Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Gay Marriage vs. Polygamy: FIGHT!

Andrew Sullivan has a great series of posts up asking "if two men can get married why not three?" (or two guys and a girl or six guys or whatever)? It's a good question made all the more poignant that the Republican party was founded to reject the evils of both slavery and polygamy.

How ironic that in 2012 they ran a Mormon (but not a polygamous Mormon--the mainstream Mormon church no longer practices that) who won something like 2 or 3% of the black vote with the Vice President telling a black audience that Romney would 'put them back in chains.'

Exactly who you think the irony is pointing at there probably depends on your political disposition.

The Basic Arguments
Gay marriage detractors have three basic arguments before they go to "well what about pedophilia ... or bestiality!? Hey--should those be legal too!?" These are:
  1. The bible says bad things about gay sex. Notably Paul. This is true. It's slightly less true for lesbians but there's still a quote in there. As "we are a Christian nation" marriage (which is seen both morally and otherwise as a 'cornerstone' virtue of our nation) should be protected in it's "native" form.
  2. It doesn't foster "normal, healthy families" (defined as one man and one woman with kids). The unions are "sterile" and not "what the state seeks to promote with marriage" (and, especially tax breaks around marriage).
  3. It is a foot-in-the-door for things like suing churches that won't marry gays and otherwise promoting the homosexual lifestyle. It, in the words of one link, "Makes a moral wrong a civil right" (it enshrines homosexuality in American life and law).
You can find links here, here, and here.

The problem with all of these is that if you aren't put off by gays in general none of them are even remotely convincing. There's no evidence that gay households are worse for children or the national character. The slippery slope argument turns itself into a fallacy as there is no bright-line decline associated with gay marriage. If you aren't sold already, this isn't going to sell you (in fact, the dictionary-defense where anti-SSM people say "I'm just defending the term marriage" is reminiscent of the "unit cohesion" argument against integrating the military: It wasn't what the anti-integration people really believed first and foremost but it was the best foot-forward to sell it to people who weren't invested in anti-gay policies but might fear for the army).

Polygamy: A Better Argument?
The moral-decay arguments against gay marriage usually go directly to the slippery slope that this Salon piece calls PIB: Polygamy, Incest, and, uh, Bestiality*. The idea is that if we let the camel's nose in the tent with gay marriage soon sister-wives, actual sister-wives, and their dogs will follow into matrimony. The linked article has a pretty good break down of the logic as to why these are bad and why there's no evidence that they'll follow (and, I will note--although I don't think the argument does--that some disturbingly similar arguments were used against mixed-race marriage back in, you know, the day--like the 60's if you're keeping count).

The take away from Salon is that polygamy (what we're interested in here--the others are way more self-explanatory) is bad because:
  1. It has a power imbalance, usually (man: powerful, multiple wives: not powerful)
  2. And, uh, it's different because it's about the number of partners rather than the genders.
Andrew Sullivan's readers chime in with more reasons. Let's look:
  1. Discrimination on numbers isn't discriminating on race, sex, or whatever--it's not about something innate to the person so discriminating there is okay!
  2. Unions of three or more people no longer resemble anything close to marriage anymore!
  3. Three-point equal relationships are game-theory-wise less stable than two equals. Three+person marriage is an invitation to Zero-Sum-Disaster!
  4. What about complex legal scenarios where we have an invalid husband and the wives disagree on treatment or we have a divorce-some-but-not-all question! Whaaaugh! Complex! We've got decades of civil law and precedent for 2-person marriages. So let's stick with what we know, eh!?
  5. Polygamy is proven bad because [ this book / study ].
Let's take a look:

Power Imbalance
It's true that most historical polygamous unions have power problems and are probably not good for most of the (usually) girls and women involved. That said, traditional Christian marriage has a pretty formal power imbalance and no one is arguing against that. I agree that these are different--but if someone wants to willingly enter into a power-imbalance marriage, eyes open, why not let them. Standard protections would still apply, of course (so the person is not literally a slave or open to abuse). Do conservatives think that the government should forbid a wife who vows to completely submit to the will of her husband? I'd think not.

Number Discrimination is OK!
This is like a logical end-run around the moral issue. It's okay to discriminate based on numbers? Uh-huh. Okay: I'mma pass a law saying people with social security numbers ending in 9 don't get Social Security. Totally fair, right? What is the basis for discriminating against polygamy based on "numbers"? It's that you don't like polygamy so you're finding some non-biological based reason to nix it? Airtight.

Three-Ways Don't Look Like Marriage!
Yeah? Well what do you tell the guy who says Adam and Steve doesn't look anything like marriage? It's different because [ MY REASONS!! ]? Yeah, that's what you tell him--because your reasons are good and progressive and pure and his are neanderthal and conservative. Airtight.

Game Theory
According to my theory of marriage which comes from modern statistics it isn't all that stable right now anyway. But let's play: if I can show that, say, a given age range is less stable should we outlaw that? What if the social pressures of mixed-race marriage make them less stable? Is that okay? And anyway, if the fundamental game-theory precepts are true, is that a reason for outlawing marriage of any sort anyway? If we're legalizing the "best interest of the state" in marriage maybe we should, like, demand fixed marriages with a birth-requirement, right? Oh--no, not right. Gotcha.

Complex Legal Issues and Civil Law
Surely this cannot be beyond us? We can do 3-way business partnerships, why not marriages?

Polygamy is Objectively Bad
Suppose someone has a study that says gay marriage is bad along some spectrum. Would that end it for you? I doubt it. If one can reasonably prove polygamy--absent specific social strictures is really bad--then okay. But keep in mind that gay marriage "is bad" if society in general hounds married gays. I'm in an interracial marriage and I'm blessed to live in a place where no one gives me a second look. There are places in America that ain't so. Proving that polygamy would be bad in a modern context will be a tall order.

The Real Issue: Gay Marriage Doesn't Freak People Out Any More
The arguments--pro and con--are how we as people digest the discussion: they are not the primary factor in it. The only important thing about the gay marriage / gay rights issue is how the populace at large feels about it. Back in the 60's? Closer to man-on-dog. Today? No one seems to care if they're under 30.

Obama did a very bright thing surveying the armed forces before integrating them: it called out how little gay marriage means to our X-Box generation warriors (and, if you think about it, the 30 year old guys who are becoming leaders in the army today joined around 2000--the commanders really are all playing Call of Duty).

Will polygamy ever be accepted? I don't know (I see more support for Polyandry than I'd expect). Incest? I doubt it. Those, however, are the questions. How well Rick Santorum can argue about gay rights--or what the sign someone is waving at the voting location are just window dressing. The issue is how society feels about it and, from the polling, it looks like society is going to accept same-sex-marriage sooner rather than later.

* Let's note that the real problems with PIB are around consent with regards to man-dog/man-child (neither the dog nor child can consent--not the case with potential multiple adult partners). With adult incest there may be strong biological reasons to forbid the union. In cases where cousins have married it's squicky but it doesn't seem to have led to the destruction of civilization. That said, I'm freaked out by adult incest even if the parties are sterile or whatever.

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