Why not three or more in a marriage?

Perhaps you have already read about the polyamorous “throuple” of lesbians who have “married” and who are expecting their first child. If you support gay marriage, on what principle could you possibly oppose the “marriage” of three or more people? Robert George’s brief analysis is spot-on:

The story of a female throuple in Massachusetts (with a baby on the way) provides further confirmation, as if any were needed, of the proposition that “ideas have consequences.” Once one has abandoned belief in marriage as a conjugal bond (with its central structuring norm of sexual complementarity) in favor of a concept of “marriage” as a form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership (“love makes a family”), then what possible principle could be identified for a norm “restricting” marriage to two-person partnerships, as opposed to polyamorous sexual ensembles of three or more persons?… No one has been able to answer the question or meet the challenge.

He’s absolutely right. Read the rest here.

24 Responses to Why not three or more in a marriage?

  1. James Bradshaw April 25, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    “If you support gay marriage, on what principle could you possibly oppose the “marriage” of three or more people?”

    On the grounds that, legally, it can’t be done (at least not given the current laws).

    If a man dies and has two wives, how do his assets become divvied up? 50/50? The wife of the longest duration gets a relative proportion? If the man becomes incapacitated, which wife makes medical decisions for him? How do we deal with with Social Security and other survivor benefits? What about child custody?

    The singular designation of “spouse” already answers these types of questions as well as a whole host of others. The law as it exists simply cannot address “spouses”.

    Now, these are all legal objections. Can there be moral objections? Sure, but not Biblical ones because polygamy is nowhere condemned explicitly in Scripture. It can’t be unless we wish to condemn the fathers and patriarchs of the Christian tradition for committing egregious sins for which it is clear they never repented.

    That being said, I don’t think there’s a “right” for any person to have more than one spouse since a case could be made that having more than one spouse deprives someone else of their ability to have one at all.

    In any rate, this is all probably moot. It’s been perfectly legal to shack up with three or more people for decades, and most folks aren’t taking advantage of the opportunity. In the unlikely event that polygamy was to become legal, I don’t see many that will jump at the chance to partake.

    • Johnny Mason April 25, 2014 at 1:57 pm #

      the irony of James, who has been a staunch defender of gay marriage, being against this “marriage” by claiming that spouse or marriage only means two and cant mean three is quite juicy. Apparently, you can only redefine marriage when your ox is being gored.

      It just sounds like you are a bigot who want to deny consenting, loving adults from being able to have the same legal benefits as you do.

      • Paul Reed April 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

        Johnny Mason, if you had comprehended his post, you would see that it is impossible for 3 people to have the same rights. As he stated, which wife inherits or makes the decisions if the polygamist husband dies? Also, you’re making the liberal’s job much harder than it needs to be. All the gay-affirming, polygamist-denying liberal has to say is “look, I think being gay is okay, but being a polygamist is not”. It’s not like conservatives are rooting marriage in the God’s Word. Why should liberals feel obligated to?

        • Johnny Mason April 25, 2014 at 2:44 pm #

          Paul, it’s also impossible for a man to be married to a man, but that didnt stop anybody either.

        • Johnny Mason April 25, 2014 at 2:50 pm #

          ” All the gay-affirming, polygamist-denying liberal has to say is “look, I think being gay is okay, but being a polygamist is not””

          I understand that liberals are hypocrites who change their reasoning at the drop of a hat because they have no moral foundation, but that sounds an awful lot like “I think being straight is okay, but being gay is not”. Or “I think marriage being one man and one woman is okay, but two men is not”. It completely undermines their case for gay marriage.

          • James Bradshaw April 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

            “I understand that liberals are hypocrites who change their reasoning at the drop of a hat because they have no moral foundation”

            As a supporter of gay marriage, if I had “zero interest” in morality, I wouldn’t bother suggesting gays bother committing to someone and putting their assets on the line by legally binding themselves to another person. I’d just tell them to sleep around and have as much sex with as many people as possible.

            That’s not what I’m saying though. I support gay marriage because:
            1) I don’t believe that predominantly gay men and women should marry heterosexuals
            2) I think a life of commitment is better than a life of wanton promiscuity in numerous and measurable ways
            3) I don’t think most heterosexuals would knowingly marry a gay person anyhow (would you marry a lesbian?)
            4) I don’t think lifelong celibacy is either realistic or even necessarily beneficial.

            Are all these the ideas of someone completely disinterested in morality? No. They just aren’t morals derived from a face-value reading of Scripture.

            In terms of polygamy, I’m not obliged to make the case for them. Let them present it in the court of public opinion.

            • Esther O'Reilly April 25, 2014 at 8:12 pm #

              Lifelong celibacy not realistic? Jeez, you really do need to get out and meet more people.

              • James Bradshaw April 25, 2014 at 8:41 pm #

                @Esther: There’s a difference between celibacy by choice and celibacy because of a lack of opportunity. At a certain point in one’s life, options dwindle.

