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Reply to George: IX. Polygamy and Incest

Rob Tisinai

March 11th, 2011

[This post is part of a series analyzing Robert George’s widely-read article, “What is Marriage“, which appeared on pages 245-286 of the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. You can view all posts in the series here.]

Page 259 (and also 250): In which Robert George doesn’t realize he’s made a case for recognizing incestuous and polygamous (and polygamously incestuous) marriages.

Polygamy and the revisionist/common view

Opponents of marriage equality love polygamy. They make a scarecrow out of it, wave him from their rooftop, and roll him down that shingled slippery slope to take out anyone on the ground who’s thinking, Perhaps equality under the law is a good thing after all.

George seems to think his conjugal/procreative view is the only thing holding back polygamy. In fact, however, the revisionist/common view can argue powerfully against it, too. Here’s George’s own description of this view, which he so dislikes:

Marriage is the union of two people (whether of the same sex or of opposite sexes) who commit to romantically loving and caring for each other and to sharing the burdens and benefits of domestic life. It is essentially a union of hearts and minds, enhanced by whatever forms of sexual intimacy both partners find agreeable.

How does this relate to polygamy? Scholar Jonathan Rauch offers this:

If marriage has any meaning at all, it is that when you collapse from a stroke, there will be another person whose “job” is to drop everything and come to your aid. Or that when you come home after being fired, there will be someone to talk you out of committing a massacre or killing yourself. To be married is to know there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line.

No group could make such a commitment in quite the same way, because of a free-rider problem. If I were to marry three or four people, the pool of potential caregivers would be larger, but the situation would, perversely; make all of them less reliable: each could expect one of the others to take care of me (and each may be reluctant to do more than any of the others are willing to do — a common source of conflict among siblings who need to look after an aging parent). The pair bond, one to one, is the only kind which is inescapably reciprocal, perfectly mutual. Because neither of us has anyone else, we are there for each other.

A few weeks ago, crippling abdominal pain sent me to the emergency room late at night. My partner and I live together, so he was there when it hit me so suddenly. He drove me to the hospital, spoke with the doctor, asked and answered questions, and drove me home. Most of all, after they hopped me up on Dilaudid, he sat in a chair next to my bed, reading a book with his hand on my arm. The happiest part was knowing he would be there for whatever I needed, because he puts no one in his life prior to me.

Polygamy, of course, means you cannot “know there is someone out there for whom you are always first in line.” Well, that’s not exactly true. In many traditions, polygamy means the husband will have several “someones” who automatically put him first, but the wives will have none. This imbalance might explain why polygamy so often turns into exploitation.

I’ve seen a few objections to Rauch’s view of marriage:

We can here leave aside how odd this [idea of marriage] will sound to any married couple with young children, partners whose first responsibility is not obviously spousal. The point to note is Mr Rauch’s telling claim that marriage, as he understands it, is primarily directed towards relieving adult anxiety about facing catastrophe alone — an “elemental fear of abandonment” (i.e., that no one will be “there for me”) that may well express deeply felt human needs and longings, but has little or nothing to do with parenthood as such, the main conjugal concern of historically liberal thinkers like Locke.

First, of course, let’s remember that not even all opposite-sex couples have children. Thus anyone who acknowledges those marriages as “real” absolutely must some non-parental justification for marriage.

Yet Rauch sounds right even if we accept that once you have children, your chief responsibility is to ensure their safety, health, and development.

Follow me on this. In its idealized form:

  • Marriage means that when your health fails, you have a partner who is devoted to your care.
  • Marriage means that when you are in dire emotional straits, you have a partner who will support and protect you.
  • Marriage means that when you celebrate an achievement, you have a partner who feels that joy as if it’s their own.

AND…

  • Marriage means that in your life’s chief responsibility, you have a partner who will work with you and give their all.

This has all been said more famously in the Bible:

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour.

For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.

Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone?

And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Christians see the threefold cord as the presence of Christ in a loving marriage. For non-Christians, it’s a poetic desrcription of the idea that when two come together in marriage — not shacking up, not dating, not hanging out — their union becomes a living thing in itself, a third presence, something they must nurture, with needs that can override those of either person alone.

Either way, there’s nothing revisionist about this ancient text and its vision of marriage as two people working, helping, protecting, and keeping one another warm. Christian opposite-sexers often use it in their wedding vows and no one accuses them of trying to destroy marriage or perverting its nature.

Polygamy and Robert George

George’s anti-polygamy argument is much weaker than the “revisionist” one. Actually, for me, it’s so abstract as to be incomprehensible. Here it is (I’ve bolded the relevant bit). It’s based on George’s appealing but ill-defined conception of marriage as a “comprehensive union”:

That is, the comprehensiveness of the union across the dimensions of each spouse’s being calls for a temporal comprehensiveness, too: through time (hence permanence) and at each time (hence exclusivity).

What does “at each time” mean? It has to be more than “each time you have sex you have sex with your spouse.” That would only argue against a man having a threeway with his wife and another woman (in terms of George’s organic bodily union, there aren’t enough P’s to handle all V’s for a man to have PIV with two women at once). But it doesn’t rule out having two men and one woman, or one spouse stepping out when the other is too sick or tired for PIV.

Could he mean “at every moment”? Such a thing isn’t even possible. You can’t have organic bodily union every moment of your life. Nor can you be in emotional or intellectual union with your partner at every moment.

I have to admit I simply don’t understand what he means.

I’ll go further. I’ll say George’s view justifies polygamy. Imagine a man with two wives. They share a home, pool their resources, and make decisions together. The man achieves organic bodily union with each wife a couple times a week — as often as the women like (perhaps more than they like).

I don’t see how this stereotype of polygamy fall short of George’s criteria for a “real” marriage. It looks to me like the revisionist/common view of marriage offers a stronger bulwark against polygamy than George’s conjugal/procreative view.

Why only sexual exclusivity?

Here’s an odd bit. Sex is only one type of union in a comprehensive union; why then, does George only care about exclusivity when it comes to sex? Nothing in his reasoning above is unique to sex. If he’s made a principled case for exclusivity, shouldn’t it apply all around? If you can’t have sex with a third party, why are you allowed to have an intellectual discussion? Or a financial contract? How about an emotional tie? Or a spiritual bond, as a woman might have with her priest?

If George offers a principled reason for limiting exclusivity just to sex, I’ve missed it. If he’s explained why you can have multiple intellectual, emotional, or spiritual relationships, I’ve missed that, too. His exclusivity reasoning would seem to force a “real” married couple to isolate themselves from the rest of the world.

What about just messin’ around?

