Weird Arguments About Love and Marriage

by John Holbo on March 11, 2013

I haven’t watched the video of Sullivan debating same-sex marriage with Douglas Wilson (no, I never heard of him either). To judge from this First Things write-up, I can expect some familiar, bad arguments from the anti- side: first and foremost, a failure to appreciate the sense in which theological arguments ‘can’t be offered’ in this sort of debate (a failure of appreciation at least semi-shared by the author of the First Things piece, Peter Leithart.)

Sullivan demanded that Wilson defend his position with secular, civil arguments, not theocratic ones, and in this demand Sullivan has the support of liberal polity.

Sullivan’s is a rigid standard for public discourse that leaves biblically-grounded Christians with little to say.

The problem isn’t that they can’t be offered – it’s a free country! say what you like! think what you like! It’s that the person offering the argument can’t reasonably expect it to be accepted. It will be – should be – weighed in the balance as a private expression of preference. But someone else’s preference as to how I should behave doesn’t, automatically, carry much weight.

Suppose your neighbor leans over the fence and says, “Dear neighbor, I notice you tend to sleep in until noon on Saturdays. I wish you would get up by 8 AM. I have a moral view according to which people should get up by 8 AM on Saturday morning.” Your neighbor is free to say this. But he isn’t entitled to you taking him seriously. If you tell him to keep his opinions to himself and he gets indignant – ‘that is a rigid standard for public discourse!’ – the scene has crossed over into comedy. Best of all would be if he developed a mild persecution complex, slinking along your fence of a Saturday morning, a cross between the Underground Man and the Soup Nazi. Imagine a character who is always telling people what to order in restaurants and, when they refuse, rolling his eyes unto heaven: “The early Christians were persecuted, too!” And that’s why I will probably watch that video later, because I enjoy comedy of manners. The light stuff. (Why else would I read First Things?)

The moral of the story is this: there is some confusion about what ‘respect’ for religious liberty properly entails. Legally and morally, people are inclined to treat religious convictions as more than mere ‘private preference’. (If this weren’t the case, there wouldn’t be so many efforts to accommodate religious belief.) But obviously there is something problematic about obligatory ‘respect’ that treats everyone as having a duty to, sort of, half believe everything that anyone wholly believes, on religious grounds. (The Flying Spaghetti Monster is designed to embarrass this way of thinking, and rightly so.) Wilson (and Leithart, too, I think) seem to feel that failure to extend them this quite significant epistemic privilege amounts to exiling religion from the public sphere, from civic discourse. It feels disrespectful to religion to sleight religious conviction by brushing it off as ‘mere private preference’. But the alternative is forcing people to semi-share all serious religious beliefs. That’s not quite like having an established religion, more like semi-establishing all religions. Which some people may think sounds pretty good, actually. But it shouldn’t.

Which brings us to Wilson’s genuinely weird argument. It’s an unusually explicit expression of this usually non-explicit notion that religious respect demands this extra epistemic concession.

Here is Wilson, being quite polite to Andrew Sullivan:

I would also like to thank him for editing this book— Same Sex Marriage: Pro & Con. I thought he did a fantastic job of pulling together capable representatives of both sides of this issue, and I was very pleased at the absence of straw man argumentation, name-calling, and indignant screeching. I thought the position I am representing here tonight—opposition to same-sex marriage—was treated with an appropriate respect throughout, and I am grateful for it.

In fact, I would like to use the mere existence of this book as one of my arguments, and since I am already here, let me begin with that. While the opponents of same-sex marriage are sometimes compared (to their disadvantage) to various conservatives of yesteryear who were trying to conserve things they shouldn’t have, the overall effect of this book is to make the reader think that the leaders of the opposition to same-sex marriage are morally serious people, whether mistaken or not. They are not driven by irrational hatreds, or characterized by blind phobias. In short, we do not show up in this book as haters, with the appearance of a Bull Connor sort of opposition.

Now this means that to the extent Andrew is willing to treat his opponents as morally serious people, who have arguments that should be engaged respectfully, to that same extent he appears to be undercutting the view that the continued unavailability of same-sex marriage is a foundational civil rights issue. If it is a civil rights issue, how could morally serious people be opposed to it? If it is not a civil rights issue, then why is it being pressed upon us in those terms?

The problem with this is that, if it were a good argument, it would prove that the civil rights struggle wasn’t actually a civil rights struggle either. After all, not everyone who opposed civil rights for African-Americans did it with dogs and firehoses. Most whites – certainly many whites – who opposed civil rights did so in a more mild-mannered, let’s-debate-it-in-an-op-ed kind of way. “As moral, religious and law-abiding citizens, we feel that we are unprejudiced and undiscriminating in our wish to keep our community a closed community.” There’s no reason to suppose the people who wrote that sentence weren’t sincere in their self-assessment (sincerity not being the same thing as accuracy). If the fact of such sentiments is sufficient to prove that the subject is one on which there is reasonable moral disagreement, ergo not a civil rights issue, then the civil rights movement was a huge moral mistake.

I don’t think Wilson actually thinks that if only whites had only peacefully protested against all the peaceful civil rights protests, that would have proven the civil rights protesters were enemies of true civil rights (since they would have been violating the true civil right of religious liberty, and wouldn’t have been fighting for anything that was a true civil right, since some religious people thought it wasn’t.)

We see here clear limits of the vague notion that respect for religion entails that everyone must sort of/kind of half believe everything any serious and religious person sincerely says they believe, on ethico-religious grounds.

On the other hand, the argument against polygamy Sullivan quotes on his blog today is conspicuously weak, not the ‘excellent counterpoint’ he claims it to be.

There is a solid reason for restricting marriage to two-partner relationships, and it’s not simply that it flies in the face of monogamy or that it might leave some men without wives. The reason is based in civil law. If a husband were to have more than one wife, how would it be determined which wife would receive the federal benefits associated with marriage? Who gets the Social Security survivor benefits, for example? How are pension benefits distributed?

Even if one were to say these benefits should be distributed equally among the wives, there are still aspects of marriage that cannot be effectively shared. Say for example that the husband in our imaginary polygamous marriage has contracted a rare disease that has incapacitated him and for which there are two or more treatment options, with different associated risks and potential outcomes. Who gets to decide which path to follow if two wives disagree?

There ought to be a term for this tactic. It’s sort of a variation on ‘hard cases make bad law’. Namely, you argue that if something could potentially get legally tangled, we have a solid reason not to legalize it. Since everything to do with love and marriage could, potentially, get legally tangled, you have carte blanche to rule out anything to do with love and marriage that you don’t like, without actually having to justify your dislike. Not a good argument, then.

Here’s another example of this argument in action, from Will Saletan’s unfortunate, recent brush with BDSM. A lot of people have criticized his first piece on the subject (you can follow the links, by clicking the link). But the final paragraph raises particular difficulties.

These are hard questions. They’re hard because sex is private, but violence isn’t. And they’re hard because domination can warp consent. A subculture that mixes these elements is inherently fascinating. For some, it’s exhilarating. But it can never be fully reconciled, even with itself.

Ergo, we can’t, and shouldn’t, fully accept this kinky stuff (that’s the thesis of the first piece Saletan wrote, which he is trying, in the second piece, to defend.) The problem, once again, is that the argument, if it were good, would prove too much. Basically Saletan is saying that no ‘private stuff’ that is, in certain ways, conceptually at odds with – not obviously coherently relatable to – certain other ‘public stuff’ can be fully acceptable. But there are other institutions – marriage and parent-child relations come to mind – that are surely more self-evidently ‘acceptable’, yet are surely even more philosophically/conceptually puzzling, for the ways in which public and private lines get crossed. The private family is not self-evidently a ‘liberal’ political institution. In a lot of ways, it’s a stubborn, semi-feudal hold-out. This makes its relation to a liberal polity thorny to conceptualize, even if (to repeat!) its ‘acceptability’ is not seriously in question. By contrast, the BDSM-type stuff is pretty straightforwardly Millian: consenting adults, contracts, strictly private arrangements. You can get problems, sure. But a lot of them aren’t really conceptual problems, more just practical ones. (How can you tell when someone has consented? Isn’t there a risk that permissible situations will look like impermissible ones, from the outside, making legal calls hard to make?)

In a sense, the BDSM stuff is more ‘medieval’ – you got dungeons and everything! But, politically, it’s highly modern. The family, on the other hand, really isn’t supposed to involve dungeons these days. But a man’s home is still his castle. In a philosophical first principle sense, that’s deeply politically problematic, since the castle may also contain women and children, among other things.

There’s a good reason why “Savage Love” is a lot more philosophically coherent than, say, “Dear Prudence”. All that Dan Savage has to do, most days, is think through the implications of a basic sort of political liberalism: Mill’s Harm Principle. Prudence has to work out all sorts of complicated family problems. Husbands and wives and their weird, often unequal, or at least asymmetrical relations. Parents and kids and what is to be done, by whom, to and on behalf of individuals who are not morally competent to live autonomously just yet. Who has authority and rights and right on their side? Prudence can call upon lots of social norms, to lend authority and plausibility to her judgments, but such philosophical principles as she is relying on can’t ultimately be fully reconciled.

I could totally write for “Slate”, man. This post has all manner of Slatepitch potential.

{ 357 comments }

1

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 5:12 am

I forgot to clarify one point: I personally feel that it is morally superior to get up early on Saturday. In my callow youth, I slept the clock around. Now I am up with the birdies, doing productive things.

2

ponce 03.11.13 at 5:45 am

When I dine at a relgios house, it doesn’t bother me to bow my head while they mumble some words before we eat.

What’s wrong with good manners?

3

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 5:50 am

“it doesn’t bother me to bow my head while they mumble some words before we eat.

What’s wrong with good manners?”

I give. What’s wrong with good manners?

4

ponce 03.11.13 at 6:03 am

I don’t think the religios want us to half believe their primitive superstitions.

They just don’t want us to laugh at them.

5

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 6:14 am

“They just don’t want us to laugh at them.”

So you predict that they won’t object to same-sex marriage?

6

mjfgates 03.11.13 at 6:19 am

It’s poor manners to get gay-married in Pat Robertson’s house, because it would offend his religious sensibilities. Also that whole “breaking-and-entering” thing. So, don’t do that.

7

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 6:24 am

Well, just for the record, I think it is rather poor manners to call someone’s religion a ‘primitive superstition’. I don’t think there’s any call to go there. (When I asked what ponce had against good manners I genuinely thought he was playing some sort of reverse game, given the dismissive ‘mumble some words’ swipe, which he then upped with ‘primitive superstition’.) On the other hand, I have no problem with trying to perform a reductio ad absurdum on someone’s political philosophy of religious liberty – per the post. That leaves the religion itself respected, to a due degree, while leaving everyone free to speak their political minds in a civic sense.

8

pretendous 03.11.13 at 6:38 am

“The early Christians were persecuted, too!”
Turns out not as much as was previously supposed:
http://chronicle.com/article/The-Myths-Behind-the-Age-of/137423/

9

ponce 03.11.13 at 6:46 am

“So you predict that they won’t object to same-sex marriage?”

Depends what flavor they are.

“54 percent of Catholic voters support same-sex marriage, while 38 percent oppose it.”

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57573233/poll-u.s-catholics-back-same-sex-marriage/

10

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 6:58 am

OK, but who (besides you, with your ‘primitive religion’ swipe) is laughing at Catholics who support same-sex marriage? Andrew Sullivan is one such, and I doubt he would think that, by making fun of Wilson’s confusion about the proper bounds of religious liberty in a liberal polity I am laughing at him, i.e. Wilson’s opponent. (I might be laughing at Wilson – although not at his religion – but hardly at Sullivan.) Right?

11

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 7:00 am

That’s an interesting link, pretendous.

12

ponce 03.11.13 at 7:07 am

I never said you were laughing at anyone, John.

I’m just saying in any political debate, your only obligation to someone who plays the “Because god said so” card is to try to not laugh at them.

13

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 7:12 am

“I never said you were laughing at anyone, John.”

Oh, ok. I thought you were hinting that the problem with my argument is that it consists of mocking religion – which I actually try not to do, not least because it never gets you anywhere; also, because I’m a Kierkegaardian about religion, so I don’t think it’s supposed to make sense anyway. (Not that mocking conservatives gets you anywhere either. But somehow I feel less bad about it, because I don’t regard ‘it’s a mystery’ as a possible, deep answer where politics are concerned.)

14

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 7:18 am

Interestingly, because I’m a Kierkegaardian about religion, I don’t think you are strictly obliged not to laugh at religion, because it’s supposed to be absurd. And absurdity can’t keep from looking like a joke. One of the burdens you take up, if you are religious, is that people will laugh at you for believing something absurd. You shouldn’t really get indignant if they do, because – after all – that’s how it’s going to look. Even so, I don’t feel comfortable laughing at someone’s religion.

15

Mao Cheng Ji 03.11.13 at 7:55 am

Suppose the person who sleeps in until noon on Saturdays wants to ban lawn mowing on Saturday. And the person who gets up by 8 AM wants to ban toilet flushing after 10pm, in apartment buildings (and don’t even think of having a party). Not a big thing, but this sort of thing could, potentially, lead to a stalemate, paralysis.

Does the second person’s demand have more weight, because (presumably) it’s based on a religious dogma? I don’t like this conclusion, but it seems that logically this might indeed be the case, no?

16

Moz Loves Pasta 03.11.13 at 8:34 am

IMO a bigger argument against privileging any religion is that almost no religious people agree want it done. Viz, each religious person will claim that only their particular religion should be so privileged. So much as with the religious consensus argument against religion in general, I agree that most religious people are mostly right – until a religion can demonstrate that it is correct to the satisfaction of everyone, none of them can be considered worthy of privilege.

The other obvious extension to religious arguments against miscegenation/ emancipation/ divorce/ diet/ shorts is that clearly the state should have no role whatsoever in religious mores. Whenever the state moves to legislate in a way that impinges on religious belief there’s a great outcry that such legislation infringes religious freedom. I agree! Wholeheartedly. There should be *no* involvement of the state in religious practice (and no involvement by religious organisations in the state). Civil marriage should be just that – civil. If people wish to have their marriage separately blessed by the great lord cthulu they can do that. But it has no effect on the legal condition of their union.

I note that this already applies to many things. As one example, the state ignores the genuine belief of many Christians that they regularly eat human flesh and judges that they are deluded (and no crime has occurred).

17

Maria 03.11.13 at 8:35 am

“It feels disrespectful to religion to sleight religious conviction by brushing it off as ‘mere private preference’. But the alternative is forcing people to semi-share all serious religious beliefs.”

Hear hear. And if not to semi-share those beliefs, to be required to live in a society where they are laws, written or unwritten.

And you may be surprised to hear that works out well for some of us religious types, too.

As a perpetually struggling Catholic who grew up in a country where public laws were explicitly made to match what should be private beliefs, it is a relief to live in an increasingly secular world where my conscience is my own, and isn’t made responsible for externalising the costs of my (sometimes) belief onto the weakest people in society, e.g. the Magdalen houses.

It’s the best of both worlds to be able to figure out the whole religious thing as I go along, and not require other people to prop up my unbelief, or reflect my changing views, often at great cost to themselves.

18

etv13 03.11.13 at 8:42 am

All those larks who think there’s something virtuous about being up at 8:00 a.m. can go fuck themselves. Seriously, I have a neighbor who had guys out trimming his pine trees — pine trees, for god’s sake, which you could easily trim with the saw blade on your Swiss Army knife — with power saws at 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday, and when I opened my bedroom window to yell at him, he was the one who thought he had a right to be righteously indignant, and that it would be okay and I could just go back to bed when they were done at noon. No the hell I couldn’t. I had places to be at 1:00. And I’d been awake until four. And I rarely get more than six hours’ sleep on a weeknight. So all those so-called-virtuous larks who are going to bed at 10:00 and getting up at 6:00 nd claiming they’re so much less lazy than those of us who sleep from four till ten can just go and fuck themselves.

19

etv13 03.11.13 at 8:47 am

And lest I be accused of missing the point of this thread, opponents of same-sex marriage are all larks, in my book.

20

otto 03.11.13 at 9:35 am

One of the reasons Andrew Sullivan is being polite to the traditional marriage advocates is that they represent (as traditional implies) the status quo position, which needs to be changed, and therefore people need (amongst other things) to be talked out of it, and there it helps very much to be polite. By the time we have same sex marriage in 40ish states and then SCOTUS extends its application to the southern states nolens volens, these sort of let’s talk nicely to the Christianists events will be a bit passe. Who does edited collections of essays on bans-on-interracial-marriage these days, and if they did, would everyone be polite to those who wanted to reimpose a ban? So rather than, or as well as, being a discussion between a “liberal” and a “Christian”, the tone of the debate is of a particular particular moment, and one that is almost past.

21

otto 03.11.13 at 10:35 am

BTW, re this:

On the other hand, the argument against polygamy Sullivan quotes on his blog today is conspicuously weak, not the ‘excellent counterpoint’ he claims it to be. There is a solid reason for restricting marriage to two-partner relationships, and it’s not simply that it flies in the face of monogamy or that it might leave some men without wives. The reason is based in civil law. If a husband were to have more than one wife, how would it be determined which wife would receive the federal benefits associated with marriage? Who gets the Social Security survivor benefits, for example? How are pension benefits distributed? Even if one were to say these benefits should be distributed equally among the wives, there are still aspects of marriage that cannot be effectively shared. Say for example that the husband in our imaginary polygamous marriage has contracted a rare disease … Who gets to decide which path to follow if two wives disagree?

The normal thing to do is to think about new rules that sort of address these issues, see how the first iteration works out in practice, and then improve them over time. The argument against polygamy obviously can’t be “the-regulations-will-be-difficult”, or we’d ban all sorts of activities, and stop dreaming of world peace. And – just as with gay marriage – some people will be doing it anyway. So in the first instance the regulations just need to be better than no-regulations-that-have-thought-about-this-sympathetically-at-all.

22

Walt 03.11.13 at 11:00 am

etv13, it would be illegal to trim trees on a Sunday in Switzerland, so it would be inappropriate to use a Swiss Army knife under the circumstances. That leaves power tools.

23

Salient 03.11.13 at 11:07 am

If it is a civil rights issue, how could morally serious people be opposed to it?

All sincere opposition to the recognition, protection and implementation of civil rights is morally serious.

It would be hard to describe someone’s sincere opposition to human rights as both “profoundly disturbing” and “unserious” without being profoundly and disturbingly unserious about it. (On the other hand, it would be easy to identify someone’s advancement of a nonsense civil right — the right to trade a quantity of cooked spaghetti to the government in exchange for a machine that performs specific sexual favors! — as both profoundly disturbing and unserious.)

24

Scott P. 03.11.13 at 11:47 am

Surely Millian ‘no harm’ reasoning is woefully insufficient for a modern liberal. You seem to be applying it in an uncritical way that would also speak against minimum-wage laws, food inspectors, medical licensing, etc. etc.

25

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.13 at 12:05 pm

otto at comment 19 is sort of right, but let’s also remember that this is Andrew Sullivan, and that anything he writes no matter how seemingly sympathetic will turn out to be based on an underlying stratum of stupidity and viciousness. He’s exactly the sort of person who would edit a book called “Same Sex Marriage: Pro & Con”, as well as someone who would say that the liberals on the coasts amount to a 5th column, who rehabilitated Murray’s racism, and who would peddle eliminationist fantasies. That’s how he thinks.

So, sure, Wilson thanks him. Sullivan is only willing to grant civil rights to people exactly like himself, and is happy to set the terms of debate in such a way that would give no aid to anyone else.

26

Ardith Betz 03.11.13 at 12:45 pm

So, I really wish Sullivan hadn’t given Wilson a space to speak, but that’s obviously just my preference. Who knows, maybe Wilson will get more people calling him on his horrifically racist and misogynistic shit now.

Regardless, Wilson’s about the last person who should ever be making civil rights arguments, given this:

http://reformed-theology.org/html/books/slavery/southern_slavery_as_it_was.htm

And yes, it’s the exact same Douglas Wilson.

27

SamChevre 03.11.13 at 12:45 pm

It feels disrespectful to religion to sleight religious conviction by brushing it off as ‘mere private preference’. But the alternative is forcing people to semi-share all serious religious beliefs.

Hear hear. And if not to semi-share those beliefs, to be required to live in a society where they are laws, written or unwritten.

It’s the second, not the first, that’s the issue.

If I, and enough of my neighbors, have a private preference that we would like to sleep until noon, or be able to go to sleep by 10 PM, it is perfectly possible, and entirely normal, to pass laws requiring everyone else to act in ways that enable that activity.

28

Phil 03.11.13 at 12:56 pm

It feels disrespectful to religion to slight religious conviction by brushing it off as ‘mere private preference’. But the alternative is forcing people to semi-share all serious religious beliefs.

How about forcing people to wholly share all serious religious beliefs, or forcing people to semi-share some but not all serious religious beliefs, or encouraging and persuading people to semi-share all serious religious beliefs? Anything as precisely specified as that can’t be the alternative.

I suspect you’ve got here by starting with “it seems to be assumed that we’ll all kind of semi-share all serious religious beliefs, on the basis that the alternative would be to slight religious conviction as mere private preference, which would be disrespectful – and it would be, but it’s still better than the first option”. I think you’re staying within the terms of somebody else’s false dichotomy, IOW.

Not sure about “mere” private preference, either. “Private preference” covers an awful lot of ground – from the kind of bread I use to make my sandwiches to my core political beliefs (which go back to a conversation I had with my father in 1975, if not further, & which I couldn’t change without becoming a different person). I wouldn’t expect those beliefs to be treated as a trump card by people who don’t share them, but neither would I expect them to be treated as irrelevant or meaningless unless I specifically made the case that they should be taken into account; I would expect some shared recognition that these were the kind of beliefs which people often found relevant. A sentence beginning “Speaking as a ballroom dancer” or “Speaking as an Avril Lavigne fan” could be relevant to a discussion of penal policy, but the case would have to be made. I don’t think “Speaking as a Labour voter” – or “Speaking as a Christian” – should be treated in the same way, and I think Labour voters (and Christians) would be right to object if they were.

29

phosphorious 03.11.13 at 1:36 pm

Wilson demands that his laughable beliefs be treated respectfully. . . and then points to the respectful treatment of his beliefs as proof that they are not laughable.

This is the typical (American) conservative strategy of appealing to the tone of their opponents. Which is the last resort of someone whose arguments are bunk.

30

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 1:38 pm

Phil @26:

I wouldn’t expect those beliefs to be treated as a trump card by people who don’t share them, but neither would I expect them to be treated as irrelevant or meaningless unless I specifically made the case that they should be taken into account…

Your assertion of this is not an argument, though. WHY should I not treat Christian beliefs as irrelevant to non-Christians? Why should I give them any kind of recognition? I would say that for the secular, they simply do not count as relevant arguments for making other people behave in a certain way, as opposed to choosing to behave in a certain way yourself because of your own beliefs. For the former, but not the latter, you really do, in a secular polity, need arguments that don’t presuppose your own religious beliefs. Otherwise your preferred behavioral strictures will indeed go the way of opposition to interracial marriage.

