Some politician - and it doesn't matter which one - recently said that allowing gays to marry is a slippery slope to the day when assholes like him no longer have the power to tell you how to live your personal life. At least that's how I heard it.

Actually, I think he said something about gay marriage leading to *GASP* polygamy. And so I asked myself what's wrong with polygamy, assuming there aren't any child brides and cult overtones? I couldn't come up with an argument against keeping polygamy illegal. I'm not sure I've ever heard one.

Polygamy always gets conflated in the media with some sort of child-endangering, brainwashing, cultish pit of evil. But what if polygamy is just, for example, two dudes and one woman who work well as a trio? How does that hurt anyone?

Employee benefits, such as healthcare, would need to be adjusted in a polygamous world. You can't have one worker automatically qualifying for employee-paid healthcare for seven spouses. But that sort of thing is easy to tidy-up with legislation.

If anyone knows of an argument against polygamy, based on science as opposed to holy books, please let me know in the comments. And remember that polygamy can include one woman with multiple husbands. And just to keep things clean, assume the polygamous arrangement is based on practicality and not a religious belief.

This line of thinking made me wonder how one might organize society if there were no laws, customs and culture already in place. In other words, if no one had ever heard of traditional marriage with two people at the head of a nuclear family, what would be the most natural way to organize society? Are traditional marriage and polygamy even in the top five options?

I remember reading that people in arranged marriages were just as happy as those who married for love. That says a lot. And so I wonder: If you looked at every human society, past and present, and studied their marriage and social organization, would you find one model that just sticks out as working best? And what would it be?

Who knows the answer to that?

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Aug 6, 2013
"The main problem I see with Polygamy that I haven't seen mentioned in the article or in scanning comments is that a polygamous marriage can be eternal. "

You mean like the "line marriage" in THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS? Heinlein does not seem to see that as a problem.
Aug 6, 2013
It is strange how people who have been carrying on about "rights" and "equality" turn into raving consequentialists as soon as the subject of plural marriage is raised.

I keep asking why it is "hate" and "bigotry" to say that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, but not "hate" to say that it is the union of any two but only two individuals. I have yet to get a response more convincing than "that's DIFFERENT">
Aug 6, 2013
Polyandry is a form of polygamy.
Write a hundred times "Polygamy is not a synonym for polygyny."

Jul 24, 2013
One wife with multiple husbands is polyandry.
Jul 17, 2013
I'm not sure that there's a religious argument against it. Many old testament figures kept many wives, and God did not come down on them for it, he came down on them for wickedness. However, it does seem that there are emotional considerations. I would caution people that are considering polygamy or polyamory in general, can you truly devote yourself to that many people? Is there enough of you to go around, so to speak? Can you really give the proper level of time and attention that is required in a relationship of that level when you are married to multiple people? Polygamy seems to me like it would get emotionally draining, and that balancing the interpersonal politics would get messy.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 16, 2013
The problem with polygamy, isn't polygamy itself. It is that it sets up an environment in which some men find it to their advantage to have multiple wives, while not enough women make themselves available to meet the demand.

That leads to things like forced and coerced marriages - in which young girls are essentially bred and raised to be provided as plural wives. They are purposefully under-educated and are not provided with any means to support themselves if they do not agree to become some old dudes 14th wife.

This already happens in the US - and unfortunately, it is perfectly legal for an adult leader to abuse his power and authority to force a young girl to marry against her will - for his own personal gain. Here is a Utah supreme court case that backs up this claim: Note how the court carefully details all the coercion and pressure used to force a young girl to marry against her will - and then the clear statement that those actions, in and of themselves, are not illegal.


I'm not against polygamy. I'm against forced and coerced marriage. We need to outlaw the latter (and provide strong, meaningful protections for vulnerable populations) before we consider legalizing polygamy. Unless we do that, the caveat "between consenting adults" is meaningless.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 8, 2013
If multiple wives and multiple husbands turned out (in a non-cult-based model) to be about even, then you just have a handful of practical problems like health insurance, clarification of parental rights/responsibilities, etc., which could (as Scott wrote) be managed thru legislation (which is very different from gay marriage, which only requires that a well-understood legal status be extended, not significantly modified).

