Many readers counter the previous ones who opposed civil polygamy:
I find that the issue of polyamory suffers from being brought up almost exclusively in the context of the same-sex marriage debate. This makes it easy to dismiss, since no matter what your stance on polyamory, it is obviously a separate issue from same-sex relationships and must be considered on its own merits. I find myself unsure of my position. I’m deeply leery of the idea of granting polyamory a legally recognized status largely because of concerns over the exploitation of women in certain polygamous marriages, but on the other hand I see how this could be a standard that I’m applying unequally, seeing as how I support the right to two-person marriage despite the existence of domestic violence.
What I find much less convincing in the argument your reader put forward about the legal implications of multiple marriages. Yes, it would undoubtedly make things more complicated, but so what? If property still only corresponded to males we wouldn’t have to engage in tedious and costly division of property during divorce, but we don’t see this as a good reason to impose blatantly unfair standards in our laws. The debate over polyamory is worth having (on its own, not tied to unrelated marriage debates), but let’s have it on its merits.
A stable, committed triad could actually make raising children easier, three sets of hands being better than two, especially in an age when extended families often do not live close by. And perhaps it could even help cultivate stronger relationships between the adults: there would always be someone available to take care of the kids for date nights!
There is no reason to deny people the right to plural marriage. The same arguments used to deny acceptance or respect of gay relationships, much less marriage, are used in the same way for polygamists. Like working the old chestnut that gays are psychologically damaged and can never maintain healthy relationships, which is why we never see gays in long-term mutually beneficial relationships when society clearly doesn’t accept them, we have the current chestnut that polygamists are nothing but old, dictatorial white men who do nothing but marry 13-year-olds to build a harem of repressed women who bear them 40 children, all of whom live in a compound in the desert and lack modern education.
The fact is that as a society we have shunned the idea of plural marriage to the point where the behavior of pluralists is quite undesirable. The only way to accomplish polygamy without the daily damnation of a monogamous society is to live a sequestered life in the desert and marry within the tribe.
As far as polygamy creating a subculture of unmarried men, how sexist of us to assume that there aren’t men who would participate in a plural marriage to one woman! What if, as the other reader wrote, you end up with plural marriages that consist of one woman and two gay men?
Sorry, but how is that an “excellent counterpoint”? Civil law already deals with all sorts of permutations far more complex than any of those examples. All these issues can be dealt with when the relationships are formalized. To take the reader’s example, what if the man with the rare disease were unmarried, but had two children? Which of them would decide on his treatment? I mean, come on! We form business partnerships of many configurations every day. Civil law is certainly capable of dealing with these issues, and in fact does so already.
I’ve never quite understood your opposition to polygamy (outside of the obvious tactical need to distinguish gay marriage from plural marriage), especially on the grounds that it will destabilize society by reducing the number of available females. That assumes all multiple marriages will be polygynous, but if polyandry and group marriage are allowed, we could avoid those imbalances. It does worry me that polygamy, in societies where it dominates, has almost always been hand-in-hand with female subjugation. But this doesn’t seem a necessary relationship. And, in the choice between the freedom to structure our associations as we will, against the speculative fear of undermining women’s equality, freedom should at least be given a chance.
You bring up the point that polygamy, since it would largely be practiced by men with multiple wives, would leave too many men without mates, a dangerous situation. What if more lesbians were to marry than gay men? Wouldn’t that lead to the same state? If giving everybody a fair shake at marriage is to be considered a determining factor, does that mean that states should only grant as many licenses to all-male couples as they do all-female couples?
You also seem to equate sex and marriage. Men who wish to have sex with more than one woman already can. They can also have children with more than one woman. What they can’t do is give both those women (and the offspring they create) the rights and privileges attendent to marriage. And why not, assuming they are capable of maintaining their obligations to more than one woman and assuming that both women are open to the arrangement. In fact, one could say that polygamy, where all arrangements are out in the open, is more moral than the very common practice of spouse lying to and cheating on spouse.
If polygamy were legal, only a small percentage of people would opt for it. Not enough to affect anybody’s happiness any more than the option of same sex marriage denigrates the marriage of straight people.
Your reader’s questions about what will be done with survivor benefits and end-of-life decisions betrays a mind that has not thought much about either – much less polygamy. Already, we have situations where serial monogamy leads to multiple people being responsible for one another, and it’s very easy to list multiple beneficiaries on a pension plan or life insurance policy.
When my father-in-law died, both his first wife (my husband’s mother) and his second wife (my husband’s stepmother) received survivor benefits from Social Security, because they’d both been married to him for longer than the minimum requirement for benefits. Likewise, serial monogamy leads to blended families where it’s not always clear who should have final medical power, particularly if Mom had children by more than one husband, and is now divorced from both but living with her new beau.
The fact is that our marriage laws are terribly outdated, and need to be completely rethought. That’s why I’m in favor of leaving marriage to the religious institutions, and registering households in whatever configuration people want to live. If a same-gender couple, or a heterosexual couple, or an elderly couple who can’t have children, or any couple want to be responsible to and for each other, let them. If three people want to be responsible to and for each other, let them. If a gay man and his female best friend want to be responsible to and for each other, let them. Let’s stop worrying about who is screwing who, and just make it easier for people to be responsible in their relationships.