(And yes, that goes for “speaking as a Labour voter” also. You should be able to construct arguments for your preferred policies that go beyond mere invocations of political tribalism, at least if you expect to be taken seriously by those who do not share your political affiliation.)

31

Clay Shirky 03.11.13 at 1:46 pm

John,

As a progressive atheist, I’m with you 100% on who should win this argument, but I disagree with you about how it should be won.

Per Pascal Boyer and Scott Atran (both Religion Explained* and In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion** are quite wonderful), religion is a social institution, and can never be reduced to personal preferences.

You get at this when you note “But the alternative is forcing people to semi-share all serious religious beliefs. That’s not quite like having an established religion, more like semi-establishing all religions.” This is exactly what the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution does, and life in the US is shot through with the resulting compromises, from Blue Laws to the provisioning of school vacations to coincide with the birth and death of Jesus.

So it is Sullivan, not Wilson, who has the wrong end of the stick here, philosophically. Sullivan, who has more cakes and eats them too than any man alive, wants to reconcile Catholicism and gay marriage because fuck tha’ police, that’s why, while Wilson recognizes that if it is OK to simply decide, in a visible and public way, that respect for this particular tradition can be legislated away, then no tradition is safe, and if no tradition is safe, then religion will be remanded to the domain of aggregate private preference. And look where that gets you!

Religions have always adapted to the changing beliefs of their adherents, but the mechanism by which this happens is often hidden behind claims of continuity with the Old Ways. The veneer of Burkean respect for old bargains is needed precisely because those bargains has to be updated without admitting that that’s what you’re doing.

So what Wilson, I think, recognizes is that a rapid, visible, and publicly rationalized change to deeply held prejudices is not a complex bit of philosophical byplay, it is an attack on the very idea of religion as a social force.

* http://www.amazon.com/Religion-Explained-Pascal-Boyer/dp/0465006965/
** http://www.amazon.com/Gods-Trust-Evolutionary-Landscape-Evolution/dp/0195178033

32

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 1:55 pm

I have read Boyer’s book and I see nothing in it at all that supports Clay’s position. And anyway it’s meaningless and carries not weight at all merely to describe something as a “social institution”. The KKK is a social institution.

33

bianca steele 03.11.13 at 1:55 pm

The thing is, Sullivan’s own arguments are a peculiar blend of “my belief here stems from roots in my education as a Catholic,” and “my belief here stems from roots in my secular education which have taught me that such-and-such very specific religious beliefs are wrong.” They’re always very rooted in religion. (And he does the “this belief is religious and that’s why I can’t consider rejecting it,” too. It’s kind of annoying.) I think this has to do with the modern situation where once-religious beliefs are now encompassed within secularity, but in a weird way that still leaves room for both intra-Christian and inter-religious difficulties (similar to the way it still leaves room for class conflict).

Anyway, as a secular person raised in (Reform) Judaism, I might find it interesting to hear actual religious arguments, not just vague hand-waving. I mean, when’s the last time you heard someone support an argument with “because Holy Spirit” or “because Shabbat“? Sometimes you get weird ironic, quasi-PC slinking along the fence, and that’s about it.

34

bianca steele 03.11.13 at 1:58 pm

Clay Shirky: Sullivan, who has more cakes and eats them too than any man alive, wants to reconcile Catholicism and gay marriage because fuck tha’ police, that’s why

Exactly, on the cakes and eating. But Andrew Sullivan hanging out in South Boston?

35

Niall McAuley 03.11.13 at 2:10 pm

One problem with insisting that all arguments must be secular is that you get a lot of insincere arguments. People who believe X for religious reasons want to argue for X, but they are obliged to use secular arguments. The arguments they come up with tend to be poor because they are not the real reasons anyone supports X, and debating these arguments is a big waste of time, since even their proponents don’t care if they stand or fall, they’ll just produce some other bogus justification for a position which is actually religious, and immune to rational argument.

36

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 2:13 pm

The arguments they come up with tend to be poor

Then their position is poorly supported and deserves to lose. That’s how it’s supposed to work in a liberal, secular society.

37

Josh G. 03.11.13 at 2:14 pm

There are much better arguments against polygamy than the one that Sullivan makes. Probably the strongest argument is that in essentially every society where polygamy is widely practiced, it is associated with inequality and the subordination of women. Sure, you can imagine a situation where we legalized polygamy and the resulting relationships were mostly egalitarian and consensual… but that’s not the situation we are likely to get. We are more likely to see wealthy/powerful old men take multiple young women as wives, and societal instability to result when poorer young men are consequently prevented from entering romantic relationships. IMO, the burden of proof is on the proponents of polygamy to demonstrate that these ancient evils won’t rear their head once again if it was legalized – especially given the large and growing levels of economic inequality that already exist in the United States.

Regarding the “myth of persecution” article cited by pretendous @ 8, I’ve heard Candida Moss’s arguments before and am completely unconvinced. They’re pretty much the same as the arguments made by Catholic apologists to defend the Inquisition: minimize the scale of the persecution, point out that pre-Enlightenment societies commingled religion and state so that it was easy to confuse heresy with treason, and try to blacken the reputation of those who were persecuted. I don’t find these arguments persuasive when they are marshalled to defend Grand Inquisitor Torquemada and I find them equally unpersuasive when they are brought forth in defense of Emperor Diocletian.

38

Mao Cheng Ji 03.11.13 at 2:16 pm

The KKK is an organization, racism is a social institution. But it’s been denunciated. Religion is sill very much accepted. That’s the whole point.

39

phosphorious 03.11.13 at 2:19 pm

Clay Shirky,

So what Wilson, I think, recognizes is that a rapid, visible, and publicly rationalized change to deeply held prejudices is not a complex bit of philosophical byplay, it is an attack on the very idea of religion as a social force.

But the Civil Rights Movement happened, and religion persists (bless its little heart), while the overtly religious leaders of the movement put their arguments into secular terms. The rhetoric was religious, the logic was secular.

And conservatives like Wilson lived to grumble another day, and even take credit for the Civil Rights movement (because MLK Jr. was a republican, you know).

40

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 2:25 pm

Mao, trust me, there are significant parts of the country where the KKK is still “very much accepted”. That argument really doesn’t work.

41

chris 03.11.13 at 2:29 pm

They are not driven by irrational hatreds, or characterized by blind phobias. In short, we do not show up in this book as haters, with the appearance of a Bull Connor sort of opposition.

I think this is actually a little bit unfair to Bull Connor, who most likely believed in the moral rightness of his position, and even the necessity of fighting to preserve the natural-to-him order, every bit as sincerely as Wilson believes in his. (IMO, this proves something about the value of sincerity.) Of course, Bull Connor was violent and Wilson, AFAIK, is not, at least not explicitly, but their motives are more similar than Wilson would like to admit.

And since the edicts of the state are ultimately backed by violence, there isn’t as much difference in means as Wilson wishes there were, either. If Wilson isn’t willing to take “OK, I’ve heard your arguments, and I’m unconvinced, so I’m still going to get gay married” for an answer, then presumably he supports doing *something* to stop that person from going through with it, which will ultimately be either violent, or backed by a threat of violence.

ISTM the root question of this sort of discussion is what do you do when persuasion fails — if the answer isn’t “let them do it their own way and see what comes of it”, then you have a little Bull Connor in you. Which is arguably justified in a parent, under some circumstances, but not so fine in a peer member of civil society.

42

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 2:29 pm

But the Civil Rights Movement happened, and religion persists (bless its little heart), while the overtly religious leaders of the movement put their arguments into secular terms. The rhetoric was religious, the logic was secular.

Which is a very good model. Note also that the leaders of the movement consciously incorporated religious but non-Christian (and non-Western) moral perspectives and tactics, i.e. King’s study of Gandhi. Theirs was not the kind of narrow sectarianism that one finds on the religious right, and that was a major factor in their success.

43

Ben Alpers 03.11.13 at 2:36 pm

Apologies if this is blindingly obvious, but it seems to me that one has to distinguish between an accurate account of why one believes something and a good argument why others should do so (or that one’s society should adopt the belief in question as a law).

The fact that someone believes something “because I’m a Catholic” or “because I’m a Labour voter” is not socially irrelevant. I think it’s useful to understand, insofar as one can, why someone in a debate believes something. But such explanations, as others have noted, aren’t binding on others and don’t usually constitute strong arguments in the public sphere.

And I’m undisturbed by the fact that the arguments that do work in the public sphere might not perfectly match the internal psychological sources of the beliefs held by some of the people making them.

Let’s imagine that a progressive evangelical Christian believes that we have a social duty to heal the sick. So he supports a single-payer healthcare system. Now he can’t expect to convince non-Christians to join him in his conviction by arguing that God has commanded us to have a single-payer healthcare system. So he instead appeals to other arguments in favor of it. Even though these secular arguments may not be his own reasons for supporting single-payer, there’s nothing bogus or hypocritical about this, especially so long as he doesn’t employ arguments that he believes to actually be false.

Of course, when arguing with conservative Evangelicals, such a person might very well appeal to his Christian beliefs…not because they are his, but because they might be expected to appeal to his audience.

Things get a little trickier when evaluating effective arguments that the speaker actually believes to be false, e.g., I, as a non-Christian, insisting to the conservative Evangelical that she ought to support single-payer healthcare because Jesus.

But debates of all sorts are not, fundamentally, about devising the most sincere form of self-description. They are about convincing other people. And so they necessarily involve crafting arguments around the convictions of the audience, not of the speaker.

44

chris 03.11.13 at 2:38 pm

Probably the strongest argument is that in essentially every society where polygamy is widely practiced, it is associated with inequality and the subordination of women.

One problem with this argument is that the control group is no better. Almost *every* society is characterized by gender inequality and the subordination of women, whether it is polygamous or not. Lower tech societies even more so, and (probably by historical accident, although I suppose you could try to argue the contrary) the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution took off in traditionally monogamous societies first, and those societies are still in the lead in technology and education, for the most part.

45

Trader Joe 03.11.13 at 2:47 pm

Marriage occupies a particular nexus of both secular and religious interests and I find it confounding that so many believe there needs to be one definition of marriage when in fact there are several.

Marriage in the secular sense defines (as per the OP) who gets to pull the plug or receive the SS survivor benefits, among many other things. There are sound legal reasons why the state would choose to legitimize these arrangements before the fact and legislators, voters and courts can validly define the boundaries of with whom (i.e. non-insestuous), what sex(es), how many partners etc.

There is also the religious definition of marriage which seems to me to be the purview of the various religions to define in the manner they choose (Catholics, Mormons and Muslims can’t entirely agree why should CA and NY). If a partnership wishes to be blessed by their chosen religion it seems fair they should abide by the dictates of that religion.

As a religious person I might like to have a marriage that is recognized by both God and state. The first amendment recognizes the state cannot establish religion and the reverse should likewise hold- the church cannot establish law for the state. So it seems it should follow that a person who is, say, gay and catholic (for example), should need to meet one set of criteria for a state “marriage” (which some prefer to call a civil union) and another for a catholic marriage….those wanting both should need to see their preacher, not their legislator.

I’m not sure exactly when secular governments abidcated the definition of marriage to the church. No doubt it was a point not much pondered 200+ years ago when the church’s definition and society’s definition were in much greater harmony. As Clay noted in 29 above, the convincing should involve why the government needs to establish a standard when previously it had been silent or delegated, rather than having to assert what the standard should be which should be up to voters and their representatives.

46

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 2:48 pm

I am now watching the video. It’s 2-hours+ long so this will take a while. Maybe I’ll liveblog it as comments unfold about the post. So far, 30 minutes in, Sullivan has given quite a moving personal testimonial about the value of gay marriage in his life, and given generally cogent arguments as to why his case should be representative enough. Wilson, on the other hand, is now pointing out that it’s utterly ad hoc and, frankly, inconsistent to draw the line at polygamy. He’s absolutely right about that. So it’s looking like polygamy is going to have a surprisingly good night.

47

James 03.11.13 at 2:50 pm

It is expected that the small population set of Atheist/Agnostic college professors find reasoning based on religious tenants to be questionable. Of coarse, this population set is significantly outnumbered by individuals who find religious tenants to be absolute in reasoning. It would behoove you to modify your derision. Based on numbers, the religious set makes the majority of laws and laughing at their reasoning gets you nowhere.

48

nnyhav 03.11.13 at 2:51 pm

Your neighbor is free to say this. But he isn’t entitled to you taking him seriously. If you tell him to keep his opinions to himself and he gets indignant – ‘that is a rigid standard for public discourse!’ – the scene has crossed over into comedy.
or not

49

Jonathan Mayhew 03.11.13 at 2:54 pm

Polygamy is at least biblically sanctioned, right? That’s a dangerous road for the religious right to go down.

50

JanieM 03.11.13 at 2:55 pm

religious tenants

I wonder how the landlord knows if they’re religious or not……..I’m sure it’s illegal to ask. ;)

51

phosphorious 03.11.13 at 2:57 pm

What ponce at #2 has been bothering me: “When I dine at a relgios house. . .

THIS is the foundation of the claim that we need to be polite to religious folks. . . we are after all in their home.

Except we’re not. The public square is public, and yet the religious act as if they get to set the rules, as if this (In my case, the US) is their country. It isn’t.

I will be polite when in other people’s homes. I will talk however the fuck I want in my own home. And this is my home just as much as it is theirs.

52

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 2:57 pm

It would behoove you to modify your derision. Based on numbers, the religious set makes the majority of laws and laughing at their reasoning gets you nowhere.

That’s why the cause of marriage equality is in full retreat, amirite?

The “religious set” that wants to legislate old-fashioned “morality” is a small minority of religious people, never mind of the population as a whole (the latter, by the way, contains a majority of non-churchgoers, even if most of those still label themselves as religious in some vague way. And 32% of the population is avowedly non-religious, not just “the small population set of Atheist/Agnostic college professors”.) Try a conservative blog where you might hope to get away with such shoddy stuff.

53

Brad DeLong 03.11.13 at 3:00 pm

Re: “How about forcing people to wholly share all serious religious beliefs?” This was the Imperial Roman point of view. It worked well, for a while…

54

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 3:16 pm

““How about forcing people to wholly share all serious religious beliefs?” This was the Imperial Roman point of view. It worked well, for a while…”

Yes, that’s a good point.

I’m up to minute 54 and Wilson is still winning on points, to my surprise, because he is restricting himself to poking holes in Sullivan’s argument against polygamy. Interesting dynamic. So far Wilson hasn’t actually said anything against same-sex marriage, per se.

55

rf 03.11.13 at 3:22 pm

At the start of that video Sullivan rejects polygamy because.. ‘if one man can marry a lot of women, then there won’t ne enough women for the remaining men’..?..WOW

56

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 3:32 pm

Re: “How about forcing people to wholly share all serious religious beliefs?” This was the Imperial Roman point of view. It worked well, for a while…

Completely wrong. All that was required was token, external observance; nobody cared about your actual beliefs. The variety of religions that peacefully co-existed in the Roman Empire was actually quite impressive. Only the rare ones, pretty much jsut Judaism and Christianity, whose adherents refused even token ritual obeisance got in trouble, and even then only sporadically (the extent of persecution of Christians is often exaggerated, and the Jews, while generally disliked, weren’t bothered about until they engaged in open political rebellion.)

57

Lee 03.11.13 at 3:33 pm

Ben@41

I think this is correct. Both Sullivan and Wilson assert dogmatic truths that they wish would have some contolling role in the public sphere. Their disagreement, it seems to me, is centered on which of their dogmatic truths are to be universally accepted and which are not. Sullivan groups one set of beliefs as controlling on the public discourse and Wilson argues for a different set, each using rhetoric to buttress their often poorly constructed arguments.

But that is just par for most arguments within the public sphere – where dogmatic claims are gussied up to appear as foundational truths. And while I agree with Sullivan’s social position on gay marriage, how he gets there is hardly convincing.

58

ponce 03.11.13 at 3:36 pm

@49

phos,

I think the important thing about that is relgios pass on their primitive superstitions to their children within their homes.

That’s how it spreads.

The hard core religios don’t even trust their children to keep the faith in public schools, so the kids get 24/7 brainwashing.

59

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 3:45 pm

“All that was required was token, external observance; nobody cared about your actual beliefs.”

Sorry, Steven, I think Brad was making a bit of a joke. Namely, so long as religion is a matter of ritual/sacrifice/augury rather than substantively creedal/dogmatically committed, like the Abrahamic religions (including Judaism, although some might demur at this characterization), then it is technically possible for everyone to ‘share all serious religious beliefs’ because that amounts to saying that it is seriously important to observe some rites, and etc. And your household gods don’t conflict with mine. This doesn’t really create much tension (though I suppose there was always tension between those whose rites occurred, loudly, at 8 AM, and the neighbors who whose gods allowed them to sleep in a bit longer.) It’s possible that Brad didn’t mean that, but I did, and I suspect he did.

60

PJW 03.11.13 at 3:45 pm

Brian Leiter’s new book Why Tolerate Religion? surely would be instructive here: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9839.html

61

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 3:50 pm

That doesn’t sound much like “wholly sharing all serious religious beliefs”, though. And even the ritual observance required was very minimal and called for rarely.

62

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 3:58 pm

Well, that was the debate. Now they are on to questions. I have to say: Wilson won, because it turned out to be largely a referendum on the in-principle permissibility of legal polygamy, and Wilson’s position on that issue is, at least, internally consistent, whereas Sullivan’s really is not.

63

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 4:00 pm

“That doesn’t sound much like “wholly sharing all serious religious beliefs”, though. And even the ritual observance required was very minimal and called for rarely.”

But it was seriously believed that these minimal ritual requirements were quite important. (Not to defend a joke to the death. Jokes really need to be able to defend themselves in these sorts of cases.)

64

rf 03.11.13 at 4:01 pm

So did Douglas Wilson make a strong case *for* polygamy or just against same sex marriage?

65

DHMCarver 03.11.13 at 4:14 pm

The “good manners” discussion, perhaps unintentionally, ties directly to the theme of this brilliant post. One could posit that it is “good manners” NOT to pray when you have company who do not share your religion. There are plenty of things we might do in our homes when we do not have guests that would be considered rude or disrespectful if guests were over — walk around in various states of undress, use the toilet with the door open, leave dishes on the table and that morning’s coffee mugs sitting around the place, the newspaper scattered in bits on the floor, etc. If a religiously devout family is having a guest to dinner who does not share their particular piety, one could argue they should not force their guest to make the uncomfortable choice of whether to participate in the prayer before meal. If they believe their particular deity is so unforgiving that they absolutely must pray before the meal to give thanks, then they could consider having a private prayer in the kitchen. Requiring your theologically different guests to pray with you (or to be uncomfortable while you pray) could be considered “forcing people to semi-share . . . serious religious beliefs”. Just a thought.

66

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 4:14 pm

Sorry, just to be clear: he is staunchly anti-polygamy. Both Wilson and Sullivan are staunchly anti-polygamy. Wilson’s argument is supposed to be that the same sex-marriage arguments, if they are any good, ought to go for polygamy to. Polygamy is unacceptable. Therefore same-sex marriage is unacceptable. Or rather: he wants to get Sullivan on the hook, admitting he is basically willing to impose his moral notions on others, concerning what is and isn’t marriage. And if that’s all right, then …

When I said it was a banner night for polygamy I meant this.:

1) Sullivan made very strong arguments for same-sex marriage.
2) Wilson made very strong arguments that if we accept those arguments, we have to admit they might, in rather obvious ways, be rather naturally extended to defend polygamy – should anyone wish to push analogous arguments on that front.

Wilson didn’t actually argue against 1), directly. And Sullivan didn’t successfully push back against 2). When pressed on 2), he falls back on very heart-felt expressions of 1), which I suppose are supposed to be testimonials to the greater seriousness and authenticity of homosexual love and commitment, over and against the polygamous variety. But it’s not much proof. Certainly it doesn’t touch the abstract logic of the argument by analogy, which Wilson did a reasonably good job of constructing.

67

rf 03.11.13 at 4:18 pm

But if Sullivans arguments for ssm were very strong, and Wilsons arguments that it be hypocritical not to include polygamy were equally as strong..then by extension the arguments for polygamy were strong, and won the debate? Which I guess is what your getting at

68

rf 03.11.13 at 4:20 pm

Which is a loss for Wilson, a half win for Sullivan..and a triumph for polygamists

69

phosphorious 03.11.13 at 4:21 pm

rf:

At the start of that video Sullivan rejects polygamy because.. ‘if one man can marry a lot of women, then there won’t ne enough women for the remaining men’..?..WOW

Right? And yet he’s against progressive taxation.

70

rf 03.11.13 at 4:28 pm

I know. We all have to be vigilant against the subtle creep of state tyranny. Private tyranny, not so much

71

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 4:29 pm

“Which is a loss for Wilson, a half win for Sullivan..and a triumph for polygamists”

Yes. But it could just as easily be a triumph for Wilson and a loss for Sullivan and the polygamists, depending which way the modus ponens/tollens hinge swings.

72

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 4:30 pm

It’s just funny to say that polygamy won the debate. It’s only half true, I must admit.

73

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 4:34 pm

Well, there certainly are principled, secular arguments (having to do with the potential for oppression of women when we all still live in societies that do plenty of that already) against polygyny (not meaning to pre-judge how sound and persuasive those actually are), but are there any against polyandry?

74

Stentor 03.11.13 at 4:38 pm

We are more likely to see wealthy/powerful old men take multiple young women as wives, and societal instability to result when poorer young men are consequently prevented from entering romantic relationships.

I find this argument kind of gross and illiberal. It treats the women in question as commodities to be distributed to men. Certainly that’s how it worked in many societies, both polygamous and monogamous. But in the US we have an (imperfectly realized) ideal that women get to choose their own partners. So you’re basically proposing that we say to a woman “sure, I know you would prefer being the third wife of Attractive Rich Dude, but for the good of society we need you to go keep Unattractive Loser Dude from exceeding his unrequited horniness quota.”

75

Josh G. 03.11.13 at 4:45 pm

Stentor: yes, women get to choose their own partners, but this is about marriage, which is about explicit societal sanction. There is egalitarian value in upholding monogamy as a norm. No one is proposing that rich men should be thrown in jail for having (willing, adult) mistresses, just that those relationships shouldn’t be dignified by the law.

76

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.13 at 4:45 pm

“Wilson’s position on that issue is, at least, internally consistent, whereas Sullivan’s really is not”

This is the problem, which I already commented about above, about citing anything with Sullivan in it. It’s like “bad cases make bad law”. He can be relied upon to think in the same way as he’s always thought, whether his cause is good or bad.

For the more general question of whether people should respect religious belief, I don’t think that the analysis here draws enough on actual politics as opposed to philosophical argumentation. In any actually functioning democracy (as opposed to an ideal one), a large part of the functioning part of the democracy is to allow claims from power that don’t have to be followed through. In other words, someone gets to say “I speak for a whole group of people who believe X, and if you anger us, we’ll break things.” That’s really the tradition that “public respect for religion” is trying to call on in this case. It’s not respect for minority religion.

