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More responses to Professor George on the slippery slope to polygamy:

Two more response are now available to Professor Robert George's argument that there is no objection to polygamy "as a matter of principle" once gay marriage is accepted. Philosophy professor John Corvino writes:

The issue is whether being a gay-rights advocate inherently "entails abandoning any principled basis for understanding marriage as the union of two and only two persons," as George puts it. And the answer to that question is obviously "no." [Jonathan] Rauch is a clear counterexample: he's a gay-rights advocate who adduces general moral principles to oppose polygamy.

Why does George claim otherwise? The answer has to do with his confusion about what it means to have a "principled" objection to something. More specifically, he confuses having "a principled objection" with having "an objection in principle." The difference is subtle but important. To have a principled objection is to base one's opposition on principles (rather than simply to assert it arbitrarily). Rauch surely does this.

By contrast, to have an "objection in principle" is to object to a thing in itself, not on the basis of any extrinsic reason. Rauch doesn't object to polygamy "in principle"; he objects to it for being harmful, and if it weren't harmful he presumably wouldn't object to it.

...

This distinction is important, because once one moves from "no objection in principle" to "no principled objection," it's a short slide to "no serious objection"—and thus a bad misrepresentation of the position of mainstream gay-rights advocates.

So, to be clear: Rauch, Carpenter, Varnell, and others have a principled objection to polygamy, but not an objection in principle. But here's the kicker: neither does George. For George's natural-law position is based on the requirement that sex be "of the procreative kind." And polygamy is very much of the procreative kind. Even if one accepts George's nebulous "two-in-one-flesh union" requirement—which somehow allows [] sterile heterosexual couples to have sex but prohibits homosexual couples from doing so—nothing in that requirement precludes multiple iterations (and thus polygamy). If George wants to argue that polygamy is wrong, he's going to have to appeal to the same sort of extrinsic principles that Rauch invokes. Either that, or he's going to have to just baldly assert that marriage is two-person, period. If such ad hoc assertions don't count as abandoning "principled" argument, I'm not sure what does.

Paul Varnell also disputes George:

In a co-authored article with one Gerard Bradley, George states that male-female marriage has an "intrinsic value" that "cannot, strictly speaking, be demonstrated" and that "if the intrinsic value of (opposite sex) marriage ... is to be affirmed it has to be grasped in noninferential acts of understanding."

That is about as close to acknowledging defeat as you can get without explicitly saying so. What if George Wallace had said that the superiority of the white race could not be demonstrated but could be "grasped in noninferential acts of understanding"? Certainly there was a sizable constituency for just such a view, but undemonstrable "noninferential acts of understanding" are a poor basis for creating public policy in a secular civil society.

Then too, Robert George and his colleagues have never explained very well what it is about their own requirement of a male-female polarity for marriage that excludes polygamy. It is hard not to suspect that George keeps harping on polygamy as an imagined consequence of same-sex marriage to distract attention from the far more obvious opening to polygamy his own principle entails.

GMUSL Rising 3L (mail):
I understand the point about polygamy.

However, what is the basis, if any, for continuing objections to consensual, adult, homosexual incest? Or even marriages?
8.24.2006 12:03pm
Oh my word (mail):
Impeaching George's argument in that his defense of marriage opens the door to polygamy is clever but almost certainly a serious misstatement of his views. The guy isn't saying that the only relevant factor in the definition of marriage is procreation, he's saying it is one of the many defining characteristics. This does not preclude other principles that would lead to banning polygamy in addition to SSM.
8.24.2006 12:06pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

Impeaching George's argument in that his defense of marriage opens the door to polygamy is clever but almost certainly a serious misstatement of his views.


You don't seem to understand that way in which this argument was used. Of course it's possible for George to make an argument that opposes both SSM and polygamy; but thinkers like Rauch, Corvino et al. likewise make arguments in favor of SSM and against polygamy.

The point was we could just as easily put the "shoe" on the other foot and demonstrate that -- just as George asserts the "principles" justifying SSM lead to polygamy, the "principles" put forth by George justifying OS marriage lead to polygamy.

