If gay marriages are O.K., then what about polygamy? Or incest? The House of Representatives may have passed legislation last week opposing gay marriage, but the people will soon be trumped by the courts. In September the judges of the Hawaii Supreme Court are expected to legalize gay marriage. Once done there, gay marriage–like quickie Nevada divorces–will have to be recognized “under the full faith and credit clause of the Constitution” throughout the rest of the U.S.
Gay marriage is coming. Should it?
For the time being, marriage is defined as the union 1) of two people 2) of the opposite sex. Gay-marriage advocates claim that restriction No. 2 is discriminatory, a product of mere habit or tradition or, worse, prejudice. But what about restriction No. 1? If it is blind tradition or rank prejudice to insist that those who marry be of the opposite sex, is it not blind tradition or rank prejudice to insist that those who marry be just two?
This is traditionally called the polygamy challenge, but polygamy–one man marrying more than one woman–is the wrong way to pose the question. Polygamy, with its rank inequality and female subservience, is too easy a target. It invites exploitation of and degrading competition among wives, with often baleful social and familial consequences. (For those in doubt on this question, see Genesis: 26-35 on Joseph and his multimothered brothers.)
Why not? Andrew Sullivan, author of Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality, offers this riposte to what he calls the polygamy diversion (New Republic, June 7): homosexuality is a “state,” while polygamy is merely “an activity.” Homosexuality is “morally and psychologically” superior to polygamy. Thus it deserves the state sanction of marriage, whereas polygamy does not.
But this distinction between state and activity makes no sense for same-sex love (even if you accept it for opposite-sex love). If John and Jim love each other, why is this an expression of some kind of existential state, while if John and Jim and Jack all love each other, this is a mere activity?
And why is the impulse to join with two people “morally and psychologically inferior” to the impulse to join with one? Because, insists Sullivan, homosexuality “occupies a deeper level of human consciousness than a polygamous impulse.” Interesting: this is exactly the kind of moral hierarchy among sexual practices that homosexual advocates decry as arbitrary and prejudiced.
Finding, based on little more than “almost everyone seems to accept,” the moral and psychological inferiority of polygamy, Sullivan would deny the validity of polygamist marriage. Well, it happens that most Americans, finding homosexuality morally and psychologically inferior to heterosexuality, would correspondingly deny the validity of homosexual marriage. Yet when they do, the gay-marriage advocates charge bigotry and discrimination.
Or consider another restriction built into the traditional definition of marriage: that the married couple be unrelated to each other. The Kings and Queens of Europe defied this taboo, merrily marrying their cousins, with tragic genetic consequences for their offspring. For gay marriage there are no such genetic consequences. The child of a gay couple would either be adopted or the biological product of only one parent. Therefore the fundamental basis for the incest taboo disappears in gay marriage.
The problem here is not the slippery slope. It is not that if society allows gay marriage, society will then allow polygamy or incest. It won’t. The people won’t allow polygamy or incest. Even the gay-marriage advocates won’t allow it.
The point is why they won’t allow it. They won’t allow it because they think polygamy and incest wrong or unnatural or perhaps harmful. At bottom, because they find these practices psychologically or morally abhorrent, certainly undeserving of society’s blessing.
Well, that is how most Americans feel about homosexual marriage, which constitutes the ultimate societal declaration of the moral equality of homosexuality and heterosexuality. They don’t feel that way, and they don’t want society to say so. They don’t want their schools, for example, to teach their daughters that society is entirely indifferent whether they marry a woman or a man. Given the choice between what Sullivan calls the virtually normal (homosexuality) and the normal, they choose for themselves, and hope for their children, the normal.