In part one, I discussed the relationship between the government and marriage and I showed that I was torn between the last two options, but with an inclination toward the second option. In this post, I’ll be looking at different forms of relationships with a specific focus on polyamory, especially in light of Chief Justice Roberts dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges. Again, I’m not giving a sustained argument. I’m giving just some of my thoughts that may have argumentative form, but may also be more of a stream of consciousness.
II. Should new forms of relationships be legitimate?
After the 5-4 decision of Obergefell v. Hodges, Chief Justice Roberts had a dissenting opinion, and it is stunning:
Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective “two” in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one. It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage. If “[t]here is dignity in the bond between two men or two women who seek to marry and in their autonomy to make such profound choices,” ante, at 13, why would there be any less dignity in the bond between three people who, in exercising their autonomy, seek to make the profound choice to marry? If a same-sex couple has the constitutional right to marry because their children would otherwise “suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser,” ante, at 15, why wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to a family of three or more persons raising children? If not having the opportunity to marry “serves to disrespect and subordinate” gay and lesbian couples, why wouldn’t the same “imposition of this disability,” ante, at 22, serve to disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships?
Let’s see what Chief Justice Roberts is getting at. The major points to pick out is that:
- making marriage restrictive to two people is arbitrary.
- if dignity, autonomy, and choice are the reasons to be in a same-sex marriage, the same reasons can apply to plural marriages.
- if children suffer stigma because their parents are gay, children also suffer stigma if they have multiple parents.
- people can have fulfillment in polyamorous relationships. (As a side note, I was pleased he said “polyamorous” rather than the misnomer “polygamous.”)
Notice with this dissent, Roberts is not giving the conventional conservative line of thinking by saying “gay marriage will lead to polyamory. Polyamory is bad. Therefore, gay marriage is bad.” To be clear, I don’t consider Roberts’s dissent a slippery slope argument. Rather, he is showing that the arguments behind same-sex marriage could also be used to argue for plural marriage. Again, look at the first point: restricting marriage to “two” is arbitrary. I take CJ Roberts giving a consistency argument. If you want to see a slippery slope argument showing how gay marriage will open a Pandora’s Box to polyamory and polygamy, see this.
Many people, including those that support gay rights, stop short of plural marriage. However, if the point of marriage is to love whomever you want, but you happen to love more than one person, then it seems that logic dictates that marrying more than two people should be allowed. Recall that the mantra of supporters of same-sex marriage is “marriage is about love, not gender.” If marriage is really about love, then people who love more than one person ought to get married according to the mantra. Many people are uncomfortable with this. But I find Roberts dissent sound. Moreover, I endorse the idea of plural marriages because, just like how gay people were discriminated against because they couldn’t marry, then the same applies to those who desire a plural marriage. People often say that plural marriage is different because being gay is an orientation whereas those who prefer plural marriage isn’t. Well, first of all, I would suggest that by looking at the empirical evidence, we are not completely monogamous creatures. Secondly, it doesn’t matter. If we restrict marriage to orientation, then that seems like an arbitrary stopping point. If we are fully committed to the idea that we should marry whom we love, then it seems that we ought to support plural marriages. Thirdly, it seems odd to say that if one is biologically predisposed toward x, then x ought to be allowed. This is fallacious. There’s evidence that being aggressive has a biological predisposition. There’s evidence that pedophilia has a genetic and biological predisposition. And yet, we wouldn’t allow that. Again, the mantra is “marriage is about love, not gender.” It is not “marriage is about our genetic predispositions, not gender.” Fourthly, suppose that being gay was a choice. I would still respond by saying, “who cares?” If we follow the “marriage is about love” formula, then gay people should still have the choice to get married regardless if sexual orientation was a choice or not.
I understand that plural marriages are a taboo subject, but remember same-sex marriage was—and still is to most people—a taboo subject. Miscegenation marriage was a taboo subject. We cannot let the taboos and prejudices get in the way of what could potentially expand happiness to others.
This article argues that we ought to allow plural marriages:
Marriage is not just a formal codification of informal relationships. It’s also a defensive system designed to protect the interests of people whose material, economic and emotional security depends on the marriage in question. If my liberal friends recognize the legitimacy of free people who choose to form romantic partnerships with multiple partners, how can they deny them the right to the legal protections marriage affords?
Following from Brake, if marriage is way to protect one’s rights, benefits, and exchanges, and we should marry whomever we choose, then plural marriages is the next step.
Same-sex marriage advocates don’t want to go this far because they consider plural marriage committing the slippery slope fallacy. However, this is only a slippery slope of the next step is disastrous. But is it? Perhaps instead of seeing plural marriage as a slippery slope from same-sex marriage, we should see plural marriage as stepping up from same-sex marriage. If you want to see some other arguments defending polyamory/polygamy, see this.
One common argument I hear is that polygamy in the past has been patriarchal and has reinforced gender roles. Yes, that is true, but two points. First, I’m not calling for just polygamy, but accepting plural marriages as a whole. This means polygamy, polygyny, and polyamory. There may be other iterations that I cannot think of. So my call is to broaden what sort of marriages one can have rather than strictly one husband with multiple wives. Second, if you’re saying that if an institution has been patriarchal and domineering toward women in the past and that is why we should ban it, then in effect, you’re saying we should get rid of marriage completely. After all, monogamous heterosexual marriage in its history is riddled with patriarchy and dominance toward women. However, we don’t abolish it. Rather, we reform it. Martha Nussbaum and Chesire Calhoun have argued for these positions: broadening the institution of marriage brings forth more equality, and by broadening the acceptability of relationships, we can lower the inequalities within relationships.
Maybe we can show the argument from the other direction: if we say that we shouldn’t allow plural marriages because it will result in a bad marriage, then suppose we had a perfect algorithm that showed everyone that whatever relationship they are in will not be the best. Moreover, through this algorithm, it will show which person will be the best fit. Now if you don’t get married to this “perfect fit,” then the state will not grant you the marriage. Would you support this system? I would many would say “no.” But then could you oppose plural marriage on the same justification that it may be worse than monogamous marriage? I take this thought experiment from this site.
It is because of these reasons that the “marriage is about love” formula should entail the allowance of plural marriages.
That’s enough for this post. In the next post, I’ll consider whether the institution of marriage ought to exist at all.
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