Is Polygamy A Civil Right Too?

I came back from my vacation Sunday and while catching up with all of the politics, especially as a resident of California, I kept coming across pictures of proposition 8 (making marriage between man and woman only – constitutional) protests. Many of the protesters had signs that claim gay marriage is about equality, family values, and civil rights. One question I’ve wanted to ask when I am faced with such claims is: Is Polygamy also about equality, family values, and civil rights too? If not, why gay marriage but not polygamy?

After all, every argument you can make in support of gay marriage you can also make in support of polygamy. Remember, polygamists can love each other too. The practice of polygamy, like homosexuality, has also been around since the beginning of man. Also, like homosexuality, the desire is innate: most people would agree that men desire more than one woman. So I ask my fellow opponents of proposition 8 (the bill passed…but assuming it was still being debated), why is gay marriage a civil right but not polygamy? The only difference, IMHO, is gay marriage has political support, whereas polygamy does not. A tactical difference, not one in nature.

I, as an opponent of gay marriage, don’t make such pompous accusations. I believe that changing a fundamental unit of society is dangerous and could have cultural repercussions far into the future that we are not ready for. Given that the poor tend to bear the burden of societies experiments and is where marriage is the most fragile, this is a gamble I am not willing to take.

But I could be wrong. Which is why I am ready to leave it up to the wisdom of the citizenry. If the majority of my fellow citizens decide gay marriage is acceptable – thats fine with me. Just as if the majority of my fellow citizens decided polygamy is acceptable. I may disagree, but I don’t consider myself so right that I would deny them the ability to make that decision themselves.

Of course the opposite is true with many liberals. Their morals, their belief in gay marriage, “choice” in abortion, and the death penalty, are soo correct, so right, that they must force their views on a citizenry that does not agree with them. And of course those of us that disagree with them are not just wrong, we are evil. We are no different than those who denied interracial marriages. They are the chosen ones, you and I are just sheep.

18 Responses to “Is Polygamy A Civil Right Too?”


  • Polygamy has very few supporters since most of the polygamy cases in public view involve underaged, and in many respects a person who is brainwashed into polygamy.

    I will cite for example the organization Warren Jeff promoted in which older men systematically created a society in which polygamy was forced upon the women. Choice for the women in this sect of mormonism was non existant, they had been born into a system without a way to escape it.

    There may be cases in which polygamy occurs with multiple parties that are involved in polygamy without having been indoctrinated and conditioned, why wouldnt we treat these communal marriages as a civil right? It would be logistically impossible to test every person involved in polygamist marriage to see if they are not being influenced to enter into this contract, also the system of “marriage” is not configured to address the property, children guardianship and, benefits rights of a mutiple partnered marriage.

    “Their morals, their belief in gay marriage, “choice” in abortion, and the death penalty, are soo correct, so right, that they must force their views on a citizenry that does not agree with them.”

    Their morals, their belief in straight only marriage, “no choice” in abortion, and the hypocrisy of the death penalty, are soo correct, so right, that they must force their views on a citizenry that does not agree with them.

    The same argument can be made for the other side. In the end i think this form of discrimination will subside since it is generation based. Prop 8 opponents should just try again in a few years, the amount that voted against prop 8 never existed 10 years ago.

    You have taken a federalist view of rights and look how far that got us with Jim crowe laws, Seperate but equal was upheld by citizens how many more years would those laws have been in place if the “wisdom of the citizens was allowed to continue?.

  • A few points.

    You write, The same argument can be made for the other side.

    This is not true. Take abortion as another example. If pro-lifers were like liberals, we would have a law banning abortions in every country. Instead, we have a law forcing every state to allow abortion.

    In fact, most pro-lifers don’t want the opposite of what liberals already have with abortion. We want something in the middle. We want to repeal Roe vs. Wade and allow the states, through the democratic process, to pick for themselves their abortion laws. Just as I argued above…let the people decide.

    Regarding the courts and jim crow laws, remember, it was the Supreme Court which enhanced the rights of slaveowners in the Dred Scott case and it was elected officials — the President and Congress — who abolished slavery. It was also elected officials that enacted the civil rights act of the 1960′s.

  • What is your definition of a fundamental unit of society? A married man and woman and X amount of kids?

    What if you have a gay child? Would you want to deny him or her the ability to marry just because he or she is a homosexual? In legal terms, would you want this person to be treated differently because he or she is wired differently and doesn’t conform to the society norm?

