If Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?

Jim Burroway

September 27th, 2012

Marriage is on the ballot in four states this year. Voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington will decide whether same-sex couples will be allowed to marry, while Minnesota voters will determine whether to write discrimination into their state’s constitution. The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), the Witherspoon Institute, and many, many other organizations are mobilizing their resources to push their anti-gay arguments.  Professor John Corvino is intimately familiar with those arguments, having just published a book with NOM’s co-founder Maggie Gallagher titled Debating Same-Sex Marriage, the only book ever endorsed both by Rick Santorum and Dan Savage. Corvino has also posted a valuable series of videos taking apart those arguements, one by one. You can see the entire series here.

Regan DuCasse

September 27th, 2012

Here are several reasons why polygamy would be bad for society.

1. There is a difference between discrimination based on gender and sexual orientation and QUANTITY of spouses. That is to say, homosexuality or gender isn’t a lifestyle choice, and multiple spouses IS.

2. Primacy and consent. The state could not determine who has either in polygamous situations. In the case of one male and multiple wives, especially for cultural or religious reasons, the first wife is NOT consulted or consenting of the subsequent wives. Typically this arrangement is FORCED on women. With the husband being the sole arbiter of having more than one spouse.

3. Imbalance of opportunity. A person with multiple spouses leaves less opportunity for someone else in their community to have one. It’s already a bad idea to force people into mixed orientation marriages, where het women have to compete for husbands with lesbians. Having to compete with a woman or man who ALREADY has a spouse, makes the option less hopeful for others.

4. Serial divorce and remarriage, are the closest thing to multiple spouse situations. This expands half and step siblings in a community, making incest a serious risk. This makes such families harder to track, even each other. IVF has created a cultural situation in which sperm and egg donation hasn’t been limited. Accidental incest is a risk in that situation as well.

5. We have centuries of historical precedent that proves the negative impact of polygamy on society. We know what the results are, we know they have been very risky and such families do have difficulties when it comes to quality of time and understanding of their expectations with and for each other.

Pretending that gay people have ANYTHING in common with multiple spouses is specious and unfair. Gay people are and always have been a separate issue. Gay couples can and already do meet the expected standards set by the state requiring ONE spouse per marriage.

And, there have been no negative results that have unreasonably or in a widespread way, negatively impacted anything.

These are FACTS that shouldn’t be in dispute.
If anyone has anything else to add, I’d love to see it.
Bringing up polygamy as part of this issue is just to make gay marriage AS negative as polygamy. And we ALL know well that defamation of gay people at every turn is the priority in all matters of anti gay discrimination.


September 27th, 2012

Thanks for sharing these! I have watched 5 of his videos so far, and I think they are brilliant. If I like them all, then I will definitely share this on my social media.


September 27th, 2012

If a man is allowed to marry one woman, why is he not allowed to marry two, or three, or seven hundred?

The slippery slope to polygamy begins with heterosexual marriage.


September 27th, 2012


Not to mention the fact taht Polygamy was already a heterosexual marriage option (and still is in many countries). They had it once, what makes us believe they won’t ask for it again?? LOL


September 27th, 2012

Regan, in fairness, the polyamorous individuals (as apposed to the sexist, repressive, polygynous cults) I have heard of were driven towards multiple partners in a way not dissimilar to sexual orientation. It is not unthinkable that monogamous and polygamous desires lie on a continuum of innate human behavior where the majority of humanity sits at or close to the monogamous end. Serial relationships might represent the middle of that continuum, similar to bisexuality. Then there are the truly polyamorous, for whom it is perfectly natural to maintain multiple romantic relationships at once, and who would not be jealous of their partners doing the same, resulting in complex, egalitarian relationship groups that share the burdens of life like a committed couple. In short, I don’t think your first point is a good one.

As Mr. Corvino points out, historically polygamy has more resembled polygynous cults, with all the sexism and repression that entails. Should legalizing polygamy become a political trend, undoubtedly the first goal of the movement should be to ensure that any such scenarios are egalitarian and balanced, without conferring greater legal benefits than two-person relationships. Obviously, as your other points suggest, this would require a lot of work and legal maneuvering that might be unrealistic and impractical.


September 27th, 2012

If you are capable of falling in love with more than one person at a time, go for it. Anyone I know, including me, can only focus on one person – daydreams, crushes, wonderings… they only have one face. Anything less is NOT love.

