orientation. But in reality polygamy is not, nor is there any reason to believe that it will be primarily practiced by those who have a special "polygamous" orientation, as there is good reason to believe that almost all gay marriages will be composed of real homosexuals.
More deeply, Emens lays out a sophisticated case for treating polyamory not just as a practice, but as a disposition, broadly analogous to the disposition toward homosexuality. That, in turn, allows her to call a whole raft of laws into question — from marriage laws to partnership laws, to zoning laws, to custody laws. All these laws, says Emens, place unfair burdens on those with a "poly" disposition.
Polyamorists have long treated their inclination toward multi-partner sex as analogous to homosexuality. Polyamorists intentionally use phrases like "in the closet" and "coming out" to link their cause with the fight for gay marriage. What's new here is that a scholar has built this analogy to homosexuality into a systematic and sophisticated case.
Kurtz assumes that the existence of real homosexuals -- that is folks who truly cannot flourish or find their "better half" in anyone other than the same sex -- is an important part in the case for gay marriage. Well in order to make an equivalence between the case for gay marriage and for polygamy, he also has to find "real polygamists" as well, that is folks who cannot flourish in any other relationship than a bigamous one.
But aren't at least some people at one end of the sexual continuum intensely homosexual? Yes, says Emens, but the very same thing is true of polyamory. According to Emens, whether for biological or cultural reasons, some folks simply cannot live happily unless they are allowed multiple, simultaneous sexual partners. And for these people, our current system of marriage and family laws is every bit as unjust as it is for homosexuals. A person with an intensely polyamorous disposition simply cannot be happy, says Emens, outside of a polyamorous family setting. For these people, argues Emens, our social hostility to polyamory imposes a vast range of unjust legal burdens.
Just because someone argues that "these people exist and cannot be happy unless they live under such an arrangement" doesn't necessarily make it true. But even if they do exist, the cross-cultural history of the practice of polygamy tells us that they aren't the ones who are primarily motivated into the practice.
Experience with polygamy tells us that it's what we think of as "normal" men (well, the more dominant ones in any particular society) who are primarily attracted to the institution. And given that polygamy has been very very widely practiced, there is a lot of data to go by. Wherever practiced:
1) polygamy is almost (with some rare exceptions) always one man and many women and not the reverse;
2) the men who successfully practice it tend to be the "Alpha Males" in their culture -- however that culture defines Alpha Males. In our evolutionary state, it was the biggest, the physically strongest, and the most aggressive males. In present day America, arguably Bill Gates and Donald Trump are our "Alpha Males" (what would you expect in a nation that was founded as a "commercial republic"?);
3) the polygamists hoard the women to the exclusion of the lesser men, leaving large number of men without marriageable mates (and young unpartnered men often present serious problems for society);
4) and probably most important for this discussion, there is no "special polygamous orientation" that leads to the practice. Men as an entire group have this orientation -- it stems from the desire of a male to spread his seed farther and wider than lesser males. Richard Posner (mentioned in Kurtz's article) in Sex & Reason estimates that in our evolutionary state only 50% of the males actually mated, and they did so with the entire crop of fertile females.
These Alpha Males don't share; they hoard the women. And these men, in a civilized egalitarian society do by in large have the ability to flourish in monogamous relationships. Marriage isn't perfect. Many men, because of their nature will cheat (women cheat too, but that's usually because the men aren't fulfilling their emotional, as opposed to sexual needs). And many leave their wives as they get older for younger, more attractive women. But having a norm against polygamy prevents us from having Genghis Khans in our society (just look at how far and wide that uber-Alpha-Male spread his genes).
Steve Sailer is a conservative "realist" on gender issues. So maybe Kurtz will read this article which is consistent with everything I have written.
In it, Sailer writes:
In reality, however, polygamy victimizes men. You never hear about it because few men want to claim this particular kind of victimhood: that of the sexual rejectee....But who's missing from this picture? Isn't there somebody else affected? This reporter, like all I've seen since him, forgot the existence of the people who were most definitely damaged by polygamy: namely, the 149 guys who didn't get a wife at all because Mr. Marriage-Minded had married 150. I have been looking in vain for 20 years for an article about polygamy that mentioned that for one man to take a second wife means, in the normal course of things, that another man will get no wife at all.
Elsewhere I have written (after Jonathan Rauch):
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.
Now some may respond, "but what if there is some small but significant % of the population -- say 3%, just like gays -- who truly do have a polygamous orientation?" I would reply, how would you guarantee that only they are the ones who take advantage of such an arrangement?* Human nature and cross cultural analysis of polygamy as practiced reveals that the majority of those who would take advantage of polygamy are men who have an otherwise normal orientation, desiring to spread their seed farther and wider than the rest.
Finally, this passage of Kurtz's reflects the views of someone living on another planet:
Another one of Emens's case studies is an example of Mormon polygamy that was written up in Redbook. This case is important because Emens uses it to develop a feminist argument for Mormon polygamy. According to Emens, classic one man/multi-woman polygamy is the perfect solution to the problems of the modern career woman. In classic monogamous marriages, women have no choice but to make painful compromises between love, work, and motherhood. But in a family with one husband and nine wives, eight of the wives can work full time, while the ninth stays home and does paid care for everyone else's children. Here Emens puts forward an argument against those who claim that Mormon-style polygamy oppresses women. (And don't miss the discussions of group sex in a couple of Emens's case studies.)
What woman, who are possessive and monogamous by nature, wants to share her husband with 10 other women? Moreover, as this post notes (written by someone who has seen it firsthand), in those Mormon communities where this is the norm, the women do not want this, they are coerced into polygamy as minors and then trapped there, and large numbers of men are in essence exiled from the community because they have no mates. How one could possibly hold this up as the "egalitarian" version of polygamy defies credulity.
*Anticipating someone asking me: How would you guarantee that only homosexuals take advantage of homosexual marriage? I cannot see anything other than a minuscule number of heterosexuals choosing to enter into "gay-marriage," and for some very strange reasons on their behalf. The point of this post is that a significant number of what we think of as "normal" heterosexual men -- indeed far more than those who have a real "polygamous" orientation, if such exists -- are likely opt for polygamy, which inevitably results in "lesser" men without mates.