“Traditional Marriage” Arguments and Polygamy (or: The slippery slope is on their side of the hill)

Rob Tisinai

February 1st, 2013

Self-described Catholic blogger Brandon Vogt recently published Rebuttals to arguments for same-sex marriageHe tries to disprove 10 common same-sex-marriage arguments, but merely highlights the most common mistakes of his own camp. I’m addressing each of his 10 points in separate posts as a kind of back-t0-basics review of our opposition.

I think the traditional marriage folks have really messed up.

One of their biggest bugaboos is that same-sex marriage creates a slippery slope to polygamy. In fact, though, their own rationale for “traditional marriage” makes a strong case for plural marriage. And the “unintended procreation” argument they’ve just offered the Supreme Court? It only compounds the problem.

Let’s start with Vogt’s rebuttal of “our” argument.

5. Same-sex marriage will not lead to other redefinitions.

When marriage revolves around procreation, it makes sense to restrict it to one man and one woman. That’s the only relationship capable of producing children. But if we redefine marriage as simply a loving, romantic union between committed adults, what principled reason would we have for rejecting polygamist or polyamorous — that is, multiple-person — relationships as marriages? Thomas Peters, cultural director at the National Organization for Marriage, doesn’t see one. “Once you sever the institution of marriage from its biological roots, there is little reason to cease redefining it to suit the demands of various interest groups,” Peters said.

This is crazy. It’s not just nonsense. It’s one of those cases where making your argument more clear just makes it more absurd.

Let’s imagine an outsider listening to this, someone with no preconceived notions about polygamy. He hears this talk about marriage’s biological roots, that its purpose is to keep a child’s biological parents together. He learns that some men have children with two different women. And that some women have children with two different men. What would this impartial, logical stranger conclude?

He’d conclude that the man should be married to both women. The woman should be married to both men.


And consider this: whenever our opponents pretend to give us “science” about the dangers of same-sex parenting, they’re always citing studies about children from broken hetero homes, children whose biological parents don’t live together. So if you  argue that all children should have married biological parents, then you require polygamous marriage.

But let’s be fair. Try to imagine our opponents’ response. They’d argue these case are unfortunate. They go against the world as it should be. They are unintended exceptions. And we don’t build the law around exceptions.

The problem is that our opponents are building their Supreme Court case on exactly the opposite idea. See, they’re desperate to distinguish opposite-sex relationships from same-sexers. But it’s harder now that more same-sexers are having and raising children. So they’ve been forced to focus on another distinction: the fact that only opposite-sex couples can have kids by accident. From their brief to the Supreme Court:

Underscoring the state’s interest in marriage is the undisputed truth that children suffer when procreation and childrearing take place outside stable family units, which is the usual result, unfortunately, of unintended pregnancies outside of marriage… Indeed, a recent study estimates that divorce and unwed childbearing “costs U.S. taxpayers at least $112 billion each and every year, or more than $1 trillion each decade.”… Because same-sex relationships cannot naturally produce offspring, they do not implicate the State’s interest in responsible procreation and childrearing in the same way that opposite-sex relationships do. Same-sex relationships “are thus different, immutably so, in relevant respects” from opposite-sex relationships for purposes of marriage.”

I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t analyze the legal merits of this argument. I’ll simply point out that it’s an argument for polygamous marriage, for getting all those biological parents under the same roof, not shacking up, but group married. If a man can have “unintended pregnancies outside of marriage” with multiple women (and he can), then the state has an interest in promoting his marriage to multiple women — according to this reasoning.

This isn’t a problem for those of us who recognize that marriage is more than a government breeding program, that it’s about having a partner you can depend on, who is committed to you above everyone else — who is the first to lift you up when you fall,  to warm you when you are cold, forsaking all others, as long as you live. We don’t have worry about the slippery slope to polygamy. The Marital Biologists do.

This changes the debate. Our opponents chose the arguments they chose. From now on, when they bring up the danger of polygamy, we can turn that burden around and place it on their shoulders. If our opponents are sincere, they can argue against same-sex marriage, or against polygamy, but not against both.

