Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Against Polygamous "Marriage": A Bad Case of Lovin' Yous

Don't Hate.  Be a Mate.  Don't Discriminate.

In response to a previous post about an argument against polygamous "marriage" but for same-sex "marriage," Dr. M. Douglass (aka "Dr. M.D.", aka "Dr. Doctor.") responds with a different argument against legalizing polygamous "marriage," and he also supplies some supplementary arguments and thoughts (these were in the comments section on Facebook so forgive Douglass's typos; also I don't know if Douglass endorses all of the arguments) :

[A] Here's an argument against polygamy that would not also apply to monogamous gay marriage: 1. If polygamy were legal, Q could game the system by marrying lots of people in order for Q's health insurance (or whatever) to extend to his/her handful (dozens/thousands/millions) of spouses. 2. It should not be legal for Q to be able to game the system in such a way. 3. So, polygamy should not be legal.
[B] As for relationships in which one party cannot give consent (pet-o-philia, objectophilia, etc.), how about this argument: 1. Marriage is a life-long mutually agreed-upon union of individuals. 2. One cannot be form a mutually agreed-upon union with a pug or a toaster. 3. Therefore, one cannot be married to a pug or a toaster.
[C] Child marriage meanwhile, could be rejected on the grounds that it is inherently abusive in nature or on the grounds that children should not be allowed to form life-long civil unions, since they cannot give consent. I would guess that incestuous relationships are often (perhaps usually) abusive in one way or another, and thus should be illegal as well.
[D] As I understand it, arguments that compare gay marriage with polygamy/incest/objectophilia/petophilia amount to this: "There is no plausible principle that would give us good reasons to legalize gay marriage without also allowing the other the other stuff." (Or, contrapositively: Any non-ad-hoc argument against the latter "marriages" would also apply to gay marriage.) The above polygamy argument seems pretty plausible to me.
Let me start with [D].
Douglass says, "As I understand it, arguments that compare gay marriage with polygamy/incest...amount to this: 'There is no plausible principle that would give us good reasons to legalize gay marriage without also allowing the other...stuff."

That seems more or less correct, although we should make a distinction between the propositions (a) that there is good evidence that there is no such principle and (b) that there is a lack of evidence that there is such a principle.  I tend to think that (a) is true, at least if we are thinking about an ideal society or even one similar to our own, and if by "legalize" we mean mandate that all states recognize such "marriages" on constitutional grounds (yet perhaps I don't make this clear in the previous post).  But I can certainly imagine exigencies which would render legalizing gay "marriage" but not polygamous "marriage" terribly prudent (to give a fantastic example, imagine an imminent nuclear threat from Canada if the U.S. does not legalize gay "marriage" and prohibit polygamous "marriage.")  Nonetheless, in my previous post I am only committed to (b)--all of the arguments that I have encountered fail to give a plausible principle which rules out polygamy (etc.) as a constitutional right.  But perhaps there is one.

One other thing to note: In my opening paragraph in the post under discussion, my claim was not about a principle which rules out the legality of polygamous marriage; my claim was about a plausible principle which entails that homosex is morally permissible but not incest, polygamous sexual relations, etc.  I then go on to talk about a particular argument in favor of the legality of homosexual "marriages" which rules out polygamous "marriages."  I am more confident that there is no such principle regarding the moral permissibility of the activities than the legality.

Now on to the main argument, [A].

It seems to me that Douglass's first premise needs strengthened.  Q "could" game the system needs to be "would."  The bare possibility that someone could "game the system" is hardly a plausible reason for not legalizing polygamous "marriage" given the reasons typically given for legalizing gay "marriage." We need to have good reason for thinking that such things would be likely enough to have disastrous results, results which give overriding reasons for the reasons given in support of broadening the extent upon which "marriage" falls.  I fail to see such reasons.  The argument also seems to entail that the U.S. should not recognize marriage to foreigners since (e.g.) Russian "mail order" brides would "game the system."  And what about homosexuals and heterosexuals?  Can't they also "game the system" already by getting a piece of paper and with it the benefits, all the while living like they are not married?  It seems to me the thing to do is change the laws, executive orders, etc., so that the system is less likely to be gamed.  Perhaps one could put a cap on polygamy at four.  If two bisexual males "marry," this would permit them two female brides.   (Not sure how this would effect the other "G's" in LGBTQQIG....)

It needs also to be mentioned that Douglass does not provide a compelling argument for recognizing gay "marriage" by mandating it on all of the states which does not also apply (e.g.) to polygamous "marriage."  He just gives an argument against polygamous marriage which circumvents gay "marriage." What we need is an argument for mandating that it be legal which does not mandate polygamous "marriage."

On to the supplemental arguments.  In [B] Douglass says, "Marriage is a life-long mutually agreed-upon union of individuals."

This might to be an instance of a persuasive definition appealing to the favorable emotive meaning of "marriage" towards promoting an expansion of marriage between any consenting individuals, but stopping short of expanding it to any relationships with non-individuals. (Or perhaps it is a stipulative definition.) "Marriage" has a favorable connotation.  Unfortunately for LGBTQQIG... proponents, marriage hasn't included what they want so, presto, invoke a persuasive definition and now men can marry but not a man and a dog. Conspicuous from its absence is any mention at all of a commitment of fidelity tied to procreation.  As well, and more relevant to the present discussion, there is an absence of anything about how many individuals can enter into such a relationship.  Of course, we could stipulate that a marriage relationship consists of exactly two individuals.  But what are we doing here?  We do not seem to be giving a definition in the Aristotelian sense, that is, extracting the genus and species of a natural kind of thing (in this case, a certain relationship).  It seems that we're abstracting from traditional marriage (and the biological complementarity) to focus on certain social elements and calling that "marriage."

But maybe the left has so destroyed the meaning of "marriage" that it is vague enough that the definition above is adequate.  Then I stipulate definitions for "traditional marriage," "gay marriage," "polygamous marriage," "objectophilia marriage," etc.  I then ask for the plausible principle for thinking (e.g.) that the constitution contains a right to "gay marriage" but not "polygamous marriage."

Finally, to [C].  Child marriage and incest.  Child marriage is inherently abusive and children can't give consent.  That seems plausible.  We might wonder at what age this typically occurs.  We might also wonder about twelve-year-olds marrying other twelve-year-olds.  But we're going to have to pick some semi-arbitrary legal cutoff, so we'll let this stand.  Still, what about consensual adult incest and an incestuous marriage between adults (which is certainly what I had in mind in the post when I said "certain incestuous relationships")?   Why is there not a constitutional right to that?  Why shouldn't that be legal?  If marriage is no longer in any way tied to procreation, it's difficult to make the argument that this should be prohibited because there is too much genetic similarity.  (Too much biological similarity and not enough complementarity is part of what makes homosexual sex and incest similar.)  Moreover, at least in the oral arguments, it was noted that the state has recognized marriages between infertile heterosexuals (this, I would argue, for the reason of practical implementation in recognizing marriages for the sake of offspring and child rearing), and this was in part used as a wedge for recognizing gay "marriage."  So why not legalize "marriage" for couples who can provide documentation that at least one of them is infertile?  And if there is a worry about abuse and domination, limit the relationship to brothers and sisters like these poor souls.


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