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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Jul 1, 2013
I'm sure a lot of other people will mention this too, but the book Sex at Dawn explores this question in depth. One of the main points in the book is that there are many human societies with practices other than what we in the West think of as "traditional marriage" (that is, one man and one woman in a life-long monogamous relationship). There are societies with group marriage, temporary marriages, partner-swapping, and societies with no concept of marriage at all. The book also looks at the sexual practices of our primate relatives (none of whom are at all monogamous). Chimpanzees have constantly-shifting partner arrangements, Gorillas have an Alpha Male who collects a harem of females, and Bonobo social life is apparently pretty much a non-stop orgy of everyone having sex with everyone. The authors argue that it is likely that marriage and monogamy are relatively recent inventions in human society, which would explain why we are so bad at staying monogamous, no matter how much we pretend.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2013
A perspective from the Netherlands: over here, marriage technically is a matter of signing a document at city hall, with two witnesses present. After that you're married. The religious aspect and all rituals are optional.

More interestingly, each generation knows fewer marriages here, because most young people are not religious at all. Couples, whether straight or gay, 2 people or more, that are not married yet living together basically get a similar status to being married: they are seen as fiscal partners. Roughly the same privileges apply to fiscal partners as they do married couples, with a few exceptions regarding children.

I'm saying this because somebody questioned the point of marriage if it is limited to just the technical contract. Well over here this is the case, and fewer and fewer people see the point of marrying at all. Although I should add that still quite a few marry, mostly triggered by the romantic notion from the female side.

Personally, I plan to be with my woman forever, we are committed to each other. Yet we are not married and probably never will. Over here that makes zero difference for our status, other than saving ourselves tons of money.
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2013
The closest to a defense of monogamy I know it's the undeniable fact that given the choice women prefer a share of the alpha male over a loser full time.
That leads to lots of young males willing to do anything to get some action.
Jul 1, 2013
@Stovetop159 - Actually I didn't bother listing specific cultures because it would be meaningless - I assume anyone reading this blog can use Wikipedia at least was well as me. Here are some search terms that are non-trivial though "Matrilineal succession", "Matrilocal residence", and "Matriarchy". As for polygamy being oppressive towards women in general, I'll go one further and ask if monogamy is oppressive as well. At the heart of what I'm arguing though - is the idea that history is written by the victors - which in this case means that what is "natural" and "traditional" is the most prevalent set of practices in use today, whereas anything which is rarely practiced or which has died out or was exterminated is inherently inferior and unworkable.

By comparison, the framers of our constitution were insane, considering that the form of government they were establishing (a republic) had died out nearly 2000 years prior, whereas the one they were replacing (monarchy) was in use worldwide.
Jul 1, 2013
@humanist. You are generalizing outliers and applying them too broadly across the board. Thus the reason you failed to actually name a culture. Such outlier cultures are always small tribal based groups. Polygamy as the norm, has never permeated any widespread civilization, except in the upper class, and in situations where the woman had severely less rights than their husbands. You might argue that it could work or should work, but you can't dispute that in all of history, it has never been demonstrated.

@chuck.miller You are right, such behavior doesn't promote stability. That is the reason many people oppose the idea of no fault divorce (not simply cause a book told them so). But you are also arguing the exact point of those people. Social stability comes from society's practices, and need to start there. The gov's job should simply be to support those social best practices, by giving benefits to stability. Not to limit freedom. So if society as a whole says screw this whole monogamy thing, it's not the gov's job to make it illegal. But I still fail to see why it should provide instability with benefits and tax breaks.
Jul 1, 2013
hi Scott - I think this has come up before. Read "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Heinlein for some very thoughtful discussions of why group marriages work better than momogamy in providing stability and a nurturing environment for children (or check Wikipedia's article on the book for the cliff notes).

+11 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2013
Marriage, as far as the law is concerned, needs to be treated strictly as a contractual agreement. If should be agnostic as to parties involved and what their sexual or personnel relationships are (other legalities adhered to, of course). It would cover financial agreements and provisions on procreation and it's results. Financial benefits from an external source that accrue to a "spouse" would be divided across all partners with the net being no greater than what would go to a single spouse. Other laws still apply. Culturally marriage will still be what it is in your culture, the legal definition, however, will be well defined. All parties can only be in one marriage at a time, all parties in a marriage are married to each other.

