In a scene from Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm, the mathematician skeptical about whether the park is a good idea, watches the T-Rex burst out of its enclosure and says, “I hate being right all the time.”
Princeton Professor Robert George and other defenders of traditional marriage understand these sentiments. For years, they’ve warned that redefining marriage beyond the union of one man and one woman wouldn’t—indeed couldn’t—stop with same-sex unions. The same reasoning that extends marriage to same-sex couples would easily be applied to polygamy and polyamory also.
The standard response to these concerns was scoffing and accusations of fear mongering.
Well, the fences are down and the beast is loose.
On Valentines’s Day, the Scientific American published an article claiming that polyamorists could “teach us a thing or two about love,” and the only reason to oppose it was bigotry because of outdated views about love and sexuality. As I said on my Point commentary about the article, the flow of the argument sounded far too familiar.
And now, as if on cue, Slate magazine published an article on April 15 by Jillian Keenan arguing that polygamy should be legalized. As Keenan notes, the arguments about gay marriage being a “slippery slope” that will lead to legalized polygamy is something “we’ve been hearing about for years.” To which she adds, “We can only hope.”
She continues: “While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too. Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice.”
Keenan adds that legalizing polygamy would help to “protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families.” How? By ending the “isolation” where “crime and abuse can flourish unimpeded.” That is, if polygamy is legal, she says, victims of abuse would be more likely to report abuses to the authorities.
Finally, she argues that respect for religious freedom requires legalizing polygamy. It isn’t only fundamentalist Mormons she’s concerned about: she cites “academics” who “suggest” that there may be between 50 and 100,000 Muslims in the U.S. who practice polygamy.
What’s most significant here isn’t the quality of Keenan’s arguments. The quality is poor. The treatment of women in countries where polygamy is legal makes her optimism about the impact of legalizing it seem dangerously naive. And her appeal to religious freedom is—shall we say—selective. There are plenty of law-abiding Americans whose religious freedom is under genuine threat who could benefit from this kind of solicitude.
No, the most significant thing about Keenan’s argument is not, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, that it’s made well, but that it’s made openly.
As Dr. George pointed out in “First Things,” when Christians pointed out the logical link between same-sex marriage and polygamy, proponents of same-sex marriage rejected the connection. They insisted that “no one is arguing for the legal recognition of polygamous or polyamorous relationships as marriages!”
George writes in response, “That was then; this is now.” The “then” he referred to was last week; the now is today.
George predicts that Keenan’s article “will not produce a single serious critique by a major scholar or activist from the same-sex marriage movement.”
Now he would love to be wrong. But defenders of traditional marriage know that the enclosures that kept marriage a “monogamous and exclusive union” are being dismantled. And no one should be surprised by what emerges, least of all those doing the dismantling.
Further Reading and Information
We Hate to Say We Told You So: Same-Sex Marriage & Polygamy - Next Steps
In light of the recent Supreme Court decisions on DOMA and Proposition 8, there is even more urgency to defending the traditional one man, one woman understanding of marriage. The debate is still alive, but it will take perseverance and courage, and it will also take knowledge. Start by reading Robert George’s article “Beyond Gay Marriage,” and get a copy of What is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense. Other great resources are listed below.