Forget polygamy. What about plain old infidelity and open relationships? You can create a revisionist/common argument against that, too. Sex is powerful. It can cement an emotional bond. It can create an emotional bond. It can even fool you into thinking a bond exists when it’s just novelty and infatuation. In fact, novelty and infatuation are themselves so powerful they can derail a committed long-term relationship.

Actually, any sort of intimacy with a third party — be it sexual, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual — can threaten a marriage. Husbands and wives, straight or gay, sometimes leave a spouse for a colleague, for a teammate, for a priest, advisor, or mentor, or just for a prettier model. You can be impervious to physical infatuation yet find yourself vulnerable to the charms of an intoxicating mind.

Still, out of all that, sexual passion can be uniquely overwhelming. And its consequences, intended or not, often last a lifetime. Sexual exclusivity, in this light, just seems prudent.

What about principles?

Robert George could easily argue that this is a pragmatic argument for exclusivity, not a principled one. Sex is different for everyone. Two married people, straight or gay, could read what I just wrote and say, Hmm. Doesn’t describe us. And go on to have an honest, non-exclusive marriage. Of course, that’s what many married opposite-sexers have done over the centuries and around the world.

George, naturally, would prefer an air-tight, logical case built from a few simple, self-evident truths. But he’s failed to create such an argument himself, as we saw above. In other words, when it comes to monogamy, George’s conjugal/procreative view offers no advantage at all.

How about incest?

As long as we’re talking marital norms, let me go back a few pages. George challenges revisionists to explain why we shouldn’t recognize some incestuous couplings:

Incest, for example, can produce children with health problems and may involve child abuse. But then, assuming for the moment that the state’s interest in avoiding such bad outcomes trumps what revisionists tend to describe as a fundamental right, why not allow incestuous marriages between adult infertile or same-sex couples?

That’s actually a pretty tough question. And it’s not just theoretical. Some states have grappled with it by permitting first-cousin marriage (incestuous by some people’s standards) only if the couple can prove they cannot procreate.

What about closer relations? I have to tell you I’ve got no good answer for this. Mostly I react with the same ick factor response shared by most people (an aversion that may be biologically hard-wired). But ick isn’t a rational policy justification against incest any more than against same-sex marriage. We ought to point one thing, though:

Robert George doesn’t have an answer to this question, either.

Consider a brother-sister couple in love. Let’s say the woman has had a hysterectomy, so they can’t reproduce. Could their relationship pass George’s criteria for a “real” marriage?

  • Comprehensive union?
  • Orientation to children (which, to George, means nothing more than PIV)?
  • Permanence?
  • Exclusivity?

All of these are possible for our brother and sister living as man and wife. By George’s standard, they have a “real” marriage.

You might call this a draw: I don’t have a principled argument against infertile incestuous marriages and neither does George. But a draw means George loses. One of his key arguments against us is that his view can account for norms that we cannot. So, when he fails to make good on that promise, he fails to make his bigger case against marriage equality.

On incest, polygamy, and the Judeo-Christian tradition

Robert George, as a Catholic natural law professor, believes Judeo-Christian morality can be justified entirely through reason (though even many devout theologians disagree). He‘s written:

I challenge liberal secularist ideologies that have established themselves as orthodoxy on college campuses and in the elite sector of the culture generally.

My complaint is not that these ideologies are out of line with faith — though plainly they are — but rather that they fail the test of reason. My argument is that Judeo-Christian morality is rationally superior to the secularist orthodoxy.

Surely, then, it’s fair to point out that the Judeo-Christian faith was literally born in polygamy and incest. Abraham, the father of the faith, married his half-sister. And the twelve tribes of Israel are the descendants of the twelve sons that Jacob (grandson of Abraham, and the man whose name God changed to Israel) had with his various simultaneous wives — two of whom, Rachel and Leah, were sisters.

George has chosen not to offer a “rational” defense of those traditions. When it comes to the Bible, he picks and chooses quite carefully. In fact, it would seem that this opposition to incest and polygamy is the original “revisionist” attitude.

Robert George’s failure

I think it’s clear by now that Robert George has failed to present a coherent philosophy of marriage. Nearly every paragraph had its flaws. It’s tough to sum them up in just a few lines, but I’ll try.

  • George starts off by ignoring most empirical fact about marriage, and does so in the name of “principle.”
  • He creates a spurious distinction between two badly-named views (the “conjugal” and the “revisionist”) and falsely sets them up as competitors.
  • His view of marriage as a “comprehensive union” is too vague and ill-defined to support the reasoning that follows.
  • His definition of “organic bodily union” is arbitrary, is based on a false distinction between body and mind, and takes an oddly fractured view of what it means to be human.
  • He jumps with little justification from many people see some conceptual connection between marriage and children to “real” marriage must have an essential orientation to children. Without ever defining “essential” or “orientation.”
  • He fails to establish that his conjugal/procreative view is better at explaining marital norms than the so-called revisionist view.
  • He offers no clear argument against polygamous and incestuous marriage and actually makes a case for recognizing them.
  • He reasons consistently in circles, repeatedly sneaking his conclusion into the arguments he makes to support it.

But he sure gets an A for effort.

Next: Everybody wants to talk about why infertile couples can or cannot have a “real marriage” (as George defines it), so I’m going to skip ahead a bit and take you on that wild ride.

Comments

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Ben in Oakland
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

“What about closer relations? I have to tell you I’ve got no good answer for this. Mostly I react with the same ick factor response shared by most people (an aversion that may be biologically hard-wired).”

There are answers to this which I have written before.

First of course; where are the legions of brother and sister f*ckers who want to get married? where are their organizations, their political movements? Where are the seeking support outside of arkansas, of course?

Second: Whatever reaons there were to oppose incestuous marriages did not change when same sex marriage appeared on the scene. NO jurisdiction that has legalized same sex marriage has also legalized incestuous marriages.

But, more importantly. Marriage is not just the union of two people. It is the LEGAL means by which a family is created. You have family ties with your blood relatives, but culturally and legally you have no family relationship with anyone else until you marry him or her. then, legally, that family supersedes are other family relations.

(another issue, but that is one of the reasons the terry Schiavo case was so troubling, both legally and believe it or not, religiously. Legally, it was a problem becuase the old family was attempting to intervene in the affairs of the new family. Religiously, it was a problem because, as Jesus said; therefore a man shall leave his parents and cleave to his wife. The two shall become one flesh. You just heard it from god himself. the parents have no business there. The fact that they made it their business means they weren’t paying attention, and underlines the legal marriage bond has nothing to do with the sacramental).

