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About that polygamy argument

Friday, Apr 12, 2013 - Posted by Rich Miller

* I didn’t get into this part of Rep. Tom Morrison’s argument today against gay marriage

If one male and one female is discriminatory, then isn’t limitation of marriage to just two people discriminatory, too? There are men who would like to marry two or more consenting females. Would you define their relationship as marriage, too?

The post was way too long as it was, so I just skipped over that. But some folks are debating it in comments, including the usual social conservative stance that polygamy must be approved if gay marriage is allowed. The commenter “47th Ward” wrote a highly cogent counter-argument

Plural marriages would require a complete rewrite of the tax code to determine how and who can file as married filing jointly. Divorce laws would need to be amended, including custody and property rights. What if I want to divorce one of my wives, but my other wives don’t want to divorce the other?

The civil, legal understanding of marriage is a two-party, mutually agreed contract. To argue for polygamy you are truly trying to redefine marriage.

Providing for same sex civil marriage brings none of the extra legal issues to the table. The polygamy argument is ignorant and tiresome.

Discuss. And, please, try to be intellectually honest with the rest of us. Arguing in favor of something you actually oppose in order to score some cheap points in a different argument is not cool or welcome.


  1. - Carl Nyberg - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:10 pm:

    What’s dishonest about bringing polygamy into the discussion is that it’s not like the bigots will support same sex marriage if there is a guarantee polygamy won’t be included.

    Haters gonna hate.

    And if the sun came up, “Conservatives” are going to make arguments couched in their fears, insecurities and anxieties.

    “Conservatives” can ignore climate change. They can ignore Iraq didn’t have WMD; and that Bush lied about WMD. They can ignore cutting taxes on rich people concentrates wealth and creates deficits. They can ignore banks caused the financial crisis.

    But “Conservatives” can’t ignore that gay marriage means men have sex with men and there are women who aren’t looking for a man.

    Just can’t stop thinking about men having sex with men….

  2. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:12 pm:

    The slippery slope argument should have been retired with “Otter” in “Animal House.” No one ever did it better.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests - we did.

    “But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”

  3. - 47th Ward - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:12 pm:

    Archpundit said basically the same thing a week or two ago, and as usual, said it much better.

    All of this talk about “redefining marriage” is nonsense, until you start talking about polygamy, which is actually about redefining marriage.

  4. - danlinn - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:17 pm:

    Thanks word, one of my favorite parts of that classic piece of cinema.

  5. - Peter - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:18 pm:

    There’s really far more historical basis for polygamy than same sex marriage. It goes back thousands of years. It’s really the best comparison example of other “forms” of marriage that have previously been considered.

  6. - ChicagoR - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:22 pm:

    Peter - Sure, polygamy is throughout the Bible. But those who claim the Bible should determine civil law don’t want to select that part of the Bible.

  7. - SC Guy - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:22 pm:

    The homosexuals love to dismiss the polygamy argument but it is not dismissable. The truth is that once you redefine marriage to just any 2 adults, there is very much an argument (and plenty of consenting adults) for polygamy because denying plural marriage can also be claimed to be discrimination. Sorry folks but blaming the tax code doesn’t cover dismissing polygamy.

  8. - dupage dan - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:24 pm:

    So, the reason why polygamy can’t be legalized is that we would have to rewrite some laws? That’s the sum total of the argument? That’s it?

    Actually, Peter has a point. In previous posts, folks rightly said that there was no really, historically, soley religious aspect to marriage. And in MANY societies, both historic and present, polygamy is commonly practiced.

    And the logic against is…’s hard to change the laws. o….k….

  9. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:25 pm:

    SC Guy - We’re talking about redefining the legal definition of marriage. You’re talking about redefining the cultural definition.

    Why is this so hard for some people?

  10. - jaranath - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:26 pm:

    I think polygamy’s unique legal challenges could be addressed, though. The only places I could see the State really stepping in to say “ok, we don’t think we can handle this, so no, you can’t” is when the numbers involved in the marriage rise past a certain point. How many, I don’t know; I’m thinking this would need the input of experts in corporate law.

