SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND POLYGAMY
WILL SAME-SEX MARRIAGE LEAD INEVITABLY TO THE LEGALIZATION OF
In this essay, "SSM" means "same-sex marriage."
Polygamy involves the marriage of more than two persons at the same
time. It can take a number of forms. Some are:
||Polygyny: the marriage of one man with multiple wives.
||Polyandry: the marriage of one woman with multiple men.
||Polyamory: An umbrella term that describes a romantic and/or
sexual relationship involving multiple partners at the same time. The
participants may or may not consider themselves to be married to each other.
Marriage in North America has taken many forms through history:
In various debates over SSM, its opponents have predicted that
allowing same-sex couples to marry will inevitably lead to the legalization of polygamy. They believe that the only way to prevent
the legalization of polygamy is to
SSM. This essay will describe various viewpoints on this linkage.
One viewpoint: legalization of SSM would inevitably lead to polygamy:
During debates on the Federal Marriage Amendment in the U.S. and
marriage in both Canada and the U.S., many opponents to SSM have expressed the
belief that if SSM were legalized, polygamy would inevitably follow. For
||Social commentator Stanley Kurtz argued that:
"Among the likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take us down a
slippery slope to legalized polygamy and 'polyamory' (group marriage).
Marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts,
linking two, three, or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in
every conceivable combination of male and female. A scare scenario? Hardly.
The bottom of this slope is visible from where we stand. Advocacy of
legalized polygamy is growing. A network of grass-roots
organizations seeking legal recognition for group marriage already exists.
The cause of legalized group marriage is championed by a powerful faction of
family law specialists. Influential legal bodies in both the United States
and Canada have presented radical programs of marital reform. Some of these
quasi-governmental proposals go so far as to suggest the abolition of
||Tom Wappell, a Canadian member of parliament for Scarborough Southwest,
and a member of the Liberal party, is a well-known opponent of SSM. While debating
SSM in parliament on 2005-FEB-18, he noted that marriage has always been a discriminatory institution. The government
refuses marriage licenses to certain persons, discriminating on the basis of
age, mental disability, consanguinity, religion and sex. He asked: "...why is it
acceptable to remove discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but
continue to permit and perpetuate in legislation and common law other forms of
discrimination? Either we eliminate all forms of discrimination or we leave the
current definition alone." Eliminating discrimination would legalize child
marriage, polygamy, marriage between brother and sister, etc. He continued: If marriage is redefined to include same-sex couples, then polygamy is
inevitable. He said: "Some say that raising polygamy is a red herring and has
nothing whatsoever to do with this bill. That is utter legal nonsense." He
referred to two instances where illegal sexual practices had become legal: court
decisions have legalized SSM, and have declared laws against anal intercourse
to be unconstitutional. His implication is that polygamy is next. 2\
||Dr. James Dobson, founder and head of the
Fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family has written: "...the
introduction of legalized gay marriages will lead inexorably to polygamy and
other alternatives to one man/one woman unions....Why will gay marriage set
the table for polygamy? Because there is no place to stop once that Rubicon
has been crossed. Historically, the definition of marriage has rested on a
foundation of tradition, legal precedent, theology and the overwhelming
support of the people. After the introduction of marriage between
homosexuals, however, it will be supported by nothing more substantial than
the opinion of a single judge or by a black-robed panel of justices. After
they have reached their dubious decisions, the family will consist of little
more than someone’s interpretation of 'rights.' Given that unstable legal
climate, it is certain that some self-possessed judge, somewhere, will soon
rule that three men or three women can marry. Or five men and two women. Or
four and four. Who will be able to deny them that right? The guarantee is
implied, we will be told, by the Constitution. Those who disagree will
continue to be seen as hate-mongers and bigots. (Indeed, those charges are
already being leveled against Christians who espouse biblical values!) How
about group marriage, or marriage between cousins, or marriage between
daddies and little girls? How about marriage between a man and his donkey?
Anything allegedly linked to 'civil rights' will be doable. The legal
underpinnings for marriage will have been destroyed." 3
||Michael Foust of the Baptist Press wrote: "As
the nation continues to debate same-sex 'marriage,' some have begun
examining the logical extension of its legalization. If the legal benefits
of marriage are awarded to homosexual men, then why aren't they also given
to, say, three polygamists?"
He cites columnist Maggie Gallagher, a strong supporter of the
Federal Marriage Amendment which was designed to
ban SSM. She said: "There isn’t
a single argument in favor of same-sex marriage that isn't also an argument
in favor of polygamy –- people have a right to marry who they love, these
relationships already exist ... we have no right to deny the children of
Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at The Heritage
Foundation, said she sees no "logical stopping point" if same-sex
is legalized. This is the dissolution of the parameters around marriage. You’d be hard-pressed to say,
'Why not any other kind of arrangement'?" 4
||Kris Reason, "a Vacaville [CA] resident and a longtime letter writer" wrote: "In
America, homosexual activists are trying to hijack marriage by forcing the
judicial system to redefine marriage as 'the union of any people who love
each other.' This redefinition, if legalized across the country, will open a
Pandora's box of homosexual marriage, polygamy, group marriage, child
marriage, and any other legalized combination of 'loving people'." 5
An opposing viewpoint: SSM will not inevitably lead to polygamy:
Same-sex marriage is not linked in a cause-and-effect relationship to
polygamy. Some arguments for this position are:
||Governments throughout North America have historically discriminated against certain
persons in marriage. They will not issue marriage licenses to certain
persons on the basis of:|
||Age: a couple has to be old enough to marry.
||Disability: Those who are severely mentally disabled are
often prevented from marrying.
||Consanguinity: Those who are too closely related cannot marry.
||Religion: The law discriminates against those faith groups
that promote polygyny.
||Sex: In most jurisdictions, couples of the same sex cannot marry.
||Species: Humans can only marry other humans, not their pets
or other animals.
||Quantity: All known marriage laws prohibit the marriage of
three or more persons to each other.
