After my polyamory post mishap the other day, a reader named Jude raised some good questions asking me to tease out the reasons why I think that the legalization of gay marriage would lead to the legalization of other forms of marriage, especially polyamorous or polygamous marriage. I'll summarize the questions and try to answer each one, because they're worth exploring. If you want Jude's full questions, follow the link above and read them in the comments.
1. Why is it that allowing marriage to be inclusive of same-sex unions will lead to a concept of marriage that is divorced from monogamy? Don't most advocates of same-sex unions still hold to a concept of love and marriage that contains some concept of fidelity as monogamy?
Because it's not so much a "why" question as a "why not" question.
Strictly speaking, there is certainly no logical connection between homosexuality and polyamory. But what gay marriage advocates often want to do is say, "Why is marriage between one man and one woman? Where did we get that from and who says it still has to be that way? Why not let it be between one man and one man, or one woman and one woman?"
If we allow that legal foundation to change, then it seems obvious to me that a polyamory advocate or a polygamous FLDS family say, "Why is marriage between only two people? Where'd we get that from and who says it still has to be that way? Why not let it be between more than two?"
So you start messing with basic principles, and you get statements like this (from this article) from a practicing poly, "Any people who wish to form a marriage with all the rights and duties of a marriage should have the legal right to. The spurious arguments of marriage being for procreation of children is (sic) ridiculous." It's a total why not question.
More thoughtful people might frame it another way, but the pro-gay-marriage cultural voice says, "Equality for all!" or "Down with Prop H8!" or whatever else. Why not? Why not equality for polys too? What foundational principles, what precedents will there be left that define 'marriage' as between two people instead of more? Or for that matter, why is, to quote the question, "monogamy" the only way to express "fidelity"? That's how they'll frame it.
2. While polyamorous "triads" may be clamoring for cultural acceptance, why should we think that they would gain it, even if gay marriage does? Numerous "non-traditional" forms of sexual union and marriage have tried for cultural acceptance and been laughed off (or shouted off) of the public stage, such as the man-boy love folks and beastiality folks?
Simple: because the one precedent that will surface as the basis for marriage will be consenting adults. Both of the examples given here and any other such laughable ones break that principle.
The American view of freedom is, "I should be allowed to do and say whatever I want with whomever I want as long as I/we are adults not harming others." So polys will say, "We're consenting adults. Why stop us from marrying if you want to?"
3. Why should we think that there would be an easy transition in legal precedent in the legalization of polyamory even if there were cultural pressure for its acceptance? In the case of gay marriage, it seems that the same legal precedents set for dealing with matters such as divorce, inheritance, etc., for heterosexual couples could be readily appropriated. But it is not so clear that this would be the case for polyamorous couples because of the addition of another partner. It seems that new forms of legal messiness would arise. For example, what sort of legal precedent would need to be set if one part of the triad wanted to divorce one spouse, but not the other?
One word: laywers.
It's not that it will be easy- I never said it would be. But polys and their lawyers will see this problem and address it. Perhaps a legally required pre-nup with extreme attention to detail would solve a lot of the asset issues. And since polys see themselves as one unit (not a series of units) one person's exit would mean the break of the whole unit. Perhaps you could simply have a, "One person's exit means that the whole marriage needs to start over." I'm not sure- I'll leave it to polys and their lawyers to figure out, but it doesn't strike me as an especially tough obstacle.
4. What standards other than just "being in love" are included in traditional heterosexual marriages that exclude homosexual (or other) unions?
Here is the heart of the issue. Why does the government define marriage as it does?
Well, we've always done it that way. When our laws were drawn up there could have been no consideration of the possibility that people would one day fight for gay marriage. So why were they drawn up that way?
I'm no expert, but I'd guess it has something to do with some widely held religious principles! That doesn't mean we must still define it that way, and you'll note that I've not said anywhere here that I'm against the government doing any of this stuff. Frankly, I'm still undecided. I lean towards wanting the state to grant nothing more than civil unions and allowing churches and other private institutions handle "marriage."
In any case, perhaps we should put this all the other way: why wouldn't the legalization of gay marriage lead to the legalization of poly marriage? What principles would stand in the way of that if you are one who thinks this idea is so crazy?
Because here's the thing: I hear this argument called extremist and unfair all the time, but the heart of most of that thinking is, "Well, because marriage is between two people regardless of gender." Or sometimes there isn't even that much.
Either way, it's not enough. Not all that long ago the idea that we would redefine marriage to include same-sex partners would have been as unthinkable and unpredictable as the idea that we would redefine marriage to include more than two people. I just don't get why some think that another redefinition is so crazy.