    Polygamy is more destructive because it often does involve children, and in terms of contracts, it is harder to divide assets between multiple partners instead of two. I agree w/ Rene. Polygamy tends to be forced upon women and children, as laws made my men who want to do whatever they please (namely control another group of people). I don’t sense that the gay and lesbian population is doing this with their desire to marry a single partner.

    This is like comparing apples to oranges.

    It is strange for me to watch you criticize someone else’s marriage when the impression I get from you is that you don’t necessarily live the most conventional life yourself. If the population takes away the civil right to marry, are we far off from this?

    http://www.feministing.com/archives/004347.html (“banning unauthorized reproduction for unmarried women”)

  • What is your definition of a fundamental unit of society?

    What I mean is that society evolves through the procreation of one man and one woman. That is the process by which our next generation is born.

    In other words, the union between one man and one woman is unique in that it is inherently able to produce children. Gay couples cannot do this, polygamous unions add unnecessarily to it. The nuclear family is the basic unit of everything else. It is special. It can do everything all other unions can do plus. It is at the top of the pyramid.

    Regarding a gay child, yes. Just as I would want my child if he converted to a religion that accepted polygamy to be restricted in how many wives he can have.

    Regarding polygamy, I’ll let Gary Becker, Nobel Laureate in economics who has studied the topic more, answer the objections, he writes:

    The most frequently encountered argument against polygyny is the claim that it exploits women, and is a continuation of the traditional subjection of women to men. Women were indeed exploited in many monogamous and polygynist traditional societies, when they were frequently forced to marry men that they did not want to.

    That hardly describes the situation these days in the United States, the rest of the developed world, and much of the developing world. Women choose their partners, and refuse to marry men who they do not want to marry, regardless of their parents’ feelings or the ardor of suitors. In this world, a woman would not have to enter into a polygamist household if she would not want to. Would-be polygamist men would have to persuade second or third wives that it is worth it, because of their wealth, good looks, kindness, or in other ways. If she is willing to become an additional wife, why should laws prevent that?

    Regarding the age concern, he writes:

    Some oppose polygyny because they believe too many women would be “swept off their feet” by smooth-talking actual or potential polygamists. If that were a great concern, women could be required to be older before they could legally marry into polygamist households, or a “cooling off” period could be mandated before they could do that. Yet isn’t it offensively patronizing to women to believe they cannot make their own decisions about whether to enter into marriages that contain other wives? We do not offer men any special protections against the “wiles” of women, so why do women need such protection?

    In fact, he goes even further and argues that polygamy is helpful to women. He writes:

    The claim that polygyny is unfair to women is strange since polygyny increases the demand for women as spouses in the same way that polyandry would increase the demand for men. If men were to take multiple wives, that increases the overall competition for women compared to a situation where each man can have at most one wife. This argument against polygyny is like arguing that a way to increase the economic prospects of minorities is to place an upper bound on how many members of these groups a company can employ.

    Regarding assets, contracts, and children, the same dubious charges can be made against gay marriage, yet they wouldn’t persuade you on that topic…so why would they persuade you regarding polygamy? In other words, if you believe something to be a civil right you care little about its cost. Even if it was difficult and/or expensive to change laws to adapt to gay marriage, you would support such costs because the laws themselves are unjust. I claim here that if gay marriage bans are unjust…so are polygamy bans. So the issue of cost, difficulty, and fringe effects on children should carry little weight.

    Regarding banning unauthorized reproduction for unmarried women, I could ask you the same thing: If the population takes away the civil right to (polygamous) marry, are we far off from this?

    In other words, you have to show me how fundamentally gay marriage is different than polygamy. You are arguing for one…I am merely pointing out that the next one follows. Many in Canada would agree with me, see here.

  • In fact, he goes even further and argues that polygamy is helpful to women.

    Of course, a man is going to argue that polygamy is helpful to women. Just ask the women who are forced into it. I’m sure that they find it plenty helpful. Why do so many who study polygamy find so many incidences of domestic abuse, favoritism and jealousies? I don’t think that gays are seeking this sort of thing at all.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2138482/

  • His reasoning is straight forward: polygamy increases the demand for woman. Nothing too complicated about it…no matter who made the argument. If you like, I can ask a girl friend of mine to log on and make the very same argument. Making it more persuasive to you. ;-)

    It’s important to remember that context matters. In certain countries one can make the argument that marriage itself is harmful to women…but that is not the United States. In other words, you can’t make the argument that because polygamy is, say, harmful in a poor fundamentalist Muslim culture that it would be harmful in the culture of the United States. The two are not the same. For more on this click here.