The aggrieved tone is because it’s a claim that can’t really be followed through on if it’s pressed. There aren’t enough religious people willing to go out and hate gays any more, so when people like Wilson play up being victims, it’s supposed to be a motivating device — people who are nominally of Wilson’s religion are supposed to hear him being “victimized”, feel a greater group identity with their co-religionists, and ideally go out and be vocal gay-haters in some tribalist fashion, which people like Wilson would certainly condemn in sorrow and then use to back up the implicit argument that people had better respect religion or more events like this will happen.

77

John Holbo 03.11.13 at 4:49 pm

Wait, I spoke too soon. In the Q&A Wilson is finally getting around to attacking same-sex marriage, but he’s offering weak arguments. It’s the whole ‘it changes the meaning of marriage for all of us so it’s bad for society and dilutes etc. etc.’ ‘I believe this institution ought not to be messed with.’ And Sullivan attacks him. And Wilson goes right back into the anti-polygamy stuff. I’m going to bed. Apparently both men will offer a closing statement after the questions, and Wilson promises to give his real same-sex marriage argument in his final statement.

78

William Timberman 03.11.13 at 4:50 pm

It’s undoubtedly due more to a defect in my own thought processes than in Sullivan’s, but everything he writes or says seems to me to be cribbed from some unpublished Monty Python script. I suspect I’d be a better person if I could take him seriously, but I just can’t.

79

JanieM 03.11.13 at 4:53 pm

It’s undoubtedly due more to a defect in my own thought processes than in Sullivan

I doubt it.

80

SamChevre 03.11.13 at 4:58 pm

Josh G at 72

this is about marriage, which is about explicit societal sanction

This is pretty much exactly Wilson’s argument against same-sex marriage.

81

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.13 at 5:07 pm

People may have forgotten that there was explicit U.S. governmental repression of polygamy (check here, here, or for that matter here). The whole concept of “respect for religion” takes on quite a different tone in a discussion where someone both attacks polygamous marriage and says that religion should be respected. Obviously it’s only some religions, based on power, and not meant to be generalized into a principle.

82

Josh G. 03.11.13 at 5:27 pm

SamChevre: the difference is that there really aren’t any good secular reasons not to extend that deference to same-sex marriage. It doesn’t affect heterosexual couples in any way, only requires a few minor changes to the wording of existing laws, and doesn’t threaten societal stability in the way that legalized polygamy would.

83

Hector_St_Clare 03.11.13 at 5:54 pm

Re: ‘if one man can marry a lot of women, then there won’t ne enough women for the remaining men’..?..

I mean, that really is the best argument against polygyny, and it’s a pretty knock-down one. (Other arguments are that polygyny either devolves into low-investment societies with low paternal care and lots of promiscuity, like parts of sub-Saharan Africa, or else the trainwreck that exists in places like the Persian Gulf states, about which the less said the better).

As a Christian, I don’t *personally* believe that either polygynous marriages or gay marriages are religiously acceptable. I have no particular problem with the state instituting a legal construct of ‘same sex marriage’, though, in the same way that it recognizes remarriage, childless marriage, and any number of other things that differ from Christian marriage. I do have a problem with the state legalizing polygyny. Because polgyny literally is a threat to *my* marriage (or more accurately, my ability to find a marriage partner) in a way that same-sex marriage isn’t.

84

Hector_St_Clare 03.11.13 at 5:56 pm

Re: But in the US we have an (imperfectly realized) ideal that women get to choose their own partners. So you’re basically proposing that we say to a woman “sure, I know you would prefer being the third wife of Attractive Rich Dude, but for the good of society we need you to go keep Unattractive Loser Dude from exceeding his unrequited horniness quota.”

This is, uh, really a pretty silly argument.

Of course women (and men) can choose their own partners, but the choices we make are conditioned by what we’re taught and influenced to think is culturally acceptable. In a society where polygyny is denied social recognition, and concidered weird and outre, not a lot of women are going to choose to enter those sorts of relationships.

85

Clay Shirky 03.11.13 at 6:06 pm

Late to respond, but to @phosphorius at #37, the Civil Rights movement happened, but not without a lot of damage to religious institutions. The Southern Baptist Conference, founded to defend the institution of slavery, came around to the view that that was not maybe the shiningest example of brotherly love in history, and ended up renouncing their defense of slavery.

In 1995. [1]

So it’s not that any visible, short-term change in traditional beliefs will cause all religion to crumble, but that those sorts of changes do tend to be schismatic, as well as being extraordinarily hard to correct, since they involve near-term admission of error, an activity religions have not historically prized or excelled at.

More generally, as professional hand-wringer Ross Douhat pointed out[2], “Practically every denomination — Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian — that has tried to adapt itself to contemporary liberal values has seen an Episcopal-style plunge in church attendance.” This, says Douhat, is a catastrophe we should all be horrified by: “What should be wished for, instead, is that liberal Christianity recovers a religious reason for its own existence.”

The phrase Douhat was groping for in that piece was “the Enlightnment”; he comes this close to saying that liberal thought tends to dismantle religious faith, but he can’t quite bring himself to do it, so he ends up with this sentiment instead:

[T]he leaders of the Episcopal Church and similar bodies often don’t seem to be offering anything you can’t already get from a purely secular liberalism. Which suggests that perhaps they should pause, amid their frantic renovations, and consider not just what they would change about historic Christianity, but what they would defend and offer uncompromisingly to the world.

Liberal Christians seem like secular liberals because liberality is like that; they have a hard time defending anything uncompromisingly to the world, because a refusal to compromise is not a core mental habit of groups of liberals.

And to @Steve at #54, token external observance is all most religions demand. A famous problem brought home by Western anthropologists was their inability to detect, behind obeisant behavior, whether the locals really actually believed what they professed to believe, an observation that turned out to be as trenchant in a Methodist wedding as a Fang funeral.

[1] http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/amresolution.asp?id=899
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/opinion/sunday/douthat-can-liberal-christianity-be-saved.html?_r=0

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Hector_St_Clare 03.11.13 at 6:12 pm

Re: are there any against polyandry?

I think polyandry is actually less of a threat to social stability than polygyny is, and it actually has the advantage that it would make it easier for ‘low quality’ men to get mates.

87

Rich Puchalsky 03.11.13 at 6:15 pm

Josh: “It doesn’t affect heterosexual couples in any way, only requires a few minor changes to the wording of existing laws, and doesn’t threaten societal stability in the way that legalized polygamy would.”

Hector: “Because polgyny literally is a threat to *my* marriage (or more accurately, my ability to find a marriage partner) in a way that same-sex marriage isn’t.”

Oh great, it’s Poly Panic. Protect our women, guys!

I have to admit, though, that Hector saying that polygyny was *literally* a threat to his marriage made my day much more amusing. Hector’s potential marriage partners would literally prefer to be the multiple wives of someone else rather than marry him. And only the full force of the state can force them to settle for Hector.

88

rf 03.11.13 at 6:22 pm

Hector
I personally don’t see how legalising polygamy would lead to societal breakdown. The norms are pretty strong against it as is, and it probably wouldn’t have any affect beyond the small, isolated groups who engage in polygamous marriages as is

89

rf 03.11.13 at 6:26 pm

Anyway, are polygamist societies more violent..hard to say. The political instability is probably due to other factors rather than polygamy

90

Hector_St_Clare 03.11.13 at 6:29 pm

Re: Christians seem like secular liberals because liberality is like that; they have a hard time defending anything uncompromisingly to the world, because a refusal to compromise is not a core mental habit of groups of liberals.

Which is a good argument for Christian churches not adopting core mental habits of liberalism generally. I think it’s at least possible in theory, though (and some people have managed it) to take a judicious approach to ‘liberality’, and change some of your ideas (e.g. about homosexuality) without changing others. There’s no inherent reason, for example, why ‘I think that some homosexual relationships are morally OK’, and ‘I think that John didn’t write the Gospel of John, and the miracles therein didn’t happen’ have to be linked thought processes. Rowan Williams (now stepped down, unfortunately) is relatively orthodox theologically, but also seems to have been in favour of some evolution of Anglican teaching about homosexuality and sexual ethics more generally (though he was cagey about his actual views on sex once he got into office).

91

mud man 03.11.13 at 7:06 pm

Many people seem to feel that listening to an argument, trying to actually understand how the arguer is thinking, is tantamount to agreeing with it/them. Compromising your own principles. Being a wishywashy chickenhawk. Whereas we can live with diversity. We thrive on diversity.

If committed Christians realized that enacting religious principles into law gives the law the right to invade their religious community, they might not be so eager for it. That is, legally defining “marriage” (as opposed to “civil partnership”) is an anachronistic mistake. One (of many) we seem to be stuck with. Speaking as an Evangelical here. Hands off my religion! … what Maria @16 said.

Also, many Christians understand that “Love your neighbor” trumps Leviticus. Christianity (or “Religion”) isn’t an undivided lump.

92

phosphorious 03.11.13 at 7:10 pm

Many people seem to feel that listening to an argument, trying to actually understand how the arguer is thinking, is tantamount to agreeing with it/them.

This is exactly the problem with Wilson’s argument: “Sullivan has treated my position respectfully, thereby admitting that there’s something to it.”

Nonsense sans stilts.

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Jaycie 03.11.13 at 7:12 pm

[80] I do have a problem with the state legalizing polygyny. Because polgyny literally is a threat to *my* marriage (or more accurately, my ability to find a marriage partner) in a way that same-sex marriage isn’t.

If the State had a responsibility to furnish everyone with a marriage partner (or avoid enacting legislation that was likely to reduce the pool of potential partners), women could use it as a basis to object to male conscription. More bizarrely, one could equally argue that same-sex marriage ought not be permitted because some desperate, lonely gay people might be persuaded to commit to a straight partner in a “traditional” marriage and thus ought to be left ‘available’ too.

I intuit most people’s rejection of polygamy is rooted in their sense that it is fundamentally unequal – if we assume polygyny is more likely, the man has a choice of partners and an absence of competition for a given partner’s attention (ignoring soap opera levels of wifely entanglement..!), and the women in turn have somewhat less than 100% of a husband. Which in a generally monogamous society looks like a sad compromise for them. For masculine drawbacks I direct you to the movie ‘Ten Canoes’ :-)

So: can we say we have an ethos of equality between marriage partners that is only possible between two consenting adults, thus admitting same-sex marriage but excluding polygamy?

94

Mao Cheng Ji 03.11.13 at 7:50 pm

It’s interesting that, from what I just read in wikipedia, what’s illegal in the US is not an actual polygamous cohabitation, but only a polygamous paperwork. Just like the gay marriage ban, it seems rather meaningless, and unlikely to stop anyone from entering the forbidden mode of relationships.

95

Barry 03.11.13 at 7:56 pm

“It’s interesting that, from what I just read in wikipedia, what’s illegal in the US is not an actual polygamous cohabitation, but only a polygamous paperwork. Just like the gay marriage ban, it seems rather meaningless, and unlikely to stop anyone from entering the forbidden mode of relationships.”

No, it’s rather meaningful. Just ask people in such relationships what legal problems they encounter.

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Suzanne 03.11.13 at 8:07 pm

@ 93: Depending on the laws in your vicinity, you don’t have to be an adult to get married. Nor has “an ethos of equality” ever been much of a factor historically in heterosexual marital relations, as others have observed.

@75: Which has often meant a mistress or “second family” living life in the shadows, unrecognized by the law or society and thus with few rights, and children bearing the taint of illegitimacy, until quite recently a profound stigma. A high human price to pay, and not notably egalitarian.

97

Clay Shirky 03.11.13 at 8:10 pm

@Hector #90 reacting to me reacting to Douhat:

“Which is a good argument for Christian churches not adopting core mental habits of liberalism generally.”

I think Douhat would like to argue just that, but he is in the position, re: Christianity, that David Brooks is in re: Republicanism, which is that he can’t just come right out and say that liberals are bad people in the pages of the New York Times, so he has to say that liberals are instead good, if somewhat misguided people, who suffer from nothing the abandonment of a few of their key principles would not ameliorate.

And this:

“There’s no inherent reason, for example, why ‘I think that some homosexual relationships are morally OK’, and ‘I think that John didn’t write the Gospel of John, and the miracles therein didn’t happen’ have to be linked thought processes.”

I’m not sure what the word ‘inherent’ means in this sentence (or indeed in almost any sentence, after I accepted Richard Rorty as my savior), but I don’t understand how one could go around claiming that, say, Leviticus 18:22-23 is wrong, without having to at least consider the possibility that John 3:16 might also be wrong?

Once you decide that not everything in that book is true, it seems to me you’re going to need some sort of extra-textual mechanism for hashing out which of the prescriptions and proscriptions contained therein are the real deal, and that hashing out seems to me to be the essence of liberal religious thought.

…though it may seem to me that way because I can’t imagine taking anyone’s word for which bits of a nominally true book are false without knowing why they think that way, and both asking for and providing reasons in such a conversation is itself a liberal act.

98

Substance McGravitas 03.11.13 at 8:11 pm

The current state of the social safety net is a big issue. Obstacles to polygamous relationships start to fall away as there is a reasonable standard of living for those entering or exiting the arrangement.

99

Mao Cheng Ji 03.11.13 at 8:20 pm

Hmm, I thought people tend to avoid the marriage paperwork to be able to get more from the safety net. But maybe it’s different nowadays.

100

Steve LaBonne 03.11.13 at 8:23 pm

Once you decide that not everything in that book is true, it seems to me you’re going to need some sort of extra-textual mechanism for hashing out which of the prescriptions and proscriptions contained therein are the real deal, and that hashing out seems to me to be the essence of liberal religious thought.

Of course, it’s pretty notorious that nobody actually obeys all of the injunctions in Leviticus.

101

Substance McGravitas 03.11.13 at 8:25 pm

Hmm, I thought people tend to avoid the marriage paperwork to be able to get more from the safety net.

Sure. I have a good health plan. One spouse can join it, not two.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.11.13 at 8:29 pm

Re: but I don’t understand how one could go around claiming that, say, Leviticus 18:22-23 is wrong, without having to at least consider the possibility that John 3:16 might also be wrong?

Well, possibly, because, um, one of them is about the central figure of your religion and the other isn’t? Because a not insignificant number of early Christians didn’t even treat the Old Testament as scripture, and most of those who did read it as allegorical and typological at best? Because the bible is a library of books, written by different people and meant for different purposes? And because of one of those books was written down centuries after the events it purports to describe, is directed specifically towards one tribal people, and contains clearly mythological elements, while the other purports to be an eyewitness account written a few decades after the fact by the best friend of Jesus?

I’m not saying I would even agree with all those arguments, but you certainly can make them, and many have.

Re: it seems to me you’re going to need some sort of extra-textual mechanism for hashing out which of the prescriptions and proscriptions contained therein are the real deal,

Well, yes. Catholics and Orthodox have such a mechanism (tradition, ecumenical councils, etc.) which to a lesser extent some other Christian churches would draw on as well. Reason, natural law, (purported) continuing revelation and experience might be other ones that other people would subscribe to. But yes, clearly you do need an extra-textual mechanism. You need one to even arrive at the truth of Christianity to begin with though- the bible is clearly not self-authenticating, and so you need some extra-textual guide to authenticate it.

Re: and both asking for and providing reasons in such a conversation is itself a liberal act.

Maybe we are using different definitions of ‘liberal’, but I don’t think ‘reasoning about the bible’ is a liberal act. I’d use ‘liberal Christianity’ to mean coming to very specific conclusions about what the Bible means (e.g. that the new testament miracles didn’t really happen, and so forth).

103

Mao Cheng Ji 03.11.13 at 8:34 pm

If your second wife is, officially, a single mother without a job, she could probably get on medicaid, which, I believe, used to be the best plan. Not sure if it still is.

104

CJC 03.11.13 at 8:42 pm

As a liberal christian, I do take issue somewhat at the false dichotomy between “liberals” and “Christians.” My Church, the United Church of Canada, was the first mainline church in the country to sanctify the marriages of same sex clergy, out ahead even of the secular policies of Canadian society.

What I came here to respond to is the idea of semi-accepting all religious perspectives in a liberal society. I see liberal society as a social space. You can choose to engage in the social parts of this space or not. When you enter into the space, it is always through some motivation – could be religious, ideological, philosophical, volitional, whatever – but that motivation matters to you. However once in that space, you cannot use that motivation as a trump card in your interactions with others.

Respect at all who enter this space, and good luck to you. You must agree on a terms of engagement before creating policy. If all of you want to do it on a religious basis, then away you go. But if some don’t then the space is not a liberal one if the religious perspective sets the terms of debate. This means that policy making is about both the philisophical and ideological underpinnings of the space as well as the content of the debate. When unfettered capitalism is the reason for making policy and not everyone agrees with that, the conversation splits to both capitalism’s relevance in setting the agenda, and the merits of various proposals in the space. This can seem confusing, but such dual level reasoning is really important to keep our liberal societies ticking along.

Not confusing the level you are discussing is a useful skill.

105

Asteele 03.11.13 at 8:42 pm

I’ve reluctantly come around on polygamy because of these “dear god what about the unattractive men” arguments. Since the: we need to restrict women’s choices so that men can more ready access to sex, is one I have no truck with.

106

Clay Shirky 03.11.13 at 9:13 pm

Steve #100 and Hector #102,

I didn’t mean to say that anyone acts on, or even believes in, all the rules set down therein. If mere hypocrisy were enough to undo religion…

It is however a matter of some curiosity that, even given Hector’s separation of Old and New Testaments, almost no Christian sects propose to go back and actually edit out the bits they edit out mentally. Something is going on there, where a doctrine can be struck down de facto (“Father O’Malley, why did Jesus say ‘Call no man your father on earth’?”) but can never ever be struck down de jure.

Also, the Bible clearly is self-authenticating. It is the Word of God; it says so right there in the Bible, which is, after all, the Word of God.

So to re-write around Hector’s observation, I’d say liberality and religion are in tension, and things like “continued revelation” are escape valves. A little bit of ijtihad goes a long way to assuring the parishioners that they and God see eye to eye on stuff like bacon-wrapped lobster and gay marriage and so on, while keeping enough of the really crazy stuff (re-incarnation of the dead, parallel universes) safely out of the claws of inquiry.

So I’m using liberal to mean not ‘reasoning about the Bible’, which every Christian sect does, but ‘reasoning about the Bible where the reasons for or against believing something are discussed in public.’ And that latter form, which is common to most accounts of liberal thought, is corrosive of received wisdom.

Indeed, one mechanism by which the gay marriage debate has been won so quickly has been asking, in polite but insistent terms, what it is religious folk have against it? Traditional beliefs, even the most time-honored, always sound stupid to non-believers, and after getting believers to repeat their beliefs in those settings, some of it comes to sound stupid to some of them as well.

107

Suzanne 03.11.13 at 9:43 pm

@104: In fairness the objection isn’t really about making mates available for beta males. American-style polygamy as it currently exists creates a surplus of young men who can’t find wives because a few older men take most of the women. It’s not about personal attractiveness but power relations. Even assuming a polygamous culture where there is no overt compulsion involved in an individual woman’s choice, a woman must be a legal adult to marry, and women are full economic equals, it’s not that hard to imagine similar problems arising where polygamy is widespread, even if they don’t reach the point where teenaged boys are expelled from the community on trumped-up grounds and young men are exploited as cheap labor.

108

Tim Wilkinson 03.11.13 at 10:08 pm

‘Sneaky fuckers’ is a genuine term of art in zoölogy – and applies to human beings (at least) as much as to any other mammal. If zoologists 9or their subject matter) weren’t so sexist, this might be described as ‘covert polyandry’.

So polygamy is not all bad from the POV of those of us who are workshy but sexually attractive. Of course alpha wolves don’t employ eunuchs to guard their harems, but nor do most Western polygamists. DNA testing may yet throw a sand particle in the ointment though.

109

Asteele 03.11.13 at 10:13 pm

106. If we reach that world where sexism has been defeated, I’m still to have no time for arguments about how we have to control women’s sexual choices to make life easier for men.

110

Hector_St_Clare 03.11.13 at 10:19 pm

Re: It’s not about personal attractiveness but power relations.

Love and sex always have been and always will be about power relations as much as about ‘personal attractiveness’. Income, power, social status etc. are a big part of what women find attractive in men, as much as it makes some cultural liberals uncomfortable to think about.

The sexual marketplace will never be quite egalitarian, but banning polygyny is one way we can make it *more* egalitarian. (I don’t care so much about banning polyandry, mostly because men are less selective in general, so it will probably always be easier for women to find mates).

111

Hector_St_Clare 03.11.13 at 10:21 pm

Re: So polygamy is not all bad from the POV of those of us who are workshy but sexually attractive.

Legalized abortion (which I don’t favour, of course) was also probably a godsend for those type of guys. I’m not sure they exactly need more encouragement.

112

Substance McGravitas 03.11.13 at 10:22 pm

Income, power, social status etc. are a big part of what women find attractive in men

113

Gene O'Grady 03.11.13 at 10:59 pm

As someone who has in a sense reversed Douthat’s course (by converting from the Catholic to the Episcopal Church), I can answer that one thing we get that Catholics don’t is women priests (and bishops in the US) offering a truer image of God than the warmed over sexism of the Catholic teaching on the subject (Jesus only ordained men — gimme a break!) And the theology of Rowan Williams (to name the best known example) is hardly less orthodox than Benedict XVI in any significant sense; in my observation there are at least as many people with confused or no belief in the Catholic Church as in the Episcopal.

By the way, it is not polite to “murmur meaningless words” when a guest of a religious person; it’s offensive, just as it is offensive to offer prayers that your guests can’t join in. When I have been to seders I do participate in the prayers because I find them praying to the same God in terms I accept; if I didn’t do that I wouldn’t participate. (Besides, it’s fun to see the look on the faces of the participants when someone named O’Grady turns out to have at least a minimal knowledge of Hebrew.)

If one believes in God, why not just shut up about gay marriage and assume that if it’s God’s will it will be a blessing and if it’s not it will peter out?

114

Hogan 03.11.13 at 11:37 pm

I enjoy comedy of manners. The light stuff. (Why else would I read First Things?)

I will never ever stop laughing at this.

115

Suzanne 03.11.13 at 11:50 pm

108. True, it does make life easier for men when they’re not abandoned by their community as kids or permanently relegated to low status because they haven’t enough women to call their own and little real chance of acquiring them. I’ll grant you that.

116

Asteele 03.12.13 at 12:12 am

Am the only one here that has doubts about equating women with products being bought at a market.

108. The problems with those societies is sexism, and the solution is less of it, not more.

117

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 12:24 am

Re: And the theology of Rowan Williams (to name the best known example) is hardly less orthodox than Benedict XVI in any significant sense;

Yes, having read a little bit of his thought, he really is more orthodox than a lot of people give him credit for. If more Episcopalian parish priests were like him (or like my priest back home, another theological conservative who’s come around to the liberal side on the homosexuality issue), I bet the Episcopal Church would be doing a lot better right now.

Re: If one believes in God, why not just shut up about gay marriage and assume that if it’s God’s will it will be a blessing and if it’s not it will peter out?

Yup. Like Acts 5:38-39 says:

“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”

118

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 12:47 am

Has the thread just turned into people punking each other? Poe’s Law? Suzanne gets high marks for “American-style polygamy as it currently exists creates a surplus of young men who can’t find wives because a few older men take most of the women”.