You can’t marry your brother, even where same sex marirage is legal, because he is ALREADY family and, as noted, that family IS your fmaily until you get married. Likewise, you can’t marry a ten year old of either sex because, quite apart from legal consent to a contract, the way you create family with a child is to ADOPT the child.

some other reasons.

As i once said to a guy who asked why he couldn’t marry his brother?

If you get married, your family is going to be wondering what you used to do on all those camping trips.

If you get a divorce, family reunions are going to be VERY awkward.

Finally, i wouldn’t advise it beucase after marriage, the sex stops.

MarcusT
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

Good second point, Ben. Frankly, it’s bizarre that so many opponents of same-sex marriage seem to think polygamy and incest are somehow more gay than heterosexual (hence the slippery slope), considering that heterosexual polygyny and cousin marriage are well ingrained traditions in many cultures.

And for those who cite the heightened risk of birth defects as the reason for their opposition to incestuous marriages (though such people never seem to explain why carriers of far more dangerous genetic disorders should be allowed to marry at all), well, same-sex incestuous marriage is far less risky on that front, isn’t it?

Ben in Oakland
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

I really should not be writing, but it is either that or working on my taxes. so, i’ll try to keep it brief.

Marcus– good point about allowing carriers of genetic disorders to marry.

Polygamy is an interesting case here.

First, it is a heterosexual institution wherever it is practiced. as usual, they are blaming us for what they do, or want to do.

Second, polygamy is almost always one man and as many women as he can manage. Polyandry is rare in todays world, and i think the place it was most widely practiced until 200 years ago was in polynesia.

Third, polygamy is NOT the same as dyadic marriage, but with more people. It is fundamentally different from dyadic marriage as we understand it, legally at least. It is in fact serial marriage without divorce. Also, the women are not married to each other, they are married to the man. for this reason, it is also fundamentally different from group marriage as we might understand it in our culture.

Fourth, becuase of this, as usual, the homophobes have reality exactly backwards. Same sex marriage does not lead to polygamy. Quite the opposite. If polygamy were legal, same sex marriage would have to be legal, as wives would be married to each other. that is hwat owuld have to happen in our culture. Can you imagine a woman saying, “Sure, Newt. you can marry her an you don’t have to divorce little cancer-ridden old me.”

Fifth, All of the reasons for opposing polygamy owuld not suddenly disappear if gay people are allowed to be married.

Finally, same-sex marriage is not legally any different from opposite marriage. If it is legalized, the 99% of the changes to all relevant laws would be to change out man and woman to two people. That’s it.

Polygamous marriage would make a hash out of all related laws, and create legal nightmares we couldn’t resolve. If John marries sue and sue marries Bill, is john married to bill? If sue and bill get divorced, are john and bill divorced as well? Is Bill responsible for John and sue’s kid? And so on. Every single law would become a quagmire (giggity).

The only way to resolve the problem is the way it is currently resolved. The man marries the women, they are not married to each other, and he basically owns them. not very well in line with our notions of sexual parity.

no more time. Maybe someone else can expand on this.

Regan DuCasse
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

If I may. I left some of this on Rob’s site.
But the anti gay and their speciousness on this is not only inaccurate, but frustrating beyond belief.
Some of your own points were made here Ben.
I’ll never understand people wanting discrimination against gay people that have nothing to DO with gay people. A symptom that our detractors can’t stay on their own merits.

1. NO polygamist EVER had to wait, and didn’t on gay marriage to make THEIR stand. If they don’t have a case then or now, they NEVER will.

2. There is recent historical and social context in which polygamy has essentially well documented negative outcomes. Which can ONLY be attributed to heterosexuals and not gay people.

3. The state has an interest in streamlining the primacy of a marriage. Who has custody and the first choice in whatever decisions and co mingling there is. With plural marriages, this would be impossible.

4. Incest has infinite possibility, because there can be MANY relatives. The motive for having children would be suspicious, as would having other relatives living under the same roof could as well.

5. We are living in more densely populated ways. Men and women are extremely indiscriminate about their progeny and where they have them. Marriage has been essential for IDENTITY of children and who is who anywhere. What heteros are risking, with so little regard to their children and where they are, is that siblings and parents could accidentally marry without knowing who their potential spouse is. The ease in which exceptional child abandonment occurs overwhelmed foster care rolls), or even in vitro donations of eggs and sperm creates a situation where such accidental incest is likely.

The state hasn’t ever put a limit on people who are so irresponsible about their children, so it makes even LESS sense to punish and discriminate against people to marry who HAVEN’T and couldn’t contribute to this situation.

6. The other offensive statement is that gay people can marry the op sex ‘like anyone else’.
The answer to that is, heteros can marry another hetero. Therefore for things to truly be equal, then a gay person should be able to marry a person with their SAME ORIENTATION. If there is no mutual attraction in the marriage, then why should there be one?

Those that argue against us do so as if it’s still a theory that the outcomes of marriage equality have no success or aren’t positive.
And treat a conjecture of negative outcomes as if the truth.

They argue as if discrimination based on procreative intention and ability is a matter in the law, as if our Constitution should reflect that.

And they argue as if our nation should take it’s cues from religious belief, rather than the states and countries that have marriage equality NOW.

I hate being confronted with SUCH stupidity and blatant bald faced contradictions in terms.
I hate it being asserted in the media without the challenge and truth it deserves.

David S.
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

Close family members often live together and develop platonic relationships. In fact, close family members often live together when they are young, immature children. Maintaining a ban on incest creates an exclusive zone of platonic relationships, enabling nonsexual intimacy among these close family members. Those instances in which incest is potentially ‘justifiable’ are few are far between; therefore, I see no reason to revoke the ban on incest.

Erin
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

Here’s is my response to the incest argument: Quite simply, one is not the other, meaning same-sex marriage is not a slippery slope that leads to incest. There is no movement pushing for incestuous marriage, at least not to my knowledge. Which means, if there is one, well it certainly does not have anywhere near the weight ssm movements have. That’s not the strongest point though. A stronger point, which is a continuation of that point is just because society may accept and allow legalization of gay marriage, does not mean they will accept incest, no matter upon which grounds the 2 can or cannot be compared. Again, ssm is a legal issue, and I like to stick to legal arguments.
As for why society is so icked out by incest (mostly) and won’t accept it: I think, psychologically and emotionally, humans recognize different kinds of love. Our parents and elder siblings are our protectors, just as our children and younger siblings are those we feel compelled to protect, and we feel for them an innocent, familial love that carries with it that mutual drive to protect and nurture one another. Yes, those feelings can become part of a romantic relationship, but most people are unable to view older family members who brought us up and were responsible for our well-being in a sexual way, as we feel it absolutely perverse to target a younger family member who has looked up to us and trusted us to look out for their well-being, as an object of sexual affection. This is why, I think incest is such a taboo among humans, even though it is possible. For legal purposes, incestuous procreation, is of course risky healthwise, but without the procreation issue, relatives of an immediate family already have next of kin status. So, 2 siblings already have more legal rights to one another than a same-sex couple, whether those siblings are your ordinary siblings, or they’re taboo incestuous lovers. And, as has already been stated, in some places, first cousins can marry.

