If Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?

Opponents of same-sex marriage often ask, “If we allow gays to marry, why not polygamy? Why not incest?” and so on. Here, John Corvino exposes the fallacy in this slippery-slope argument.

2 Responses to If Gay Marriage, Why Not Polygamy?
  1. Dan L.

    This argument is awful on several on several levels if you are talking about marriage or some other equivalent contractual union, which is what this is all about.

    The humor is fine. Let’s set that aside.

    Incest is illegal. A legal marriage or union with an incestuous component would be invalid.

    Animals (or appliances) cannot give consent to a legal contract, so there’s no issue there.

    But polygamy is an entire different subject and DIRECTly related to the one man and one woman rule. Both are, essentially, excluded by the same rule. In your argument, you simply want it changed to one person and another person, and leave it at that. That’s convenient for your position — not wanting unpopular (and de jure illegal) polygamy conflated with SSM — but simply conflating it with other topics is no better and invites opponents to do exactly what you have done to make their weaker point.

    Further, the fact that polygamy has some “traditional” problems and you decide to claim superiority to cultures that have practiced it in the past is entirely beside the point. Your opponents can make the same claims against same-sex marriage and homosexuality!! That is, they pick and choose the associations and damn you for their sins simply because you are homosexual.

    OUR country NOW has the U.S. Constitution and its guarantees of equal protection and due process. If consenting adults want to practice polygamy for sexual variety or financial comfort or any other special circumstances, their motives are just as valid as anyone elses, and the consequences of those decisions are just as much their business alone as two gay men who wish to marry. Or, for that matter, two straight men who might wish to marry for some other motive. As long as everyone consents — with coercion or fraud or other illegal act — then all unions are equal. That’s much more potent argument against your opponents than conflating consensual polygamy with unions that would violate other laws. Even if your opponents conflate them — damaging their own credibility — the consensual polygamy argument endures with respect to SSM claims because:

    a) It exists against the same one man and one woman rule;
    b) It makes the same claim of equal protection and due process as SSM; and
    c) If all parties are joined together (versus Man A marries woman B and woman C, but woman B and C have no legal joinder), then both have an equal claim on unity and any two-party contract of union.

    I have no doubt you can convince yourself that you argument is sound. Most people, even intelligent ones, make the mistake. You can probably convince other people who share a motivation or who trust you or are disarmed by the human. They will reinforce your faulty logic — for example, Andrew Sullivan. But all you really do is join those parties who want to deny your rights in denying them to others whose desired unions are just as worthy, whether you agree with their formulation or not. That just sanctions inequality and you should know better.

    I don’t have a dog in this fight. I’m straight and married to my wife of over 20 years. I’m not Muslim or Mormon and do not claim to represent anyone for whom polygamy is a sacrament or simply a preferred lifestyle. I serve only truth and justice and unless SSM proponents are willing to accept the consensual polygamous unions, their righteous demand for marriage equality is severly tarnished. That you would do so in the name of expediency and justice for your segment of society is no excuse.

    The only people who get to decide what a marriage is are those who form it. The state then has an obligation to recognize that union where the parties give free consent, execute an agreement, and tie each party to every other party. Then everyone wins.

  2. Tyler

    This video does not address the real question, and one would expect more from a professional philosopher.

    “Each of these things needs to be evaluated on its own merits.”

    Says who? John Corvino?

    “This seems to be promoting bad public policy?”

    Says who? John Corvino?

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