But, historically, even where both types of polygamy are legal and accepted, polygyny (multiple wives) is much, much more common than polyandry. So what you have now is some men with lots of wives (likely to be wealthy or high-status men) and some men with not only no wives, but little/no chance of getting one (as younger/poorer men). So, large bands of young men with no sexual access, no chance to start a (legally recognized) family, and no hope of gaining it? That leads to higher crime rates (rape and other violent crimes), more drug use, and so on.

Also historically, polygyny often involved a man bringing his brother's wife into his household as a wife when the brother was killed, since she might otherwise be considered unmarriageable. More extreme polygyny was often found in societies where many men were routinely killed in warfare, and was likely intended to address the totally different set of dangers that result from bands of unmarried, fertile women (disruption of the local norms of marriage and fidelity, large numbers of legally unrecognized offspring).
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 8, 2013
time for a radical re-think. forget contracts between consenting adults aka marriage vows. let each putative parent make a contract with the yet unborn child, to the effect the child will be cared for and nurtured in everyway by the adult parent. without reference to the other parent. this should ensure well cared for children, end messy divorce, custody battles etc and build a bright new future...ta da!
Jul 8, 2013
I think we need to expand polygamy to include multiple husbands and multiple wives (think Caprica's multi marriage concept).
Jul 6, 2013
What happens if two corporations -- which are people, my friend -- apply to marry in order to claim tax benefits or facilitate the transfer of assets? I'd bet good money that many social conservatives would find a way to approve.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 5, 2013
bwalls: eternal marriage.

Interesting problem. Wife 1 marries husband, wife 2 marries same husband. Does wife 2 marries "into the family" or exclusively the husband? If the latter and the wives turn out to be bi, will they be infidel if they fall into bed together?

And when Hubby dies, are wife 1 and wife 2 married (to each other) or does this dissolve the marriage?
Or, what happens when 2 men and 5 women decide to marry?

Of course, there comes a point when "you may now kiss each other" is going to take all afternoon.

@Drowlord, if this is deviating, I hang my head in shame for having allowed myself to be sidetracked. :-) But I find this topic quite interesting.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 4, 2013
The main problem I see with Polygamy that I haven't seen mentioned in the article or in scanning comments is that a polygamous marriage can be eternal. Currently, a marriage is limited to the lifetime of the first to die of the two participants. That makes some of the rules (like joint property that goes to the survivor without tax impact) much more sensible than with polygamy. Polygamous marriage would really need to be handled as a form of contract law.

Immortality is also a primary problem I see with treating corporations as individuals under law. Since they can live forever, it's not a level playing field. Food for another discussion.

It wouldn't be unreasonable for all marriage to be treated in the legal system as contract law, and for there to be different flavors of marriage based on what the individuals involved want to agree to. I'd be for the government getting out of the business of offering incentives for marriage, per se, and only incentivizing child rearing (which is in our communal interest). Let the legal system deal with making and enforcing contracts, and let issues of what is and isn't called marriage rest outside of government.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 4, 2013
In what way do I deviate?
By responding to otherw who do?
Jul 4, 2013
Well, first you should realize there is no prescription against polygamy in *any* of the recognized Holy Books--not the Old Testament, not the Koran, & not the New Testament. There is one passage in the New Testament where Paul says that a /deacon/ of the church should have only one wife. Church members may have multiple wives. But Paul goes on in the /next sentence/ to say that it is better not to marry at all. So, to be consistent, Christians should outlaw marriage.

Next, you should realize that the great majority of human societies throughout history were polygamous. It's just us weirdo inheritors of Roman mores who are monogamous. The purpose of monogamy is to stabilize social power structures and concentrate power in the hands of long-lived families rather than being dissipated among the hoi-polloi. So monogamy is fundamentally anti-democratic.

On the other hand, living in family units with just one wife means every person is as related to their siblings as they would be to their children. This means that from an evolutionary perspective, saving the life of a sibling is as valuable as saving the life of your child. So we should expect monogamous societies to evolve humans who are much more altruistic and less selfish, via kin selection.

