A Response to David Quinn and his Polygamy Red Herring
David Quinn has a blog post on the Iona Institute website where he employs the “if we allow same-sex marriage then why not polygamy” trope, citing an instance where three women claimed to be married to each other.
Now, here is my question to those who support same-sex marriage; if gender is not essential to the nature of marriage then why limit it to two people? Why not allow multi-partner marriages like this if more than two people are willing to commit to one another?
The biggest problem with polygamy is that in reality it almost exclusively exists as polygyny i.e. one man with multiple wives. It is an inherently sexist practice which treats women as mere possessions. However, as the example in the article is three women Quinn believes this excuse us no longer valid.
A standard objection to multi-partner marriage is that it tends to arise in very patriarchal societies. But a ‘marriage’ between three women overcomes this charge automatically.
In Brazil, a civil partnership involving three people was recognised by a local notary 2012. At least one person in the relationship was reportedly bisexual. Should a person be limited to marrying just one person of the two sexes they desire? It’s hard to see how this kind of relationship is ‘patriarchal’ either.
In addition, if one woman can marry two men, or two other women, or three men can marry one another, then the charge of ‘patriarchy’ loses even more of its force.
Note, however, his examples do not include a female with multiple husbands. Also, one marriage between three women does not overcome the charge of patriarchal society influencing polygamy any more than having one woman in government overcomes the charge of sexism in politics. Even if we allow both men and women to have multiple partners that does not mean the patriarchal composition of our society won’t influence polygamy to the detriment of both men and women. It is therefore necessary to ensure that gender equality is achieved before any thoughts about legalising polygamy can be entertained.
Sociologists argue that the reason we are moving away from polygamy to monogamy is because it reduces major social problems.
In cultures that permit men to take multiple wives, the intra-sexual competition that occurs causes greater levels of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality than in societies that institutionalize and practice monogamous marriage.
Considered the most comprehensive study of polygamy and the institution of marriage, the study finds significantly higher levels rape, kidnapping, murder, assault, robbery and fraud in polygynous cultures. According to Henrich and his research team, which included Profs. Robert Boyd (UCLA) and Peter Richerson (UC Davis), these crimes are caused primarily by pools of unmarried men, which result when other men take multiple wives.
However, these negative aspects only exist in patriarchal societies and may not apply in a fully egalitarian society. As sexism is still an issue in society it could easily be argued that the problems that present themselves when polygamy is lawful in a patriarchal society are enough to warrant its prohibition.
But lets pretend we live in a fully gender equal society, would polygamy be permissible then? Studies suggest that the answer is no, there are still many negative consequences to polygamy. Due to the fact that polyandry does not exist for it to be studied, all studies regarding polygamy are actually studies about polygyny. However, they are enough to suggest that polygamy is not a good thing.
There is increased conflict in the relationship as co-wives compete for the affection of their mutual husband and it sows a deep-seated angst. Women in polygamous marriages are at a higher risk of low self-esteem and depression. There is also an increase in emotional abuse. Children also suffer in polygamous marriages.
Considerable research [shows] that children of polygamous families experience a higher incidence of marital conflict, family violence, and family disruptions than do children of monogamous families
The same study reveals that children raised in polygamous marriages are more likely to have behavioral and developmental problems.
This is but a brief synopsis of the arguments on why polygamy is and should remain illegal. As is clear, the arguments surrounding the issue of polygamy are exclusive to polygamy and do not have any bearing or relationship on the equal marriage debate.
Next red herring please.
Edit: Just a clarification, I am not arguing for or against polygamy. The purpose of this article is tho show that the arguments for and against polygamy are entirely independent of the equal marriage debate. Polygamy has no more of a relationship to equal marriage than it does man/woman marriage. It should be argued on its own merits divorced from the equal marriage debate.
For rather excellent and thought-provoking defences of polygamy please read the comments made below.