Ben in Oakland
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

Erin– thanks for fleshing out what i had to say. I didn’t have much time to write.

Erin
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

As for polygamy, it frustrates me the arguments against it made on our side are weak as well. It is not usually an equal relationship, and for the life of me, I just cannot accept that polyamorous or open relationships can be successful and fully based on love. But, hey, some people swear it works for them. So, societal trends and norms and generalizations about how those relationships can be harmful sound an awful lot like the arguments against us. Again, stick with the legal arguments. How much does the marital system and every system that recognizes marital relationships (taxes, power of attorney, default receiver of survivor benefits, legal parents)have to be overhauled in order to legalize multiple spouses for one individual? SSM advocates are asking for the legal right to have one legal spouse who is recognized legally the same way heterosexual-oriented people get to have one. I know that sentence was redundant, but sometimes I cannot place enough emphasis on “legal” because trolls come on here and argue that somehow what they believe or what they are comfortable with should take precedence over my rights.

Ben in Oakland
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

and again, thanks.

MarcusT
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

No disrespect intended to anyone, but I’m honestly baffled by the common argument that polygamous marriages are too complex for the legal system to handle.

Even ignoring, for the moment, the intricacy of virtually all legislation, why then are corporations with more than two owners or stakeholders permitted to legally exist?

I also have to take issue with the social-effects argument. Legalization of same-sex marriage hasn’t turned the whole population queer, and legalizing polygamy isn’t going to make mono people poly, or force a monogamous spouse to accept a polygamous marriage. Repealing a ban on incestuous marriage won’t make anyone’s cousin any more attractive to them than they are already.

Bans on certain types of marriages don’t prevent attraction, or even sexual relationships – they only ensure that people in such relationships can’t have legal protection for them.

Scott L.
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

MarcusT, in my opinion, society DOES have legitimate reasons in discourage polygamy and incest. because the nature of both types of relationships are inherently exploitative in nature. With polygamy those who enter into such marriages claim that they’re consenting adults, just as we gays do, BUT almost all polygamists are members of fanatical religious cults who are bent on dominating the lives of their members for the gain of the hierarchy and at the determent of the less powerful among them. Girls, barely out of puberty, are forced to marry men 20-30 years older than them and boys as young as 12 are thrown out on the street for daring to have hair too long, or unbuttoned collars and sleeves. The girls have to be married before they can assert themselves and excess males must be culled from the herd, it’s that simple.

In incestuous relationships there tends to be a dominate partner who has convinced the submissive that the world is their enemy and only by being with each other can they keep themselves safe. This generally leads to a host of mental illnesses.

MarcusT
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

In response to Scott L., I disagree with your premise that polygamous relationships are inherently exploitative.

There are abusive cultures that practice polygamy – and many that don’t. Forced marriages, child marriages, child abuse, and exploitative religious leaders are found in monogamous and polygamous societies alike. Outlawing child marriages make sense; outlawing all monogamous marriages or all polygamous marriages just to outlaw child marriages is overkill.

I’d be interested in where you get your statistic that the majority of polygamous people are members of groups like the FLDS (which sounds like what you’re describing). Extremist groups get a lot of media attention, but their numbers aren’t all that large.

Regardless, there are many polyamorous people whose relationships are no different, aside from the poly element, from the monogamous ones that our society celebrates. To punish them for the behavior of abusive cults that they have absolutely nothing to do with strikes me as unjust.

MarcusT
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

PS: In regards to incestuous marriages, I think it’s important to distinguish between, for example, a parent and the child they raised, versus cousins who never met until adulthood.

Scott L.
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

MarcusT, I’ll concede that I didn’t cite any statistics, but I stand by my statement, but do you know of a large segment of polygamists in this country asking to have their relationships legalized for any but religious reasons? If you can prove me wrong in my assertion that the vast majority of polygamists are people such as the FLDS, please do so. I have no problem with polygamy in theory, but in practice it’s a religious institute that does far more harm than good.

Scott L.
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

By the way, we’re not discussing polyamory, but polygamous marriage.

Lucrece
March 11th, 2011 | LINK

If you’re going to cite sects as a reason to ban polygamy, I might as well cite you the 50% of marriages that end in divorce due to bitterness, abuse, and plain financial disagreements (i.e. greed) as a reason to ban marriage as an institution.

You can’t use the rotten apples to make the functioning setups pay for the broken dishes.

While I liked Rob’s general argument I found the idea that people in polygamy would behave like children/siblings and shirk responsibility (when the relationship is based on love and intimacy among all involved members– it’s not some sibling/paternal relationship) as pretty distasteful.

Especially since the whole argument that since there are only 2 people you can only rely on one another doesn’t fly in the slightest. There are always best friends/family to resort to and in fact many married couples do become healthy by not expecting to get everything out of a partner but rather what you need of each type of relationship.

I find the idea of valuing relationships of different types among consenting adults differently to be invasive and unnecessary.

MarcusT
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

Scott L., I personally am unaware of any major movement to legalize polygamy in the USA, religious or otherwise. But I consider the motivations behind any law to be of little relevance – it’s the actual effect that matters most.

It’s a very strong and potentially explosive accusation to claim that the “vast majority” of a group of people are members of abusive fundamentalist groups. I’m not saying you have bad intentions, but to assume such a thing without any reason at all seems pretty unreasonable to me.

Lucrece, thanks for your point about the value in different relationships. My instinct is that many people would be happier without the idea that your marriage has to be your best and closest relationship in every conceivable way, and that friends or family aren’t as valuable.

Off to bed, now.

David in Houston
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

If same-sex marriage really were a slippery slope to polygamy, then why did the Mormons fund the Yes on 8 campaign? They would have the most to gain if they thought same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy. Also, historically polygamy has solely been a heterosexual endeavor. So why would homosexual marriage open the flood gates to heterosexual polygamy? Shouldn’t those flood gates have already been opened, regardless if gays can marry or not? The more valid argument is: If we allow heterosexual marriage, then why not polygamy? If a man can marry one woman, then why not two or three? So if anything, straight people should be defending their relationships, not gays.

