A reader writes:
I have a question for you and I hope you will consider your answer and its implications carefully. I have read quite a bit of testimony and argument on the same-sex marriage issue, and so often when the concept of bigamy or polygamy is equated with it, same-sex marriage proponents balk. The argument that challengers try to expose is that if people should be able to choose their spouse, why can’t free consenting adults choose a plural marriage?
Naturally, a far higher percentage of the American public opposes and would never practice polygamy than oppose or would never practice same-sex marriage, officially or unofficially. But same-sex marriage proponents never have a good answer for that challenge, instead relying on “it’s not the same issue”.
I’m not suggesting that same-sex marriage proponents do not have the better side of the argument already; they do. I’m not surprised that out of expediency proponents choose to deflect the inconvenient polygamy argument. Replacing “one man and one woman” with “one person and another person” as a definition of marriage or union is not really much of an improvement in perfecting our laws. It’s just as legitimate to attack the “one” portion of that rule as the “man” and “woman” portion. Any arbitrary definition restricting a routine contractual arrangement among consenting parties restricts everyone’s freedom. But note also that in most states polygamy is a CRIME by itself, not just an unrecognized contractual arrangement.
So consider this scenario: A gay man marries a woman because they want to have and raise a child in wedlock and because, apart from sexual reasons, they see marriage as a comfortable life arrangement. Then the gay man also wants to make a life commitment with another man and his wife is not opposed. Should that man have to divorce his wife of many years simply to be married to someone else? In other words, if all three parties consent to the union of the three of them, shouldn’t they have that right AND have that union receive equal protection under the law?
Note that under this scenario, if they did form that consensual union, they would have broken the law and be exposed to criminal sanctions. My overall point is that you can’t logically support same-sex marriage and oppose consensual polygamy.
Another offers an excellent counterpoint:
There is a solid reason for restricting marriage to two-partner relationships, and it’s not simply that it flies in the face of monogamy or that it might leave some men without wives. The reason is based in civil law. If a husband were to have more than one wife, how would it be determined which wife would receive the federal benefits associated with marriage? Who gets the Social Security survivor benefits, for example? How are pension benefits distributed?
Even if one were to say these benefits should be distributed equally among the wives, there are still aspects of marriage that cannot be effectively shared. Say for example that the husband in our imaginary polygamous marriage has contracted a rare disease that has incapacitated him and for which there are two or more treatment options, with different associated risks and potential outcomes. Who gets to decide which path to follow if two wives disagree?