Since no real “horse whisperer” divining the sexual consent of Kentucky Derby winners exists, we can dismiss the impending-bestiality objection to same-sex marriage without second thought. A related contention, that a society allowing homosexuals to marry will breed polygamy, can be dismissed with similar expediency.
Almost always portrayed as a religious stance against encroaching secularism, gay marriage opponents too often believe “the next logical step” following same-sex marriage will be state-sanctioned polygamy. A basic Google search of “polygamy next logical step” yields blog upon blog of evangelical angst quoting former Dutch politician Boris Dittrich’s assertion that gay marriage necessarily precedes plural marriage.
On its face, this argument made in the U.S. convicts the user of impressive naivety toward American plural marriage — what people mean when they say polygamy — and even less understanding of separate institution called polyamory.
Polyamory, not polygamy, is the secular practice of holding multiple mutually-shared romantic partners. If a polyamorous agenda exists, which gives practitioners more credit as a collective than is due, it does not include marriage licenses unattainable today.
This makes sense when considering how many polyamorous incarnations involve a core two person relationship choosing to integrate a shared third — or fourth, or fifth. While respectful partners treat significant others with dignity, in polyamory a third or an extra couple does not imply an equal distribution of love and affection, neither does it portend more than an abbreviated commitment fulfilling the urges for bisexuality, variety or a differing expression of love. Some polyamorous groupings want long-term relationships with multiple fronts, but not all, or even many do.
When defenders of “traditional marriage” bemoan secularism’s alleged risks, they may speak of polyamory, but not polygamy. They may cite legitimate polyamorous criticisms — jealously, a bureaucracy of boundaries, and a stable home for raising children (none of which monogamy is exempt from) — but their reference cannot include polygamy.
The faithful agree in standing against plural marriage, but they don’t like stating who polygamy’s potential perpetrators are. Far from secular, American polygamy exists as a monopoly of fundamentalist religion.
Plural marriages most frequent form comes via polygyny: allowing the male to marry numerous wives, but not the inverse. The New York Times puts the number engaging in plural marriage in the state of Utah alone at no less than 40,000, an exclusive population of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints (FLDS). Mostly holed up in the seclusion of the rural west, polygamous communities dot the American landscape from Bonners Ferry, Idaho, to Eldorado, Texas.
Since the 19th century, condemning polygamy has been a way to bring the secular and religious together, dating back to the shared belief that Joseph Smith created a religion to seduce and justify sleeping with women he had not married.
The consequences of polygamy, as argued by U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson before the Supreme Court, bind its opposition against child and spousal abuse, tax issues, custody battles, and the practice of rendering women as illiterate chattel devoid of prospects off their compound.
Fundamentalism, and by extension polygamy, is the clichéd “Crazy Uncle” mainstream religion does not want to admit exists. The religious can agree with secularists in opposing plural marriage, but they cannot pretend their “Crazy Uncle” is a problem for anyone but themselves. Aside from disingenuous, when evangelicals fight homosexual matrimony under the guise of staving off a polygamous onslaught, they’re demanding legal protection not from an intolerant secular world, but from their own disgraced relations — like them or not, they’re still yours.
Brian Marceau can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org