Hector’s “Love and sex always have been and always will be about power relations as much as about ‘personal attractiveness’” is particularly good in this context. OK, so the men who think this think that a) they really want to get married to a woman who’s all about “yeah, I could be third wife of a rich dude!” and that that is their idea of a good life partner, b) they have no resources of personal attractiveness, a job, or even a more or less acceptable personality which would cause anyone to want to marry them, c) rich dudes will marry so many women that it will measurably affect their chances, in fact rich people are pining at the chance to replace their mistresses who go away when they want them to with wives who get a share of the family wealth.

119

John Holbo 03.12.13 at 12:48 am

I can’t believe I wrote a post that is 1/3 about a column William Saletan wrote at Slate about BDSM and, 100+ comments later, no one has said word one about it. What gives?

120

Asteele 03.12.13 at 12:57 am

Not contrarian enough, you either need to come out with support for group marriage, or decide the inevitability of polygamy means that, with sadness, you must oppose SSM.

121

John Holbo 03.12.13 at 1:24 am

“Not contrarian enough, you either need to come out with support for group marriage, or decide the inevitability of polygamy”

I’m not sure who the ‘you’ is here, but there is an important mistake in the idea that, if there is no principled objection to legalizing something, it’s legalization – let alone societal normalization – is inevitable. Also, you shouldn’t equate the view that, in principle, something should be permitted with ‘support’ for it. The latter is rather a stronger notion.

That said, I think it’s true that the good arguments for permitting SSM generalize to polygamy, in principle. The arguments for SSM are good. So here we are. Basically, if three adults want to contract to live together and care for each other and raise a family, the government shouldn’t arbitrarily make it more difficult for them to arrange healthcare and tax stuff and child custody stuff and end-of-life stuff and other legal stuff than some couple. I think, in principle, that’s the correct answer. (It’s by no means unproblematic, morally and legally.) I also think the envisioned nightmare scenario in which roving bands of young men vainly seek single women is overblown, for the simple reason that not a lot of people are going to avail themselves of this option. Polygamy exists in societies in which women are legally and socially unequal. Obviously saying polygamy should be permitted in principle doesn’t entail the proposition that all the social and legal inequalities that have always gone with polygamy must be brought back. All that stuff is easy to exclude, in principle. This fact seems bound to make polygamy a minor social factor.

But what if a huge number of people – men and women – start clamoring for it, and insisting that they can’t be fulfilled as human beings unless this is permitted? Well, that would be an even stronger argument for letting them do this thing they really want to do, even if it made for changes in society as a whole. It’s a democracy, after all. Certainly if polygamy gets its Stonewall riots and then its sitcoms and its social acceptability until the point where everyone has a sister or an uncle or a cousin or a brother who is in a happy, polygamous union, then I think it would be inappropriate to insist that all these people should be forbidden to do what makes them happy. (I don’t regard this prospect as remotely likely, as sociological prophecy.)

122

rf 03.12.13 at 1:26 am

“Hector’s “Love and sex always have been and always will be about power relations as much as about ‘personal attractiveness’”

Yeah Hectors writings on the complexities of life, life etc (interspersed with biblical references)are certainly..depressing? When did we all become so cynical? (I guess this is just another example of the utility maximization problem ..is it? Bruce Wilder? I don’t know, I googled it)

123

rf 03.12.13 at 1:27 am

should be …. “complexities of *love*, life etc” …. not that it matters, really

124

John Holbo 03.12.13 at 1:45 am

In narrow defense of Hector: ‘Love and sex always have been and always will be about power relations as much as about ‘personal attractiveness” strikes me as a basically defensible generalization, in a strictly descriptive sense. (‘Always will be’ is prophetic, which is risky. But this seems like pretty conservative prophecy – in the safe sense, not the political sense.) As to what ought should follow this is, if any, I suspect Hector and I will soon enough go our separate ways.

125

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 1:50 am

Re: Hector’s “Love and sex always have been and always will be about power relations as much as about ‘personal attractiveness’” is particularly good in this context.

I mean, it is. Women are, in general, attracted (among other things) to a good provider, someone who can take care of them and their offspring, etc.. Relationships and marriages, when you boil them down to their essence, are in large part an exchange of fertility, beauty, etc. for security, provision, protection, etc. That’s why women find social status, income, etc. to be attractive. Not in every case, but enough that we can draw broad generalizations about society.

Re: OK, so the men who think this think that a) they really want to get married to a woman who’s all about “yeah, I could be third wife of a rich dude!” and that that is their idea of a good life partner,

I mean, my idea of a good life partnership involves me taking on the primary breadwinner/provider role, providing status and security to my partner, ‘taking care’ of her, etc., so yes, I’d expect to be someone who wants to ‘marry up’ in terms of status and so forth. I’m a gender complementarian and a ‘gender realist’, not a feminist, and I don’t subscribe to the cultural-liberal idea of marriage.

126

Alan 03.12.13 at 1:51 am

I just wish to ask a question from the perspective of ignorance about such matters: has anyone argued that polyadic contracts are potentially inherently unjust especially if entered into in a non-synchronic fashion (as typically polygamous relationships are)? What I mean is that especially newer entrants into polygamous relationships might be disadvantaged simply because older contract holders may have emotional and power advantages that newer ones simply cannot fathom. But dyadic contracts cannot have that particular feature (though they might have others of course). Hetero- and homosexual contracts share the latter trait by definition. Thus they share potential for equality that asynchronous polyadic contracts may not.

This is just intuitive guesswork BTW.

127

phosphorious 03.12.13 at 2:02 am

But why should gender complementarianism (sounds kinky BTW!) be backed by state coercion? If Bill Gates wants to collect wives the way Jay Leno collects cars, let him.

Why shouldn’t the market speak as loudly here as it does with, I dunno, gun ownership or health care?

Here’s a plan: Let any man marry as many women as he wants, but level the playing field by taxing the b’jesus out of the 1%. Then nobody could afford more than one wife, monogamy would be preserved, and the supply of nubile women would meet demand.

128

politicalfootball 03.12.13 at 2:07 am

That said, I think it’s true that the good arguments for permitting SSM generalize to polygamy, in principle.

Eh. The arguments for prohibiting same sex marriage also generalize to polygamy, in principle. After all, if we’re going to insist on traditional marriage, where can that end but in polygamy? It’s a slippery slope, I tell ya!

129

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 2:15 am

Re: If Bill Gates wants to collect wives the way Jay Leno collects cars, let him.

No, because Bill Gates marying multiple wives, literally makes it more difficult for other men to find partners. This isn’t complicated.

The gay marriage slogan goes ‘how does my same sex marriage affect your opposite sex marriage’, and the answer is that it doesn’t. (It might, but very indirectly, by affecting cultural norms and expectations, but that isn’t my issue here). Bill Gate’s maintaining a Turkish seraglio actually does affect sexual dynamics in the broader society (for the same reason that any other event that changes the gender ratio- war, mass imprisonment, differential rates of college attendance, etc.- affects sexual dynamics too).

130

ponce 03.12.13 at 2:22 am

@127

” Let any man marry as many women as he wants, but level the playing field by taxing the b’jesus out of the 1%.”

The bride markets of ancient Babylon supposedly placed large taxes on beautiful potential brides and used the money to give less desirable potential brides dowries.

131

phosphorious 03.12.13 at 2:28 am

“No, because Bill Gates marying multiple wives, literally makes it more difficult for other men to find partners. This isn’t complicated. “

No one has a right to a wife. Why should the government intervene to increase the supply of marriageable women by restricting the freedom of individuals to marry who they want?

(This is all my attempt to turn conservatism against it self. Not working. . . ?)

132

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 2:34 am

Re: Why should the government intervene to increase the supply of marriageable women by restricting the freedom of individuals to marry who they want?

I mean, you could make the same arguments about the freedom to make a ton of money, own assault weapons, hunt endangered species, buy expensive luxury goods, drive an SUV, snort coke, eat horribly unhealthy diets, etc. We might want to do lots of things that are bad for society, and sometimes the purpose of the government is to tell us ‘no’.

I’m not sure there’s any *absolute* ‘right to marry who you want’. I certainly don’t want people running around marrying their first cousins, for example. In England now they have a serious problem with birth defects now because of South Asian immigrants and their culturel practices of cousin-on-cousin marriage.

133

Asteele 03.12.13 at 2:40 am

121. Sorry John I misread your 120 (dangers of not reading closely). To answer your actual question, because no one cares what Saletan thinks about anything.

I’m actually fine with group marriages or whatever, and agree with you that the arguements for SSM pretty much directly apply. Anyways, in the hypothetical future where we end sexism I’d be even more in favor of people defining their own marriages anyway they want. Although, I doubt marriage will be around if that happens.
Hector of course is just a sexist, who is saying the same sexist stuff we’ve all heard a thaosand times; about how women were hardwired by god (or in a more refined form:on the veldt) to act in accordance with all the sexist stereotypes we have about them.

134

Antti Nannimus 03.12.13 at 2:42 am

Hi,

I once had a wife. That was too many. Ever since I’m sleeping as late as I want.

Have a nice morning,
Antti

135

Josh G. 03.12.13 at 2:54 am

phosphorious @ 131: You’re barking up the wrong tree here. Hector is a traditionalist conservative Catholic, which is a very different thing than the Religious Right we’re used to in the US. Based on his history of comments here and in other blogs, he doesn’t have much time for the dogma of an unrestricted free market, and he’s come out in favor of policies that would be considered “socialist” by US standards. This actually isn’t that unusual from a worldwide perspective; if you look at Catholic primates in the Global South, many of them combine conservative sexual views with much more egalitarian positions on work and pay, and a strong stance on environmentalist stewardship.

The claim that you can be a “Christian” and loudly boast about your Christianity while acting like a disciple of Ayn Rand is basically a weird American heresy. The Catholic hierarchy, for all its other faults, hasn’t been able to simply dismiss the teachings of Jesus on poverty as so many conservative Protestants have done.

136

Lawrence Stuart 03.12.13 at 3:33 am

re: the apparently looming shortage of marriageable goils. Wouldn’t legalizing gay marriage and polygamy sort of cancel each other out? At least on the supply and demand front.

Anyway, worst case we can all take solace in the BDSM dungeon. Because in the absence of divine proscription, we’ll all, sooner than later no doubt, unhitch our repressed polymorphous perversity.

I’ve always secretly yearned for the soup Nazi to spank me so, so bad … .

137

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 3:36 am

Holbo: ” strikes me as a basically defensible generalization, in a strictly descriptive sense.”

It may be defensible, but it’s amusing in this context because he believes in a standard by which he’s a failure. Those “cultural-liberal” people are going out and meeting people, falling in love, and getting married right and left, but Hector believes that he wants to be a traditional breadwinner and is insecure enough about it so that he thinks the tiny number of women who would become extra wives of rich men might be enough to take away his chance.

Anyways, back to Saletan. Starting with Sullivan is starting with a bad seed, but starting with Saletan is a nothingburger. What’s he saying about BDSM? That it’s scary? That he’s squicked out by it? Why is this supposed to be of interest to anyone?

138

JanieM 03.12.13 at 3:44 am

the apparently looming shortage of marriageable goils. Wouldn’t legalizing gay marriage and polygamy sort of cancel each other out? At least on the supply and demand front.

Ummmmmmm…before my head explodes, could you explain how that works? It seems to me that what would cancel each other out is the gay male couples and the lesbian couples, leaving the heterosexual population’s supply and demand dilemma intact.

139

JanieM 03.12.13 at 3:44 am

…in relation to polygamy, of course.

140

Lawrence Stuart 03.12.13 at 3:59 am

True that! Polyandry to the rescue!

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Lee A. Arnold 03.12.13 at 4:06 am

It strikes me that religion is very much like BDSM: they are both rule-following fetishes. The real question to put to the religious is whether you are spiritually awake — i.e., whether you have access to consciousness-without-an-object, the thing which cannot be spoken, or else has 99 names: ommm-elohim-allah. Whether you are straight or gay?–that doesn’t matter at all! But needing to follow a holy book of rules, or needing to role-play or to dress a certain way or to take a certain position, is very likely to inhibit conscious development. Put another way, the use of an object finally stops the expansion of consciousness. Even when that object is the Bible. Aristotle wrote something like, “There is no exception to the rule that the capacity of being the object of a purposive action is the essential feature establishing reality.” But he was not quite correct: consciousness-without-an-object exists. Now we like to say, “People should be allowed to do what they want, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people,” and that is how we get along for the most part — but it is a tricky proposition.

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PatrickinIowa 03.12.13 at 4:19 am

Somewhere along here, shouldn’t somebody point out that the real threat to marriage, (traditional or utopian) is the people who opt out altogether, and are perfectly fine sleeping as late as they want, leaving their toilet seat down or up as they choose, getting another cat, cooking when and what they feel like cooking, sleeping with people or not, as they choose, and so on?

I’m thinking we need something more than the multitude of tax breaks and social barriers. Conscription?

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Hidden Heart 03.12.13 at 4:34 am

Josh G.: “The Catholic hierarchy, for all its other faults, hasn’t been able to simply dismiss the teachings of Jesus on poverty as so many conservative Protestants have done.” A look at Catholics in power in the US, and how the cardinals and bishops deal with them, leads me to doubt this.

I don’t doubt the existence of Catholic teachings about poverty, wealth, labor, and related matters that I find worthy of respect. I’ve read some, and know about more. But really, I don’t see them having the slightest damn influence on reactionary hate- and fear-mongering, the sort of thing Hector is echoing and passing off as realism or what have you.

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LFC 03.12.13 at 4:34 am

Re Saletan’s column: the word “violence” covers a lot of different things and different circumstances, and not all ‘violence’ is a matter of public concern. Of course there are lines, e.g. someone should not be allowed to ‘consent’ to being killed, and exactly where to draw the lines may be a difficult question in some cases. But given all the more pressing social problems/issues one might write about, I’m not sure why he chose this one; maybe his bosses at Slate, desperate for eyeballs and ad revenue, chose it for him.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 4:44 am

Re: Those “cultural-liberal” people are going out and meeting people, falling in love, and getting married right and left, but Hector believes that he wants to be a traditional breadwinner and is insecure enough about it so that he thinks the tiny number of women who would become extra wives of rich men might be enough to take away his chance.

I don’t really see the point you’re trying to make here though- polygyny changes the playing field for all men, doesn’t it? (As does polyandry, but because women are more selective, many of those men probably wouln’t get snapped up anyway, so it’s less of a problem). It’s not *my* relationship prospects that are made more difficult by polygamy, it’s *everyone* of the sex which is being polygamous.

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Purple Platypus 03.12.13 at 4:45 am

I’ve often said that “Conservative Christian”, or in this case “conservative Protestant”, in the US (and to a lesser extent Canadian) sense, is a highly misleading term, possibly intentionally so. “Conservative” in this phrase means *politically* conservative, and nothing else. While they like to paint themselves as *theological* conservatives – even going so far as to pretend to be Biblical literalists when it suits their political goals – their theology is actually quite radical. In particular, they turn everything Jesus stood for completely on its head. For purported literalists, their reading is awfully selective at times.

(And, I never understand why I as an atheist so often end up being the one to explain this to people.)

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 4:48 am

Re: “Conservative” in this phrase means *politically* conservative, and nothing else.

It doesn’t, necessarily. To use, uh, the most glaringly obvious example, African-Americans are pretty likely to be theologically conservative (in so far as any Anglo-American Protestants are) and to self-identify as conservatives (More of them call themselves conservative than liberal), but they very obviously don’t vote Republican.

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Dr Paisley 03.12.13 at 5:30 am

I have been in a polyamorous triad with two women for over 20 years. We spent a fair amount of money on getting powers of attorney (both general and medical) and making sure our various contracts for cars, house, etc. include everyone. We have all had illnesses/injuries that have resulted in hospitalization, and fortunately have not had any problems with staff concerning this (of course, we haven’t gone to a Catholic hospital). We live in the middle of the country, and have generally found acceptance from friends, neighbors and the general populace.

I have no interest in forcing my choices on others; I simply wish, like those working for marriage equality, to have the same rights everyone else has. When my (legal) wife was out of work for two years, neither of us had insurance. Our partner could have covered one of us, had we divorced, which we chose not to do.

Hector’s complaints would be laughable if they were not so pathetic: he can’t find a mate (Bonzo Dog Band reference), so no one else should either, because it cuts down on his alleged options. His constant references to women’s “preferences” for certain kinds of men are the tell — if he could just be rich and powerful enough, the babes would flock to him. Unfortunately for him, most people aren’t making choices for partners (whether for life or a night) on that basis, but because they find something attractive in that person (or persons). And while I do agree with him that “polygamy” (in the Mormon child abuse sense) can be a bad thing, this does not mean that relationships between consenting adults must needs be considered tarred with the same brush.

Why anyone takes Sullivan seriously is beyond me. From The Bell Curve to the War on Terror (“Hi, I’m Dr Paisley, and I’m a Fifth Columnist”), he has been nothing but a self-promoting, self-absorbed douchebag. In fact, he and Ross Cardinal Douchehat quite deserve each other (which I’m sure both attracts and repels poor Ross late at night).

In the end, marriage is a both personal (and potentially religious) and civil act. You can have three popes, two rabbis, the 13th imam, the Dalai Lama, and me (yes, I am ordained; gave the Universal Life Church $15 many years ago) to perform a ceremony, but if you don’t have the license for the state you’re in, you’re not married in the only way that matters in the real world. I support marriage equality in all respects, and for all people, in whatever combinations they might come up with. In the end, the anti arguments boil down to “I’m not allowed to do that, so no one else can either!” That’s your problem, not mine.

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Dr Paisley 03.12.13 at 5:31 am

And while I do agree with him that “polygamy” (in the Mormon child abuse sense) can be a bad thing

That should have been “is a bad thing.” It’s late, and I’m tired.

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Colin 03.12.13 at 5:39 am

There’s certainly a bleak picture being painted here of polygamy/polyamory ‘as it exists in practice’. What would be the reaction if I were to argue that gay marriage is a bad thing because we’d just end up with old man + young man pairings, leading to power imbalance and exploitation?

@Asteele: I have a problem with this too. There also seems to be an argument that even if women are exercising some choice in this situation, society needs to protect them from their own desires. The implicit thinking here seems to be that a desire for polyamorous relationships exists among a section of the population, but that this desire is deviant and/or cynical (i.e. incompatible with ‘true love’) and should not be condoned by the state. It’s hard to see how this is different from the arguments made against same-sex relationships.

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Colin 03.12.13 at 5:59 am

As for why we don’t see a mass clamoring for poly rights like we have had with gay rights, I suspect this has less to do with how many people want it and more to do with the present strength of taboos.

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etv13 03.12.13 at 7:28 am

Hector @ 132: cousin-marriage was practised among the English long before the South Asians came alone — look at the Darwins and the Wedgwoods, for example, and a sizable proportion of the happy couples in Georgette Heyer novels (and, I vaguely remember, Mansfield Park).

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GiT 03.12.13 at 7:48 am

“No, because Bill Gates marying multiple wives, literally makes it more difficult for other men to find partners. This isn’t complicated.”

Jay Leno collecting classic cars also “literally” makes it more difficult for others to collect classic cars. So what?

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.12.13 at 8:23 am

“Bill Gates marrying multiple wives, literally makes it more difficult for other men to find partners.”

Incorrect. First of all, ‘partner’ is a concept often used to emphasize ‘not wife’. Bill Gates’ multiple wives may have multiple partners each. More to the point, each of them may have multiple husbands, and they probably would.

So in fact, polygamy would probably make it easier for men – and women – to find partners.

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Walt 03.12.13 at 10:56 am

Wives really are like classic cars, aren’t they, boys? Amirite?

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Jaycie 03.12.13 at 11:34 am

I said:
So: can we say we have an ethos of equality between marriage partners that is only possible between two consenting adults, thus admitting same-sex marriage but excluding polygamy?

Suzanne objected:
Depending on the laws in your vicinity, you don’t have to be an adult to get married.

Suzanne then wrote:
Even assuming a polygamous culture where there is no overt compulsion involved in an individual woman’s choice, a woman must be a legal adult to marry, and women are full economic equals

The rest of her objection:
Nor has “an ethos of equality” ever been much of a factor historically in heterosexual marital relations, as others have observed.

Historical levels of equality are in straight marriage are irrelevant; we are talking about arguments for polygamy in the present in the USA, and I believe most people today, in the first world, have an ethos of equality which polygamy arguably violates.

The suggestion has been made again that the state has some responsibility to preserve a pool of potential partners for its citizens; I can only point to the extensive slaughter of men at war and ask, is this supposed responsibility only conceivable on behalf of straight men? Perhaps we cannot come to any sensible conclusion re polygamy unless someone decides what model will prevail – all older, wealthier men have multiple wives while all younger poorer men are single? Or just a few Hugh Hefner types maintaining modern-day harems while most people choose monogamy in whatever fashion? The outcomes of one or the other seem to be dictating people’s arguments here.

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.12.13 at 11:35 am

One thing seems clear, though. Since the last sodomy law was repealed (and, incidentally, without any fuss), the government has nothing whatsoever to say about “…lay with a man as with a woman”; the issue of gay marriage is all about the paperwork that allows to take advantage of the middle-class tax loophole known as “married, filing jointly”. And since the Christian god has his own version of the first part of the first amendment, as it relates to the tax collection: ‘to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s', I don’t see how Christians could raise any objections here at all. So, when you argue against conservatives, these conservatives shouldn’t bring up the bible. Just the general conservative principles. So, the issue of treating or not treating “religious convictions as more than mere ‘private preference’” is not relevant in this case.

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rf 03.12.13 at 12:16 pm

“he doesn’t have much time for the dogma of an unrestricted free market, and he’s come out in favor of policies that would be considered “socialist” by US standards”

Can’t you be anti state/pro market and still live up to to the teachings of Jesus vis a vis the poor through charity work though? No need to be a dyed in the wool Randite when clamouring for small government and free markets neccessarily. That’s what I was told on twitter by a pair of well know Irish free market ultra Catholics anyway. (Before they blocked me for asking what exactly they did for charity. Nothing it turns out)

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Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 12:48 pm

“I don’t really see the point you’re trying to make here though- polygyny changes the playing field for all men, doesn’t it?”

No, actually it doesn’t. When I met my future wife (who I’ve now been married to for two decades, and hope to be for the rest of my life) somehow I never thought that she was in a playing field along with Bill Gates’ mistresses. Delusional and obnoxious thinking like that is likely to keep you unmarried, luckily for your prospective spouse. Admittedly I did have to win out over a number of other people who were interested in romantic relationships with her, but she chose me because of my personal qualities, not because of my bank balance, which was at the time negligible.

The reason that your particular set of beliefs is kind of funny is because it doesn’t work in any sense. If you’re going to be a “realist”, then look — Bill Gates does not want your prospective wife. If you dismiss love as a reason to get married, then you’re left with the realist statement that people marry within their social class. Only in places that are hellholes of disempowerment, like Saudi Arabia, do wealthy men marry lots of young women merely because they are attractive and available. If you don’t want your society to become Saudi Arabia, embracing feminism is a much better start than worrying about polygamy. People like the two-decades-younger Dr. Paisley may be romantic competition for your prospective spouse, but there the problem is that Dr. Paisley seems like a nice guy, while you seem like you’re really committed to ideologically thinking of your wife as a function of your providership. And of course, for the larger society, all sorts of other demographic factors are much more important than the minor number of people who make long-term polygamy work.