George thus far has given no case against SSM that likewise argues against polygamy that is anymore "principled" than the case put forth by Rauch et al. that argues in favor of SSM and against polygamy.
8.24.2006 12:33pm
Richard Bellamy (mail):
In any argument, isn't the burden of proof generally placed on the party who wants to change the status quo?

John is living with Jane (to whom he is married) and Susan (to whom he is not married, only because polygamy is illegal). Susan is in the hospital, but John cannot make any decisions on her behalf. Susan's income is taxed differently. Susan is ineligible to be on John's health care. Why do we give Jane all of these benefits but not Susan?

Personally, I support gay marriage and consensual polygamy, so I kind of agree with the anti-gay-marriage folks that there is not really a principled way to distinguish.
8.24.2006 12:35pm
Oh my word (mail):
I agree that George's opposition to SSM is not sufficient, but I disagree that his position isn't internally consistent. If one accepts his argument that allowing SSM eviscerates the impact that traditional moral ordering has on marriage and relegates it to private morality, then yes, polygamy starts looking a lot better.

It's the rejection of his argument in specific, not that his whole position is internally inconsistent, at issue here.
8.24.2006 12:47pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

If one accepts his argument that allowing SSM eviscerates the impact that traditional moral ordering has on marriage and relegates it to private morality,


But now you've moved to a different principle that what was previously at issue: Traditional, or "traditional moral ordering."

Two problems with this principle: 1) It's not entirely clear that polygamy is inconsistent with tradition. Indeed, longstanding cross-cultural tradition validates polygamy, and 2) Other presently accepted unions, for instance interracial couples, and divorce &remarriages likewise were frowned upon by tradition.

Finally, Rauch and company also make an argument that is internally consistent.
8.24.2006 12:53pm
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):
Personally I think the argument for polygamy is stronger than for gay marriage.

Once can point to polygamy throughout human history, in different cultures.
8.24.2006 12:56pm
Crunchy Frog:
Richard Bellamy wrote:

John is living with Jane (to whom he is married) and Susan (to whom he is not married, only because polygamy is illegal). Susan is in the hospital, but John cannot make any decisions on her behalf. Susan's income is taxed differently. Susan is ineligible to be on John's health care. Why do we give Jane all of these benefits but not Susan?



Because Jane is married, and Susan is shacking up. Next?
8.24.2006 1:29pm
RBG (mail):

Because Jane is married, and Susan is shacking up. Next?

My, my, what judgmentalism, Crunchy Frog. Your moralism is clearly grounded in bigotry, conveniently shrouded in the garb of traditional morality, which, of course, is no basis for withholding rights in our libertarian utopia.
8.24.2006 1:59pm
Alan B. (mail):
Nick Good,

I have not followed this whole discussion, but I think you are confusing different ideas of marriage. Yes, polygamy has existed in many cultures, but it does not mesh well with modern ideas of companionate marriage. Men used to be able to have many wives because wives were property. Job lost his wives, but then God gave him replacements, and he was good with that. I would not be. Modern (20th century at best) marriage is giving all of yourself, legally, financially, and above all emotionally, to another. How can you do that with more than one person at a time? Gay marriage works fine as a modern, companionate marriage. Polygamy does not.
8.24.2006 2:04pm
Cornellian (mail):
By Biblical standards, polygamy is already legal, since it includes every guy who gets divorced, then remarries.
8.24.2006 2:08pm
Dan Hamilton:

Gay marriage works fine as a modern, companionate marriage. Polygamy does not.


That is a good opinion but how do you show that it isn't just prejudice?

There are "group marrages" today just as there are "gay marrages" (outside the states were it is legal). They would claim that you are wrong.

It is only a matter of time before it becomes legal. One Man One Woman marrage definition is a Moral definition it is not a sustainable Legal Definition. Just as Marrage is between two people is a Moral definition not a Legal one.

Besides Polygamy has history, multiculturalism, religion on its side. Gay marrage has none of that and it is winning. Does anyone really think that once Gay marrage is legal that they will be able to stop group marrages?