Jul 1, 2013
If there were no additional Federal or State benefits for married people -- would the DOMA law have even been considered necessary? Why are marriage licenses required?

A man (or woman) can co-habitate with as many other men and women as he wants. Hugh Hefner can have 6 girlfriends and no laws are being broken.

A man can marry, get divorced, marry someone else, get divorced, re-marry, and continue a relationship with all involved and no laws are broken.

The argument that, somehow, the government is helping create a more stable society by only recognizing 2-person marriages seems (to me) to have no foundation.

It is the society itself that makes itself more stable by recognizing that a married couple have decided to support each other. The problem is when someone outside the marriage becomes involved (infidelity and adultery). It doesn't matter if the marriage is between a man and a woman, or 2 men, or 2 women and 1 man, or any combination. If they are all adults and all get along, there is no problem. It's the infidelity and breakup that is the problem.

If we have laws recognizing joint property (of married people) then we need laws handling the division of property later.

All the government has to do is decide who gets what when the parties split up. It could be divided evenly, or simply split between the last 'pair'.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2013
Has anyone ever taken a cultural anthropology course? It was 15 years ago for me, but I'll always remember it. Basically, traditional marriage is not hardwired - it's a cultural artifact. There are a tremendous number of different practices that have been documented by anthropologists - of course those cultures are a lot less dominant and so therefore seem wacky to us. Basically anthropologists make distinction between categories of practice. A) Who lives together and constitutes a "family", B) How are names/property inherited, and C) Who are you allowed to mate/sleep with. Our cultural for example is historically patrilinial, that is names and property flowing down the male line. This is why women lose their last name when they marry, traditionally. But there are matrilinial societies out there too - I think some pacific islanders for example but I couldn't tell you which anymore. Women in those societies typically have more freedom/power - it's also not so important that you know who the father is, so I'd say the freedom probably flows from that. Polygamy is very common worldwide in many different cultures. Polyandry (multiple husbands) not so much - but don't confuse that with women not being allowed sexual freedom.

There is also a lot of variety regarding familial units for residency. Nuclear family is only one option, there are also various group living arrangements, where you all live in a extended family - and not always ruled by a patriarch. So, you might say, get married and go live with your wife's family.

The point of all being that I encourage everyone to take off their cultural blinders and study other societies. It's amazing the number of articles I read where people are SO CONVINCED that the way we do it is the ONLY possible way, OBVIOUSLY. Kudos to Scott Adams for thinking outside the box, probably without even the benefit of cultural anthropology 101 class.
Jul 1, 2013
Your first sentence says it all, Scott. Anyone who disagrees with your position is an a s s h o l e.

That is the method gays have used to push gay marriage down on the nation. And push they have. Thirteen states recognize gay marriage, but only two have done so by vote. The rest have had it forced on them by either the courts or the legislature.

And how have they done it? Simple. By continuing to ram the idea down the nation's throats that anyone who disagrees with them is a hateful bigot. There is, as Scott so gently points out, only one side to this issue. Either agree with him and the portion of the gay community who is militantly demanding the privilege to marry, or be subjected to ad hominem attacks.

Isn't it interesting that Scott recently complained about the same kind of attacks, a la 'the bearded taint?'

Scott is in good company. Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), took the same position. He said that Congress, in passing the law (and I assume President Clinton for signing it) was motivated by "a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular [huh???] group. . ." To "demean" such couples, to brand gay people as "unworthy" and to "humiliate" their children.

Justice Scalia, in writing the minority opinion, refuted Kennedy's statement. He said, "To be sure (as the majority points out), the legislation is called the Defense of Marriage Act. But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions."

Scalia goes on to say, "In the majority's telling, this story is black-and-white. Hate your neighbor or come along with us. The truth is more complicated. It is hard to admit that one's political opponents are not monsters, especially in a struggle like this one, and the challenge in the end proves more than today's court can handle. Too bad. A reminder that disagreement over something so fundamental as marriage can still be politically legitimate would have been a fit task for what in earlier times was called the judicial temperament. We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution. We might have let the people decide. . . But the court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers the peace that comes from a fair defeat. We owed both of them better."