This being a thread started by John Holbo, I actually think it would have gone better if it had started with William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. He was in a successful polygamous lifelong “marriage” with two women — successful in that the two women stayed together after he died, and their children happily reminisced about the family — in which they practiced BDSM. (Or at least the B part).

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rf 03.12.13 at 1:14 pm

It should also be noted that Bill Gate’s appears to be involved in a long term, committed, monogamous relationship..so this hypothetical doesn’t work on any level

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rf 03.12.13 at 1:18 pm

Unless the only thing keeping Bill and Melinda together are US anti polygamy laws..which is a fascinating argument

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rf 03.12.13 at 1:42 pm

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Kien 03.12.13 at 1:43 pm

Hi, I am not opposed to gay marriage. But I don’t quite follow the argument that Sullivan is entitled to regard theological reasoning as merely a personal preference. I assume Christians oppose gay marriage because they think there is an external standard compelling them to oppose gay marriage. That external standard is not a personal preference. The issue seems to be that Sullivan does not share the same world view as Christians. So if a Christian wants to persuade Sullivan there is no point using theological arguments. Those arguments are only persuasive for people who share the same or similar world view as Christians.

Possibly an argument that could have been made is that gay marriage will undermine the institution of marriage in the Christian community. It is an assault on the Christian world view and therefore diminishes their sense of well-being. To the extent ideas affect well-being, it seems to me Sullivan ought to give this some weight. I am looking at this from a world view that cares about comprehensive outcomes (per Amartya Sen).

Just my view. Apologies if I misunderstand John Holbo.

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JanieM 03.12.13 at 1:48 pm

Possibly an argument that could have been made is that gay marriage will undermine the institution of marriage in the Christian community. It is an assault on the Christian world view and therefore diminishes their sense of well-being.

Possibly an argument could be made that the “Christian world view” (or this slice of the world view of some people who have chosen to be and/or call themselves Christians) is an assault on gay people and therefore diminishes their sense of well-being.

To put it mildly, and leaving aside the fact that the assaults on gay people have often been of a more direct and physical nature than the kind where one person happens not to share the religious beliefs of another.

Or is it only the well-being of Christians that matters?

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Bloix 03.12.13 at 1:56 pm

#157- “the issue of gay marriage is all about the paperwork that allows to take advantage of the middle-class tax loophole known as “married, filing jointly”. “

Well, no, it isn’t. Although we may think that government sanction of private relationships is obsolete and irrelevant, it isn’t – not to ordinary people and not to sophisticated people, either. Marriage is not about paperwork and tax loopholes. It’s about representation of a couple’s personal commitment to each other to the world at large.

If I can introduce personal anecdote into the discussion, I will freely admit that for many years I – a straight married man with children – was against same-sex marriage. It seemed to me that the point was to get tax breaks and health insurance from the government and private companies for people who just wanted wanted the benefits.

What changed my mind was not constitutional law or ethical arguments about civil rights or equality. What did change my mind was meeting gay couples who wanted to be married – people who were in committed to each other and treated each other like loving spouses, and who were deeply hurt by the failure of society to acknowledge their relationships as genuine.

I really don’t think the issue is about paperwork and tax breaks. I think it’s about the ability of a couple to present themselves to the world at large as married, with all the implications that that relationship carries in our culture and society.

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Steve LaBonne 03.12.13 at 1:57 pm

Or is it only the well-being of Christians that matters?

Of course not! It’s only the well-being of straight white homophobic Christians that matters. They’re, you know, real Americans.

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Seth Gordon 03.12.13 at 1:57 pm

The answer to the Polygamy Gambit seems obvious to me.

Marriage used to be a sexually polarized institution: men had a duty to provide financial support for their wives; employers could discriminate against married women in order to preserve those jobs for male breadwinners; etc. etc. etc. But today, we believe that discriminating against people on the basis of gender is A Bad Thing: not as bad as racial discrimination, but still, something to avoid, something to apologize for when you think it’s necessary, something you don’t want to be accused of. And so almost all of the sex-specific rules surrounding marriage have been repealed or sued out of existence. When the last such rule standing is “marriage is defined as being between one man and one woman”, it looks pathetic and lonely and hard to justify. Furthermore, the people agitating against same-sex marriage don’t seem to have any interest in bringing back any other sex-discriminatory rules of marriage—i.e., the rules that would affect straight couples

(“Since one of the functions of marriage is to regulate male sexual desire and provide him with a legitimate outlet for that desire, we should give men the right to coerce their wives to have sex with them, rather than treating such men as rapists under the law.” I know some people believe this, but I don’t think I’ll be seeing it on a referendum petition any time soon.)

But there is no similar ethic against discriminating among groups on the basis of their size. If the tax laws make one rule for corporations with 25 or fewer shareholders and another for corporations with 26 shareholders or more, and there is some 26-person company that is grievously affected by the distinction, I may acknowledge that it sucks to be on the wrong side of such an arbitrary line, and maybe society would be better off with a different law, but I wouldn’t see it as a civil rights violation.

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Matt 03.12.13 at 1:58 pm

I don’t think Wilson actually thinks that if only whites had only peacefully protested against all the peaceful civil rights protests, that would have proven the civil rights protesters were enemies of true civil rights

I think that’s giving Wilson entirely too much leeway – there’s a long and well-documented pairing of anti-gay bigotry and old-fashioned anti-African-American bigotry. Certainly, there was no shortage of religious leaders (some “Christian”, but not all – see also the Mormon church’s policies up to 1977) who insisted that the subjugation of non-whites was the Gawd-ordained order of things and that disrupting it would lead to the dissolution of the family, kids smoking reefer, communism, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, etc.

Personally, I find it morally offensive that the Catholic Church is still allowed to operate its pedophile-sheltering / RW-lobbying organization under the tax-exempt auspices of a “church”, or that evangelical churches slinging “Prosperity Gospel” are essentially state-sanctioned tax-free pyramid schemes – but that doesn’t mean I expect either of them to be shut down (too bad).

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JanieM 03.12.13 at 1:58 pm

It is an assault on the Christian world view and therefore diminishes their sense of well-being.

More generally, by this argument the only way not to diminish the sense of well-being of the poor put upon “Christians” is to institute a Christian theocracy. Heaven forbid they should have to share the world with people who don’t live by their rules.

(I put “Christians” in quotes not to be snarky but because the people who define themselves as such are a wildly diverse group in their own right, and I take it that we’re really only talking about a subset here.)

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chris 03.12.13 at 2:04 pm

#129: Bill Gate’s maintaining a Turkish seraglio actually does affect sexual dynamics in the broader society

I’m glad you brought up Turkish seraglios. Bill Gates can’t *literally* maintain a Turkish seraglio, not just because it’s hard to find good eunuchs these days, but also because it would be false imprisonment and spousal abuse. If Bill Gates wants to maintain seventeen wives he has to convince them all to remain married to him of her own free will, each knowing about and accepting the presence of the other sixteen. The fact that Turkish emirs took the ferocious measures they did to maintain *their* harems — essentially keeping them as prisoners or slaves, an option not available to Bill Gates even if voluntary polygyny is legalized — suggests that this may be just a little bit difficult even if you are wealthy and high status.

Clearly, there are some people who would willingly enter into three or four person marriages if they had the opportunity. I don’t think there are many, or that legal barriers are the only thing holding back everyone from doing so. Jealousy is a powerful force, and I don’t think it would get all that much weaker without the backing of the law and societal norms proclaiming monogamy as the one true way to have relationships. ISTM that the instinct to jealousy is what created and codified monogamy normativity, rather than vice versa. (I could be wrong about this, but I’d at least need to see some empirical evidence to convince me otherwise.)

As for what effect this has on the relationship prospects of the average Joe (or, as the case may be, Hector), ISTM that in order to convince a woman to marry you, you already have to overcome the possibility that she might decide to try for someone richer and more famous, anyway. They aren’t *all* already taken, and even if they are, there are plenty of examples of a new woman convincing a rich and famous husband to break up with his current wife and marry her instead. (Theoretically this returns the ex-wife to the marriage market, provided the experience doesn’t sour her on marriage, but I doubt Hector is planning to court those women anyway.) Assuming for the sake of argument that at least some women are indeed motivated that way, aren’t they already pretty much lost to you?

Good thing women aren’t all alike, or it would be really hard for most men to find one suited to themselves. (Also, vice versa.)

#159: This being a thread started by John Holbo, I actually think it would have gone better if it had started with William Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman. He was in a successful polygamous lifelong “marriage” with two women — successful in that the two women stayed together after he died, and their children happily reminisced about the family — in which they practiced BDSM. (Or at least the B part).

Not intending to threadjack, but this explains a lot about his work. Art imitating life, indeed.

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Chris E 03.12.13 at 2:04 pm

I think that’s giving Wilson entirely too much leeway – there’s a long and well-documented pairing of anti-gay bigotry and old-fashioned anti-African-American bigotry. Certainly, there was no shortage of religious leaders (some “Christian”, but not all – see also the Mormon church’s policies up to 1977) who insisted that the subjugation of non-whites was the Gawd-ordained order of things and that disrupting it would lead to the dissolution of the family, kids smoking reefer, communism, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria, etc.

Wilson’s feelings on this are well known and documented:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Wilson_%28theologian%29#Southern_slavery

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Josh G. 03.12.13 at 2:10 pm

rf @ 158: “Can’t you be anti state/pro market and still live up to to the teachings of Jesus vis a vis the poor through charity work though?

IMO, no. Empirical evidence shows that private charity simply is nowhere near as effective as government action at preventing poverty. After all, that’s why the welfare state was created in the first place. Since nothing in Christian teachings, tradition, or history requires a belief in a “free market” (which didn’t even exist in the time of Jesus), putting such beliefs above the Christian imperative to care for the poor is worshipping Mammon above God.

Besides:

No need to be a dyed in the wool Randite when clamouring for small government and free markets neccessarily. That’s what I was told on twitter by a pair of well know Irish free market ultra Catholics anyway. (Before they blocked me for asking what exactly they did for charity. Nothing it turns out)

As you noted, most of the time “private charity” is simply an escape hatch, not something really taken seriously. At the very least, before I even take this argument seriously, I’d like to see some evidence that the ostensible Christians in question are actually following it rather than just using it as an excuse. (And no, giving money to your own church doesn’t count.)

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chris 03.12.13 at 2:19 pm

#160: It should also be noted that Bill Gate’s appears to be involved in a long term, committed, monogamous relationship..so this hypothetical doesn’t work on any level

Well, the point of allowing polygamy is that he wouldn’t *have to* give up his existing wife to add new ones. Unless you are suggesting *she* would object, in which case see my 170 — if she does object, he can’t practically stop her in a non-medieval society. And the argument that allowing polygamy would break down traditional marriage pretty much assumes that Melinda only objects because society tells her to, which I find rather dubious. (Not that society doesn’t tell her to, it certainly does, but I think it’s usually superfluous. It’s weirdly parallel to the argument, if you can call it that, that heterosexuals are only heterosexual because society tells them to be, and if society stops the drumbeat of heteronormativity, everyone will immediately turn gay — an argument that, IMO, can reveal an awful lot about anyone who makes it in earnest.)

In theory, you could imagine a society where jealousy is actively stigmatized, like bigotry or prejudice; instead of saying there’s something wrong with someone who doesn’t have a problem with their lover having another lover (remember the people who demanded more anger from Hillary Clinton?), society would say that there is something wrong with someone who *does* have a problem with that, they need to deal with their feelings rather than acting on them in a way that hurts others, and any attempt to actually restrict your lover’s sexual behavior based on how that makes you feel is seen as creepy and controlling. You need to get over your own hangups and not assume you have a right to exclusivity.

But that kind of inversion of monogamy normativity sounds like I’m describing an alien species, doesn’t it? It seems unrealistic for humans to behave that way. Or maybe I just think that because I grew up in a monogamy normative society.

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John Holbo 03.12.13 at 2:23 pm

“But I don’t quite follow the argument that Sullivan is entitled to regard theological reasoning as merely a personal preference.”

The post didn’t say it was regarded as a personal preference. Rather, that it should be weighed as if it were one. Which is fair. The following is a reason for Sullivan not to get gay married: it will upset Wilson. Likewise, the fact that your neighbor is upset by you getting up late is a reason to get up early. Happiness is good. It’s just not much of a reason, all things considered.

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UserGoogol 03.12.13 at 2:27 pm

Although technically the definition of polygamy is narrower than this, (marriage involving multiple people versus people having multiple marriages) if you’re going to have polygamy it seems entirely fair that someone can marry Bill Gates and then turn around and also marry Hector. Then the (dubious to begin with) issue would be entirely moot, because everyone could be married to Bill Gates while still being free to be married to whoever else they want.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 2:28 pm

“Not intending to threadjack, but this explains a lot about his work. Art imitating life, indeed.”

It wasn’t just imitation or writing from life, Marston had what might be called an ideological commitment to bondage. A quote from his wiki page:

“The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound… Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society… Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element”.

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rf 03.12.13 at 2:28 pm

My objection was more to the contention that Bill Gates has a number of mistresses, otherwise I largely agree with you ..also with Josh G

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Josh G. 03.12.13 at 2:28 pm

Colin @ 150: “There’s certainly a bleak picture being painted here of polygamy/polyamory ‘as it exists in practice’. What would be the reaction if I were to argue that gay marriage is a bad thing because we’d just end up with old man + young man pairings, leading to power imbalance and exploitation?

That would actually have been a reasonable argument a couple of decades ago. Throughout much of history, gay “relationships” have mostly taken the form of what we would today consider child sexual abuse. This was the case in ancient Greece, for instance. But over the past 50 or so years, we have seen that a large number of gay adults are primarily interested in long-term, consensual relationships with other adults. In addition, we now know that homosexuality is probably an inborn trait, or at least one fixed very early on, rather than a result of bad parenting or bad experience as was previously believed. Furthermore, the lead-up to gay marriage was actually rather slow and modest; at every step of the way there was the option of turning back if the dire consequences predicted by opponents materialized (which they never did). If civil unions or domestic partnerships had led to obvious abuses, we could have eliminated those fairly easily. Gays earned the right to marriage by proving themselves solid members of society, in a way that polygamists have not. There was, in effect, a “dress rehearsal” for gay marriage that lasted several decades, and gays passed the test. Polygamists, so far, seem to be failing (see the sordid FLDS compound, for instance).

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rf 03.12.13 at 2:29 pm

Above to chris @173

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SamChevre 03.12.13 at 2:36 pm

Furthermore, the people agitating against same-sex marriage don’t seem to have any interest in bringing back any other sex-discriminatory rules of marriage—i.e., the rules that would affect straight couples.

Actually, I’m quite sure that Wilson would be happy with more traditionalist rules for marriage generally. He’s not exactly shy on the subject. (His book, “Reforming Marriage”, is still the most useful engagement present my wife and I were given.)

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aimai 03.12.13 at 2:36 pm

Am I the only one who is disgusted with Wilson’s Uriah Heep like exultation that Sullivan treats his side as an “honest broker” when the anti-gay side (and its not just anti-gay marriage its anti-gay tout court) is associated with the most disgusting homophobia, accusations of bestiality/perversion, accusations of pedophilia and where the most generic approach to the “gay agenda” is to accuse it of being responsible for the downfall of everything from the Catholic Church to Western Civ.

The pathetic gratitude Wilson shows at not being treated “like Bull Connor” is just a variant on Christianist victimology. He can’t admit that his side is the agressor here–agressively pursuing a political and repressive “solution” to a problem the rest of us don’t even have: how to reconcile their religious dogma with modern attitudes towards sexuality and the state.

Another way of looking at it which posits a slightly more sincere Wilson is that he is an Altemeyerian classic Authoritarian Follower. He is rendered distinctly uncomfortable when he realizes that his chosen authority (the bible or whatever he wants to call it) is not universally respected. It calls his followership choices into question and these, because they are shallow and rote, can’t be defended publicly. They need to be assumed as a first premise or he ends up falling silent. I choose the word “uncomfortable” deliberately because I think in entering into a dialogue with Sullivan Wilson enters into a situation in which he is truly uncomfortable–his Authoritarian tendency towards aligning himself with perceived authorities means that entering into a public, open, and civil discourse with anyone puts him in a difficult position socially and emotionally. He’s an Authoritarian follower, not a leader, and such people generally find themselves more easily persuaded to modulate their stance as local authority figures or society in general moderates its stance. Its actually scarier for them to keep trying to toe a hard line than it is for iconoclasts and for Authoritarian leaders both of which are able to handle the conflict between what they want and what society wants by opting for their own goals.

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John Holbo 03.12.13 at 2:42 pm

Good old William Marston!

183

UserGoogol 03.12.13 at 2:45 pm

Josh G: Some of that’s an issue of labeling. People who actively call themselves polygamists are taking a somewhat aggressive position, since they’re attacking the status quo of marriage head on. But the broader group of polyamory and open marriages and the like is more banal.

184

Manta 03.12.13 at 2:45 pm

Why do you single out religious beliefs?
I mean, why do you think that e.g. the basic equality among people, or even the mere existence of “human rights” should be treated with more deference than any other belief?

185

rf 03.12.13 at 2:45 pm

“(I put “Christians” in quotes not to be snarky but because the people who define themselves as such are a wildly diverse group in their own right, and I take it that we’re really only talking about a subset here.)”

I think this is right. Out of all the actual self described practicing Christians I know I’ve never once heard any one of them make a religious case against SSM. Outside of the fringe I really don’t think most Christians care about these subjects one way or the other. In fact I seem to remember my Catholic grandmother coming out in favour of SSM in the late 90s for no particular reason (It wasn’t even a public issue at the time)

186

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 2:48 pm

“My objection was more to the contention that Bill Gates has a number of mistresses”

I only repeated that because it sounded like a humorous stand-in for “generic rich person”, not because I thought that it was actually the case.

UserGoogol (and Mao, earlier): “if you’re going to have polygamy it seems entirely fair that someone can marry Bill Gates and then turn around and also marry Hector”

But that’s exactly why Hector’s bit is so self-defeating. He really can’t think of a reason why anyone would marry him if a generic rich person was also available. A self-fulfilling prophecy.

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rf 03.12.13 at 2:51 pm

“I only repeated that because it sounded like a humorous stand-in for “generic rich person”, not because I thought that it was actually the case.”

I know yeah. My comments were largely in jest

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rf 03.12.13 at 2:52 pm

And Hector had mentioned him (specifically) above on a number of occasions..which seemed odd considering the number of options he had..such as George Clooney, for example

189

macheath 03.12.13 at 2:55 pm

The anti-polygamy argument isn’t distribution of Social Security benefits, it is that polygamous communities very often abuse women, especially younger ones who are forced into multiple marriages with threats and psychological abuse. Young men also do very badly in these communities, shunned and driven out so the elders can have all the women. Real-world polygamy (and violent sex against women more generally) isn’t some libertarian fantasy world, but an abusive and borderline criminal mess that the state should regulate. Religious beliefs don’t allow abuse, in a modern secular society (such as ours is supposed to be.)

190

Mao Cheng Ji 03.12.13 at 3:01 pm

165 “I really don’t think the issue is about paperwork and tax breaks. I think it’s about the ability of a couple to present themselves to the world at large as married, with all the implications that that relationship carries in our culture and society.”

But the implications (outside of the tax break) are of a religious nature. This sounds like they are assigning some ecclesiastical significance to … sorry, to government paperwork. I’m sure there is some of it, like with those ‘purple fingers’ of Afghani peasants 10 years ago, but I have no doubt that it’ll wear off soon. It’s an ephemeral side effect.

191

Lee 03.12.13 at 3:05 pm

@184:

It seems to be the nature of arguments generally that everyone else’s beliefs are mere beliefs and deserve little deference while your own beliefs are obviously true and foundational statements about reality.

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Barry 03.12.13 at 3:05 pm

Dr. Paisley: “We have all had illnesses/injuries that have resulted in hospitalization, and fortunately have not had any problems with staff concerning this (of course, we haven’t gone to a Catholic hospital”

Given their purchasing of health systems and ‘partnerships’, you might find that they come to you.

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.12.13 at 3:11 pm

186, “He really can’t think of a reason why anyone would marry him if a generic rich person was also available.”

No, that’s not fair. He’s concerned that a few rich people will take a lot women off the market. But in true polygamy no one ever is off the market. So, the concern is unwarranted.

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djw 03.12.13 at 3:17 pm

Since the last sodomy law was repealed (and, incidentally, without any fuss)

Out of curiosity, how would you characterize Scalia’s dissent in Laurence? It looks to me like he was making a bit of fuss, there.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 3:24 pm

“No, that’s not fair.”

You’re ignoring his prior statements in the thread. He wrote this:
“I mean, my idea of a good life partnership involves me taking on the primary breadwinner/provider role, providing status and security to my partner, ‘taking care’ of her, etc., so yes, I’d expect to be [with] someone who wants to ‘marry up’ in terms of status and so forth. I’m a gender complementarian and a ‘gender realist’, not a feminist, and I don’t subscribe to the cultural-liberal idea of marriage.”

He can’t be the primary breadwinner if he’s husband #4 of a woman who is also married to someone rich. So you’re offering a way out of his “problem” that he’s already rejected. He wants to be in what he imagines to be the position of power of someone being “married up” to, yet he isn’t confident of being able to compete for that. He’s signed himself up for a race that he can’t win, just like Ackman in the impromptu bike race in the “smartest guy in the room” thread.

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.12.13 at 3:42 pm

193 “You’re ignoring his prior statements in the thread.”

Ah, yes, I missed that. Yes, in that case the concern is warranted.

192 “how would you characterize Scalia’s dissent in Laurence?”

No idea. I’m just saying I don’t remember any significant public campaign to keep those laws on the books. But I could be wrong.

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djw 03.12.13 at 3:44 pm

Some of the sillier Christianists were pretty horrified by Lawrence at the time, but they moved on quickly.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 4:03 pm

Re; What would be the reaction if I were to argue that gay marriage is a bad thing because we’d just end up with old man + young man pairings, leading to power imbalance and exploitation?

I’ve got to say, it’s pretty typical of cultural liberals that they see a partnership of an older and younger man (assuming both are, you know, over 18) and have more of a problem with the ‘different ages’ thing than the ‘same gender’ thing. I don’t have a problem with either one, personally, but at least the Christian and natural-law arguments against homosexuality make more sense to them (though I don’t agree with them) than arguments that older people shouldn’t be with younger (adult) partners. The other sexual taboo I see among cultural liberals is the one about class differences: in my experiences a lot of cultural liberals are uncomfortable with people dating/marrying ‘up’ or ‘down’.