You may argue all you wish but do you think you can STOP it? (IT gay marrage OR group marrages)
8.24.2006 3:13pm
Alan B. (mail):
Dan,

I myself have no desire to stop anything. If a man wants to marry a man, or three men and one woman want to get married that is o.k. with me personally. I realize that this is not the blog for this, but I do not see this as so much of a legal issue, but as a social one. Marriage has not always meant the same thing. Claims that gay marriage violates 2000 years of Christian tradition always annoy me, because they are just not correct. Modern companionate marriage is a reality that goes back to maybe the late 19th century. It (modern marriage) is not compatible with multiple spouses at the same time. As for how I can prove it is not prejudice all I have is logic. I give my wife, in an emotional sense, everything. How can I give her everything if I also give it to another? Terry Shavio legally gave her husband the power to make health care decisions for her. How could she give this limited but absolute power to two people? Modern marriage and polygamy just don't mix, as far as I can see. The fact that there has been polygamy in history is not relevant, as these are not the same types of marriages.
8.24.2006 3:34pm
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):
yourself, legally, financially, and above all emotionally, to another.

Is it? What of pre-nuptual agreements, marriages of convenience, marriage outside of community of propoerty (recognised in South African Law - I don't know about the US), folks get married for all sorts of reasons; it was ever thus.

Gay marriage works fine as a modern, companionate marriage. Polygamy does not

Personally, I'd sooner not prescribe the social arrangements folks may choose to live under, but I'd never choose to describe a gay partnership as 'marriage' anymore than I'd refer to a senior female as 'sir'. As I see marriage as something requiring both sexes...I'd sooner use the term 'partner' or 'significant other' or some such. But I accept that this is largely a semantic point. The law should cover gay partnerships for tax, inheritance, pensions, healthcare et al.

I certainly fail to see that there is a stronger case for legalising same sex unions over polygamy, as long as the union is consensual. If the law caters for one, so it should the other.
8.24.2006 3:56pm
Alan B. (mail):
Nick,

I suspect we are talking past each other and you are wasting your time with me, but here goes anyway.

-If by "it was every thus" you mean that throughout history people have gotten married for lots of reasons, I agree. If you mean that the modern idea of marriage is a historical universal I think (actually I know)you are wrong.

-As for the legal issue, I think that it is a matter of simple logic. I can give my brother, or my sister, or a total stranger of either sex power of attorney for health care over me. (I'm not a lawyer, so maybe I am missing something here) I can't give that same power to two people at the same time. Modern marriage, both in an emotional and a legal sense, binds one person to another. Binding one man to one man or one woman to one woman is not that big a change. Binding more that one man to one woman, or whatever, is a much bigger social and legal change. I don't think it is impossible that that may happen in the far future, but I do see it as a very different thing.
8.24.2006 4:12pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Since no arrangement not including animals or minors is illegal, what is the point of having the state certify it?

The folks most loudly protesting that this isn't a slippery slope are generally the ones trying to sneak up on you from the rear while trying to distract you from that terrain feature whose elevation is decreasing.
8.24.2006 5:05pm
CJColucci:
Polygamy: the only crime that punishes the offender without government assistance.
8.24.2006 5:56pm
e:
Since basic biology almost certainly makes polygyny more common than polyandry, doesn't social approval of polygamy encourage a warring society? Call me a bigot because I disagree with gay marriage under law, but I do have a hard time seeing homosexual civil unions leading to the same social problems as polygamous civil unions.
8.24.2006 8:42pm
Dick King:
I think polygamy is a lot more common in the rest of the animal kingdom than homosexual pair bonding.

In vertibrate species where the individuals are all either male or female, you can often predict something about the mating habits by looking at the ratio of size, strength and/or fighting ability of the males and females. In species that pair-bond or where mating is utterly random, the males are usually smaller and less robust [because they have a substantially smaller role in raising the offspring]. Examples of this include many song birds and at least one category of fish where the male is a tiny thing who fuses with the female -- they essentially become one organism.