    Which also means yes, I don’t necessarily have a problem with polygamy (or polyamory…whatever is the proper neutral term). But I do think some thought needs to go into the arguably abusive way it is currently practiced in many areas, where consent and rights are not always being protected.

  11. - mythoughtis - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:26 pm:

    I will agree with 47th wards points. However, I won’t agree that those points will send people attempting to redefine marriage their way scurrying away in defeat.

    I think we have to totally separate out the legal definition of marriage in the US from the spiritual definition of marriage, and from a definition of what is an illegal marriage in the US. Legal definition being what the federal goverment recognizes for taxes, benefits, transfer of property upon death, etc. Spiritual definition being whatever a religion want to recongize as being ‘joined together’ for their purposes. Illegal definition in the US meaning what we want to punish people for thru he courts.

    So we can define legal marriage as being between two adult people of appropriate mental ability to recognize and consent to it and meeting our laws.

    Spiritual being adult people of appropriate mental ability to recognize and consent to it.

    Illegal being involving at least one party being adult not of appropriate mental ability to recognize and consent to it, one party being children, one person falsely stating they are not legally married alaready,etc.

    This would mean that you could be spiritually married without being either legally or illegally married.

  12. - Peter - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:27 pm:

    ChicagoR, not sure why you’re raising the Bible. I’m just saying factually/historically polygamy was and is practiced…it’s a good/real example to compare with the current debate.

  13. - Anon - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:28 pm:

    The basic premise of this argument is “any change to the definition of marriage would open the floodgates to other, whacky changes”.

    This denies the empirical history of past marriage changes, including allowing for interracial marriage. Surely those same arguments were made, and probably in a far more disgusting fashion than they are now. But it didn’t happen.

  14. - TooManyJens - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:28 pm:

    Do Morrison and his fellows believe that the only problem with polygamous (or incestuous, or human/animal, or whatever examples they want to bring up) marriage is that “it’s not one man and one woman”? If there are other arguments against those arrangements, they will still exist when same-sex marriages are recognized, and we can debate them on the merits.

  15. - Rich Miller - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:29 pm:

    ===is that we would have to rewrite some laws? ===

    You apparently can’t read too well.

  16. - Rich Miller - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:31 pm:

    SC Guy, I know 47th Ward. He’s not a homosexual.

  17. - Wensicia - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:33 pm:

    Their argument, basically, is if you accept gays’ right to marriage, it follows you have to accept polygamists’ right to marriage. Why? How do gay partnerships promote multiple marriage? They can’t come up with an answer that makes any sense.

  18. - Just Me - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:36 pm:

    I’ve never really appreciated the “slippery slope” argument. A legislator can only vote on the bill before them at that moment in time. They can vote against another bill that is before them in the future.

    To me that argument is simply a cop out. It is as if to say, “Yeah, you’re right, but since I can’t say the real reason I want to vote against you, I’m just going to create one.”

  19. - 47th Ward - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:36 pm:

    Homosexual? You mean like flaming or part time?

    No, I’m not a homosexual, but I’m willing to learn. Would they send me somewhere special?

  20. - downstate lib - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:36 pm:

    ==The truth is that once you redefine marriage to just any 2 adults, there is very much an argument (and plenty of consenting adults) for polygamy because denying plural marriage can also be claimed to be discrimination.==

    There is already that argument. Look, you just made it! If the legislature wants to allow polygamy, it can do so right now. Gay marriage isn’t a prereq.

  21. - wordslinger - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:39 pm:

    47 is a lean, mean fighting machine.

  22. - Both Sides Now - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:41 pm:

    I basically said weeks ago what “mythoughts” said today. The way to fix this issue is simply call the legal recognition of the union of two people (or more if you want to go the polygamous route) a “Civil Union” and get the government out of the marriage business. A spiritual/religious recognition would be a “marriage”. Then a legal union of two (or more) consenting adults is no longer at odds with the Bible or religion and is simply an acknowledgement for tax and other legal purposes.