Re: He can’t be the primary breadwinner if he’s husband #4 of a woman who is also married to someone rich

Actually, there are some kinds of polyandry (though not that one) that are perfectly compatible with ‘male breadwinner’, complemenetary gender roles dynamics. The kind where a woman has a primary relationship with a nice, stable, secure breadwinner , but occasionally sleeps with some football players or douchebag musicians on the side for variety. Or at a higher economic level, if some woman marries Bill Gates but occasionally sleeps with the pool boy. (Increasingly, the evidence from behavioural ecology suggests that’s actually been a very common pattern in our evolutionary past). I don’t think I’d be *that* unhappy in a relationship like that, though of course it wouldn’t be ideal.

My issue here is specifically with *polygny*, and more specifically with the forms of it that receive explicit social sanction and recognition. Having a ‘one spouse at a time, at least in the eyes of the law’ rule at least makes the sexual/romantic arena *slightly* more egalitarian and less concentrated.

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James Wimberley 03.12.13 at 4:22 pm

Chris in #170: it was actually improper, in the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, for sultans to marry. That would have created favourites, the number of wives being limited by Islam. When the sultan died, the sons of his many concubines had to fight it out, the winner executing the losers. The scheme succeeded in its intention that only ruthless alpha males became sultans. Later they got soft and merely locked up the losers. Sometimes these lifelong captives inherited the throne, with predictable results.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 4:27 pm

Re: The reason that your particular set of beliefs is kind of funny is because it doesn’t work in any sense. If you’re going to be a “realist”, then look — Bill Gates does not want your prospective wife. If you dismiss love as a reason to get married, then you’re left with the realist statement that people marry within their social class.

Can you flesh out your reasoning a little more? because I’m not really following it.

I don’t really want to date/marry within my social class. I’d prefer to be in a relationship where my partner feels like she’s dating/marrying ‘up’ by getting a partner with higher earning power / education / social status etc., and where I feel like I’m dating/marrying ‘up’ by being with someone much younger/prettier/etc. than i could get without those ‘status’ advantages.

I don’t see what any of that has to do with whether ‘love’ is a good reason to date/marry or whatever. They’re really rather separate issues. Love is based around identifying your own happiness with the happiness of someone else, and getting your own happiness from making them happy. It’s not the thing that initially attracts you to someone, it’s the relationship that’s *built on* that initial attraction. (And I don’t see why status, income, etc. shouldn’t play a role in the initial attraction as much as looks, musical tastes, uh, hobbies, etc.) I want a partner that I can make happy, emotionally as well as economically, but part of making them happy, for me, is filling the protector/provider role.

Re: Only in places that are hellholes of disempowerment, like Saudi Arabia, do wealthy men marry lots of young women merely because they are attractive and available.

Africa actually has more polygamy than Saudi Arabia. But that aside, uh, wealthy celebrities in America get together with attractive young women all the time. Fortunately, the laws here only allow people to marry one partner at a time.

And no, I’ll probably embrace feminism when pigs grow wings.

Yup. I am not a feminist, and I’m strongly ideologically attached to the complementarian model of relationships. I also don’t really see what age has to do with it- plenty of people like older or younger partners.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 4:30 pm

Re: cousin-marriage was practised among the English long before the South Asians came alone — look at the Darwins and the Wedgwoods, for example, and a sizable proportion of the happy couples in Georgette Heyer novels (and, I vaguely remember, Mansfield Park).

Not to the same extent. Cousin marriage is extremely widespread in South Asia. My own ethnic group, the Tamils, are especially bad about this. (The average relatedness of rural Tamil spouses is something like 0.03, IIRC).

202

Barry 03.12.13 at 4:47 pm

Chris E @171: “Wilson’s feelings on this are well known and documented:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Douglas_Wilson_%28theologian%29#Southern_slavery

I didn’t realize that it was *that* BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPP!

I won’t ask why Sullivan dignified that (turning it down a bit) beeeeeeep! with an interview, except that Sullivan has a history of giving credence and support to beeeeeeeeeeeps!

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 4:50 pm

I don’t really want to date/marry within my social class. I’d prefer to be in a relationship where my partner feels like she’s dating/marrying ‘up’ by getting a partner with higher earning power / education / social status etc., and where I feel like I’m dating/marrying ‘up’ by being with someone much younger/prettier/etc. than i could get without those ‘status’ advantages.

Ok, so, you have weird and regressive criteria for what you’re looking for in a relationship, which is, I guess, your business. It doesn’t follow from any of this that the state has any obligation to enforce that view, or that if, as a consequence of other legislation (say, legislation that permits multiple-partner marriage) you somehow (implausibly) are unable to find the kind of relationship you want, that you have somehow been wronged.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 5:09 pm

Re: It doesn’t follow from any of this that the state has any obligation to enforce that view,

Nor does it have any obligation *not* to. There’s no constitutional right to have a second spouse. And given that public opinion is pretty strongly against polygamy, I doubt that the laws are going to change either through the legislative process or through supreme court decisions.

205

geo 03.12.13 at 5:10 pm

JH @14: I’m a Kierkegaardian about religion

Would you explain, if possible at length? I’m still trying to figure out Kierkegaard.

206

AcademicLurker 03.12.13 at 5:17 pm

I’m a Kierkegaardian about religion

But are you a Zizekian on the subject of polygamy?

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 5:18 pm

Nor does it have any obligation *not* to. There’s no constitutional right to have a second spouse. And given that public opinion is pretty strongly against polygamy, I doubt that the laws are going to change either through the legislative process or through supreme court decisions.

That’s a weird way of putting it. The opposite of “not allowing multiple marriages” is “allowing multiple marriages.” There’s a persuasive claim to be made that consenting adults should be able to enter into whatever romantic arrangements they like, up to and including marrying multiple people.

If you’re saying that the law is unlikely to change any time soon, you’re probably right, but the popularity of the current ban on multiple marriages has very little relevance to whether that ban is justified. It’s pretty hard to come up with a situation, in this day and age, where those people who want to have multiple simultaneous relationships aren’t already having them anyway (and hence aren’t in that part of the dating pool which includes strictly monogamous people like yourself). So, given that we’re not actually going to do anything to break those up, it seems to make sense that we should formalize it somehow, since formalization comes with a number of attendant benefits (as the universal marriage debate has made clear).

208

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 5:43 pm

I’m still missing something here. Why does the state have an obligation to recognize polygnous marriages, if it decides that a generally monogamous society is better for social stability? We recognize *marriage* because we think marriage is something to be encouraged, and now the consensus is increasingly in favour of recognizing same-sex marriages as well. If polygnyous situations run contrary to our moral judgments about the kind of society we want to create, I don’t see why we have an obligation to allow them (or more specifically, to give them legal status).

I think the interesting situation is going to be when African or Muslim immigrants starting petioning for polygamy on the grounds of religious freedom and cultural relativism. A lot of cultural liberals are strongly committed to cultural relativism already, and i suspect they’re not going to be able to find particularly strong arguments to resist polygamy.

209

Theophylact 03.12.13 at 5:55 pm

John Holbo @ #121: If you’re already making the mistake of taking Sullivan seriously, you don’t have to compound the error by treatng Saletan respectfully. Sullivan looks like Salviati by comparison with Saletan’s Simplicio.

210

Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 6:41 pm

The state might as well recognize multiple marriage because the people involved in such arrangements are already involved in them anyway. Just because it lacks legal recognition doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Surely the problem of social stability is not the problem of the legal status itself, but, insofar as it’s a problem at all, is one because of the actual social dynamics involved. If the social dynamics are already happening, and I don’t see anyone trying to roll back the clock by making it illegal to sleep with someone other than your spouse, then I don’t see what harm there is to give it equal legal status as well.

211

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 6:46 pm

Re: If the social dynamics are already happening, and I don’t see anyone trying to roll back the clock by making it illegal to sleep with someone other than your spouse, then I don’t see what harm there is to give it equal legal status as well.

Because not having equal legal status means people are going to view it as sort of outre and odd, and are therfore less likely to be in polygamous relationships? There’s a big grey area (and their should be) between ‘illegal’ and ‘socially endorsed and promoted’.

212

Bloix 03.12.13 at 6:47 pm

#189 – “But the implications (outside of the tax break) are of a religious nature.”
No, I don’t think they are. Many non-religious people get married, and the state (at least in the US and most Western countries) provides for non-religious state-sanctioned marriages.

You might argue that non-religious people marry out of a desire to be conventional, but convention is a powerful force. I’m persuaded that gay people want to marry because they do want to be conventional. They are not interested in being part of a fringe group that is confrontational and antagonistic to mainstream culture. They want to join the Boy Scouts and the Army. They want to pick up their children from school and dance with their spouses at the company Christmas party and be at the bedside in the hospital. They want to be able to have the same sort of conventional life that I have always had without even thinking about it.

213

Josh G. 03.12.13 at 6:48 pm

What would “equal legal status” for polygamy even mean? Would all existing partners have to give permission in order for a new person to be brought into a polygamous relationship, or could a man marry a second wife without his first wife’s permission? Would “sister-wives” (or “brother-husbands” for that matter) be considered married to each other? Wouldn’t it be easy to coerce permission – a wealthy husband telling his stay-at-home wife “either consent to bring Blond Young Thing into the marriage, or I’ll divorce you and leave you with nothing”).

Polygamy opens a whole tangle of legal issues that monogamous marriage, whether straight or gay, does not. Existing polygamous regimes have clear answers to these legal questions, but they’re not answers you or I would consider acceptable…

214

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 6:57 pm

Yeah, it figures that Sullivan had a respectful debate with someone who actually defends slavery. When are people going to stop paying attention to Sullivan already? It’s not like he’s an expert on anything, or a particularly good writer.

Hector: “I don’t really want to date/marry within my social class. I’d prefer to be in a relationship where my partner feels like she’s dating/marrying ‘up’”

Uh huh. In other words, you aren’t a realist. You have a domination fantasy. But you want your fantasy to go on 24/7, so you have to prop it up with little bits of conservative Christianity, sociobiological Just-So stories, anti-feminist “gender realism”, basically a grab bag of stuff intended to say that it’s really real, that this is how reality is and it’s not just your personal fantasy at all. I think that the feminist guy who’s confident enough to be able to tell the woman he’s sleeping with that he’d like to play Slave Princess Leia and Jabba the Hut ends up being happier and more likely to get what he wants, but hey that’s your choice.

But of course, as Jerry Vinokurov writes above, that leaves society under no obligation to defend your claims about what you’d like, any more than society would enforce a 24/7 BDSM slave contract. The logic of industrialized-world society is trending pretty definitely towards letting people make whatever marital arrangements they want, so I expect that the young Dr Paisleys of the world may get their chance to take your marriage prospects after all.

215

Substance McGravitas 03.12.13 at 7:02 pm

It’s not like [Sullivan's] an expert on anything, or a particularly good writer.

It’s weird. The sentences look okay, but they don’t add up to anything other than preferences expressed.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 7:09 pm

Re: Wouldn’t it be easy to coerce permission – a wealthy husband telling his stay-at-home wife “either consent to bring Blond Young Thing into the marriage, or I’ll divorce you and leave you with nothing”).

That’s actually one of the better arguments for polygamy (which is not saying much), and it’s one that Muslim and African advocates of polygamy are fond of making, that men who aren’t allowed to have multiple wives will just divorce their existing spouse instead. I guess there really aren’t any good solutions here. But I’m still not yet convinced that polygamy is the lesser evil.

Re: Existing polygamous regimes have clear answers to these legal questions, but they’re not answers you or I would consider acceptable…

Right. So instead of trying to figure out ways of incorporating polygamy in our society, why not just stay with the (legaly monogamous) status quo.

Re: The logic of industrialized-world society is trending pretty definitely towards letting people make whatever marital arrangements they want, so I expect that the young Dr Paisleys of the world may get their chance to take your marriage prospects after all.

Not necessarily, because the sort of person I’d be looking for probably wouldn’t be particularly interested in sharing a husband, or in hardcore ideological feminists. The bigger problem seems to be that the Dr. Paisleys, if there enough of them, would end up taking marriage prospects *from each other*, and the ones who end up without any prospects would be more likely to get involved in antisocial behaviors.

Also, ‘making whatever marital arrangements they want’ is sort of a slippery term. The choices we make, the things we think we want, and the options we have available are all conditioned by the kind of society we live in, including by its social and economic structures. ‘What we want’ isn’t purely something innate to our nature.

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Suzanne 03.12.13 at 7:10 pm

“Am the only one here that has doubts about equating women with products being bought at a market.”

116. To state the obvious, no, you’re not. But that equation is how modern US polygamous communities have customarily operated, minus the actual exchange of money.

218

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 7:11 pm

Given the Anglican church wars over gay inclusion today (I’m Anglican actually, not Catholic) it’s actually pretty interesting to think about the fact that there were Anglican church wars *over polygamy* about 100-150 years ago. They coincided with British colonization of Africa, and with the increasingly contact between Anglican missionaries and polygamous African cultures.

219

phosphorious 03.12.13 at 7:21 pm

Hector @208: “I think the interesting situation is going to be when African or Muslim immigrants starting petioning for polygamy on the grounds of religious freedom and cultural relativism. A lot of cultural liberals are strongly committed to cultural relativism already, and i suspect they’re not going to be able to find particularly strong arguments to resist polygamy.”

I suspect that cultural liberals won’t be looking to resist polygamy. . . or haven’t you been reading this thread?

220

rf 03.12.13 at 7:27 pm

“I think the interesting situation is going to be when African or Muslim immigrants starting petioning for polygamy”

There has been (reasonably) large scale Muslim immigration into Europe over the last 50 odd years and that polygamy petioning hasn’t really gotten of the ground..when do expect it to begin?

221

Manta 03.12.13 at 7:28 pm

@212 Is it the same thing as to say that they look for *respectability*?

But isn’t respectability valuable precisely because it is an “exclusive” good, that is because there are people who are *not* respectable, and if everybody was enjoying that status it would lose all value? (Which is more or less one of the argument _against_ same sex marriage: that it would devalue eterosexual marriage).

222

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 7:41 pm

Re: (Which is more or less one of the argument _against_ same sex marriage: that it would devalue eterosexual marriage).

Chesterton made some similar arguments against legalization of divorce- that if marriage was dissoluble, it would water down the meaning of marriage and take away the honour associated with it.

223

Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 7:55 pm

And there’s Josh, who comes at Poly Panic from a different angle then the guy who wants to keep an attractive lower-class woman for himself. “Wouldn’t it be easy to coerce permission – a wealthy husband telling his stay-at-home wife “either consent to bring Blond Young Thing into the marriage, or I’ll divorce you and leave you with nothing”).” Hmm, let’s see. Do we (in the U.S., and in most countries where “gay marriage could lead to poly marriage” comes up) ever let existing wealthy husbands tell their wives “Either consent to X, or I’ll divorce you and leave you with nothing”? No, actually we don’t. Existing law pretty much says that if your wealthy spouse makes a romantic choice that you don’t like, and you get divorced, you get supported. See Alimony.

I have no idea why Poly Panic is rearing its head at this point. Well, actually I have a pretty good idea, but I’ll pretend that I don’t. It’s easy to bring up horror stories about what if we decide to treat women in polyamorous marriages as if all of a sudden they live in some tribalist society where they lose all their rights when they get married. Or, for that matter, do the same thing that Saletan did with BDSM, and find some thug talking about how he owns his woman and treat that as if that is what polyamory is, and as if some men never express similar sentiments within ordinary heterosexual marriage.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 7:58 pm

Re: Existing law pretty much says that if your wealthy spouse makes a romantic choice that you don’t like, and you get divorced, you get supported.

Except that a lot of people would prefer not being divorced, to being divorced and getting alimony. In a country where polygyny is illegal, the dude doesn’t have the capability to ask his wife to enter a polygamous marriage.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 8:00 pm

Re: I have no idea why Poly Panic is rearing its head at this point.

Because, um, some cultural liberals with the connivance of fundamentalist mormons, want to change our laws to legalize it? (I confess that I’ve never seen as many people arguing for polygamy in one place as I have in this comment thread- and given that I lived in Africa for several years, that’s a surprise).

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 8:00 pm

Because not having equal legal status means people are going to view it as sort of outre and odd, and are therfore less likely to be in polygamous relationships? There’s a big grey area (and their should be) between ‘illegal’ and ‘socially endorsed and promoted’.

The problem with that reasoning is that it applies to everything that’s “outre and odd,” including homosexuality, divorce, and, at one point, not wearing a suit at work. Indeed, I am reminded of CT’s very own John Holbo’s “Donner Party conservatism” post, wherein is contained an imaginary conversation between David Frum and a bearded fellow, with Imaginary Frum following much the same logic.

Josh G.,

What would “equal legal status” for polygamy even mean?

I have no idea how the mechanics of such a marriage would work. I’d like to think it’s possible to come up with legal arrangements that mirror two-person marriages. If we were at the point where we were actually devising such a law I guess I’d give it more thought, but for now I’m happy to say in the abstract that legal equality is a generally desirable thing and leave it at that.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 8:06 pm

Except that a lot of people would prefer not being divorced, to being divorced and getting alimony. In a country where polygyny is illegal, the dude doesn’t have the capability to ask his wife to enter a polygamous marriage.

As a society we’ve determined that shackling one person to another is worse that letting people go their separate ways, even if one person would prefer not to be divorced. I think we’ve made the right call on that one, even if it does lead to some heartache.

Because, um, some cultural liberals with the connivance of fundamentalist mormons, want to change our laws to legalize it? (I confess that I’ve never seen as many people arguing for polygamy in one place as I have in this comment thread- and given that I lived in Africa for several years, that’s a surprise).

I confess, the Mormons have got to me! It clearly can’t be because I just think it’s the right thing to do!

I’m not “arguing for polygamy” as much as I think that the whole move that goes “but gay marriage will lead to polygamy” is not actually a horrible thing, because I don’t think multiple marriage is particularly bad to begin with. Again, all the people that already want to live that lifestyle are living it right now anyway, and no one is doing anything to stop them, nor will they. Nothing about the actual social dynamics will change.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 8:13 pm

Jerry,

Do you not think that any people at all are marginal cases who might go monogamous, or go polygamous, depending on their cultural/economic/social environment?

In other words, do you think polygamy is innate to the same degree as being gay?

If not, then I’m not sure why polygamy and gay marriege are analogous.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 8:16 pm

I said ‘to the same degree’ to avoid people pulling up one study or another. I’m sure propensity to polygamy is innate to some degree, I just doubt the innate component is as big as for homosexuality.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 8:21 pm

Do you not think that any people at all are marginal cases who might go monogamous, or go polygamous, depending on their cultural/economic/social environment?

Well, you know, I suppose there are always marginal cases. I suspect that, if the common understanding of “margin” holds, then they really will be “marginal,” that is, there will be way, way fewer of them than of either type. The fact that some people will fall on the other side of the margin doesn’t bother me too much. All sorts of things are legal and yet people don’t do them because they don’t have the inclination to.

In other words, do you think polygamy is innate to the same degree as being gay?

Actually I don’t care whether being gay is innate or not. I always found that to be a rather unpersuasive argument. I contend that whether or not being gay is “innate” is irrelevant; whether I’m just attracted to dudes exclusively or whether I just choose to marry a dude for other totally unrelated reasons (I believe a film was once made using this very premise…) is frankly no one’s business. Likewise with polygamy.

If not, then I’m not sure why polygamy and gay marriege are analogous.

They are analogous on the grounds that I can reasonably demand in each case that society respect my sexual autonomy, which I think is one of the most fundamental things deserving of respect.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 8:21 pm

Whoops, I broke the blockquote. That second tier is my response.

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MPAVictoria 03.12.13 at 8:46 pm

“They are analogous on the grounds that I can reasonably demand in each case that society respect my sexual autonomy, which I think is one of the most fundamental things deserving of respect.”

And that should be enough to end the discussion. People should have the right to choose how they live their private lives. You don’t like what I choose to do? Great! Go do something different.

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Substance McGravitas 03.12.13 at 8:54 pm

Yes, good work Jerry.

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leederick 03.12.13 at 8:59 pm

“There has been (reasonably) large scale Muslim immigration into Europe over the last 50 odd years and that polygamy petioning hasn’t really gotten of the ground..when do expect it to begin?”

The situation very complicated. But there is a tradition of recognition of polygamous mariages contracted abroad. The US has actively persecuted polygamists and has taken a prohibitionist stance due to anti-mormon feeling, but that’s kinda unique. Europe has been forced to be more accommodating for pragmatic reasons due to colonialism.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 8:59 pm

So the conversation went something like this–

Sullivan: “Gay marriage is great! Also killing Muslims.”

Wilson: “I love slavery! Gay marriage is bad, because it would lead to legalized polygamy, so there.”

Sullivan: “Yeah, polygamy really sucks, but gay marriage is great.”

Wilson: “We agree on some things, and I’m glad that you’re treating me respectfully.”

Holbo: “Let’s learn from this chat between two distinguished thinkers who I think are worthy of our attention. They agree that polygamy is bad, but theirs is actually a very poor argument.”

[lots of people argue about polygamy in abstract terms]

Hector: “Why are there so many people here supporting polygamy?”

Here’s a bonus answer to my own question: the people not named Hector (Hector is, at least, honest about what he wants) who have suddenly discovered Poly Panic must need something new to have moral panics about now that gay marriage is thoroughly respectable. Poly Panic lets you pretend to be protecting the women without sounding old-school like Hector, and it’s a convenient moral panic because unlike with gay marriage there are very few people who can make a long-term poly relationship work and so there’s no real political push for it. Otherwise, of course, there’s no real difference between the general case for it and the case for gay marriage.

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LFC 03.12.13 at 9:03 pm

R. Puchalsky:
When are people going to stop paying attention to Sullivan already? It’s not like he’s an expert on anything, or a particularly good writer.

Sullivan is, or at least was, an expert on Michael Oakeshott, the subject of his PhD dissertation (subsequently a book). And people will continue to pay attention to Sullivan as long as prominent bloggers and journalists etc. continue to pay attention to him.

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Substance McGravitas 03.12.13 at 9:22 pm

Andrew Sullivan prefers the familiar-to-Andrew Sullivan to the unknown, the tried-by-Andrew Sullivan to the untried, facts that Andrew Sullivan knows to mystery, the actual circumstance of Andrew Sullivan to the possible, the limited world of Andrew Sullivan to the unbounded, the near to Andrew Sullivan to the distant, the sufficient-to-Andrew Sullivan to the superabundant, the convenient-to-Andrew Sullivan to the perfect, and the present laughter of Andrew Sullivan to utopian bliss.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 9:28 pm

Jerry Vinokurov,

Thanks for your thoughtful response, with which I strongly disagree. And it’s quite fair of you to call me ‘regressive’ on sexual/relationship ethics: I’m a (s0mewhat) cultural conservative and a gender complementarian, and would happily embrace the label.

Re: Actually I don’t care whether being gay is innate or not. I always found that to be a rather unpersuasive argument.

Fair enough. You seem to take a libertarian approach to sexual ethics, and in particular to the gay debate. Which is fine, but I don’t, many people don’t, and in particular, the liberal side aren’t winning the gay marriage debate (and the debate over homosexuality in general) because of libertarian arguments. They’re winning because they’re increasingly convincing cultural ‘moderates’ that homosexuality and gay marriage are OK. And I don’t think they’re really convincing them on the basis of principled arguments cribbed from J.S. Mill.