As for incestuous marriage, that slippery slope lands squarely on the shoulders of heterosexuals. They are the only group that can procreate (make a biological family). So they are the only ones able to create a scenario involving incestuous marriage. So again, they could have already legalized incestuous marriage regardless if gays can marry or not.

Reed Boyer
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

Excellent, excellent work – my favorite thus far, which I read through with increasing delight.

Favorite point: “Surely, then, it’s fair to point out that the Judeo-Christian faith was literally born in polygamy and incest.”

As well, “opposition to incest and polygamy is the original “revisionist” attitude” seems to be the crux of the matter – and points up the fallacy (and arrogant presumption) that there has been some kind of “eternal and unchanging” (i.e., “traditional”) form of “marriage.”

The Roman Catholic church “revised” marriage (eliminating it for priests) a millennium ago, as well as later eliminating same-sex unions of various kinds. John Boswell’s work pointed this out. One of Boswell’s initial critics, Allan Tulchin, researched further, and changed his position, coming to believe that the ” . . . existence of affrèrements shows that there was a radical shift in attitudes between the sixteenth century and the rise of modern anti-homosexual legislation in the twentieth.”

Tulchin’s “The 600 Year Tradition Behind Same-Sex Unions” may be found at:
http://hnn.us/articles/42361.html

It would seem that The Church has a history of “revising marriage,” with regular policy shifts every 500 years or so, and more minor “adjustments” to various strictures from time to time (the Wiki “Catholic marriage” article points out “further specifications” added by Pius X in 1907).

Bravos and kudos all around.

Muscat
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

George’s argument against polygamy is weak and possibly contradictory but I’m not sure your argument is any better and could be proven internally weaker.

Your argument as I read it rests on the idea of a “free rider effect” but any possible “intrinsic” negative effect of this sort can be countered with a sort of “all your eggs in one basket” argument. What you would need in terms of an empirical support for your argument (rather than relying on cultural/personal biases against polygamy, intuitive sense, tradition, or what have you) is, for example, evidence only children are less likely to place thee parents in nursing homes.

Regan DuCasse
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

Several points on the negative aspects of PLURAL marriage.

1. I already pointed out, simplicity and streamlining. One spouse for the custody of the other, makes not only the state’s interests easier, but those of the married couple as well. Let’s be real, infighting, jealousy, imbalance of favor and property invites serious complications.
Too many cooks, spoil the soup, so to speak.

2. The state also would require the terms in which ALL the parties have agree to the same things. In plural relationships, this would be extremely difficult. As to the point about corporations and multiple partners in business: they don’t have children, and there are issues of infighting, hostile takeovers, exploitation of weak moments in those relationships. These are not ROMANTIC intimate involvements, but business and profit making relationships. The comparison cannot be made.

3. As to this point, how chores or property or the discipline and support of children is to be dispersed, the ugly truth is, sometimes there IS serious disparity and lack of closeness or intimacy…and likely even consent. It’s true, there can be power struggles and similar issues within a monogamous couple’s situation, but doubling or tripling or quadrupling the situation and it’s attendant risks, doesn’t make a lot of sense.

4. There is also the matter of modesty of acquisition. Someone with many spouses, leaves no option for someone else to have one. For a person to have the closeness and intimacy with a spouse that is necessary to build from. We can see for ourselves how heterosexuals are a large majority, and gorge themselves on marriage opportunity, waste a lot of it, throw away spouses and children at will, yet to the faces of gay people say: you must starve for even the crumbs of our bounty.
It’s a cruel and unnecessary thing to do, to acquire many wives for example, but leave dozens of other men to starve for just one.
In the world of MINORITIES, gay people have even less opportunity for a compatible mate, there are less gay people to go around, yet…straight people still try to make gay men and women marry straight spouses or the op sex in the mistaken belief that doing such a thing makes someone heterosexual. Further diminishing the pool.

5. In plural marriage communities, there is little consent for or from the first spouse. As pointed out, this tradition has been the domain of MEN. When THEY decide they want a second or third wife, the previous wives have no say in it.

In our modern society, the closest thing to this is serial divorce and remarriage, where there are several spouses and children by each one. I know of very few who enjoy or support this arrangement, they accept it by attrition because they didn’t have much choice in the decision. One could ask them how difficult it’s been to compete for the attentions and resources of their former spouses, and for attention to their children.
In the case of say, baby mama and baby daddy issues among unmarried people with multiple partners and children from previous unmarried relationships, there is also a diminished capacity for attention and resources and the poorest of these are the ones who apply for welfare. Burdening the public with their decisions on who to have babies with.Which has certainly been true of these more well publicized FLDS plural situations: Welfare fraud.

These are all the reality based negative consequences of plural relationships. The positives (if you can name them) never outweigh them.

Muscat
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

@Regan – I actually think the arguments you present – particularly the first two – are those that actually win the day. But I do see them as pragmatic and/ or tradition-based arguments which I understand to be outside the scope of what this project is trying to do. I think all in all given the framework of the project the principled win here is in arguing it is a draw (because “principled” arguments lack anything approaching an air-tight case in both accounts) and in a draw George loses as is pointed out in the essay.

Erin
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

@ Marcus, no it wouldn’t be impossible for the law to reconfigure itself for plural marriage, but it would still take a lot of changes, and I don’t see what’s in it for the law to have to do all that, especially when, like Reagan pointed out, conflict can arise among the multiple spouses over who can lawfully make decisions or receive and distribute inheritance. One spouse is enough to get the security and benefits that marriage licenses offer. Those benefits and protections are the reason government marriage exists. If it weren’t for those issues, a purely ceremonious marriage would be enough for married couples and families. The government in most states is telling gay people, they don’t get to have that one consenting adult partner who carries that legal status.

MarcusT
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

Regan, you seriously misrepresent my points.

I’m not arguing the pros and cons of poly versus mono. If you see poly relationships as ripe for conflict and custody disputes, then by all means, don’t be in one.

And of course business relationships involve different issues than romantic relationships. But the context was the argument about legal complexity, which is equally relevant to both.

Apparently you think that legalizing polygamy will lead to a bunch of polygamous men grabbing all the women. I don’t know where you live, but where I come from (America), both men and women decide who they marry. And the vast majority of American women aren’t interested in sharing their husbands any more than most men are interested in sharing their wives.

The fact is, there are and always will be a few people who decide to be in poly relationships. Whether or not they made the right choice, their families exist. The question is, do you want to specifically exclude these families from the benefits and protections given to the families of monogamous people?

Mark F.
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

Interestingly, there is not an absolute ban on married Catholic Priests. Eastern Rite Catholic priests can be married at the time of ordination and the Pope often gives a special dispensation for Protestant ministers who convert.