                Celibacy is hard, but do you think monogamy and commitment are a cake walk? As I said, if this was simply about hedonism, I’d just say sleep with whomever you wish. It takes a certain degree of sacrifice to live with someone every day of one’s life and to no longer call one’s life one’s “own” in the sense of time, money, attention, energy and desires. Companionship and love come at a price, and a heavy one at that if you’re in for the long haul. I’m not saying it’s not worth it, of course.

                Are you married? If you are, I have a difficult time seeing why you’d not intuitively understand this.

                In what sense is celibacy “better”? If this is simply about living out the letter of the law out of fear of a vengeful and wrathful Creator, this will serve as motivation for most people for only so long.

                • Esther O'Reilly April 25, 2014 at 11:05 pm #

                  Christians should love what is right and natural. Homosexual sex violates the revealed natural order of sexuality, so it’s wrong. As I’m sure you would agree, we can have many positive emotions and even love wrapped up in something that is still wrong. A man could truly, passionately love his mistress, even be willing to die for her. That doesn’t make the fact that he’s cheating on his wife right.

  2. Paul Reed April 25, 2014 at 1:59 pm #

    This question in this post comes from someone who is either being intellectually dishonest, or who just isn’t that bright.
    This question has nothing to do with gay “marriage”, and has everything to do with what are the foundations of marriage.
    Conservatives are defining marriage as a man and a woman who love each other, and liberals define it more generally as 2 adults who love each other.
    You could rephrase this question be anything you want.
    You could just as well easily ask:
    If you support a Christian and a Hindu marrying, on what principle could you possibly oppose the “marriage” of three or more people?

    (If you read the Bible, you’ll find that God has a lot to say about marrying people with different gods.) So both sides have stated their position. The question is which, if any, has Biblical support? The answer is neither. Sorry, but conservatives can hardly defend their position any better than liberals. Liberals are grounding their position in the latest beliefs, and conservatives are grounding their position in an idealized version of the 1950s.

    • David Powell April 25, 2014 at 5:38 pm #

      ^ Speaking of intellectually dishonest…

    • Esther O'Reilly April 26, 2014 at 12:25 am #

      Paul, there’s a difference between saying “This is a marriage” and “This marriage is a good idea.” A Christian and a Hindu getting married would be disastrous, but THEY WOULD STILL BE MARRIED. A Christian and an atheist can get married. Not that they should, but they can. However, to say that Christians “support” Christians and Hindus marrying is an exercise in equivocation.

      • Paul Reed April 26, 2014 at 12:22 pm #

        Esther, what do you base your definition of marriage upon?

        • Esther O'Reilly April 26, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

          God’s word, which also happens to provide the only viable pattern for civilization to base itself on, evidenced by the fact that Christians and pagans alike have followed the template for centuries. But I don’t recall God saying that if a Christian and an atheist plight their troth to each other, it’s not a real marriage! Paul certainly has something to say about the WISDOM of such a union, but he still offers advice to couples who find themselves in that situation. It’s very clear that Paul regards them as married, just unequally, or unhappily.

  3. Andy Moffat April 25, 2014 at 3:30 pm #

    “Conservatives are defining marriage as a man and a woman who love each other, and liberals define it more generally as 2 adults who love each other.”

    Not quite correct. Conservatives would define marriage as more than just love between two people, but also the place for procreation, something that cannot be naturally achieved by two people of the same sex.

    As for the divvying up of assets in a poly-amorous relationship I don’t see why that is so insurmountable that it makes such an arrangement so difficult. Legal wranglings have navigated far more difficult things than that. I think it would actually be a rather simple thing for a a trio+ to work out with a lawyer.

    I think underlying any homosexual lobbyist refusal to allow for increased numbers in the marriage relationship is the fact that, as a means to increase acceptance for their fight for gay marriage, they nay-sayed anyone who said polygamy was the next step.

    There may be some gay marriage proponents that object to polygamy at this point, but I believe that as this picks up more steam any opposition from them will quickly fall away.

    • Paul Reed April 25, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

      @Andy Moffat
      “Conservatives would define marriage as more than just love between two people, but also the place for procreation.”

      Just once, I’d love it if people actually went to the Word of God. If procreation is the basis for marriage, then any girl young enough to have her period is eligible, and menopausal women are ineligible. Moreover, what could be better for procreation than to have multiple wives?! How many kids did Osama bin Laden father? Seems like the question of this blog post could be aimed at you. Procreation is a terrible argument. How about instead asking what God has to say about homosexual behavior.

      • Esther O'Reilly April 25, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

        The fact that a man and a woman is the only union capable of bearing children is definitely a big clue about what the natural order of sexuality is. Why set the natural light against the Word of God? Look at how they complement each other perfectly.

  4. James Stanton April 25, 2014 at 6:59 pm #

    I’m trying to wrap my head around the intent of posts like these. The primary audience seems to be like-minded thinkers who can laugh at those silly liberals with their inconsistent logic. Perhaps they do secretly believe you can have three person marriage or marry an inanimate object. So, what? This will not validate any social conservative’s views on the definition of marriage because it is not we who define marriage. God has defined marriage.

    What society thinks is irrelevant.