I generally think about sex and relationships more in terms of virtue-ethics, natural law types of arguments. I stopped believing homosexuality was a sin, sometime about four years ago, because I became convinced that 1) there were ways to incorporate homosexual relationships within a virtue-ethics approach to sexuality, 2) the scriptural, traditional and natural-law arguments against homosexuality are all premised on it being a choice, and don’t work if it’s innate, and 3) the United States legal definition of marriage no longer has much in common with my own, and there’s no principled reason to deny gay people the same legal rights that attach to feminist marriages, childless marriages, remarriages, and any other forms of marriage of which I might disapprove. (Also, someone pointed out on Rod Dreher’s blog that the Romans used to have gay marriages too, until the Christians suppressed them).

I’m sure the reasons that 50%+ of Americans now support gay marriage varies from person to person, but I bet many of them were convinced by somewhat similar arguments, to the effect of ‘people can’t help being gay’, ‘it’s not a choice’, etc.

Now, as far as gay marriage goes, you and I agree that it should be legal, even if we get thre via different ideological routes. (I hesitate to say that I *support* gay marriage, but I think it should be legal). The problem is that when it comes to polygamy, your reasons for supporting gay marriage lead you to believe it should also be legal. My reasons don’t. And I think that enough people are in my ‘mushy moderate’ position about gay marriage, rather than your principled libertarian position, that they would say, ‘Just, no, bridge too far’ about polygyny.

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Manta 03.12.13 at 9:30 pm

#232: but “we” are not discussing private lives here.
If someone wants a same sex relationship, he can have it.

What we are discussing are public stuff: if the state should sanction their decision. Marriage is a public ceremony, not a private affair: if it were, the whole controversy would be moot, since gay (or heterosexual) couples would simply decide that they are married, and that would be it: it’s precisely because they need that the state get involved that there is this controversy. They are asking for PUBLIC recognition.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 9:30 pm

Re: Otherwise, of course, there’s no real difference between the general case for it and the case for gay marriage.

Uh, yes, yes there is. You can’t make a “Baby I was born this way” argument for polygamy. I mean, you can, but then every man is going to say “I was born this way, too!” and then society collapses into chaos.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 9:33 pm

I’d actually sort of be curious to know how much ‘propensity to polygamy’ is heritable; my guess would be that it’s reasonably heritable. But, of course, the link isn’t going to be as strong as homosexuality, which to me makes a good argument for not legalizing polygamy.

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Mao Cheng Ji 03.12.13 at 9:34 pm

“Andrew Sullivan prefers the familiar-to-Andrew Sullivan to the unknown, the tried-by-Andrew Sullivan to the untried…”

For some reason I suspect that Andrew Sullivan did try plenty of polygamy. He just knows he has to draw a line somewhere, because next after polygamy a conservative is going to be bring up bestiality, and who wants to have that in this discussion?

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 9:55 pm

Hector,

Fair enough. You seem to take a libertarian approach to sexual ethics, and in particular to the gay debate. Which is fine, but I don’t, many people don’t, and in particular, the liberal side aren’t winning the gay marriage debate (and the debate over homosexuality in general) because of libertarian arguments. They’re winning because they’re increasingly convincing cultural ‘moderates’ that homosexuality and gay marriage are OK. And I don’t think they’re really convincing them on the basis of principled arguments cribbed from J.S. Mill.

Are you so sure about that? Because the arguments around gay marriage are not unlike a lot of other arguments in American history, in that they emphasize a degree of individual autonomy that the state has no business intruding on. Indeed, just this was the argument, more or less, advanced in Lawrence v. Texas. That rhetoric actually has a great deal of resonance with a lot of people: “Let me do what I want so long as I’m not hurting you.” Cribbed from Mill it may be, but it’s actually quite persuasive nonetheless.

I generally think about sex and relationships more in terms of virtue-ethics, natural law types of arguments.

I’m not sure how natural law or virtue ethics has anything useful to say on the subject of straight, gay, or polygamous marriage. In my admittedly cynical view, “natural” is one of those words that gets used a lot to denote things the user likes, but not those that they don’t.

The problem is that when it comes to polygamy, your reasons for supporting gay marriage lead you to believe it should also be legal. My reasons don’t. And I think that enough people are in my ‘mushy moderate’ position about gay marriage, rather than your principled libertarian position, that they would say, ‘Just, no, bridge too far’ about polygyny.

You’re providing a lot of reasons for why my position might be unpopular, but no reasons for why it’s wrong. I’m happy to undercut the dumb slippery slope about polygamy by acknowledging that sexual freedom arguments might well lead down that path and then say, “Well, so what? And why shouldn’t they?” I’m doing that because I think they’re just fundamentally bad arguments to begin with; “well, we can have people doing sexually weird thing X that I don’t approve of, but ain’t no way I want them doing sexually weird thing Y, for no reasons that actually stand up to scrutiny.”

You can’t make a “Baby I was born this way” argument for polygamy. I mean, you can, but then every man is going to say “I was born this way, too!” and then society collapses into chaos.

You may have heard of a (regrettably-not-so) little field called evolutionary psychology…

More seriously, infidelity has been a thing since approximately forever, and the justification, coming mostly from the male side, has been “Well, guys just are that way.” It turns out that this is not a terribly credible excuse for being an asshole; you can of course say whatever you like, but the other person can just as easily decide that they don’t want to be with you anymore because you’re an inconsiderate jerk who doesn’t respect their trust, and leave. And that’s often what happens! And society hasn’t collapsed, and there’s no reason to think it’ll collapse because we decided it was ok for three people to all marry each other.

In belated recognition news: ewww, Douglas Wilson is that guy?

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Substance McGravitas 03.12.13 at 10:04 pm

What is this chaos society will collapse into? Suddenly people forget how to drive cars or what?

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 10:08 pm

Re: Indeed, just this was the argument, more or less, advanced in Lawrence v. Texas.

Yes, but Lawrenc v. Texas wasn’t about gay *marriage*, it was about whether sexually active gay people should be allowed to *exist*.

Re: I’m doing that because I think they’re just fundamentally bad arguments to begin with; “well, we can have people doing sexually weird thing X that I don’t approve of, but ain’t no way I want them doing sexually weird thing Y, for no reasons that actually stand up to scrutiny.”

Well, right, you think they’re bad arguments because you take a close-to-maximalist view about sexual freedom that encompasses polygamy. I think there are plenty of people out there who don’t think those are bad arguments at all. And there are various reasons that stand up to scrutiny, *in the case of polygamy*. The ones about divided affections, altering gender balance, the looming spectre of Saudi seraglios, etc. Also, I don’t know the data, but I’d be very surprised if “Born this way” arguments didn’t turn out to have an immense effect on people’s attitudes towards gay issues, whether or not you personally find them convincing.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 10:10 pm

Eh. I think cousin-on-cousin is going to be the next Great Freedom Frontier, long before b*stiality. There are huge portions of the world where cousin-on-cousin is routinely practiced (as I pointed out, my own ethnic group is notorious for it, and I’m pretty sure I have some cousincest in the family tree a couple generations back), and you can make cultural-reletivist arguments for allowing it.

247

Consumatopia 03.12.13 at 10:22 pm

Poly Panic lets you pretend to be protecting the women without sounding old-school like Hector, and it’s a convenient moral panic because unlike with gay marriage there are very few people who can make a long-term poly relationship work and so there’s no real political push for it. Otherwise, of course, there’s no real difference between the general case for it and the case for gay marriage.

I’m not sure which side of the fence I would be on in the hypothetical world in which polygamy becomes a live issue, but doesn’t what I’ve highlighted make this a sensible moral panic, and serve as a rational basis for permitting gay but not poly marriages?

Sullivan’s position seems to be that the state has a role in defining what marriage is, but for various moral and sociological reasons (but not religious reasons) the state would be right to include gay marriage in that definition, but not polygamy. This is, of course, a convenient position for Sullivan (and most of us, I guess) to take, but that doesn’t make it wrong, and I’m not seeing anything incoherent about it. That someone like Wilson could claim that both are wrong, or that fundie Mormons would make the opposite claim as Sullivan doesn’t invalidate Sullvan’s position, because all of these claims are in the domain of falsifiable human knowledge–if we recognize gay marriage or polygamy, society either will or will not face the resulting harms predicted by their respective opponents.

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LFC 03.12.13 at 10:22 pm

Substance @237

Are you going to enlighten us as to the provenance of that somewhat familiar-sounding altered quote, or force people to use a search engine?

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Substance McGravitas 03.12.13 at 10:25 pm

Oakeshott!

250

Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 10:27 pm

Yeah, it’s “conservatives prefer the X to the Y” from, I forget where, “Rationalism in Politics,” maybe?

251

Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 10:28 pm

I have very little fondness for Sullivan, but he’s probably closer to being right than Doug Wilson.

Indeed, Wilson is doing a remarkably stupid thing that conservetive Christians love to do (and that I used to do back when I was on the homophobe side), he’s trolling liberals with disingenuous arguments about ‘If you allow gay sex, then why not polygamy or incest?” Gay sex and gay marriage are already here to say, and what the Christian nitwits don’t realize is that increasing numbers of people (both people from foreign cultures who accept polygamy or cousincest, or else hardcore ideological libertarians on the homefront) are actually going to take them seriously and say ‘Gee, that sounds like a good idea’.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.12.13 at 10:29 pm

I have very little fondness for Sullivan, but he’s probably closer to being right than Doug Wilson.

Indeed, Wilson is doing a remarkably stupid thing that conservative Christians love to do (and that I used to do back when I was on the h*mophobe side), he’s trolling liberals with disingenuous arguments about ‘If you allow gay s*x, then why not polygamy or inc*st?” Gay s*x and gay marriage are already here to say, and what the Christian nitwits don’t realize is that increasing numbers of people (both people from foreign cultures who accept polygamy or cousinc*st, or else hardcore ideological libertarians on the homefront) are actually going to take them seriously and say ‘Gee, that sounds like a good idea’.

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Substance McGravitas 03.12.13 at 10:33 pm

I forget where

“On Being Conservative”. It’s the kind of thing conservatives pull out when they want to seem well-read enough to justify some new form of radicalism. Also the kind of thing I pull out to seem superior to that (without knowing anything at all about Oakeshott).

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Rich Puchalsky 03.12.13 at 10:43 pm

“doesn’t what I’ve highlighted make this a sensible moral panic, and serve as a rational basis for permitting gay but not poly marriages?”

No, not really. No one is talking about re-criminalising sleeping with more than one person without being married. So let’s say a few people want to make their multiple romantic relationships more serious and get married to more than one person instead. If statistical propensity to fail in marriage was a reason to disallow people from attempting them in the first place, then marriage would be disallowed for conservative heterosexual eighteen year olds one of whom got the other one pregnant. But the failure rate for poly marriages might be not be as bad as those of het teens, because there isn’t really a reason to attempt one unless you’re strongly committed to it, not when just having sex with multiple people is something any unmarried person can try.

Also, moral panic is not the same as concern. So far I’ve seen one person here say something like “There’s nothing really wrong with poly marriage in theory, but I’d guess that most of those marriages would fail because of jealousy.” (chris at 170, whose comment is sensible and non-panicky). No, instead we’ve been getting lurid stories about men owning women and men who can’t find wives running wild and women being forced to take on new young co-wives as their wealthy husband cackles evilly.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 11:01 pm

Moral panic only makes sense if there is, you know, something to actually panic about. “Oh my god, what will happen if we let grown adults make their own sexual choices… just like they do now?! But now with bonus legal sanction!”

I don’t know why Sullivan plays this dumb game. I suspect he doesn’t care about polygamy, but he needs to do that thing where he has to fight the slippery slope at all costs because otherwise it might politically damage a goal that he endorses. Thus, he can’t bring himself to defend sexual freedom per se and has to dance around it.

256

LFC 03.12.13 at 11:03 pm

“Oakeshott!”

That was my suspicion/guess but I wasn’t sure. Thks.

257

rf 03.12.13 at 11:05 pm

“I don’t know why Sullivan plays this dumb game. “

But he still also likes to see himself as some class of Oakeshottian conservative, so this is just an aspect of that self delusion

258

rf 03.12.13 at 11:13 pm

I mean I know nought about Michael Oakeshot, let alone have a PhD on the man, but I’m pretty sure he’d be quite hostile towards the internet and general tech revolution, and would be an unlikely big name blogger..I could be wrong though

259

Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 11:24 pm

Actually, I can definitely see Oakeshott as a blogger, albeit one who spent a lot of time bemoaning the baleful influence of the Internet.

260

Jerry Vinokurov 03.12.13 at 11:24 pm

Which, come to think of it, wouldn’t make him all that much different from many other bloggers…

261

bianca steele 03.13.13 at 12:01 am

In other words, do you think polygamy is innate to the same degree as being gay?

Phew! I was afraid this was about to turn into an argument about how boys “turn gay” because women are too picky, in the obvious parallel to the “polygamy means only alpha males mate” argument.

This discussion is already unbelievable enough.

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bianca steele 03.13.13 at 12:04 am

And we all know no society has allowed married men to tell their wives, “I’ll be taking someone else to dinner parties and spending our money on her, what are you going to do about it?”, much less a society in which religion played a strong role.

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PatrickinIowa 03.13.13 at 12:07 am

“….marriage would be disallowed for conservative heterosexual eighteen year olds one of whom got the other one pregnant. “

This is a terrific idea.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 12:16 am

Re: This is a terrific idea.

I don’t think it’s a terrific idea at all. But if you had your choice, what would you set the age of marriage at, and would it have to apply to one party or both?

265

rf 03.13.13 at 12:21 am

“what would you set the age of marriage”

55 with an exception (19) for polygamists as an incentive

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 12:25 am

RF,

How does the logistics of that work?

267

rf 03.13.13 at 12:26 am

In what sense? You just don’t allow people to marry (legally) until their mid 50s..

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rf 03.13.13 at 12:39 am

..and if it turn out that people under the age of 55 end up engaging, in large enough numbers, in long term, stable monogamous relationships then we can decide whether to extend the right of marriage to them..providing it doesn’t undermine the new polygamy norm

269

Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 12:43 am

No, I mean the polygamy exception.

270

rf 03.13.13 at 12:44 am

Polygamous marriage would be allowed at 19..

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.13.13 at 12:45 am

No one is allowed to get married unless they beat a snake in ritual combat.

Wait, no, that’s the procedure for Ph.D. dissertations. Oh well, close enough.

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Stephen Frug 03.13.13 at 1:18 am

#91: “Also, many Christians understand that “Love your neighbor” trumps Leviticus.”

It was far up-thread, but really, someone ought to point out that “love your neighbor” is from Leviticus (Chapter 19, Verse 18).

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 1:18 am

Re: Wait, no, that’s the procedure for Ph.D. dissertations. Oh well, close enough.

Eh, my defence (in December) was fine. It was the candidacy that was awful.

On this note of polygamy and monogamy, I’ve been thinking a bit about the Trobriander culture described by Malinowski in ‘The Sexual Life of Savages’. As I remember right, everyone was monogamous most of the time, but for two weeks of the year everyone would go wild and crazy, Spring Break style, and just sleep with whoever they wanted. And then everyone would go home to their partner and pretend like nothing happened, until next year.

I sort of wonder how well that would work in America. It’s not exactly an, um, Christian lifestyle, but I’m not sure it’s any *less* Christian than divorcing your spouse when you get unsatisfied. Maybe some people really do just need two weeks a year to, uh, ‘get it out of their system’.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 1:21 am

Re: It was far up-thread, but really, someone ought to point out that “love your neighbor” is from Leviticus (Chapter 19, Verse 18).

That it is. Thanks for the pointer, I haven’t read the Leviticus in a very, very long time. And there’s a bit of anti-gay stuff in the NT as well, of course though significantly, none in the gospels.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 4:22 am

“Holbo: “Let’s learn from this chat between two distinguished thinkers who I think are worthy of our attention. They agree that polygamy is bad, but theirs is actually a very poor argument.”

I think the problem here is that you take comedy of manners too seriously, Rich.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 4:39 am

In your first sentence, you say that you never heard of Wilson, so I was not exactly being serious myself with characterizing you as calling them “two distinguished thinkers”.

But sure, if I’m going to be taking the rap for too much seriousness anyways — you really think it doesn’t matter that Sullivan suckered you into writing about Wilson’s argument? How long did Sullivan have to look, I wonder, to find a literal defender of slavery to raise the public profile of, which you then helped with? There can’t be many of them left. Yeah, I don’t really find that ha-ha funny.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 5:34 am

Sorry, is Wilson an actual defender of slavery?

278

John Holbo 03.13.13 at 5:36 am

On a less serious note, is it your view, Rich, that it is wrong to criticize the likes of Wilson, because ‘no such thing as bad publicity’?

279

John Holbo 03.13.13 at 5:37 am

And doesn’t it follow, if so, that it is wrong for you to criticize me for criticizing the likes of Wilson?

280

John Holbo 03.13.13 at 5:42 am

Ah, I see upthread that there is a (broken, but the url is visible) link to some alarming thing by Wilson. I missed that earlier. Yikes.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 5:51 am

I don’t know the details of Wilson’s defence of slavery, but having watched that video, he’s unquestionably a disgusting man. And I’m saying this as someone who used to be anti-gay-marriage myself.

One of the audience members points out that in the past, Wilson refered to gays by the most homophobic possible slurs. In writing.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 5:55 am

Oh I didn’t miss that he’s a disgusting guy. I was just surprised that he defended slavery because he denounces racism in his exchange with Sullivan. I see now that he makes a point of defending slavery so long as it is isn’t racist.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 5:57 am

Which isn’t to say he is innocent of being a racist.

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Niall McAuley 03.13.13 at 8:27 am

Wilson defended slavery because it “produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since”.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 9:39 am

““produced in the South a genuine affection between the races that we believe we can say has never existed in any nation before the War or since”.”

Wow. That’s amazing. Sullivan really shouldn’t be publicly debating with someone like that.

286

John Holbo 03.13.13 at 9:40 am

But I still say it’s ok to criticize people who are that crazy, even if it draws attention to them.

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Greg 03.13.13 at 11:25 am

Can I just say this thread has been hugely entertaining, if not always for straightforward reasons. Thanks to all.

FWIW, surely Wilson and Sullivan both lose, as you always do when you engage with a slippery slope argument. I have yet to come across a slippery slope that wasn’t just the front elevation of a pile of bullshit.

To say that there is no good reason to draw an arbitrary line just after gay marriage is also to say that there is no good reason to draw an arbitrary line just before gay marriage. You’ve both just conceded the total arbitrariness – and impossibility – of drawing lines. Which should lead to an explicit and forceful acknowlegdement that polygamy and gay marriage are basically unrelated issues to be discussed on their own terms, and do not exist as points on some kind of linear scale of weird marriages, although it never does.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 11:38 am

“Which should lead to an explicit and forceful acknowlegdement that polygamy and gay marriage are basically unrelated issues to be discussed on their own terms”

I disagree. I think slippery slope argument is a hybrid term and therefore it has a certain … Hegelianism to it (would that be le mot just). I mean it’s not sure whether it is supposed to be logic of social prophecy. (And Hegel never knew the difference between those two things either.) But I think we can point to lots of cases in which people have said things that pretty much philosophically committed them to things they might not have wanted to commit themselves to (but implication is merciless t0 mere intention in this regard.) And this went together with social changes/shifts in attitude, such that logic and social change lend each other mutual aid.

I think it is quite wrong that polygamy and gay marriage are unrelated issues. People who talk about either talk about ‘marriage’ and what it is for, and how it relates to society and all that. All such general claims have implications.

289

Barry 03.13.13 at 12:36 pm

John: “Wow. That’s amazing. Sullivan really shouldn’t be publicly debating with someone like that.”

Andrew made his name legitimizing people like that.

290

Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 12:41 pm

“is it your view, Rich, that it is wrong to criticize the likes of Wilson, because ‘no such thing as bad publicity’?”

I don’t know why Crooked Timberites in general seem not to get this, but whenever you have a public debate with someone, you elevate that person’s reputation. They become someone worthy of debating, their name is often advertised to the extent that the debate is advertised, and in the best case they get follow-on think pieces like yours (which, in the contemporary era, raise their Google profile). And yes, my comment in a comment thread on your blog doesn’t add to the damage, because the original post has already been Google-indexed and the comments go along with it.

I’m sure that finding such people is good if you want new arguments to critique. After all, they’re cranks, so they’re more likely to have something new and unusual — just like Charles Murray sparked a book and many articles from people who had to answer his “scientific” racism. But yes, Sullivan could have found some more or less reputable opponent of gay marriage to debate, and if he couldn’t have found one, then that’s a sign that there should have been no debate. Assuming that there is reputable (i.e. non-extremely-racist) opposition to gay marriage, Sullivan just did all of those people a disservice. He also did a disservice to all of the people, like you, who routinely go to Sullivan as the source for their next current-events piece. (For inexplicable reasons!)

But that’s what he does. Now the people who start blog posts with “Sullivan just posted on X / had a debate on X / wrote a thumbsucker on X” have to think about what they do.

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rf 03.13.13 at 12:48 pm

There is noone else I can think of, bar Sullivan, who could possibly end up debating gay marriage with a proponent of slavery..I mean if you wanted to sum up his career in one anecdote, this would be it

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rf 03.13.13 at 12:57 pm

..or to clarify.. ‘There is noone else I can think of, bar Sullivan, who could possibly end up debating gay marriage with a proponent of slavery….AND LOSE”

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 1:08 pm

Rf,

Sullivan didn’t lose. I say this as someone who thinks Sullivan is wildly overrated. you might think he lost because you subscribe to libertarian premises about marriage that include polygamy. but that’s really saying more about libertarian philosophical premises than about the debate. You may not want to watch the debate, so I’ll just summarize that Wilson got exposed as a disgusting homophobe who refers to gay people by the worst slurs.

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SamChevre 03.13.13 at 1:14 pm

John Holbo @ 275

Here’s Wilson on slavery; here he is on slavery and racism.

I would say “substantially and vocally opposed” is putting it mildly.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 1:27 pm

Quoting myself: “Assuming that there is reputable (i.e. non-extremely-racist) opposition to gay marriage, Sullivan just did all of those people a disservice.”

Looking back on this, someone who supports gay marriage might think “Oh, Sullivan helped the cause because he made the other side look bad by finding this person as their representative.” No, he didn’t. If he was using that tactic, he would have brought up Wilson’s defense of slavery at the debate, and Wilson wouldn’t have been able to congratulate him on not treating him like Bull Connor.

The fact is that everything that Sullivan creates is a minefield. You can’t just go in and say “Oh, I’ve never heard of this person, Wilson, who he’s debating, but I’ll just look at the argument.” You can’t assume that any of his factoids are true because he’s a major media person and he must be careful, they must have been checked. You can’t assume that any study that he cites has been represented accurately. You have to check everything before you can respond without having a good chance of inadvertently helping some lie travel around the world.

Those kind of people aren’t worth reading or responding to. They aren’t political leaders, and the only reason they get attention is because people give them attention. There’s a whole host of them from the Bush years who “recanted” more or less when Bush-ism became less popular, and it doesn’t matter whether they are now supporting your favorite cause: they can’t be trusted because they have no intellectual honesty.

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rf 03.13.13 at 1:47 pm

“I would say “substantially and vocally opposed” is putting it mildly.”