On the other hand, there are species such as elephant seals where the males gather an impressive harem. The males are huge compared to the females, and fight impressively and dangerously.

It's amusing to note that from Homo Sapiens male/female size and strength ratio you would expect those males who mated successfully at all to have a small harem with about three or four females. It becomes especially amusing when one notes that those religions that allow polygamy [Islam, Mormon, maybe others?] limit it to four.

-dk
8.24.2006 8:44pm
e:
I suppose I should elaborate on "social problems." I mean the result of angry and desperate men of little wealth and little charisma who are part of a polygamous final solution. Fraud in social and sexual affairs would be much more common, and there is some tradition of polygamous societies disposing of lost boys with internal or exported violence.
8.24.2006 8:47pm
the pinter pause (mail):
But GMUSL Rising 3L's intriguing point remains: what is a logically consistent argument for supporting gay marriage but opposing gay incest?
8.24.2006 9:34pm
e:
Why not hetero incest if one of us is fixed? Marriage is not about procreation anyway, right?
8.24.2006 11:38pm
douglas (mail):
There is a seminal issue here being completly missed- Marriage as a social institution isn't so much about the individuals engaged in it, but the institutions importance to society. Were this not so, there would be no regulation of it by the state. Given that, I would also point out that George isn't arguing his own position very well- Mr. Varnell's quote:

George states that male-female marriage has an "intrinsic value" that "cannot, strictly speaking, be demonstrated"

Really? It's well researched and documented that in nuclear family societies, children are raised with better results in stable heterosexual married households. That would seem to me to be an intrinsic value to society at large that is demonstrable in things like crime statistics, and the like.

Gay individuals looking for personal recognition of their relationship don't require state sanction, and are not entitled to benefits, as there is no benefit to the state as product of their union, unlike, at least in prospect, the heterosexual couple. Incest, as an established habit, certainly has demonstrably negative effects on society. Polygamy is a tougher argument, however, it seems to me that there are overtones of male superiority and domination, as polygamy is almost always one male, many females. That's just not likely to fly in our society, whatever libertarian arguments for it there may be.
8.25.2006 4:29am
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):
Dick King is correct on dimorphism (difference in size between male and female) being indicative of polygamous tendencies in species. Man is naturally polygamous, the social restriction on one on one marriage is but a recent social phenomenon, one by no means universal.

Here's Richard Dawkins, the well known Biologist and author on the topic

You can tell harem species by their sexual dimorphism - males larger than females. Humans are less dimorphic than elephant seals (a dominant bull typically outweighs 14 females) but dimorphic enough to suggest at least some legacy of harem-based history


Alan Bs point about power of attourney is both wrong and a red herring. My folks have joint power of attourney over my affairs in the UK.

As to the argument that Polygamy brings social problems - hello, look at the social problems gay men have in the real, rather than the idealised PC world. If potential social problems were a bar, we would definitely not allow gay marriage!

The point about incest is interesting, in the UK amoungst the Muslim population, marriage to first and second cousins is extremely common, it's not illegal. No doubt why the birth defect rate in that community is orders of magnitude higher than in the general population...


Marriages between cousins should be banned after research showed alarming rates in defective births among Asian communities in Britain, a Labour MP said last night.

The report, commissioned by Ann Cryer, revealed that the Pakistani community accounted for 30 per cent of all births with recessive disorders, despite representing 3.4 per cent of the birth rate nationwide.


source UK Telegraph
8.25.2006 4:29am
Randy R. (mail):
Nick: hello, look at the social problems gay men have in the real, rather than the idealised PC world. If potential social problems were a bar, we would definitely not allow gay marriage!