    You will not win a gotcha game of logic in a fallen world.

  5. buddyglass April 25, 2014 at 11:06 pm #

    I can think of a couple principles. Not sure I agree with them, but they’re arguments I could see someone making:

    1. Argument from severity of burden. There is no “n-way” sexual orientation. There are folks who want to be in n-way marriages, but they do not have a “n-way” orientation per se. There is a homosexual orientation. Therefore to exclude same-sex couples is to unfairly burden those with a homosexual orientation; excluding n-way marriages does not burden those with an n-way preference to the same extent that excluding same-sex marriages burdens homosexuals.

    2. Argument from pragmatism. Existing laws that take into account marriage status are all predicated on binary marriages. Accommodating same-sex marriages is “easy” from a legal standpoint, whereas accommodating n-way marriages is “hard”. Also there are many more same-sex couples wishing to be married than there are n-way groups, so the “harm” in failing to accommodate n-way groups is comparatively less.

    3. Argument from human nature. Human beings are not well-adapted to living harmoniously in n-way sexual groups. Such groups almost never endure and eventually disintegrate, with all the attendant costs and harm to any children that may be involved. This is much less true of same-sex marriages. So the government has an interest in supporting the desire of same-sex couples to form life-long domestic partnerships but no interest in supporting the desires of n-way groups to form domestic partnerships.

    4. Argument from legal technicality. The argument for same-sex marriage, so far, is that if the state chooses to recognize binary heterosexual marriages for reasons X, Y and Z, all of which also apply to same-sex couples, then it’s unfair to arbitrarily deny recognition to same-sex couples. It’s possible that some of the reasons X, Y or Z do not apply to n-way marriages, in which the case the state isn’t treating anyone “unequally” by declining to recognize such groupings.

    George raises a good point, though. I’d be interested know how some of the more thoughtful same-sex marriage supporters would respond to his question. Say, William Saletan, Andrew Sullivan, Ted Olson, and the crew at Volohkh Conspiracy.

    After writing that I went over to V.C. and searched for “poygamy”. One of Eugene’s co-bloggers, Todd Zywicki, raised this exact concern back in 2008. Here is Eugene’s response. He cites a few other folks who’ve commented on the issue.

    • James Bradshaw April 26, 2014 at 5:39 am #

      BG: Andrew touches upon polygamy in his debate with pastor Doug Wilson: http://www.canonwired.com/wilson-sullivan-debate/

      • buddyglass April 26, 2014 at 11:47 am #

        Could you indulge my laziness and give me a one-sentence summary of what he says? Or give me a minute mark to start watching at in the video? Not sure I want to wade through the whole thing.

        • James Bradshaw April 26, 2014 at 4:51 pm #

          @buddyglass: It’s a good debate if you have the time.

          In any rate, the idea is that Sullivan believes most people tend towards NOT naturally finding monogamy easy or “natural” and that it’s more of a discipline in a way (my word not his). As such, no single “group” is being deprived of anything that isn’t also held from everyone else.

          Further, he feels that polygamy generally only benefits affluent males. Given that the population is roughly 50/50, a single group monopolizing the women of society would deprive less affluent men of potential mates. This increases the likelihood of crime amongst that latter segment.

          This is an inarticulate summation of his argument, but you kind of get the idea.

  6. Curt Day April 26, 2014 at 8:01 am #

    Perhaps, articles, like the one above, show an unhealthy obsession with homosexuality. It would be one thing if the articles on homosexuality were seldom and occasional, but they are not. Rather, there is an attitude of throwing everything but the kitchen sink against same-sex marriage. And the unfortunate result is that those who are sensitive about the equality of others are being forced to read into the Scriptures a perspective that would justify homosexuality.

    That the expansion of marriage in society should not stop at same-sex marriage but be expanded to multiple partners being married to multiple partners reveals much about the thinking and attitudes of those making the claim. It reveals that they somehow see a bigger gap between heterosexual couples and same-sex couples than what really exists. It reveals a conveniently limited view of marriage. Marriage has many aspects besides sexual union and reproduction which prohibit the slippery slope that my fellow Conservative Christians fear.

    • Ian Shaw April 28, 2014 at 8:26 am #

      Curt,

      While I also feel that the evangelical response to SSM has been pretty heavy handed in the last year or two, it’s because of the turmoil caused by the numerous state and federal court decision that have been coming out faster than a diner cook flipping pancakes in the morning.

      While Corinthinans tells us of more than just 1 kind of person will not inherit the Kingdom of God, in our culture right now, that is the only sin that is being promoted as normative. Lying is still almost universally considered wrong in society. So is stealing. Adultery/cheating on your spouse is still probably at least 65% unfavorable in America today.

      No one is saying that those things should be normative. That’s why the issue seems a bit overkill on one issue. If pagans want to marry pagans in a pagan culture, I guess that’s their call. I won’t consider their marriage a Godly one at that, but I don’ think their is something to be said about trying to win people’s hearts for Jesus and have Him change their mind/heart, compared to looking for wins in the court room/legislation or public opinion.

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