How can we deny marriage to polygamists?

Ross Douthat acknowledges that legal polygamous marriage doesn’t appear to be around the corner. Nevertheless, he rightly asks how long until it too becomes as inevitable as gay marriage. He writes:

Can Americans say a permanent “no” to recognizing plural marriage once we’ve rooted for the Browns to get a “My Sisterwife’s Closet” jewelry line off the ground? Can a cultural left that believes in proliferating gender identities and Bruce Jenner’s essential womanhood draw the line, long-term, when a lesbian couple wants to include their baby’s biological father in their legal family, or when the child of polygamists stands up in court to say he wants his dad recognized as his mother’s legal spouse? Is a culture where prominent men routinely have multiple kids with multiple wives across multiple decades going to permanently deny marriage rights to people who want the same thing, except all at once?

How long indeed? Read the rest here.

16 Responses to How can we deny marriage to polygamists?

  1. Paul Reed May 30, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

    The major determinant for the Left’s morality is asking, “is there a victim?”. With polygamy, it’s easy to name a victim: the wives. Most women in America feel an arrangement where they have to share their husband with another wife is demeaning. As with incest, it’s also very easy to name a victim: the children of such unions are born with birth defects and other problems. Furthermore, incest is almost always not consensual.

  2. Ryan Davidson May 31, 2015 at 1:20 am #

    It’s worth noting that there’s nothing illegal about polygamy. Anyone of marrying age can enter into such an arrangement in all 50 states. Because these arrangements are often fairly unique to the subculture in which they are practiced, I think it would be difficult to draft laws that could account for the wide variety of ways in which polygamy is practiced.

    Besides, I didn’t realize that Reformed Christians necessarily opposed polygamy. I’ve spent my whole life in Reformed churches, and can only recall the topic being broached once…in a membership class for a PCA church in Indiana in the late 1990s. In that instance, the two TEs teaching the class indicated that they saw nothing morally wrong with polygamy in principle, but suggested that certain ways of practicing polygamy could end up being exploitative.

    • Chris Canales June 1, 2015 at 1:07 am #

      “Besides, I didn’t realize that Reformed Christians necessarily opposed polygamy. I’ve spent my whole life in Reformed churches, and can only recall the topic being broached once…in a membership class for a PCA church in Indiana in the late 1990s. In that instance, the two TEs teaching the class indicated that they saw nothing morally wrong with polygamy in principle, but suggested that certain ways of practicing polygamy could end up being exploitative.”

      Name the church.

  3. Luke Stamps May 31, 2015 at 9:24 am #

    Douthat points this out, but polygamy isn’t the way the issue will be framed. How will the left extend the financial benefits of marriage to only two partners in a same sex throuple? It won’t take another 25 years for that logic to be accepted.

    • Ryan Davidson May 31, 2015 at 4:03 pm #

      But what are those financial benefits? In the case of same-sex marriage, the benefits were fairly clear. I’m not aware of any consistent set of benefits that the practitioners of plural marriage are seeking from the state.

      Besides, I’ve never understood why those who oppose same-sex marriage point to polygamy as some kind of evil that’s around the corner. I can’t think of any theologically cogent reason for forbidding plural marriage in principle, although there may be certain practices that occur within such arrangements that are questionable.

      When I was a grad student at IU-Bloomington, there was a Reformed church in town that held to more of a Gothard-like model of gender relations. Many women in the church often referred to their husbands as “my master” instead of by he man’s name. And women were not permitted to speak to any men outside of their nuclear family unit. For example, a woman in the church liked the shoes I was wearing. But she couldn’t ask me about the shoes directly, so she did it via her teenaged son. I don’t see polygamy as any more odd or ripe for abuse as these sorts of family arrangements.

      • Chris Canales June 1, 2015 at 1:08 am #

        “When I was a grad student at IU-Bloomington, there was a Reformed church in town that held to more of a Gothard-like model of gender relations. Many women in the church often referred to their husbands as “my master” instead of by he man’s name.”

        Name the church.

  4. James Bradshaw May 31, 2015 at 2:19 pm #

    The only ones who may seek the legalization of polygamy are fundamentalist Mormons, and they’ll argue for it in terms of religious liberty.