Uh, Nick, EVERY group of people will some people in it who have social problems in the real world, not just gay people, okay? And every group of people will have some people in it who are just fine. If you are implying that gay men generally have social problems, as opposed to straight people, then you a) know nothing about which you are talking and b) are revealing certain prejudices which confirm to people like me that those opposed to gay marriage have unresolved 'issues' with gays in general
8.25.2006 11:21am
Nick Good - South Africa (mail):
If you are implying that gay men generally have social problems, as opposed to straight people,

No that's not what I'm arguing. I'm just arguing that the incidence of social problems is higher for gay couples that for straight. It's a generalisation sure, and I'm not extrapolating anything from that other than making the point that if the potential for social problems is an argument that could be applied to prohibit consensual polygamous marriages, it could similarly be applied to prohibit gay marriages…ie it's not in and of itself, a good argument as one could similarly argue that low income, low IQ is an indicator of social problems...and where does that lead us...

This is not to argue that there are not admirable gay couples with zip social problems and great wholesome relationships or that there are not plenty of trashy, disaster zone, destructive heterosexual marriages. That is not an argument that I made, nor hinted at.


) are revealing certain prejudices which confirm to people like me that those opposed to gay marriage have unresolved 'issues' with gays in general
I think you are rather jumping to conclusions with this one, which tells me something about your critical thinking skills and inclination to read stuff into what was written that was not there.
8.25.2006 2:26pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
"No that's not what I'm arguing. I'm just arguing that the incidence of social problems is higher for gay couples that for straight."

I'm not sure if any evidence bears that out. Certainly one could argue that gay men face more social problems -- i.e., drinking, drug use and promiscuous sex -- than straights. But coupled gay men, especially those with children, I'd imagine, look much closer to their straight counterparts than single gay men.

And gay marriage would probably help this circumstance, as the higher "social problems" is probably a function of unpartnered, unattached men with no kids who "like to play."

"a good argument as one could similarly argue that low income, low IQ is an indicator of social problems...and where does that lead us...."

And clearly that's not the case with gay men as the available data show that gays have higher rates of education, wealth, and income which correlate with higher IQs. Whatever "social problems" gays might have by virtue of their circumstance are clearly a horse of a different color than the "social problems" of the ghetto. Just go and see if you can afford the property rates in the geographical areas where gays disproportionately congregate.

At least this is what it's like in the US.
8.25.2006 6:08pm
Tracy W (mail):
Marriage involves various legal rights that are not available by contract, and I think would be undermined if the exclusivity requirement of marriage was removed.

What would happen to the right not to testify against your spouse the first time it was claimed by members of a criminal gang who all married each other?

What happens to the right to bring your spouse into your country, if that could mean an unlimited number of people?

Polygamy seems likely to change the meaning of marriage for people who are currently married in a way that homosexual marriage would not.
8.25.2006 6:54pm
Randy R. (mail):
Nick: I'm just arguing that the incidence of social problems is higher for gay couples that for straight.

Any source for that? Be careful -- if you quote Cameron or Socarides, note that Cameron was stripped of his credentials by the APA and booted out of the profession for his bias against gay people. Socarides never met a gay person whom he didn't think was sick, either, even though he has an openly gay son.

What you argue is a bold assertion, and I suggest you have firm evidence to back it up. To my knowledge -- and I read a lot of this stuff -- there isn't any, unless it comes from the bogus departments of Focus on the Family or their ilk.
8.25.2006 9:02pm
Randy R. (mail):
And you had best be very careful what you defina as a social problem.

For me, gay couples have a social problem when they have been living together for a year or more, and still have cheap tableware. Treat your friends better! Nice china needn't be expensive, and good silver can always be had at a flea market or auction house.

Flowers are cheap. If you can't have at least a few to brighten your kitchen table at all times, then you really have some serioius issues.
8.25.2006 9:06pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
Randy:

If gays do have more social problems, they correspond with a) acting like men with untamed libidos. And gays just happened to be excluded from all of the social institutions that tame the male libido! Gay marriage would be a step towards solving, not exacerbating those problems.

And b) things like more drug use, alcoholism and depression may also result from a sense of exclusion like being a pariah in your own family or community.

As I noted before, whatever social problems gays may have, they do not at all track the social problems associated with the underclass.

And you are right, there is a lot of statistical crap out there peddled by the religious right, much of it tracing back to Paul Cameron.
8.25.2006 9:27pm