  23. - 47th Ward - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:46 pm:

    ===get the government out of the marriage business.===

    This statement conflicts with this:

    ===Then a legal union…===

    And this:

    ===is simply an acknowledgement for tax and other legal purposes.===

    It seems like, what with all of the courts and contract, probate, divorce and tax laws involved, it’s going to be very hard to get government out of the marriage business.

  24. - Rich Miller - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:46 pm:

    ===Then a legal union of two (or more) consenting adults is no longer at odds with the Bible or religion===

    Except it’ll be at odds with my parents, who were married by a judge.

    You’re countering a relatively simple legislative proposal on civil marriage with a completely radical idea. That’s why it won’t ever catch on. You really do want to redefine marriage out of existence for millions of people who weren’t married in churches. It’s extremist.

  25. - OneMan - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:48 pm:

    Well is the basis of marriage the fact it is a two party partnership or not?

    Some folks think it is a two person partnership between people of two different genders, obviously for many people this means they are knuckle dragging bigots (ignoring the fact not that long ago the congress of the US defined it as such with a host of votes from both parties).

    As much as the polygamy argument isn’t a preventer (slipper slope IMHO) it is an interesting question as a stand alone.

    Why limit a person to a single partner. Carl mentions tax law implications, but really, should tax law prevent you from being with the two people you care about? Should I be prevented from having two people who have a right to visit me in a hospital? Are you not denying me a right that a partnership that two people have?

    If you are setting the basis of marriage as two people above a certain age (which let me emphasize I am totally cool with) then are you not denying rights of a group of X people who want to have those same rights outside of a partnership of two and only two.

    The thing I find most entertaining about this whole argument about same gender marriage (I will be the first to admit my viewpoint has changed on the subject over the last 10 years) is how many people seem to like to act like they have felt this was fine for their entire lives.

    I would suspect most folks have changed their minds about this over the last 10 years (that is what the polls seem to show) and now feel the right and feel they have the responsibility to judge those who disagree with them harshly.

    I think TooManyJenns is not the right path here, but I think that discussion is going to come, along with to be blunt a discussion about making divorce much easier.

  26. - Just Observing - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:50 pm:

    I don’t think I have a problem with polygamy. I could care less if seven consulting adults want to marry. Although I do understand that it may cause some issues with benefits, property rights, etc.

  27. - Walter - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:50 pm:

    I think people’s thinking about this has become way too uptight. I’m going to go ahead and be the first to say, what’s wrong with polygamy? There are plenty of people practicing it already. Hell, being divorced and remarried with children I’m practically living in a polygamous relationship. I’m of the opinion that if consenting adults can find happiness for the brief period of time we are on this planet, let them. They’re not infringing on your rights. I didn’t watch my buddies die face down in the muck so that some people who are uncomfortable with the idea of two (or three) adults finding happiness in nontraditional relationships can ruin it for the rest of us.

  28. - TooManyJens - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:53 pm:

    There seems to be a misconception that marriage began as a religious institution that the state involved itself in long ago, and thus the state should either conform its recognition of marriage to religious standards or get out of marriage entirely. But this is based on a false premise. Marriage isn’t a religious invention. There’s no reason that civil marriage can’t be called marriage, except that some people want to claim the whole idea on behalf of their own particular belief system.

  29. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:58 pm:

    And thanks to Rich for posting this - CapFax is a valuable place to discuss, share ideas and explore arguments with rational, intelligent people.

    I know I’m not the only one who frequently learns something new here.

    Take care, ya’ll - be back in a bit.

  30. - OneMan - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 12:59 pm:

    As a very happily married man, I think I speak for many of us when I say

    If you want to have more than one wife, you really need to have your head examined (mostly joking)

    But regardless, it isn’t a blocking argument IMHO

  31. - Verbal Kint - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 1:00 pm:

    ===This denies the empirical history of past marriage changes, including allowing for interracial marriage. Surely those same arguments were made, and probably in a far more disgusting fashion than they are now. But it didn’t happen.===

    But don’t you think that one of those arguments was “if we start recognizing interracial marriage, what’s next? Same sex marriage?”. So the evidence suggests that the slippery slope argument is real.

