Consummate dilettantism!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homosexuality, Polygamy, Incest

There's a very interesting argument going on in the comments of this post. Here's what I say:
And what, pray tell, is so abhorrent about polygamy? Moral collapse indeed — whence do our morals come? From a religion whose founder married his niece?

This particular hypocrisy has always struck me as very revealing.
“that the generalized logical and philosophical arguments made on behalf of same sex couples would apply to same-blood couples and loving triples, quadruples, and quintuples.”

Conversely, the same arguments that you use to advocate keeping homosexual marriage illegal also apply to loving sterile couples. I suppose the legality of their marriage “undermines society’s endorsement of the nuclear family” too.

I think Wehner has a point, but I don’t think it’s an argument against legalizing gay marriage. The proper counterargument is that polygamy and marriage involving multiple partners should likewise be legalized. And why not? As Wehner correctly notes, both are very traditional, even Biblical. What objections can be made? Genetic inferiority will result? Why not screen for genetic diseases and prevent those with them from marrying, then? The question is the burden of the individual, not the state. The argument only works if you have some sort of emotional revulsion towards these expressions of love.
“The argument, made by Lincoln and others, is that polygamy is inconsistent with the notions of human equality that support humane, liberal, republican government, and is instead part and parcel of illiberal and inhumane regimes that see some people as unequal, commodities, and in need of being ruled by others.”

Religiously mandated polygamy indeed! (A man can, however, beat one wife or three.) But polygamy doesn’t have to be religious. A wife may have two husbands, a husband two wives. The argument is like comparing having a maid to having a slave. Of course they are similar, but the different is that there is no compulsion involved in the former. Polygamy does not imply coercion. (Correlation does not imply causation.) It has been associated with it for a long time, but that does not mean that polygamy is *only* compatible under a coercive system.

CK, you frame the argument entirely in utilitarian terms. But we don’t live in a utilitarian state, nor would, I think, most of us want to. If we did, then everything mostly harmful to us would be illegal. But many things that hurt and kill (alcohol, tobacco, firearms, fireworks, &c) are legal. There is no evidence that gay marriage is “bad,” and even if there were, this would still not constitute an American argument for banning it, especially when the right to be with someone one loves is of a much higher and more important order than the right to get drunk or amuse yourself with colorful fire.
CK, etymology does not restrict words. Polygamy could well evolve into something healthy -- we don't know. Jeffs-style polygamy is truly despicable, but so is OJ Simpson-style monogamy.

nocubsno, so long as we prevent coercion from occurring, I don't think polygamy is any more dangerous than ordinary marriage. Any man in this country who is presently willing to live in such a relationship is probably not the type who would abuse his wives (except in Utah, where polygamy occurs *despite* its illegality). And why should one relationship be any stronger than two simultaneous relationships? Or three? Who knows -- maybe three partners together create a loving relationship infinitely superior to a dyadic one. But the only way to determine this is by experiment, and we can't say that monogamy is superior to polygamy without seeing what the latter is like in non-religious contexts. There is nothing special about polygamy that creates violence and control. (I should add that your argument about the specialness of heterosexuality to children also applies to couples who adopt. If couples can simply adopt children, there's no point in getting married, right? Today, however, marriage is about love, not procreation. Adoption is, after all, perfectly legal.)

Also, legality does not constitute endorsement, as we see with tobacco. The legality of polygamy, homosexuality, and incest would send a message of freedom of consensual arrangement to our children; it would not imply that polygamy, homosexuality, and incest are moral inferiors or superiors to, or coequals with, heterosexuality. The government would have no say in the matter.

"The exclusivity of marriage is important for other reasons that go to the heart of the sort of individuality that is characteristic of liberal regimes. Exclusivity means that parents can recognize and put their individual stamp upon their children. Similarly, children are not the product of some sort of communitarian or communal relationship, in which their identity with their parents is blurred into a tribal or national affiliation. That is why totalitarian societies attack the family. "

I think this is a strong argument, but I'm not advocating communal raising of children, and I don't believe that polygamy necessitates it. Again, however, parents are free to raise their children on communes today. Polygamy and homosexuality would not add any more communalism to the mix.

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