    Regarding the article: I am surprised you posted it. I’m curious Adriana, have you read any of the arguments against gay marriage? Because if you have, you would see the strong parallels between the “jealousy” argument regarding polygamy and the “different natures” argument regarding gay marriage. Opponent of gay marriage argue that the nature of man and woman is strengthened by the different yet compatible natures of the man and the woman. Similar arguments to the jealousy claim above. Like the Slate article, opponents of gay marriage will show data that gay partners have significantly more partners, child raising is better, with all things equal, in a biological environment and of course will point out that only a heterosexual union can produce children…all in their defense of the nuclear family.

    But of course that doesn’t deter you. Because you know that even if that is the case with some marriages, it may not be with all. Well I can say the same thing to you: there may be some jealousy issues in some polygamous relationships, but there also may be some polygamous relationships that have learned to cope and find a polygamous relationship far better than a two person marriage. Are you going to deny them their right to marry simply based on other bad apples?

    I can see it now, a commercial showing a nice wholesome polygamous family asking the rest of the state to not vote against a ban on polygamy. Because doing so would be tantamount to being against interracial marriages, to being bigoted, and against equality.

    For a direct response to the William Saletan Slate article, do read this old post from Megan McArdle, one of my favorite bloggers of all (who now blogs at The Atlantic here and I recommend everybody add her to their blogroll).

  • Though I still encourage readers to read in full Megan McArdle’s old article that directly responded to William Saletan Slate article, I thought I’d paste some of her most poignant responses, she writes:

    I think it’s laughable to argue for gay marriage on grounds of Nature. From a Natural perspective, traditional marriage and polygyny are clearly evolutionary desirable since they result in procreation, which is the very core of what drives Nature. The jealousy that people feel when their partners cheat on them is directly driven by your selfish genes not wanting to waste their carrier’s resources on raising individuals they do not have a stake in. Yes these feelings exist in couples that will not procreate, but this is clearly vestigal trait, like male nipples, and while very real for the person experiencing the emotion, is not doing a thing for the survival of the species.

    By contrast, homosexual unions do not result in progeny, so from a Darwinian (or Natural) perspective clearly make no sense. The fact that homosexuality exists, and that it appears to have a genetic component, must be explained by some non-obvious Darwinian selection process (the “sneaky uncle” theory) or it’s a fluke — yes it happens but it is a Natural dead end.

    None of these are reasons to outlaw (or make lawful) gay marriages, nor are they reasons to make lawful (or outlaw) polygamy. I’m just saying that being for gay marriage but against polygyny on Natural grounds makes no sense. Nature is clearly on the side of polygamists, and doesn’t give a hoot about what gay people do.

    In other words, making a “nature” argument against polygamy on the tangential issue of jealousy while on the other hand making a nature argument in favor of gay marriage while ignoring the very core of nature, procreation, is just plain absurd.

  • Ok, if we are going to get the core of nature… what about straight couples who cannot procreate? Are their marriages and unions less valid?

    Polygamy increases the demand for women when men are running the show, but you could say something similar about women taking multiple husbands.

    Marriage to multiples cannot and should not be equated to marriage to one person.

    I don’t know why you care to make these arguments. I could make an economic argument in favor of gay marriage based upon the jobs and revenues that it would create alone. I thought you are a capitalist, not some morality cop who wants to define marriage.

  • That’s the thing about nature…it’s not based on particulars but on innate abilities. Infants, for example, do not currently have the ability to reason, for language, and to walk, but they certainly have the nature for it. It is inherent in them.

    Sure there are some couples who cannot procreate. But some of those couples could, with time, with technology, and the ones that truly can’t, are so rare that they are considered the exception, not the rule. With gay couples, it’s inherent in them to not procreate. It is part of their very nature not to procreate. This is what many conservatives are getting at when they (mistakenly, IMHO) compare gay marriage to bestiality, marriages of old to very young, sibling marriage, and so forth. “Marriage” absent of the very tight link to children is a a very different thing than what we call marriage today.

    Regarding polygamy, all the arguments I make in favor of polygamy can also be made in favor of polyandry (multiple husbands), and yes, I would say one supports the other.

    You write, Marriage to multiples cannot and should not be equated to marriage to one person.

    Now we are just making bold statements, are we. Well I can respond in kind, saying, “Marriage to members of the same sex cannot and should not be equated to marriage to multiples. Atleast with multiples, from an evolutionary nature standpoint, the species would continue. Not so with members of the same sex”.