Monday: Vogt contorts himself explaining the difference between infertile opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

Note: I’d love to claim credit for the phrase “government breeding program, but I stole it from a recent commenter and am using it with his permission.


February 1st, 2013

Well done, as usual… and “marriage is more than a government breeding program” is probably the most quotable line I’ve seen so far this year.

F Young

February 1st, 2013

As an aside, if polygamous marriage ever gets legally recognized, it will be precisely because religious groups demand it. Historically, polygamous marriage has always been founded on religion; the Koran, the Bible and the Book of Mormon all sanction polygamy.


February 1st, 2013

The accidental pregnancy argument has absolutely nothing to do with denying same-sex couples the right to marry. The whole argument has no bearing on the question whatsoever.

David in Houston

February 1st, 2013

The argument about accidental procreation is probably their most idiotic so far. They’re basically saying that because straight couples are SO unbelievably irresponsible they deserve special treatment under the law; and that gay couples should be excluded because they AREN’T irresponsible at all. I’m surprised they weren’t laughed out of court.


February 1st, 2013

Marriage isn’t about biological parents at all. As far as it is about children and parenting (which isn’t the exclusive reason for it), it’s about tying de-facto parents to their children.

For example step children are automatically one’s children when marrying. No adoption needed. When doing artificial insemination, the husband of the woman is usually automatically the father. Although he isn’t the biological father. In Iowa a court ruled decades ago that a soldier returning from WWII was the legal parent to his wife’s child although there was no chance that he conceived it.


February 1st, 2013

I have been trying for 30 minutes to write a response to the “accidental pregnancy” argument. But I am not stupid enough to come up with one.

Ben in Oakland

February 1st, 2013

Polygamy is, everywhere in the world where it is practiced, strictly a heterosexual institution. In fact, in Africa, polygamy is a heterosexual CHRISTIAN institution. The president of South Africa, quite a Christian, has, I believe, FOUR wives.

For this reason, their freedom of religion argument undermines their polygamy argument. If a man can marry a woman, and his religion either permits or demands that he marries four women, then why can’t he?

“But if we redefine marriage as simply a loving, romantic union between committed adults, what principled reason would we have for rejecting polygamist or polyamorous — that is, multiple-person — relationships as marriages?” Same question. If a man can marry a woman, why can’t he marry four? And what does the answer to that question have to do with gay people marrying?

there are a lot of reasons why– the need for a wholesale rewrite of all child, family, labor, welfare, and contract laws, just for starters. for gay people, all that is required is to change “man and a woman” to “two unrelated competent adults.” ery thing remains the same.

As for marriage being for irresponsible straight people, that was the same argument that the Supreme Court (or whatever it is) in New York advanced for not allowing gay marriage. I always have to ask: “Who is it again that’s trying to redefine marriage?” Because THAT idea certainly is a redefinition of marriage, a slap in the face to every actually married couple, and in complete opposition to the idea that straight people aren’t supposed to have sex until they are married.

Having attended over 1000 weddings, i have never heard that reason discussed, even if it were true.If I were still photographing weddings, I could hardly wait to hear Msgr. Ratzi announce, “we are gathered here together becuase John accidentally knocked up Mitzi”.


February 1st, 2013

I don’t have a problem with dealing with polygamy slopes, but incestuous ones… like gay brothers, that one just twists my mind.

Gene in L.A.

February 1st, 2013

Is the idea that marriage was developed as a legal means of property control rather than of holding parents responsible its own number on this list of ten? If not, why not mention it here?

Ben in Oakland

February 1st, 2013

Ian, it’s a recognized porn subgenre. Two chest, and so forth. But none of this is advanced for incestuous marriage.


February 1st, 2013

IMHO, a lot of you are overthinking the accidental pregnancy argument. It’s simply “But they don’t need marriage because they can’t accidentally get knocked up!”

Of course, nobody’s denying postmenopausal women the right to marry, so it’s not a sincere argument, but that’s the argument.

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