    For the record, I’m in favor of SSM. And if, as we evolve as a society, we deem that plural marriages can in fact be practiced without the current widespread abuse that exists, then by all means recognize it.

  32. - hisgirlfriday - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 1:04 pm:

    If your only reason for supporting or opposing samesex marriage is emotional-based rather than legal-based then perhaps the polygamy slippery slope concern makes more sense.

    But as I said on the other thread there’s a crucial legal difference between a gay person with capacity to marry a samesex person with capacity to marry vs. a person wanting to marry more than one person because once you marry one person it is bigamy to try to marry someone else. Besides bigamy being a crime while gay sex isn’t, bigamous marriages are invalid because once you are in that marital union with one person you have no capacity to enter into another union until the first marriage is dissolved.

  33. - Formerly Known As... - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 1:09 pm:

    I believe one argument in favor of polygamy could soound somewhat similar to the argument for same sex marriage, something along the lines of:

    “You are trying to tell me who I can and cannot marry by imposing your restrictive value system upon me.

    You are telling me that my love is not “real” enough to be worthy of marriage in your eyes, even after 30 years, a religious ceremony through my church, and four children.

    You are also denying me certain basic rights while forcing me to pay higher costs in the form of auto insurance, health insurance and life insurance, among others.

    That is unacceptable in any modern society of tolerance and equality.

    I am sorry if this makes some of you feel “uncomfortable” or it would be “hard” to deal with a few of these changes from an administrative and paperwork standpoint, but your laziness is no excuse to deprive my family and children of equality.

    Anything less is hypocrisy.”

  34. - Carl Nyberg - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 1:11 pm:

    When the time comes that we are debating polygamous marriages being recognized, there will be legislation to explain how that will work and we’ll have that debate.

    Maybe we’ll adopt polygamous marriage at that time.

    And if your wife pressures you to marry another woman, you can divorce her.

    Unless we do away with divorce before then. Then you might be stuck.

  35. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 1:15 pm:

    Animal House, Stripes …

    47th and - wordslinger - well done!!!

    To that fact and to the Post,

    Notice the comedy that polygamy is bringing out in the discussion, because the realities of the Law and then specifically to the SSM Bill has made some hyperventilate to the point that it appears … polygamy is a reality.

    - wordslinger -,

    I can not tell you how many times the immortal words of Otter have come out of MY mouth when I hear the “slippery slope” arguement. the worry itself is the slippery slope more than the slope itself.


    That “recruiter” scene is priceless, and reminds us that when we get some Dopey questions, “Just a standard question, …you know …” you do all you can to not mock it, and you see it mocked safely on the screen, its pur gold.

    Let me know what Judge and/or Jury is going to aquit in a polygamy case because of the SSM Bill passing, then you will have my attention.

  36. - Maude - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 1:31 pm:

    My father and I don’t get along. Let’s just say neither one of us has chosen a “traditional” lifestyle. Te doesn’t approve of my lifestyle and, needless to say, I don’t approve of his. But neither of us hardly want legislation that would make the others lifestyle illegal.

  37. - JoeVerdeal - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 2:22 pm:

    Does the fact that I would be glad to see polygamy become legal in Illinois make me a “Social Conservative”….????

  38. - Fan of the Game - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 2:33 pm:

    The government has no compelling interest in whom I marry as long as it is a consenting adult.

    Therefore, I am in favor of consenting adults being allowed to marry any other consenting adult, regardless of number.

    I am opposed to any government giving benefits to married people that are not available to single people.

  39. - SO IL M - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 2:57 pm:

    Ok its Friday afternoon…can we lighten this up a bit?

    If you are agaisnt people of the same gender having sex, then you should allow them to marry.

    Shouldnt being in a polygamous relationship be enough to show you are mentally ill and shouldnt own a firearm?

    Will all this lead to beastiality? Unless you are Vegan?

  40. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Apr 12, 13 @ 4:00 pm:

    All I can coclude from this is..

    Time for a toga party.

    All genders and orientations welcome.

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