Finally, polygamy DOES destroy monogamous society. This is happening among my friends in New York City & San Francisco. When there's a group of close friends, & some are monogamous and some are polygamous, the polygamists don't generally switch to being monogamous, but the monogamists often switch to being polygamous. Polygamy destroys monogamy by being too awesome to resist.
Jul 3, 2013
I get it. You can deviate wildly from discussing a limited view of exactly what our law currently dictates, but when someone else points out external context, you cry foul. Clever. We're all impressed.
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Jul 3, 2013
chuck.milner said: ... A man (or woman) can co-habitate with as many other men and women as he wants...
You might be interested to know that many municipalities have ordinances prohibiting cohabitation by adult males. Such codes are quite common. Obviously, you might assume such codes do not exist if you have never heard of any prosecutions. These aren't usually enforced proactively, but some citizen or police officer could swear out a complaint.
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Jul 3, 2013
to blforia who said: But, to your point about a slippery slope, here you go: We started with one male / one female.
If, by we you mean western civilization, why do you not recognize the married men of the Old Testament / Hebrew scriptures who had more than one wife?
I cannot agree that "we started with one male / one female."
Jul 3, 2013
@Scott: "Some politician - and it doesn't matter which one - recently said that allowing gays to marry is a slippery slope to the day when !$%*!$%* like him no longer have the power to tell you how to live your personal life. At least that's how I heard it."

You heard wrong. There's no law against marrying your primary and "cheating" or simply not marrying at all and dating multiple people.

Your personal life is fine. The government simply isn't going to give you tax breaks and generally rewrite miles of highly complex law, while trying to remain fair and avoid loopholes. Not for the staggeringly small minority of people who try to keep multiple relationships at once without dropping some metaphorical plates.

@EMU: "Whatever additional ritual you decide to go through at your golf club, company, alumni society or church is irrelevant to the question.

The legal reasons for divorce are given here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grounds_for_divorce_(United_States)"

And why should anyone care about the current legal state of affairs, in this discussion? If it's already perfect, after all, then polygamy is illegal and should stay that way, and this conversation is over. If not ... why should we care if the grounds for divorce are insufficient?
Jul 3, 2013
I completely agree with you, there isn’t really a logical argument that more than two people could form an intimate relationship. Of course, looking at the available evidence, it will just increase the amount of anger, nagging, jealousy, self-centred behaviour, and all of the other items on the black list of human relationships. Apart from that, there is no real argument against polyamory.
One argument that could be launched is that in most animal societies, there is a one-to one match of partners, simple for the reason to rear the young more efficiently. A lot of bird species mate for life, and bring up junior together. Emperor penguins share that harsh burden of bringing up the hatchling at the brutal ice desert of antarctica. Here, there is not choice but to stick together or not have offspring.
Of course, humans don’t bring up hatchlings in an ice desert. And there are lots of examples of mammals that live in quasi communal hippie societies, with supposedly random matings going on (eg. Bonobo chimps, if we are to believe the observing Biologists).
But here is an interesting comment made by no lesser man than Varus, the elite Roman general who was sent to the hotspots of the Roman empire to quell uprisings (he was the one who sacked Jerusalem and greatly annoyed the Jewish population).
He was sent to deal with those quarrelsome German tribes at the north-east border of the Roman empire. He wrote letters to his friends, and in one he made a very astute observation. He noticed that the Germanic tribes had a law that one man could only have one woman. Polygamy or serial philandering would be punished by death. He immediately saw the value of this law. He said that this would put a stop to the endless bickering and fighting and jealousy and heartaches that he was used to in Rome. It stabilised society, as a lot of anger and fighting does not happen because of that law. Varus also predicted that these wild and untamed’ tribes would one day inherit the Roman Empire, as they are a lot more disciplined and don’t tolerate mediocrity. He was right in that respect, the tribes eventually overrun the weakened defenses of a decadent society. He himself was slaughtered in an ill planned invasion of the eastern region.
Food for thought.

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Jul 3, 2013
I made this exact argument publicly some years ago and was immediately labeled some sort of homophobe, DOMA apologist. I've always been for giving gay couples the same rights as any other couple, just to be clear about it. But my point was that the thing we call traditional marriage was crafted in another time, for another purpose when we lived shorter lives, in rural areas, etc. And it isn't working all that well for a lot of folks today (statistically speaking). Who's to say that 100 years on people won't be organizing their "units" differently?
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