Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Let Me Draw You A Map

The folks at Sadly, No! have shown an uncharacteristic failure to "get it" in their response to this article by Albert Mohler:
As she makes clear, "The legal innovation of unilateral divorce began to reduce marriage to nothing but a temporary association of individuals. If marriage is merely a free association of individuals, there is no principled reason to exclude same-sex couples, or even larger groupings of sexual partners[.]
We don't often agree with Jennifer, but we'll give her this much: there is no principled reason to exclude homosexuals in relationships who meet the same criteria and are willing to meet the same burdens, as heterosexuals who wish to marry. But how did we get to polygamy from there? [-Just be glad she didn't throw in bestiality, --Mickey Kaus' editor.] So far then, only a little bit silly. ["Well, there's a big swing here to the silly party; but how big a swing I'm not going to tell you."]
Ok, cobagz1, let me show you how you get from gay marriage to polygamy2. You see, the fundamental reasoning behind all of the pro-gay marriage decisions to date is that there's no compelling state interest in preventing homosexuals from getting married. We're not talking churchy-religious marriage here; nobody is forcing any denomination to perform marriages which conflict with its collective conscience, nor should they. The marriage which is being endorsed here is explicitly civil and carries with it economic and legal benefits. When you strip it down to the bare essentials the marriage which the government endorses is really nothing more than a civil contract between two people3. Now answer me why three people who want to form a civil union should not be allowed to do so? I've heard a couple reasonable arguments against this in the past:
  • Polygamous marriages allow people to game the system: Maybe, but people who want to be polygamous and game the system can do so even without legal recognition of their living arrangement. Hell, part of the reason they're able to game the system is because their marriage isn't recognized; how can you stop that type of fraud if you don't have a record of the marriage? That being the case, I think a strong argument can be made that legally recognizing polygamous partnerships could actually reduce fraud. But all of that is beside the point; the potential for abuse of plural marriages is not enough, in and of itself, to support their restriction.
  • Polygamous marriages often involves coercion and an imbalance of power: The classic image of polygamy is a dirty old man marrying a bunch of vulnerable women, some of which are underage. Again, I'd argue that this is possible largely because polygamous marriage is unregulated. The neat part about a civil contract is that, for it to be valid, there has to be a "meeting of the minds". The partners in such a contract have to be able to give consent; the taint of coercion would invalidate the contract. This goes double for underage participants since, except in special circumstances, they're presumed to be unable to give consent.
Now, for an encore, I'll show how "slippery slope" arguments about polygamy leading to beastiality are just plain stoopid. Again, the key is consent; you can draw a bright line in the sand using the consent principle and get very reasonable results. Partnerships which are permitted under this model:
  • Heterosexual marriage: Two adults can consent to form a civil union.
  • Homosexual marriage: Two adults can consent to form a civil union.
  • Polygamous marriage: 2+n adults can consent to form a civil union.
Things which aren't allowed under this model (list courtesy of Sen. Santorum):
  • Adultery: Nope, adultery is a breach of contract.
  • Adult+child: The child can't give consent, end of story. This covers a wide range of abuses which people tend to worry about.
  • Man on dog/man on box turtle: Same thing, dog/box turtle can't give consent.
Things which are allowed, but which make people squirm:
  • Adult incest: Yeah, its way icky. There's some arguments against it having to do with genetics, but we don't apply genetic standards to non-related adults, so that's a non-starter.
So that, my dear friends at Tristamente, Non!, is how you go from gay marriage to polygamy without having to worry about endorsing dolphin marriage.
1 Had to do it, sorry. 2 Let the record show that this argument is intended to be pro-polygamy, not anti-gay marriage. 3 I suspect that much of the hoopla surrounding this whole issue could be avoided if the government stopped recognizing "marriages" and started recognizing "civil unions" for everyone. This simple change would help eliminate the problem with people conflating religious and civil marriage.

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