Priya Lynn

September 28th, 2012

Great analysis, Regan.


September 28th, 2012

Heterosexual marriage leads to polygamy – if a man and a woman are necessary to raise a child, imagine how wonderfully raised those children would be if they had 1 father and 22 mothers!

“As the constitutional reference case was winding down in February 2011, B.C. government lawyers submitted startling evidence. It described how men from Bountiful [British Columbia] illegally smuggled their under-aged daughters into the United States to be given in religious ceremonies to much older men as so-called “celestial” or plural wives.

That evidence had already been used in Texas to convict a number of men, who were members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” http://www.vancouversun.com/life/Bramham+Bountiful+remains+festering+problem/6972619/story.html

Regan DuCasse

September 28th, 2012

Thank You Priya,

I already mentioned the closest type of polyamorous situation is serial divorce and remarriage, where multiple spouses and cross inter personal childbearing most of all creates a widespread chain of distance between individuals. Not closeness. There have been but a few polyamorous situations that I know of where the young people were interviewed in multiple families, and these are where parental disconnection and incest are riskiest.
Think, Woody Allen and Sun Yee kind of thing. So to speak.
And again, this creates pockets in communities of people who (if you’re going to say that lack of the ability at monogamy is an orientation), then that does set up couples for mixed legal situations as well.
PRIMACY is lost in this scenario, the ability for the state to keep track of who has the legal obligations and who doesn’t renders multiple LEGAL spouses VERY impractical.

I can understand the point of marriage being a means of channeling monogamy and SPECIFIC commitment and responsibility. This is why married people tended to be trusted more than randy singles.
Because a person who CAN and DOES commit to one person and the children you have together is demonstrating the ability to focus, and show fidelity and loyalty.
This is what separates the humans from the animals, the emotionally loyal and unselfish from those with scattered and limited relationship capability .

And to Hue-Man’s point: the math works out that there are 21 males without the hope of a wife.
And many women who want monogamy and commitment, unable to trust the men in their community to enable that monogamy and loyalty.
It’s bad enough how men support each other in cheating on wives and supposedly women in their lives who can’t count on being a significant other in the prime in which to be so.


September 28th, 2012

Since civil marriage is expressly about the ownership and dispersal of property, legalizing (as opposed to decriminalizing) polygamy would be a judicial nightmare in a way that gay marriage isn’t. The civil institution of marriage is a “one size fits all” legal status. The dynamics of polygamy that that almost impossible. Would each spouse get equal shares of property if one chooses to divorce? Would the eldest spouse get more because they were in the marriage longest? There is no one-size-fits-all solution for questions like these.

I think it’s a huge waste of time for law enforcement to get involved in polygamous marriages (unless there are signs of abuse) but legalizing polygamy seems to be a non-starter.

Richard Rush

September 28th, 2012

If people want to discuss the pros and cons of polygamy, they should, by all means, do so. But if people feel the need to talk about polygamy in order to stop gay marriage, I see it as elephant-in-the-room evidence that there is a worldwide shortage of legitimate objections to the latter. Those who are terrified of the prospects of polygamy would be much more productive if they put their efforts into ending the practice of straight marriage.

Neon Genesis

September 29th, 2012

My take on all moral issues is if it’s not hurting anyone else, it’s between consenting adults, and they enjoy it, why shouldn’t it be legal? And someone explain to me when monogamous marriage has ever been simple and easy to sort out.

Donny D.

September 29th, 2012

We may need to start aggressively demanding that they prove it. Prove that civil same sex marriage and public approval of it is leading to polygamy right now. Social movements don’t simply not exist and then pop into public view fully formed. There’s always a traceable beginning. If they can’t show at least the clear beginnings of a movement to legalize polygamy right now, they need to STFU.

They need to show that polygamy is catching on as an increasingly popular form of relationship whether it’s legal or not, right now. If they can’t, they need to STFU.

And if they can show any of these things, they need to connect them with us credibly. And if they can’t, and you know they can’t, they need to STFU.

Would this be an unnecessary diversion that would be harmful for the movement for legal same sex marriage? Maybe it is right now, but if so, I believe there’ll be a tipping point where we can turn this around and use it so harshly against them that they don’t dare bring it up in connection with same sex marriage ever.

