Is Polygamy Right Around the Corner?

Why did same-sex “marriage” (SSM) activists focus only on gay marriage and not bring along polygamy for the ride? The arguments that apply to SSM certainly apply to polygamy, but with even more force. Consider that one of Anthony Kennedy’s arguments in favor of recognizing SSM was that there is a stigma attached to same-sex couples and their children if they can’t marry. How much more does that apply to polygamous families, in which there is not merely a stigma but also the threat of criminal prosecution or having children taken away?

The other arguments apply just as well. Love between (among) the parties. Check. It doesn’t affect your marriage. Check. People must be free to establish their own fundamental beliefs and identity. Check. You’re an evil bigot if you don’t support polygamy. Well, we haven’t got there yet but there’s no reason to think it doesn’t apply.

In his dissent, Chief Justice Roberts points out that SSM is actually a far bigger change to marriage than polygamy:

Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective ‘two’ in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one.

Indeed, the arguments in favor of polygamy are so similar to the arguments for same-sex “marriage” that if Justice Kennedy some day wants to usher in nationwide polygamy he won’t need to write a new opinion. He can just dust off Obergefell and use the find and replace function on this word processor to change every instance of “two” to “two or more” and call it a day.

But, despite the fact that the arguments are identical, and it’s hard to come up with a philosophical basis for rejecting polygamy but accepting SSM, the fact is that many of those who have fought hard for SSM do reject polygamy. We are told all the time that opposing SSM is the moral equivalent of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan. And yet, we hear nothing similar about opposing polygamy.

To be sure, there has been the occasional attempt to support polygamy, as in a recent article in Politico by Fredrik DeBoer. But that was quickly followed with an article by Jonathan Rauch, a long-time strong supporter of gay “marriage,” opining how the two issues really have nothing to do with each other, and that it’s perfectly reasonable to allow SSM while banning polygamy. It’s interesting, though, that in his article, Jonathan Rauch does not address any of the principles that Justice Kennedy applied in mandating SSM. Rauch merely speaks of potential social problems that polygamy could cause, which is really beside the point if polygamy is a Constitutional right. Justice Kennedy says that “The Constitution promises liberty to all within its reach,” which would be a rather hollow right if Kennedy had added, “unless someone can point out any theoretical negative social impact.”

So, why is there absolute insistence on the Left that opposing SSM makes you a Nazi, while opposing polygamy is quite all right?   Why does Jonathan Rauch still have a job, while Brendan Eich lost his?  Some of the explanation is no doubt that polygamy is often practiced in the context of Mormonism, and Mormons are not a politically correct group.

But maybe some of it is because Jonathan Rauch is partly right about SSM and polygamy being different. The philosophical implications of SSM and polygamy are radically dissimilar. Perhaps it is these widely divergent philosophical differences that led the Left to champion SSM while never mentioning polygamy.

There are two indisputable truths about same-sex couples who have children in the home.

First, in no same-sex couple are children being raised by their mother and their father. They are being raised either by two dads or by two moms.

Second, no same-sex couple is raising their own biological children.

We have been told for years that SSM is actually the same as heterosexual (or traditional) marriage, and in any case is certainly every bit as good. But, if SSM is exactly the same as traditional marriage, and if no SSM couple includes a mother and a father, then a mother and a father cannot be any better than two mothers or two fathers. And, if SSM is exactly the same as traditional marriage, then being raised by people other than your biological parents is just as good as being raised by your biological parents. Thus, SSM not merely changes the definition of marriage, but also radically changes the historical relationship between biological parents and their biological offspring.

It might be argued that SSM is no different in this respect than adoption. After all, adoption does entail a child being raised by someone other than his or her biological parents, and those people are considered the true parents of the child. But, while adoption is a wonderful thing to be encouraged, there is no understanding in society that adoption is a normative situation. Adoption generally is something that happens in circumstances in which the biological parents are unable to care for their child. There is no movement in society that says that, since being raised by adoptive parents is just as good as being raised by biological parents, it’s all right for biological parents to give up their children without a very good reason.

On the other hand, SSM is meant to be normative. It’s meant to be exactly the same as traditional marriage. And that means, philosophically, society should not prefer that children be raised by their own parents as by someone else.

The presumption in favor of biological parents is deep-seated within American society and law. It is presumed that parents have rights over, and to, their children. Children are not to be taken away from parents without grave cause. Except that if society actually believes that SSM is the same as traditional marriage, and no SSM couples are raising their biological children, then what is the reason for presuming that children should stay with their biological parents?

Polygamy, on the other hand, creates no such new relationship between parents and children. In a polygamous marriage, the parties involved are still raising their own biological children. The mother and father are still in the picture. The philosophical presumption that children should stay with their biological parents remains intact.

For those who want to remake society, the claims of parents over their children have always been a stumbling block. What the public schools can do, the wrong type of parents might undo. How much easier it would be to remake society if the state were not required to respect parental rights.

Slate writer William Saletan reported a few weeks ago that his son was marked down on a high school health test for choosing the definition of family as “a collection of related-by-blood individuals living together.” The “correct” answer on the test was “a collection of individuals who care for and about each other.”

Now, it is no doubt true that most people who support gay marriage don’t really consider the philosophical implications. Supporting gay marriage doesn’t cost most people anything and lets them feel good about themselves. #LoveWins, yay! #MoralSuperiority, yay!

But there really are those people, like the ones who wrote the family question, who want attitudes about families to change. SSM philosophically advances the idea that biological relationships have nothing to do with family. Polygamy does not. So perhaps that is why polygamists are still in the closet while SSM advocates party in the open.

(Photo credit: Courtesy of Shutterstock.)

Kevin Clark

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Kevin Clark is a graduate of Christendom College and is currently editor of Seton Magazine. His writings have also appeared in Reflections, The Teaching Home, Hereditas, The Annals of Ste. Anne de Beaupre, and Catholic Men’s Quarterly. His fictional works include Will of God; Numbers Up; and Could You Not Watch? and other stories.

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