Regan DuCasse
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

Hi Marcus,
I wasn’t trying to represent your points at all. Just address them, and make my own point on the merits.

I live in Los Angeles, CA and I’m a native of that city.

The misunderstanding is yours. There IS no case for making plural marriages legal.
As I pointed out, the closest similar situation is serial divorce and remarriage.
It’s already legal to have SERIAL spouses, and any number of children from each of them.
Ex-spouses are entitled to stay in proximity to their former spouse, alimony, and each child is certainly entitled to whatever properties, pensions or other rights of inheritance their parents have arranged for them.
These kinships are respected in the law so that continuing to be married to a spouse, while marrying another isn’t necessary.

A poorer person couldn’t manage without engaging publicly funded supported welfare. And as you have pointed out, sharing in romantic attention isn’t accepted in relationships, neither is sharing whatever income they have.
Because this situation is actually common enough, this is why plural marriage wouldn’t be popular or generate support so that legislatures or courts or politicians wouldn’t support it either for it to become legal.

This is why anyone COMPARING this to gay couples marrying is so wrongful and unfair.
The consequences are so different. Plural marriage has historical and social precedent that’s determined to have negative outcomes.
Whereas, gay marriage, where it’s been legal, has no negative precedent worthy of discrimination.

Regan DuCasse
March 12th, 2011 | LINK

Oh and Marcus,
I’m not sure if I made the point, I’m a little tired right now.

But whatever people you think would accept a plural situation, are a negligable minority.
These are people who have entered into a complex situation of CHOICE, and by doing so, are engaging government support of it beyond the government’s capacity to do so.
Mores the point, what would be the LIMIT on how many spouses?
If the state can impose a limit at all, then what should it be?
How many concurrent relationships are enough for the polyamorous?

The anti gay want the government to impose on situations that are not legal now, but is an extreme imposition on private matters of personal choice.
Such as in the matter of discrimination based on non procreation and non procreative sex.

I point out to those opposed to marriage equality that it’s impossible for any legislation to MAKE heteros stay married and stay with their children if they don’t WANT to.
It’s impossible also to require people to have children to validate their marriages.
It’s also counterproductive to KEEP adults from maximizing their spousal and parental duties by denying them the legal ability to marry.

Gay couples need to become unique kin, in the same way op sex couples do.
Plural marriage is REDUNDANT, therefore unnecessary.
Big difference and that difference IS something that deserves to be recognized by the state.

Amicus
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

It’s clear that this topic is absolutely critical to George’s entire apologetic approach.

Recall that the entire motivation (p culminating p. 251, “there is no general right to marry the person you love”) that allows him to run his syllogisms, thereby trapping the undefended in his “logic”, is that we have “[love] relationships” that we must distinguish. Yet, on one key relationship which motivates his discussion, he has almost nothing to say. On gay relationships, boy does he have a LOT to say…

For now, I concur with Rob that it is almost impossible to tease out a principled objection to polygyny from this paper. To have left it out is a grave fault in argument and presentation, not only because he doesn’t fulfill his thesis, but he goes on to impugn “revisionists” on the issue. The first is ugly, the second is double-ugly.

The obvious candidate, his theoretical construct of “bodily union” and “comprehensive union” don’t seem to be able to carry the weight. To him, the generative act implies exclusivity, in a broader sense than simultaneity. Why that is left entirely up to the reader or assumed to be self-evident, in one of the rambling bits that expand but don’t explain.

At one point, it does seem that only-one-penis-at-a-time nature of coitus might be his analytical insight (“no single act can organically unite three or more people at the bodily level” p. 272). Of course, one’s jaw just drops at that.

The other obvious candidate, “the children”, might be a principled (in ways unclear) or pragmatic argument; but, if GGA argues for it, it is not in evidence, here. As such, this paper is a bit of propaganda pawned off on the editors of the Harvard Review, just confirming the biases of certain readers, one suspects, more than anything, in advance of upcoming marriage votes or whatever, and giving them pseudo-intellectual support for their prejudices.

That’s not to say there might not be a way for him to “rescue” his view, but let’s call this paper on its exclusive merits, if only because these papers do damage to real people’s lives.

Last, the failure to make a clear, decisive showing on polygyny (and incest?) has bearing on his odd formulations for infertile couples.

It really does seem that bodily union would have to be distinctly generative, not just a form, in order to make any sense of incestuous or polygynous infertile couples.

(p.s. in a re-write, I suspect GGA would have to start writing about marital “norms” in proper relation to the ‘final good’ that they envision in a way that would would practically frame a big door marked ‘gay marriage is okay’.)

Amicus
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

above: “Why that is left” s/b “Why that is is left…”

@Reed

http://www.artdaily.org/index.asp?int_sec=2&int_new=45683

The analytic import of the changing marriage contract is not something that the New Natural Law folks seem to deal with particularly well. If they write about it expressly or at length, I’m not aware of it (yet). Blankenhorn is not NNL.

For one, I’m suspect of their reliance on coitus as the defining legal event of marriage, because I suspect that, historically, the transition from female virginity to non-virginity via coitus had *nothing* to do with “bodily union” or “comprehensive union” and, perhaps, “one flesh union”, as George understands them. (I don’t think he could reply that there was no need for prior societies to intend or understand coitus in the way he describes for it to be “objectively moral”, because that just multiplies his arguments-from-illusion, not completely dissimilar from the illusion critique he gives to hedonists, whom he dislikes, say.)

And, while they rely on current studies about children raised by biological mothers and fathers and abstract an ideal for that, one wonders why they aren’t more precise and full in their explanation, unless their purpose, again, is to play to preconceptions of the reader. Do they mean to imply that ancient Greece, judged as a “civilization”, was unable to successfully “orient to raising kids” and did a bad job of it? Ancient Rome? How about the Spartans – are they out, too? I suspect they do intend to say that, but they won’t come out and say it, seeing as that might cause some to pause.

I’m not sure these are problems to “our side” in the way that George says, i.e. “Where’s your definition?”. One reply to that is that gays are interested in equality at current law. To carry the burden, all we have to do is point out why the tradition, whatever it is, is morally wrong in a critical way and make some weighty analytical showing that we’re not necessarily tearing down the entire edifice, perhaps.

Stephen
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

Polygamy is a religious form of marriage patterned on the patriarchs. In the US it has only ever been advocated by the Mormons, who have now renamed it ‘plural marriage’ in much the same way that creationism has been rebranded as ‘intelligent design’. It is a complete red herring to drag polygamy into a discussion on civil marriage.

