One person’s reductio: Marriage Equality edition

Here’s an article from Slate that was recently circulating on social media, in which the feminist author Jillian Keenan argues in favor of legalizing polygamy.

Shared Article from Slate Magazine

Next Step: We Need to Legalize Polygamy. No Joke.

Recently, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council reintroduced a tired refrain: Legalized gay marriage could lead to other legal forms of marriage…

Jillian Keenan @ slate.com


Recently, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council reintroduced a tired refrain: Legalized gay marriage could lead to other legal forms of marriage disaster, such as polygamy. Rick Santorum, Bill O’Reilly, and other social conservatives have made similar claims. It’s hardly a new prediction—we’ve been hearing it for years. Gay marriage is a slippery slope! A gateway drug! If we legalize it, then what’s next? Legalized polygamy?

We can only hope.

. . .

— Jillian Keenan, Legalize Polygamy!
Slate 15 April 2013.

Of course polygamy should be legal. Every form of marital relationship among consenting adults ought to be legal. If you advocate for the freedom of same-sex couples to marry, you ought to advocate for the freedom of people to marry as many or as few other people as they want, too. FRC thinks this is a reductio for same-sex marriage rights. Actually, it’s a positive reason for everyone to take a more expansive view of sexual and marital freedom.

Regulating marriage is one of the most ridiculous pretenses that the state engages in. The state’s activity in controlling marriage licenses has its historical basis in nothing other than massively invasive efforts to preserve the hetero-patriarchal social status quo (and, in the past, the racial status quo as well), and something that ought to be rooted out utterly. Where there’s no victim, there’s no crime, and where there’s no crime, there’s no reason for legal intervention. (You might ask, If there’s no reason for legal intervention here, why is there any reason for legal licensing at all? And of course, the answer is that there isn’t. Marriage licenses ought to be abolished entirely. The only reason that states issue them to some people is so that they can deny them to others. To hell with that.)

We have a tendency to dismiss or marginalize people we don’t understand. We see women in polygamous marriages and assume they are victims. “They grew up in an unhealthy environment,” we say. “They didn’t really choose polygamy; they were just born into it.” Without question, that is sometimes true. But it’s also true of many (too many) monogamous marriages. Plenty of women, polygamous or otherwise, are born into unhealthy environments that they repeat later in life. There’s no difference. All marriages deserve access to the support and resources they need to build happy, healthy lives, regardless of how many partners are involved. Arguments about whether a woman’s consensual sexual and romantic choices are “healthy” should have no bearing on the legal process. . . .

The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us.

— Jillian Keenan, Legalize Polygamy!
Slate 15 April 2013.

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7 replies to One person’s reductio: Marriage Equality edition Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. Julia

    The only problem I generally see with advocacy of multi-person relationships (be in polygamy, polyamory, etc.) is how issues of patriarchy and imbalance of power between males and females are often overlooked or implied that a non-monogamous relationship with inevitably do away with such imbalances. Every time I see a polyamorous relationship, for example, it’s almost always one male with multiple girlfriends; it’s not like poly relationships consisting of three FAAB lesbians are the norm.

    This piece, written by a friend of mine which I later reblogged, sums it up nicely:

    http://propagandalalaland.blogspot.fr/2013/03/re-blogged-polyamory-as-reserve-army-of.html

    So, in other words, I wish this discussion would be far less about what the government does and much more about cultural issues surrounding patriarchal ideology. If polygamy were legalized tomorrow, would it entail that the patriarchal elements of marriage would instantly go away? I doubt it.

    • Rad Geek

      how issues of patriarchy and imbalance of power between males and females are often overlooked or implied that a non-monogamous relationship with inevitably do away with such imbalances

      I agree that this is a significant issue in the sexual-liberationist polyamorous community. I’ve heard many poly folks talk about this and raise critiques based on precisely this point. But it would be nice to see if more widely acknowledged.

      I don’t think it’s true of people who practice religiously-based polygamy (for example, among Muslims and fundamentalist LDS churches). If anything, the issues of patriarchy and power imbalances tend to be on the surface and hyper-scrutinized by the outside society in these cases, and nobody presumes that the relationships are automatically non-patriarchal. If anything they are often scrutinized in ways that tend to be exoticizing, to significantly romanticize normal, monogamous marriages and conventional childcare arrangements, and to ignore the extent to which those are also embedded within & shaped by patriarchy. In general it seems like the salient issue is probably not really the number of men and women in the relationship but rather something else, which needs to be addressed in ways other than the ways that mainstream anti-polygamy discourse tends to play out.

      If polygamy were legalized tomorrow, would it entail that the patriarchal elements of marriage would instantly go away? I doubt it.

      Of course not. But it would affect specific women’s lives for the better, by removing the legal stigma that they currently live under. That’s worthwhile and important.

    • Julia

      If anything they are often scrutinized in ways that tend to be exoticizing, to significantly romanticize “normal,” monogamous marriages and conventional childcare arrangements, and to ignore the extent to which those are also embedded within & shaped by patriarchy. In general it seems like the salient issue is probably not really the number of men and women in the relationship but rather something else, which needs to be addressed in ways other than the ways that mainstream anti-polygamy discourse tends to play out.

      Of course not. But it would affect specific women’s lives for the better, by removing the legal stigma that they currently live under. That’s worthwhile and important.

      I honestly don’t see how the stigma surrounding non-monogamous relationships will be ended until the necessity for the nuclear family unit is ended. The Family is arguably one of the most powerful ideological apparatuses: it fosters children into certain modes of thinking and certain societal roles, which will be apparent when those children enter the marketplace to work and produce/serve. And I fail to see how the solution to this is a free market with completely open competition made up entirely of small-scale producers and coops; the Family is profoundly based in relations of production, and if capitalist-like property and exchange relations remain, I don’t see how a paradigm or cultural shift will occur. We can propose alternative relationship models all day, but what is the use if there is little to no incentive for society to desire them?

      And to be frank, most of the polyamory I’ve encountered actually does tend to reflect cultural attitudes towards property and consumerism. I mentioned it on my blog post at the end, but most poly does seem to be more about “having more lovers” than about the act of loving itself.

  2. Roderick T. Long

    On these issues see also Elizabeth Brake’s book Minimizing Marriage:

    link

    And my review:

    link

  3. Francois Tremblay

    Whoa there. I agree with you that marriage licenses are unjustified and should be abolished, but that doesn’t mean women in polygamous marriages aren’t being oppressed. For that matter, women in monogamous marriages. All marriage is inherently dysfunctional.

  4. John T. Kennedy

    As far as I can tell Polygamy has been legalized in all 50 states as of the Kody Brown family decision last December. I don’t think anyone can currently be prosecuted for polygamy.

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