There is no reason why a state government in the U.S. or the federal
government in Canada cannot modify or eliminate any one of these criteria
without changing the remainder. A decision to change one factor is
independent of changes to the others.
Allowing two persons of the same sex to marry is one decision. Allowing more
than two persons to marry is a separate decision. There is no
cause-and-effect relationship between the two. A government could approve of
neither, of both, or of one without the other. They are independent expansions
to the traditional concept of marriage.
||Many of the historical restrictions on marriage make sense from a
cultural viewpoint. Allowing pre-teens and young teens to marry is not
desirable because very few youth can handle the demands of matrimony at
their age. It can be argued that persons suffering from a mental disability
who are unable to comprehend the nature of marriage should not be allowed to
marry. Individuals who are too closely related -- like brothers and sisters -- should not be allowed to marry
each other because of the much
higher possibility of genetic defects in their children.
Similarly, some might argue that polygamy is an unacceptable extension of
marriage because their might not be adequate information available in the following areas:|
||The long-term stability of polygamous relationship.
||The level of abuse of wives, particularly in patriarchal families.
Oprah Winfrey's show referred to polygamous families in Utah and Arizona
as "third-world Taliban-type" cultures.
||The level of child abuse.
||Allegations of girls as young as 12 years of age being forced to
||Allegations of incest within polygamous families
||Allegations of a high level of welfare fraud. Some polygamous
families enroll all but one of the wives on welfare as single mothers
with children in order to finance
the entire family.
One recently published book, "God's Brothel" implies that
various forms of abuse are common in Fundamentalist Mormon polygamous
families. 6 Unfortunately, since the practice of polygamy is conducted in secret, it
is difficult to obtain a balanced picture.
If fraud, abuse, and negative effects on children are common in
polygamous families, then legislatures would have good grounds to
continue to ban polygamy.
Although there is no cause-and-effect relationship between same-sex
marriage and polygamy, both are linked to a third cultural belief: that
confining marriage to one woman and one man is too restrictive. It causes
hardship to committed couples. It leaves their children without many protections
that are enjoyed by children in other family structures. It
lowers some loving committed relationships to second-class status. A minority of Americans and a majority of Canadians
now accept the desirability of same-sex marriage. The same logic might lead to majority support in the future for certain forms of
A third viewpoint: The question is moot. Polygamy is already practiced:
Some argue that the question of SSM inevitably leading to the legalization of polygamy is already moot.
Polygamy is already here. There are
already tens of thousands of polygamous couples in North
America. Although their relationships are not recognized or registered with
their state or provincial governments, they are allowed to exist with little or
no harassment. Since polygamy has been practiced for about 17 decades in North
America, compared to less than two years for SSM (as of 2005-FEB), it might be
argued that SSM was the inevitable result of polygamy:
||Polyamorous relationships are already practiced widely:
Canada and most states in the U.S. have decriminalized most pre-marital
sex, adultery, inter-marital sex and post-marital sex among adults. Some
states still have laws that prohibit sexual activity outside of marriage.
However, they are rarely enforced. Some groups have formed to practice a
type of polygamy -- polygyny, polyandry, polyamory -- without government
involvement, recognition, or oppression. Some organize around a married couple with additional
adults living together in a group. Some might consider themselves as married
to each other; some may even hold a religious ritual to bind the group
together in a type of marriage that only the participants recognize. But as far as the state is concerned, they
are only aware of a number of roommates living together in a house, or a
married couple(s) with boarders. Charges of bigamy are avoided for the
simple reason that no one member of the group has more than one marriage
registered with the state. The federal government of Canada and some states
have criminalized sexual activity involving more than two persons at a time
in the same location. Prosecution under these laws can be avoided by
restricting sexual activity to two persons at a time.
The 2003-JUN Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas
ruled that governments cannot criminalize private activities by adults just
because the majority considers them to be immoral. This has probably given a
boost to those favoring polygamous and polyamory living arrangements.
||Polygyny is widely practiced in certain areas of the U.S. states
of Utah and Arizona and the Canadian province of British Columbia among Fundamentalist
Mormon denominations. Various individuals and groups estimate that many tens
of thousands of adults -- up to 100,000 spouses -- are involved in polygynous relationships. They have experienced minimal interference from their
governments in recent generations. The lack of opposition in Utah may be
influenced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints' promotion of polygyny in the past.
The lack of opposition in Canada is due to its constitution: The Charter
of Rights and Freedom. The British Columbia Attorney General obtained
advice from constitutional experts that the Charter's guarantee of religious
freedom would override any legislation prohibiting polygyny. Realizing that
they would probably lose any lawsuit, the Province has decided to not
prosecute the Fundamentalist Mormons.
Stanley Kurtz, "Beyond gay marriage: The road to polyamory," The Weekly
Standard, 2004-AUG-04, at:
Tom Wappel, Bill C-38, Hansard, at:
James Dobson, "Eleven Arguments Against Same-Sex Marriage (Part 1 of 5),"
Focus on the Family, 2004-MAY-23, at:
Michael Foust, "If same-sex ‘marriage’ is legalized, why not polygamy?,"
Mar 19, 2004
Baptist Press, 2004-MAR-19, at:
Kris Reason, "Don't let homosexuals hijack marriage," Voices, at:
Andrea Moore-Emmett, "God's Brothel: The Extortion of Sex for Salvation
in Contemporary Mormon and Christian Fundamentalist Polygamy and the Stories of
18..." Pince-Nez Press, (2004-JUN). Read
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2005-FEB-22
Latest update: 2005-FEB-22
Author: B.A. Robinson