Donny D.
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

To my mind, polygamy/polyamory is a red herring and we shouldn’t spend much time on it when we are talking to the world about gay marriage.

However, if all we ever do is reply to it with some quick talking point, we will sound like we are avoiding the subject because we are vulnerable on it. One thing we could do is turn it into a counter-attack, perhaps in the parry-and-thrust manner.

Perhaps the thing to do is to say that “while I/we have little interest in polygamy/polyandry as an issue and while it is irrelevant to what we are advocating for, legal secular same sex marriage between two people, I/we should note that there are some good public policy reasons for not allowing polygamous marriage (perhaps summarize a few of them), but there are no good reasons for not allowing gay marriage between two people. [That’s the parry. Next comes the thrust.]

“But it should also be noted that polygamy is always a heterosexual arrangement.” And bring in the points very ably made by the posters here on that subject, emphasizing how patriarchal and heterosexist polygamy is. Perhaps talk about how polygamous arrangements are always male supremacist, and connect that to the overt male supremacist doctrine of those who are central to the push for straights only marriage (Protestant fundamentalists, conservative Catholics, doctrinaire Mormons, and whichever straights only marriage advocates have espoused male supremacy at any time). Basically, turn it back on heterosexist straight people, like we do with other things the ‘phobes attack us for.

An alternate or additional thrust could be to mention that the polygamy/polyandry argument is the good old slippery slope logical fallacy, and it’s also a way of associating homosexuality, and therefore gay marriage, with types of sexuality that most people are against.

The most important thing is to not get caught up in discussing this with the anti-gays at length. It’s a trap that we need not get stuck in.

Now the non-procreating hetero married couple is one of the best weaknesses of the procreationist anti-gay marriage argument. That one we need to hammer on relentlessly and creatively. We need to talk about all different kinds of non-procreating hetero couples. If possible, we should saddle the whole procreationist argument with non-procreating hetero couples so thoroughly that the procreationist argument becomes a laughing stock. The best scenario would be that we would be so successful at it that the moment most people, including most straight people, saw the beginnings of the procreationist argument, they’d start cracking jokes about all the restrictions we don’t have against non-procreative marriage or about different types of non-procreating married people.

Regan DuCasse
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

Something to Reed Boyer’s point. I’ve read books on ‘companionate” same sex marriages that were performed in the CC in Europe. There were similar motivations in allowing those, as there are regarding celibate priests: that the Church be the kin and inherit the property of ss couples and priests.

The Church, didn’t want to compete for wealth with the children of priests, and the Church also gave concession to wealthier homosexuals (who had to contract to bequeath to the church on condition of these marriages), who usually didn’t have children.

Clearly, celibacy for priests, inheritance for the Church from the gay couples they married, was a mercenary act of coveting wealth for itself, not some higher calling for God.

Gay people have always been confronted with something conditional to just participate in what other people do all the time without such conditions.
CU’s and DP’s are another example of those conditions, all the responsibility, but still without all the privileges.
Our society, despite how ‘family’ orgs. treat gay people as if never or incapable of contribution, benefits greatly from gay people, especially those who don’t have children or who adopt them.
Credit isn’t given where it’s deserved.

Priya Lynn
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

MarcusT said “In response to Scott L., I disagree with your premise that polygamous relationships are inherently exploitative.”.

The anecdotal evidence says they are. The abusive aspects of polygamy are apparent in every polygamous community I’ve heard of and I have yet to hear about any polygamous community where abuse isn’t a primary feature of its marriages.

Lucrece said “Especially since the whole argument that since there are only 2 people you can only rely on one another doesn’t fly in the slightest. There are always best friends/family to resort to and in fact many married couples do become healthy by not expecting to get everything out of a partner but rather what you need of each type of relationship”.

No there are not always best friends/family to resort to. My family rejects me and my relationship and as a loner I only have my husband to rely upon. I’m sure I’m not alone in that. Family and friends almost never have the same level of committment to a person that their spouse does, you simply cannot rely on family and friends to provide what a spouse will – you are not the primary relationship in their lives.

MarkusT said “Lucrece, thanks for your point about the value in different relationships. My instinct is that many people would be happier without the idea that your marriage has to be your best and closest relationship in every conceivable way, and that friends or family aren’t as valuable.”.

Spoken like someone who’s never been married. Friends and family aren’t as valuable. Just because you share genetics doesn’t mean you share any sort of committment to each other. I’ve never met anyone who considered any friend or family member as a closer or as close a relationship as their spouse. To suggest that’s the case is wholly unrealistic in the vast majority of the time.

Lucrece said “If you’re going to cite sects as a reason to ban polygamy, I might as well cite you the 50% of marriages that end in divorce due to bitterness, abuse, and plain financial disagreements (i.e. greed) as a reason to ban marriage as an institution.”.

If there are polygamous marriages apart from sects I haven’t heard of them. One simply does not hear about healthy stable polygamous marriages. Of those marriages that end in divorce a small portion of them are due to the kind of abuse that seems to be typical in polygamous marriages. Most marriages are entered into as an agreement between equals thus limiting the systemic abuse one sees in typical polygamous marriages where there is a huge power imbalance.

MarcusT said “Apparently you think that legalizing polygamy will lead to a bunch of polygamous men grabbing all the women. I don’t know where you live, but where I come from (America), both men and women decide who they marry. And the vast majority of American women aren’t interested in sharing their husbands any more than most men are interested in sharing their wives.”.

Polygamy DOES lead to a few men taking most of the women and leaving many young men alone and targets for rejection from the society. Polygamy is common in some communities and virtually absent in others. In those communities where its common or the norm it causes serious problems with disaffected young men with no marriageable partners. Legalizing polygamy would likely lead to more of this and deprive more young men of spouses.

MarcusT
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

I don’t have time to respond in more detail right now, so I’m just going to say this:

If you (general you) honestly believe that legalizing polygamy would cause any of this to happen:

1. The monogamous majority will become polygamous.
2. But only the men, and not the women.
3. Americans will embrace the culture of fundamentalist Mormons, the Taliban, or whatever backwards polygamous society you’re thinking of.

Then I suggest you support the abolition of monogamous marriage right away. The vast majority of monogamous societies throughout history – and today – have been patriarchal, authoritarian, and deeply sexist. Women and girls have been treated as exploitable goods in most monogamous marriages throughout history. By embracing monogamy, then, America is opening the floodgates to God knows what.

Priya Lynn, I’m sorry for whatever you’ve been through with your own friends or family. It doesn’t give you the right to denigrate the relationships of people who do have close non-marital relationships. And not everyone can or wants to get married.