Regan DuCasse

September 29th, 2012

@Neon Genesis, I just DID explain why polygamy can’t be legal.
It DOES hurt someone and it hurts the principle aspects of marriage and it’s EVOLUTION and egalitarian progression to begin with. Primacy, fidelity, commitment and opportunity for others to marry.

Regan DuCasse

September 29th, 2012

And you just answered your own question that parallels something that’s already been said.
If monogamous marriages are complicated and complex, than a multiple one expands those same complications, perhaps beyond any form of resolution.

Hal 9000

September 29th, 2012

A complex, egalitarian relationship group of, let’s say, five, contains the following possible relationships:

Dyads (“couples” has too much monogamous baggage):

Alphonse and Beryl
Carla and Deirdre
Edward and Alphonse
Alphonse and Carla
Alphonse and Deirdre
Beryl and Carla
Beryl and Deirdre
Beryl and Edward
Carla and Deirdre
Carla and Edward
Edward and Deirdre

Triads (I’d say threesomes, but it sounds a litte tawdry):

Alphonse, Beryl, Carla
Alphonse, Beryl, Deirdre
Alphonse, Beryl, Edward
Alphonse, Carla, Deirdre
Alphonse, Carla Edward
Alphonse, Deirdre Edward
Beryl, Carla, Deirdre
Beryl, Carla, Edward
Beryl, Deirdre, Edward
Carla, Deirdre, Edward

Squares (because quadrilaterals sounds like geometry class):

Alphonse, Beryl, Carla, Deirdre
Alphonse, Beryl, Carla, Edward
Alphonse, Beryl, Deirdre, Edward
Alphonse, Carla, Deirdre, Edward
Beryl, Carla, Deirdre, Edward

The Pentad

Alphonse, Beryl, Carla, Deirdre, Edward

That makes for a grand total of 27 interpersonal subsets within the complex, egalitarian relationship group; however, each individual within the pentad only belongs to 15. That’s still quite a few.

There will be up to four sets of in-laws for each person.

Each person also brings with him or her their own parcel of life’s burdens. Note that five parcels distributed equitably between five people are still five parcels. However, some parcels are also lighter and more appealing than others.

Among the possible triad groupings, each member of the pentad has six opportunities to find him/herself in the following situation: X has stronger feelings for Y, but Y has stronger feelings for Z.

The square groupings offer everyone four opportunities to be in this situation, which can also be observed among the officially monogamous when two couples socialize together:

W has stronger feelings for X, but X has stronger feelings for Y, who reciprocates them. Z has strong feelings for X, but senses that X’s display of affection not genuine, but rather a means of saving face in front of the happy couple-ish dyad X and Y. Or worse, an attempt to stir up feelings of jealousy in X.

The same groupings, of course, also offer everyone four opportunities to be in these situations:

1) W cares most for X who cares most for Y who cares most for Z who cares most for X.

2) X and Y are starting to look couple-ish; W has strong feelings for X, and Z has strong feelings for Y.

3) X and Y are starting to look couple-ish, but both are also involved with W; Z is increasingly sidelined. Z could of course, always turn to V for consolation, but the truth is, V was always more into X until X and Y started spending some much time together, and it’s just not the same with Z…

The pentad offers everyone a chance to end up as the fifth wheel.

I’m not saying any of this WILL happen, of course…but I’m sorry, Dave. I just couldn’t do that.

Hal 9000

September 29th, 2012

Although I am a supercomputer, I will leave it to others to work out the Thanksgiving seating arrangements and assorted baby-sitting scenarios.

Eric in Oakland

September 30th, 2012

In addition to Regan’s excellent points, polygamy also poses a problem regarding marital obligations. One of the purposes of marriage is that it designates someone as being responsible for your care and able to make decisions on your behalf, should you become incapacitated. When the responsibility is shared between multiple spouses, it becomes more tenuous and fallible – easier for one spouse to ignore responsibilities because other spouses are also responsible. Furthermore, what happens if you are incapacitated and your spouses disagree on medical decisions for you? And which of your spouses is next of kin?

And if polygamy were recognized, what effect would it have on laws against bigamy?

Timothy Kincaid

October 1st, 2012

The beauty of a marriage of two is that it leaves you, emotionally and legally, as the single most important person in someone’s life. That is not assured in a multiple-marriage.

And it is one of the cruelest aspects of a moral or legal code that seeks to diminish or deny same-sex relationships.

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