    I’d say both the supporters and opponents of gay marriage are going to have to discard many of their own arguments if they wish to avoid it.

    • Chris Ryan June 1, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

      Well if its a matter of religious liberty then we know how Republicans will vote! Nothing is more important than religious liberty! Its the First Sentence of the First Amendment!!

  5. Ike Lentz May 31, 2015 at 3:17 pm #

    Denny, how would you deny marriage to polygamists based on the Bible? It never officially condemns it.

    • C. M. Granger May 31, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

      In Matt. 19 Jesus points back to God’s original intention as the Creator of marriage, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female…Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Vs 4-6

      If this is so, polygamy is clearly excluded. Because some OT saints were polygamists doesn’t mean it was approved by and pleasing to God. The record of such instances in Scripture is descriptive, not prescriptive.

    • James Stanton June 1, 2015 at 8:01 am #

      I think there’s some revisionist history around polygamy with regard to what was practiced culturally in early Biblical times, depending on wealth and status. This is little more than the slippery slope argument which some social conservatives have fallen in love with and seem to think is powerful debate fodder. The truth is that society, or the “left”, is not uniform on these issues and there is not the same constituency driving for legalization of polygamy.

  6. Christiane Smith June 1, 2015 at 7:08 am #

    would be a good witness for Christians to demonstrate ‘Christian marriage’ as ‘the better way’ because as it now stands, ‘Christian marriage’ needs to be supported by those who are living it now

    we could do better, folks . . . the work at hand is being neglected as we become involved in pointing the finger at ‘the others’ instead of tending our own witness . . . we could do MUCH better

  7. Ian Shaw June 1, 2015 at 1:07 pm #

    To answer the question, the answer is no. Not that there is a massive push socially by polygamist groups, as there is with the SSM movement, but if SSM supporters wish to maintain their intellectual honesty, they really can’t deny the same right to those that wish to enter a multiple spouse marriage. If your argument is equal protection, you have no right to say that a 3-4 person “marriage” is any less of a marriage between 2 people.

    • James Bradshaw June 2, 2015 at 5:20 pm #

      Ian, a polygamist can’t really claim a right to civil marriage as it currently exists. We would have to construct a new legal entity that can accommodate the many legal issues that arise from having multiple spouses that don’t exist with only two people. It would be an enormous overhaul in everything related to medicine to insurance to inheritance and child custody (as well as Social Security).

      That being said, if some polygamous Mormons want to declare themselves legally “married”, let them figure out how to implement it and do it, so long as the financial burden on the state isn’t multiplied by the number of spouses.

      It’s nutty, in my opinion, but I doubt they care what I think, and they’re going to probably form these sorts of relationships, anyhow.

  8. buddyglass June 1, 2015 at 4:30 pm #

    The argument for recognizing same-sex marriage isn’t just “you should recognize same-sex marriages”. It’s “if you’re going to recognize binary marriages in general then you can’t arbitrarily exclude same-sex couples.”

    That argument can’t really be made for non-binary marriages since no state currently recognizes them. It could be made if, for instance, a state recognized man-and-multiple-women polygamous marriages but not woman-and-multiple-man polygamous marriages. It could then be argued that the latter’s exclusion is arbitrary and not “equal treatment”.

    Legally speaking it’s pretty simple to accommodate same-sex marriages. You just drop the rule that excludes same-sex couples; all the remaining laws apply to them just as they would to heterosexual couples.

    That’s not the case with polygamous marriages. There would need to be an entirely new set of laws developed to handle those.

  9. Christiane Smith June 2, 2015 at 5:25 am #

    Forty-seven years of consecrated marriage and I find ANY description of ‘marriage’ offensive that does not emphasize self-giving . . .
    I don’t think we can ‘define’ marriage verbally so much as we can express what it is supposed to be in the living of it . . . if we are ‘called’ to marriage in the classic Christian sense, we may find, as I have after forty-seven years, that we are called to respond to our vows before God in BOTH senses of ‘for better or for worse’

    . . . there is a sacred quality to Christian marriage when it is lived out during the trying times in the spirit of selflessness
    . . . how can you ‘define’ that for anyone? It has to be lived to be understood.
    And when it IS lived, that Christian witness becomes definition enough.

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