There are many reasons held by reasonable people to oppose redefining marriage. Scott has access to the Internet; it's easy for him to learn about and understand such reasoning, if he so desired. Obviously, he doesn't, because Scott knows as an absolute that anyone opposing his position may be dismissed with one word: a s s h o l e.

I have a single word in return for Scott: apologize. There's no point in discussing an issue with you if you've already prejudicially dismissed anything I might say.
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Jul 1, 2013
Ignoring the icky-to-oppressive societal issues that have generally been associated with widespread polygamy, and assuming they won't be involved here--that it's simply about a Poly Relationship... No, there's no real reason for it to be prohibited.

That said, from a legal standpoint, marriage exists to simplify a common set of legal privileges commonly associated with relationships. Things like medical proxy rights, designating next-of-kin status, filing jointly on taxes, and so on. All privileges that, in a poly relationship, either require case-by-case breakdowns of who gets what privilege (in which case a one-size-fits-all arrangement like Marriage doesn't work) or designation of a "primary" partner (in which case existing marriage laws work just fine).

I don't see a reason here for government recognition of polygamous relationships at the same level as government recognition of marriage. Bigamy would continue to be illegal for the same reason it currently is--not because of issues with the relationships involved, but because it amounts to tax fraud. The one thing I can see as "useful" in increasing acceptance of poly relationships would be an easier way of designating a non-primary partner as a family member--essentially, a version of adoption that doesn't carry the implication of adoptee as dependant.
Jul 1, 2013
Sorry, I had a happy trigger finger:

If it wasn't we would see EVEN A SINGLE example in history of a culture with woman as free as the men, and the ability to divorce still with stable polygamous relationships

In answer to your final question:
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?

That's a stupid question. Of course it would be. Traditional marriage independently evolved in nearly every culture over and over throughout history. Even cultures where there was/is polygamy that is almost always just the exclusive upper class(and once more those were held together through domination, not mutual love). The vast majority of the masses have always chose traditional marriage, across culture, across religion, across time.

Scott, you really haven't thought this one out.
Jul 1, 2013
Scott, that is an easily answerable question:

The purpose of gov/society recognized marriage is to promote social stability (oversimplified). The reason that arranged marriages, etc. have a similar degree of happiness is that in such cultures and times past, the permanance of marriage as a social factor strenghtened stability. If you didn't choose a marriage that you can't get out of, your mind would spend less time wandering to the what-if-I-could-do-betters.

That said, love is also a strong part of the bond of permanence, but as we see in the rampant rise of divorce over the last 50 years, society-wide, it's not always enough. Now when you split that love between multiple parnters who can come and go with no-fault divorce, you are not adding any social stability the whole idea of government recognition becomes pointless

Every culture that has every had polygamy, had such marriages held together through subjugation of the women. They weren't free to leave. Because that's the only way you can keep a unit like that together. If it wasn't we would see EVEN A SINGLE example in history of a cult
Jul 1, 2013
The idea that polygamy would result in only dominant males marrying is ignoring the fact that women can choose spouses as well. Historically speaking, polygamy was men choosing women & women having no choice in it. But this is America in the 21st century. Women have choices & speaking for myself & my friends - Where do we sign up to get some more husbands? The income from three people (or two people assuming one spouse male or female stays home with the small kids) will raise the standard of living for the whole family.

Why assume an alpha male will get all the women? Why not an alpha female getting all the men? Women do chose multiple partners. We like committed relationships & that can be with one man or several. It's the commitment that matters.

Why assume that it's just one of one gender with a bunch of the other? Why not 3 men and 3 women joined as one family unit all contributing their skills? It would give people who want to succeed in business the opportunity to put in those hours secure in the knowledge that others who want to succeed in building a home life for everyone are taking care of that end of it. Not everyone loves to cook, but maybe one spouse does, maybe one is skilled at home repairs while another is an excellent chemical engineer & has a chance to really pursue it in the business world without worrying about a leaking toilet. The spouse who wants to change the world can take that low paying social work job because three other members of the marital relationship have higher paying jobs.