MarcusT
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

By the way, for those saying “I’ve never heard of polygamy except in abusive societies,” there are plenty of blogs and online resources by the secular, feminist, queer-friendly poly community. If the rest of us aren’t well informed, it’s no fault of theirs.

Pleading ignorance isn’t an argument, any more than it is when “I’ve never heard of a homosexual who wasn’t an unhappy, abused sex addict” is used by anti-gay activists.

Ben in Oakland
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

Priya– as someone who myself came from a pretty crappy family that one could not EVER expect to rely on– and I never would…

I have to agree with Marcus. I don’t get warm and fuzzy when I think of family. Usually it’s as the First Betrayers, the First Bullies.

But my husband’s family is wonderful– and though he is very close to them, he is basically a loner like you. I have many friends whose families are incredible, supportive, loving– you name. As a boy, I was blessed with the people i called my foster parents. Were it not for them, I would have turned into the same kind of emotional wrecks as the rest of my family.

That being said, I don’t think the polyamorous communities in this country referred to by various people can be compared the the polygamous marriages of the mormons, or the polygamous marriages of African Christians, or anyone else’s. There are very few polyandrous societies left, if any, and there weren’t that many historically. Those polygamous marriages fit your paradigm. Men have more power than women.

This is where my comments on the legal difficulty of poly-anything marriages that do not fit the patriarchal model.

Revising slightly what I said earlier:

“Polygamous marriage would make a hash out of all related family laws, and create legal nightmares we probably couldn’t resolve. If John marries sue and sue marries Bill, is john married to bill? Is same sex marriage then legal? If sue and bill get divorced, are john and bill divorced as well? Is Bill responsible for John and sue’s kid? And so on. Every single law would become a quagmire (giggity).

The only way to resolve the problem is the way it is currently resolved. The man marries the women, they are not married to each other, and he basically owns them. It is serial marriage without divorce, and polyandry may be, but probably won’t be in the offing. The thought of all those men married to the same woman would probably excite way to many homosexual fantasies that would then need to be repressed, and the wanna-be-straight-but-ain’t’s are way too busy already.

not to mention, it does not fit very well in line with our notions of sexual parity.

Timothy Kincaid
March 13th, 2011 | LINK

Amicus, et. al.

Implicit in – and inseparable from – the idea that “there is no general right to marry the person you love” is the assumption that the right to marry the person you love is restricted and one must in some way attain that right.

To George, there is only one way and only one way to earn that right. It is a simple step, one that isn’t much of a burden on most people. The one step that one takes to be heterosexual.

And, actually, that’s what George’s entire argument consists of: finding ways to say “marriage is only for heterosexuals” without having to admit that his standard is arbitrary.

So he plays a game of synonyms.

The couple must be complimentary. Well, how is that defined? By being opposite sex.

Or the requirement is that should they ever engage in sex together, it will be of the kind that in some people results in contraception. Oh, and what kind is that? It must be opposite sex.

At some point is begins to be apparent that he’s just listing what he thinks are differences between the couples and trying to pretend that they are reasons.

It’s all a bit like a third grader explaining why her schoolmate was the only one not invited to her birthday party. “Oh, it’s nothing personal, Gloria, it’s just that this year’s theme was ‘people who aren’t named Gloria'”.

Amicus
March 14th, 2011 | LINK

Tim, I think you are right. But, the very name of this website/blog is testament to the fact that his line of apologetics is still powerful/influential, no?

Our final task, in this series or otherwise, is not just to agree our collective impression of what he says, but to actually come up with and share ways to develop a successful, well-formed, and good faith set of alternative appeals.

For instance, the “arbitrary standard” criticism can be a _central_ criticism. However, for our purposes, it is not an apt appeal, as is. People don’t *feel* like their marriage is “arbitrary”. In this context, for a host of reasons, people don’t “feel” like arbitrary is unfair (cf. “marriage equality”), yet. To the contrary, many still *feel* like is a just defense of a moral good.

To my own mind (and, to be clear, for multiple personal reasons, I left off moral philosophy a loooong time ago – would you have wanted to spend your life, say, “arguing” with the likes of Robbie P. George?), I think a more cutting critique lies in “needlessly exclusive”. In this way, unlike others, I don’t need to deny his premise, just his supporting logic.

In this paper, he’s hiding his ‘final good’, I submit, so that people get lost in the weeds, perhaps, where he can tiger-bait them.

And, I’m grateful to Rob for this series. It helps us to hone our thinking/skills.

For instance, suppose you concur that some [loving] relationships are to be excluded at law. How do you do it? Some might be on principle, some might be pragmatic. It might include observations like the acceptable risk to the children that nongays sanction to let people remarry and create step-parents. We might make an argument that some relationships are of trivial interest to the law, no matter what our moral view of them.

We might have to specify which of these relationships is subject to heightened scrutiny (are all private, self-declared love relationships subject to more searching forms of scrutiny?) and why. What is the compelling interest of the state, such that it denies some – if there are any others?

I believe these are all manageable questions. But, thinking about them, does help. (For one, the development and codification of a commonsense view of them helps take the risk out of high profile court decisions, in a way, making them seem to confirm widely-rationalized beliefs, rather than creating them).

For instance, Ben (above) says that incestuous relationships are bad for family reunions and that there is no clamoring class of the incestuous, just to pick two. How one answers the questions that frame the debate might influence how you slot those observations and come up with the best set of appeals we can, for now. By that I mean, the state doesn’t have a compelling interest in the harmony of family picnics, so that apt observation belongs in another class of considerations/appeals.

Amicus
March 14th, 2011 | LINK

“says that incestuous” s/b “says that broken incestuous”;

“apt observation belongs” s/b “apt observation _may_ belong”

Amicus
March 21st, 2011 | LINK

my eyes are bugging out with all this stuff. I feel like a missed a decade or more…

anyway, I just skimmed through Corvino’s “PIB” paper (not PIV).

Unlike him, I very much liked Rauch’s argument that polygamy is inherently undemocratic. I think there might be ways to rescue it, so that it continues as a critique in pure reason, even.

If not, I’d be prepared to concede that ground and still keep the argument. So much so, that it is one that I think the consequentialists could win. Even in court. To qualify for heightened scrutiny, polygamists would have to do more than a showing of “I love you! and you! and you!”, right? We certainly did! Even if they were able, it does seem that they would face considerable challenges from consequentialists.

I think the bestiality objections that get raised are so stupid they are not serious, either as questions of law or morality.

Consequentialists have their own sticks, things that they can question that George cannot. You can debate whether they would want to waive them or not, to “win” the debate, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I’m not going to make a list here, but think it over.

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