    You ask an important question when you write, “I don’t know why you care to make these arguments…I thought you are a capitalist, not some morality cop who wants to define marriage.”

    Frankly, normally I wouldn’t. But there are two reasons why I do. First, it is liberals who insist on forcing their view of marriage on the rest of us. The public has spoken, over and over again, that they do not want gay marriage. But because liberals think they are the holy ones with perfect knowledge, they don’t stop there – they continue on, trying to push their view of the world on the rest of us, even when the population disagrees with them.

    It would be like Mormons trying to force everyone to believe in their Church. On its own I wouldn’t care…but when you use the courts and try to force your views on us, then we should all care.

    More importantly, I care because I believe that one of the main causes of poverty in the United States is the break up of the family, with the break down of marriage at the center of it all (see here). More children being born out of wedlock further increases poverty and it’s a culture that should be changed.

    Gay marriage fundamentally separates marriage from procreation. In other words, it does the very opposite: it teaches precisely that marriage and procreation are not connected. The very thing that our culture, especially in the inner cities, should not be absorbing.

    Of course many limousine liberals are not going to believe this. In their circle of friends gay marriage would do little to change the culture. They, for example, did just fine after the sexual revolution of the 1960′s. Upper class and upper middle class divorce rates stayed relatively unchanged after the sexual revolution. The same with the drug revolution. Overall the upper class came out of it unchanged.

    But look what they have done to the ghettos of the United States. For reasons that cannot be fully explained, the poor always bare the brunt of the rich peoples social experiments. Gay marriage is just one more example of that.

    Btw, here is another somewhat related great post on gay marriage by Megan McArdle, a must read, IMHO. Click here.

  • I had forgotten yet another reason why banning gay marriage should be important: religious freedom.

    Mary Ann Glendon, Professor of Law At Harvard University, made the argument a few years back, she wrote:

    Religious freedom, too, is at stake. As much as one may wish to live and let live, the experience in other countries reveals that once these arrangements become law, there will be no live-and-let-live policy for those who differ. Gay-marriage proponents use the language of openness, tolerance and diversity, yet one foreseeable effect of their success will be to usher in an era of intolerance and discrimination the likes of which we have rarely seen before. Every person and every religion that disagrees will be labeled as bigoted and openly discriminated against. The ax will fall most heavily on religious persons and groups that don’t go along. Religious institutions will be hit with lawsuits if they refuse to compromise their principles.

    The full article, along with my commentary on it, can be found here.

  • I don’t have a dog in this fight (I have an opinion, but I don’t feel strongly either way), however I do find it amusing that polygamy is being put forward here as the unthinkable, clearly undesirable, next step along the slippery slope. Truth be told, the debate over polygamy is actually a predecessor to the debate over same-sex marriage. For the latter half of the 19th century, the legitimization of polygamy was hotly debated in this country. And, in a supreme irony, the very religious group that worked so hard (successfully, in this case) to defeat homosexual marriage is the very same group that worked so hard (unsuccessfully) to try and legalize polygamy. For a Mormon, the cognitive dissonance between these positions must be deafening.

  • Frankly, normally I wouldn’t. But there are two reasons why I do. First, it is liberals who insist on forcing their view of marriage on the rest of us. The public has spoken, over and over again, that they do not want gay marriage. But because liberals think they are the holy ones with perfect knowledge, they don’t stop there – they continue on, trying to push their view of the world on the rest of us, even when the population disagrees with them.

    I have met some conservative gays who support gay marriage (these are people who believe in balanced budgets, the death penalty, school vouchers, etc.). The Governator, hardly a liberal, didn’t want to have this ban.

    I don’t feel so threatened as a heterosexual to want to “ban” gays from a civil marriage. Maybe, and I’m just going to speculate that you have not lived up to your own conservative morals in your own life. I don’t see how a gay married couple in your neighborhood or even in your social network is going to harm your family unit. Maybe your own marriage and familial relationships are so troubled that you have a problem with gays wanting what many other heterosexuals care to have.

    As for the part about this being an experiment of the wealthy classes. I know a few gay couples who certainly aren’t rich, but I will tell you that they have relationships that have lasted longer than those of many heterosexuals.

  • I’ve already stated above how gay marriage affects the family, especially poor families. So I won’t bother repeating that. Regarding why I care about a constitutional ban on gay marriage, again, normally I wouldn’t but in this case I do.