I'm all for consensual adult polygamy. I think it can build economically & emotionally strong families giving children several loving adults they can count on. They grow up seeing in action that love is boundless. If parents can love multiple children why can't they love multiple spouses as well? I think the idea that you can only love one adult "that way" is a societal construct forced on us as a way of controlling us & given the chance we'd soon learn otherwise. Jealousy arises & would need to be worked out. Polygamy wouldn't be for everyone any more than same sex partners are. It would just be another way of being & loving and if it's not for you then don't do it.
+17 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2013
"But that sort of thing is easy to tidy-up with legislation."

Buzz. There is an enormous amount of law around 2 person marriages. Taxes, inheritance, property rights, medical rights, child custody and probably others I can't think of. Our government is hardly functional enough to a) address these laws and b) deal with all the extra fallout from them.
Jul 1, 2013
To clarify my last comment: what Im trying to figure out is whether or not there should be any official recognition of marriage in this world we're talking about here. Or, to put it another way, do you envision a world where governments and corporations not only let you marry anyone you want but also ignore your decision? COnfer no legal or official status on the union? If not why not?
Jul 1, 2013
@WATYF: That would be the PSTD and general lowered life outcomes for such children. Did you seriously think that was based on squick?

Scott, the most scientific (common) argument I come across is the fact that "multiple parents" correlate with lower life outcomes for children - of course, the obvious objection is that in real life, that means divorce & remarriage and skeevy cultish polygamy, pretty much.

As far as I'm aware, no-one has ever managed to run a controlled study on this, so we have to rely on epidemiology-style vagueness.
Jul 1, 2013
In this world we're discussing here, Scott, where marriage no longer has any religious meaning and doesnt confer health or other benefits on your spouse(s) what would be the point of it? That is a serious question. I want to know what marriage means to you and what you beleive it would mean to the people of this future you're envisioning here.
+39 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2013
Okay, I'll take the bait and make the argument against polygamy. But first, let's clarify a few terms. There's homosexuality and then there's gay marriage. You can condone homosexuality on the basis that whatever consenting adults do in their own home is find, but you can still oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it's somehow bad for society to recognize their relationships (for the record, I support gay marriage, I'm just saying it's possible not to while still supporting the rights of gay people to be gay.)

Similarly there's polyamory and then there's polygamy--multiple lovers vs. multiple spouses. If you condone homosexuality on "consenting adults in the privacy of their own home" grounds, you should do the same for polyamory. And, I'd argue, society does. I'm no legal expert, but I don't of anyone--male, female, or other--who has been prosecuted for sleeping around or having an "open" relationship. But the question of polygamy is "should the state recognize those relationships?"

That gets to the matter of why states recognize marriages at all. Opponents of same-sex marriage point to raising a family. But states still recognize marriages of infertile couples, so there's something more. I would argue that marriage is a stabilizing force, whether it results in children or not. Married people tend to work more steady jobs, break the law less often, take less foolish risks. Or, to reverse that, unmarried people--especially unmarried men--tend to take more foolish risks and commit more crimes.

So one goal of marriage laws should be to reduce the number of unmarried men (note: I am an unmarried man, and yes, I'm explicitly arguing that society should look to eliminate as many of me as possible.) Gay marriage reduces the number of unmarried men by granting marriage rights to a huge class of men who formerly couldn't marry. Polygamy would result in the alpha males taking multiple wives and leaving unmarried men with fewer chances at even one wife. I'm not saying polygamy leads directly to terrorism, but the fact that Osama bin Laden had three wives created two men in that part of the world who had nothing better to do but strap on a vest and hope the promises of 72 virgins was true.

Of course, this argument is only valid if you assume polygamy would result disproportionately in men taking multiple wives, with fewer women taking multiple husbands or group marriages of multiple men or women. I think that's the norm, and someone would have to produce some pretty remarkable data to convince me otherwise.
-13 Rank Up Rank Down
Jul 1, 2013
Hey Scott, if you know of an argument against child brides, based on science as opposed to holy books, you let me know. :Op

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