    Why? This is how I explained it in my proposition post a couple weeks ago:

    Normally I would be against this bill as I was against Bush’s 2004 claim to support a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage. I believe that gay marriage, while I ultimately am against it, is a debatable topic that should be left up to the people to decide. Making it a constitutional issue removes it from future public discourse and in the process, removes some of the constitutions time independent nature.

    However, in this case the people have decided and voted into law a ban on gay marriage but the Supreme Court – by a split 4-3 decision – decided that they were far wiser and knew more about moral issues than the California citizens, and struck down the law. Leaving California citizens with no other choice but to make a constitutional amendment.

    So I am voting Yes On Proposition 8 not so much in support of the constitutional ban itself, but more as a vote against judicial activism, especially the kind that usurps moral issues from the citizens and gives them to 7 unelected justices.

    I stand behind that statement.

    But lets get back to the topic at hand. This post and these comments are not about gay marriage, they are about polygamy.

    So again, given that you support gay marriage, I ask you the same thing you asked me, namely:

    “I don’t feel so threatened as a heterosexual to want to “ban” polygamous unions from a civil marriage. Maybe, and I’m just going to speculate that you have not lived up to your own liberal morals in your own life. I don’t see how a polygamous married union in your neighborhood or even in your social network is going to harm your family unit. Maybe your own marriage and familial relationships are so troubled that you have a problem with polygamous unions wanting what many other heterosexuals care to have.”

    I think it is fair to say that you have not addressed the argument. In other words, as I said above, if you support gay marriage, by logical extension you must also support polygamy. And since you consider gay marriage a civil right…you must also consider polygamy a civil right.

    This is the argument I am making and continue to make. DO you disagree with it? If so why?

  • I don’t think you can consider polygamy a civil right because like I said, in many cases, where it has been practiced, children and other weaker members of society have been forced into it. Gays aren’t forcing people to take multiple partners and marry them against their will.

  • Three comments to that:

    First, let us assume that there were some examples of gay couples where one of the members was forced into the union. Lets also assume that there is an argument to be made that gay marriage is bad for children. Not all gay unions, mind you, but some, or even most. If that was the case, would that be evidence enough to convince you against gay marriage?

    I don’t think it would. Because if you view something as a civil right, you have to go further than some instances of abuse. Civil rights are near absolute, and even if there is widespread abuse with it now, one would still support the right just on the basis that there could be some that wouldn’t abuse it.

    In other words, the standards you hold polygamy to are far greater and more stringent than the standards you would hold gay marriage to.

    Second, I’ve already directly addressed this claim and you have ignored it. Above I wrote,

    It’s important to remember that context matters. In certain countries one can make the argument that marriage itself is harmful to women…but that is not the United States. In other words, you can’t make the argument that because polygamy is, say, harmful in a poor fundamentalist Muslim culture that it would be harmful in the culture of the United States. The two are not the same. For more on this click here.

    This post also directly addresses that criticism, click here.

    Third, I made the argument above – that you still have not addressed, btw – that polygamy increases the demand for woman, thereby possibly making their situations better.

    In other words Adriana, me thinks you want gay marriage to be fundamentally different than polygamy, but in reality they are not. If you support gay marriage…you must, logically, consistently, support polygamy. These are, after all, civil rights we are talking about.

  • You are making the assumption that just because women are wanted or having an increased demand that there situations are possibly better. How sexist.

  • If the “assumption” that increasing demand for woman creates opportunities for a better standard of living is by your definition sexist, then yes, I am sexist.

    Btw, denying that is like arguing, as the original quote shows, “that a way to increase the economic prospects of minorities is to place an upper bound on how many members of these groups a company can employ”.

    In other words, I also claim, using the same logic, that increasing the demand for minorities (ie more companies want to hire them) creates opportunities for a better standard of living.

    And I guess, by your sexist definition above, that would also make me racist in your eyes.

    It is arguments like this that show me why you and many others see gay marriage as a “civil right” and I don’t. Your logic is wacko. ;-)

  • prop 8 cant be re listed on the ballot with ease. it’s a constitutional amendment and now the law of california.

    gay marriage proponents think the usa will simply become more enlightened as time goes on and pass gay marriage laws.
    the truth is we still dont know the fallout from gay marriage on children, as a generation has not yet passed.

    preliminary studies, not commissioned by gay rights groups, indicate most children are damaged in these settings. people still care about kids in america, and as this comes to light, support for it will drop.

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