I would hope so

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 2:04 pm

Rich, my question was, to repeat: since giving attention is transitive, in the sense that you, too, are giving Wilson attention by giving my post on Wilson attention – driving up the comment count, thereby causing people to think there is something interesting here – doesn’t it follow that you are, by your own lights, wrong to critique me, rightly, for wrongly critiquing, rightly,Wilson and Sullivan? I just think that this sort of thing gets absurd at a certain point.

“You can’t assume that any of his factoids are true because he’s a major media person and he must be careful, they must have been checked. You can’t assume that any study that he cites has been represented accurately. You have to check everything before you can respond without having a good chance of inadvertently helping some lie travel around the world. “

Sorry, what factoids of Sullivan’s did I fail to check? What inaccurate study that he cited did I, in my post, well-wish its way around the world.

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Jonathan Mayhew 03.13.13 at 2:34 pm

Winning the debate is about having the power to frame the terms in which the question is posed. It looks like whoever decided the gay marriage issue should be framed in terms of polygamy has won the Crooked Timber debate, since there are almost 300 comments about a red herring argument. I heard a defense-of-marriage spokesman after the last election try to frame the issue as “equal rights for people who believe in traditional marriage.” That might be a losing argument because the other side has more claim to “equality.”

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 2:47 pm

“equal rights for people who believe in traditional marriage.”

That’s a brilliant example of claiming extra epistemic privilege, per my post. It’s like a cognitive three-fifths compromise in the making. How statesmanlike!

“since there are almost 300 comments about a red herring argument.”

I don’t think it is a red herring actually. I think if you see why polygamy won the night, logically, you understand the logic of the debate and also the psychology. (Not that we’re getting legalized polygamy any time soon, mind you.)

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Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 2:53 pm

But I already answered that. I don’t think that adding to the length of the comment thread on an existing blog post contributes meaningfully to the amount of public exposure that something gets. I do think that making another Google hit from a popular (within its context) blog like CT does. This is a matter about which I could be wrong, of course. But I observe that while people often link to critiques and boast about how many there are, even in the “I must have really annoyed my opponents!” sense, they rarely add “and that post got hundreds of comments too”.

“what factoids of Sullivan’s did I fail to check? What inaccurate study that he cited did I, in my post, well-wish its way around the world.”

I wrote an answer in three sentences, describing the general problem of replying to Sullivan. I’d hoped it was pretty clear that the first one, “You can’t just go in and say “Oh, I’ve never heard of this person, Wilson, who he’s debating, but I’ll just look at the argument”" was the one that applied in this case, while the others apply to other cases.

You did well-wish around the world Wilson’s exact argument. You quoted him as saying:

“I would also like to thank him for editing this book— Same Sex Marriage: Pro & Con. I thought he did a fantastic job of pulling together capable representatives of both sides of this issue, and I was very pleased at the absence of straw man argumentation, name-calling, and indignant screeching. I thought the position I am representing here tonight—opposition to same-sex marriage—was treated with an appropriate respect throughout, and I am grateful for it.”

Wilson goes on to say that “Now this means that to the extent Andrew is willing to treat his opponents as morally serious people, who have arguments that should be engaged respectfully, to that same extent he appears to be undercutting the view that the continued unavailability of same-sex marriage is a foundational civil rights issue.” But Wilson is not actually a morally serious person, even though you presented him as one and treated him as one. You answered his argument respectfully and pointed out why it doesn’t really logically work, but by doing so without adding “Oh, and Wilson has a special need to ask for being treated as morally serious, because he’s fond of apologizing for slavery” you helped him.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 3:44 pm

Rich, I agree that Sullivan should not have debated Wilson, now that I see the toxic stuff he’s written about slavery. Don’t be on a stage with such a one, praising him for civility. But the internets is a big place. One CT post critiquing Wilson’s argument is not going to make or break Wilson’s break into the big-time. Nor will a few extra comments from you. Or maybe my post will. Or maybe your comments will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Who the hell knows? If you exempt yourself from your own rule, which tells you to shut up about telling people to follow your rule in contexts that would break your rule, like this thread, why the hell should I follow your rule if even you have the good sense to ignore it? I say it makes no sense.

“You did well-wish around the world Wilson’s exact argument. You quoted him as saying …”

As you yourself are now doing. You are, once again, violating your own rule. You have 1) quoted Wilson – that’s a violation, if mine was. 2) Assessed his argument accurately – that’s a violation, if mine was. If I am a well-wisher, just for quoting, then you are for requoting by way of complaining about the fact that I ‘well-wished’, in the sense of quote and assess accurately.

As to not mentioning that he is fond of apologizing for slavery: I didn’t know it until late in the thread. Otherwise I would have mentioned it. It certainly is an alarming fact, and well-worth mentioning. And now it has been. My posting has induced this fact to come to light, here on CT, and now more people – well, the 3 people who are reading this thread – to know about Wilson’s bizarre writings about race, and that Sullivan bizarrely praised him as ‘serious’ and ‘respectful’. It doesn’t strike me as an awful way to run your online life. Very frequently, people post something and then someone tells them something they didn’t know, that is relevant and might have been mentioned in the post. It’s not reasonable to say you shouldn’t post a post, mocking people, unless you are sure there is nothing you don’t know that, if you knew it, would cause you to mock them even harder.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 3:48 pm

300!

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 3:49 pm

Damn. Then I turn on comments in moderation and wreck my score.

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Jonathan Mayhew 03.13.13 at 3:50 pm

Whether red herring or not, it has taken over this thread. It is definitely a “slippery slope” argument. If arguments about coffee turn into arguments about meth…

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Consumatopia 03.13.13 at 3:54 pm

“I think it is quite wrong that polygamy and gay marriage are unrelated issues. People who talk about either talk about ‘marriage’ and what it is for, and how it relates to society and all that. All such general claims have implications.”

Not having strong feelings on polygamy I’m not going to spend much time coming up with arguments against it (especially since my previous attempt @246 failed completely as explained by Rich), but it’s not at all hard to find arguments for gay marriage that don’t also support polygamy. The libertarian argument for freedom of contract is the simplest argument to make so perhaps it gets made more often (though I don’t think Sullivan himself makes that argument) but I don’t think it’s what most people believe. Or at least the bloc of voters believing this is not sufficient to win approval for gay marriage. And the implications of that kind of freedom of contract would go beyond gay marriage and polygamy to things like the enforceability of all pre-nuptial agreements (even those now consider “unconscionable”) or binding religious arbitration of family disputes.

Some people think it would be better if long-term cohabitating couples (hetero or gay) got married, but not if long-term cohabitating groups of multiple people did so. You might say “that’s none of your business”, and maybe you’re right, but nothing about gay marriage requires people to accept that. I think that a critical bloc of voters has not been convinced that marriage is none of the state’s business, but has been convinced that gay marriage is among the kinds of marriage they should support. The distinctions between different kinds of marital institutions are sufficiently many that you don’t have to work very hard to build a case to treat them differently. (Such a case may be wrong, but it need not be inconsistent).

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 3:55 pm

It’s important to realise that Wilson isn’t merely defending some ideal theoretical system of slavery, or even a real-life historical example like medieval slavery in the crusader kingdoms (which was for all its evils at least *relatively* less cruel than American slavery). He’s defending racial slavery *as it existed in the American South*. More of Wilson’s greatest hits from that essay:

“Apart from the motive supplied by Christianity, slave owners had strong economic incentives to promote high standards of morality among their slaves. Planters encouraged strong families not only for the well-being of the slaves, but also for the well-being of the plantation. Strong families promote happiness and contentment. Happy, contented workers are good workers. Thus, even if a slave owner was not a Christian, there were important reasons to discourage immorality. Marriage was encouraged. Adultery was punished and divorce was discouraged by the whip…..The husband was the head of the house and there was a strong familial bond between family members. This kind of bond is not the product of widespread promiscuity. One could argue that the black family has never been stronger than it was under slavery. It was certainly stronger under the southern slave system that it is today under our modern destructive welfare state.”

“After the death of the Old American Republic, the nation created by the new revolutionaries became a nightmare for the newly-freed black men and women. The laws which were ostensibly passed to help them were used more and more to exclude them from the privileges they once enjoyed under the restricted freedom of slavery. For example, licensure requirements and the rise of unionism have systematically excluded black artisans and craftsmen from making the living they had made before the War. Welfare laws have removed the black man from his position of breadwinner and head over the home, and the black family has been gradually destroyed. Blacks were freed from the southern plantations only to become the slaves of an impersonal state.”

“George Fleming of Laurens, South Carolina said: “I longed to see Marse Sam Fleming. Lawd, chile, dat’s de best white man what ever breathed de good air. I still goes to see whar he buried every time I gits a chance to venture t’wards Laurens. As old as I is, I still draps a tear when I sees his grave, fer he sho’ was good to me and all his other niggers.”42 And, with this use of the word ‘n*gger’, it is important for us to remember the mutable nature of human language. What today constitutes a gross insult did not have the same connotations a century ago.”

“The Narratives consistently portray an amazingly benign picture of Southern plantation life. Affection for former masters and mistresses is expressed in terms of unmistakable devotion. Testimony to the good treatment, kindness, and gentleness of many so-called “heartless slave holders” abounds. Many of the old slaves express a wistful desire to be back at the plantation.”

“Slave life was to them a life of plenty, of simple pleasures, of food, clothes, and good medical care. In the narratives taken as a whole, there is no pervasive cry of rage and anguish. We see no general expression of bitterness and outrage. instead we find, on page after page, expressions of affection for a condition which, in the words of one historian, “shames the civilized world.” The overwhelmingly positive view of slavery is all the more striking when one considers that the period being remembered by these former slaves could arguably be called the most harsh years of the institution — those years when it was under fierce attack, and when slave owners had circled the wagons.”

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Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 4:09 pm

More generally, there used to something called “blog triumphalism”, didn’t there? Discredited these days, of course, but a few years ago, when things like The Valve were new, there was a sense in which what people wrote on blogs might actually matter. I don’t think it was possible a priori to see exactly how much this would be. And for media that do matter, people hold the opinion makers responsible for what they bring to the public. Editors at the Washington Post, people who get hosts for Sunday TV news roundtables — we’re willing to hold them responsible for who they do and don’t give public exposure to.

Now, if someone tries to do a reduce on my comments, I go for a full “futility is freedom” defense. I can write whatever I want because no one is particularly listening. I don’t have an audience, and so I don’t have the responsibility for being careful in front of that audience. But that’s not what the posters at CT generally do, and it’s not as true for them. Even the more obscure posters here are sharing space with people like John Quiggin, who I’d say is one of the foremost public intellectuals in Australia — someone important enough so that the right-wing media regularly write hit pieces on him. Or someone like Berube, who like it or not is perceived to speak for the humanities in some ways. (Please don’t get offended that I didn’t mention everyone individually: I don’t intend to media-rate everyone).

And it’s sort of difficult for an academic to write something like “Oh, I’m sharing my thoughts with the world, but that has no importance whatsoever”. So people go for a sort of Habermasian public sphere defense. Everything is part of the public sphere, speech should be countered with more speech, etc etc. But no, that’s not what people actually do. People don’t go to hate sites, find the racist that the other ten thugs in attendance is saying is their best writer, and painstakingly take apart their “argument”. They ignore them. No, people here reply to people who already have a certain perceived standard of respectability. And they generally don’t take seriously their role as gatekeepers whenever that’s inconvenient, or whenever it becomes clear that the person who they’re replying to is respectable because someone has made them respectable.

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Tim O'Keefe 03.13.13 at 4:13 pm

I think John Corvino gives the best answer to these slippery-slope arguments. The long version can be found in his “Homosexuality and the PIB Argument” [PIB=Polygamy, Incest, Beastiality], Ethics 115 (April 2005): 501–534. The short version can be found on his website.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 4:37 pm

Rich, you are missing the point. The point is that your policy verges an an absurd truth-indifferentism. Don’t change the subject by hearkening back to blog triumphalism of yore. (ah, those were the days.)

You think it is wrong for people to post things about Wilson, even if what they say is right. You accuse me of spreading falsehoods and then, when pressed for an example, cite something that you yourself admit is true, as far as it goes.

And I know you care about the truth, so don’t you forget it yourself.

I don’t say it’s nonsense to worry about how things appear, giving oxygen to the undeserving and all that, but you tie yourself in knots by over-thinking it in this way. I’m a B-list blogger (at best, fame-wise) not the President’s press secretary. Saying that does not amount to saying ‘my thoughts don’t matter’ or ‘futility is freedom’ or suffering from some Habermasian hallucination about the way the real world works.

Also, you seem oddly oblivious to the possibility of honest oversight. You write as if I didn’t research Wilson’s potential racism before posting because I am actively concerned not to act as a gatekeeper. I fear the burden of responsibility that would place on my shoulders. I must want to avert my eyes from any potentially terrible thing Wilson might have said or done, lest it wreck the lightly-mocking tone of my post. The truth is that I just didn’t Google him before commenting on his argument. Obviously if I had, I would have mentioned that he had written a book defending slavery.

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LFC 03.13.13 at 4:48 pm

RPuchalsky@307

This is a tricky area. To be sure, CT bloggers have an audience b.c the blog has an audience, and part of the reason the blog has an audience is a result of, as JQ candidly said on a thread a long time ago, “who we [the bloggers] are.” Though a bigger reason may well be a recursive effect, i.e. that people know other people will be reading. OTOH I can’t get too excited about the extra publicity given to evil X or evil Y by one post here.

On another point you raised, the lack of an audience does not always free one to say whatever one likes, however one likes. Anything written on a blog can in theory be seen by anyone w an internet connection, of course, and one never knows for certain who might see what. Thus, for example, though a tiny # of people read my blog I feel that most of the time (not all the time, but most of the time) I have to write as if thousands might be reading. (Occasionally I’ve had a post put on reddit by someone and boom, the audience for that post goes way up.) It sucks to have to act based on a hypothesis one knows is usually false, but that seems to be the situation.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 4:49 pm

“As to not mentioning that he is fond of apologizing for slavery: I didn’t know it until late in the thread. Otherwise I would have mentioned it.”

And you should be resolving to never trust Sullivan again because of this. But, mysteriously…

“It’s not reasonable to say you shouldn’t post a post, mocking people, unless you are sure there is nothing you don’t know that, if you knew it, would cause you to mock them even harder.”

The original post was mockery? You took his statement that he was serious and sincere at face value, and explained why sincerity wasn’t enough. In fact, I don’t want people to go back and mock Wilson — I find that kind of mockery of right-wingers incredibly tiresome these days, now that people are giving Obama respect for all of the same things that they used to mock Bush for. But you’ve said that your approach to Wilson would have been substantially different if you’d known pretty much the first thing about him that anyone doing a cursory scan of his wiki page would remark on, and you don’t think it was Sullivan’s fault for putting you in that position.

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Uncle Kvetch 03.13.13 at 4:54 pm

Wilson’s bizarre writings about race, and that Sullivan bizarrely praised him as ‘serious’ and ‘respectful’.

I don’t find it the least bit “bizarre” that Sullivan shared a platform with Wilson or praised him as “serious.” For the life of me, John, I don’t know why you would either.

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MPAVictoria 03.13.13 at 5:42 pm

Rich I like you but I am getting a little tired of “the air is clear up here on the moral high ground” act. This is a blog post and John is free to write about what he likes. You don’t like it I am sure Crooked Timber would be happy to refund you your yearly subscription fee.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.13.13 at 5:57 pm

Of course it’s a slippery slope argument. I don’t know why, other than for strictly political reasons, one would deny this. Hector, for all that I think he’s horribly wrong in his sexual politics, seems to get this.

Look, once you commit to the idea that consenting adults should be able to make their own sexual choices, what more is there to talk about? Note the two other slippery slopes I’m foreclosing on here: consent and age. I’m not going to defend those because I suspect no one needs an explanation for why those are legitimate distinctions. But what’s the legitimate distinction between “two people of the same sex” and “three people”? The number of people? Why is that a relevant distinction?

The level of argument that we actually have in the public sphere is, as with everything, woefully inadequate. We’re stuck at the level of “well, maybe I’m ok with sexual activity X, but not with sexual activity Y,” when there are no actually good material reasons for distinguishing between the two. And we have very good justification for concluding that there are no such reasons (apart from the fact that, you know, no one ever seems to come up with them) because if there were, if we truly as a society believed that certain sexual choices were just so harmful (even if they involved consenting adults) that we couldn’t allow them to persist, then we’d actually try and legislate for that. As it turns out, we don’t do anything like that anymore and haven’t done so for decades. Those questions have been a dead issue, legally, at least since Lawrence.

If you can’t find an actual material basis on which to discriminate between different situations, then it seems they aren’t so different after all. You can of course make whatever arguments you like about how you might not think three people is ok or not, but as a great philosopher once said, “That’s just your opinion, man.” Of course you get to vote your opinion without any obligation to be philosophically consistent about it, but in the context of a philosophical debate (which is what I take we’re having here, rather than some kind of strictly political planning session for how to get multiple marriage legalized) no one is required to respect that. “Credo quia absurdium est,” is not actually a useful argument when it comes to policy.

To recap: we already let people have pretty much whatever kind of sex they want. Not only that, but if you want to have a multiple-partner arrangement, literally no legal force will ever be employed to keep you from doing so. Again, I ask: what remains of actual material objections to multiple-partner marriages? The answer is clearly, for all practical purposes, not a thing. Once we have dispensed with the objections about the possibility of a triad or quartet being bad parents (are all individuals subjected equally to state evaluations of parental fitness prior to being granted a marriage license? Nope!), the completely unfounded “Bill Gates gonna marry my potential wife,” and the “social stability will be compromised in ways I can’t articulate,” the only practical obstacle is writing a properly comprehensive law. This might be potentially a non-trivial task, and the constituency for it is pretty small, but those aren’t really relevant philosophical objections, just like “I kinda feel weird about people taking part in this sexual activity” isn’t one either.

Too many debates in general go this way: it’s decided in advance that certain options or policies (not just sexually) just “feel weird” and therefore are no-go. If accidentally we find ourselves on the road to actually considering one of those policies as a consequence of other prior commitments, we all for some reason have to do a dance where we pretend that X doesn’t imply Y even when it does. You see this a lot in the discussion about unions, for example: “Well, you know, I don’t approve of worker abuse, but goshdarn it I just don’t feel like workers should be able to unionize and demand better working conditions for themselves because (insert irrelevant bullshit reason).” The alternative would be to either update our commitments or admit that those commitments are incompatible with some other thing we find distasteful and work through that distaste, but hey, reflective equilibrium is hard and beating cognitive dissonance is even harder. Better to just continue performing contortions to keep certain conversation subjects out of the public light because we have “ewww ick” feelings about them.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 6:15 pm

Re: Hector, for all that I think he’s horribly wrong in his sexual politics, seems to get this.

What?

No, I’m arguing the opposite. There is no particular connexion between gay marriage and polygamous marriage. Most societies which practice male-on-female polygamy (in Africa and the Muslim world) are, um, not particularly friendly to gay rights, to point out the obvious. I don’t know about the few cultures in Tibet and tribal regions of India which practice female-on-male polygamy (i.e. polyandry), but if you find some Tibetans I’ll ask them their opinions. Likewise, there are plenty of reasons to support gay marriage, some of which are libertarian arguments, some of which aren’t. The libertarian arguments may get you to polygamy, but the others don’t. It’s perfectly consistent to argue that gay marriage is a net benefit to society, and that polygamy isn’t.

Re: We’re stuck at the level of “well, maybe I’m ok with sexual activity X, but not with sexual activity Y,” when there are no actually good material reasons for distinguishing between the two.

Yeah, the material reasons are that polygamy alters the gender ratio. The peanut gallery here doesn’t much seem to like my argument about Bill Gates and his wives, for some reason, but there are other arguments too. Polygamous societies might be more vulnerable to STD transmission; they might have lower investment in children; they might have more male competition which gets manifested in crime and warfare; they might have divided affections; there are lots of potential arguments you could make against polygamy, specifically in its male-on-female versions.

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Bruce Wilder 03.13.13 at 6:20 pm

Debates seem limited in this way because we are dealing with moral narratives and taboos. More is involved than deductive reasoning from first principles in the cultural (and legal) governance of social behavior.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.13.13 at 6:31 pm

Debates seem limited in this way because we are dealing with moral narratives and taboos. More is involved than deductive reasoning from first principles in the cultural (and legal) governance of social behavior.

Except it’s not just “moral narratives and taboos,” it’s pretty much everything. Or, alternatively, everything just is moral narratives and taboos.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.13.13 at 6:35 pm

Yeah, the material reasons are that polygamy alters the gender ratio. The peanut gallery here doesn’t much seem to like my argument about Bill Gates and his wives, for some reason, but there are other arguments too. Polygamous societies might be more vulnerable to STD transmission; they might have lower investment in children; they might have more male competition which gets manifested in crime and warfare; they might have divided affections; there are lots of potential arguments you could make against polygamy, specifically in its male-on-female versions.

Yes, if you take the view that women are property instead of actual individuals capable of making their own choices, I can see how you might come to any one of these conclusions. Not that you’ve really addressed the substantive point, which is that you can pretty much have whatever kind of sex you want with whatever consenting adult you want to, and no one will stop you.

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Substance McGravitas 03.13.13 at 6:42 pm

Yes, people aren’t prevented from having the relationships, they’re denied the advantages of those privileged by the state.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 6:59 pm

Re: Yes, if you take the view that women are property instead of actual individuals capable of making their own choices, I can see how you might come to any one of these conclusions.

Well, yes, Jerry, which is my point. You’re arguing that you can’t make a philosophical case that gay marriage should be legalized, and polygamy shouldn’t. I’m arguing (with Sullivan) that you can, and that it simply depends on your philosophical premises. Which you seem to concede.

You also seem to concede that in the political arena polygamy is not going anywhere, which I agree with, at least until some Muslim or Fundamentalist Mormon group starts making a religious freedom case. So I’m not really sure what we’re arguing about.

Re: Not that you’ve really addressed the substantive point, which is that you can pretty much have whatever kind of sex you want with whatever consenting adult you want to, and no one will stop you.

Not any kind of sex, incest is still illegal, at least in this state. And I addressed the point already by saying that there’s a difference between tolerating something and giving it explicit legal sanction. You’re free to choose homeopathy (or some other junk medicine) treatment to treat your high blood pressure, but that doesn’t mean the government should require your health insurance plan to cover it. By doing so, they would be giving the implicit stamp of approval to homeopathy as a form of medicine, which I don’t want them to do.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 6:59 pm

Re: Yes, if you take the view that women are property instead of actual individuals capable of making their own choices, I can see how you might come to any one of these conclusions.

Well, yes, Jerry, which is my point. You’re arguing that you can’t make a philosophical case that gay marriage should be legalized, and polygamy shouldn’t. I’m arguing (with Sullivan) that you can, and that it simply depends on your philosophical premises. Which you seem to concede.

You also seem to concede that in the political arena polygamy is not going anywhere, which I agree with, at least until some Muslim or Fundamentalist Mormon group starts making a religious freedom case. So I’m not really sure what we’re arguing about.

Re: Not that you’ve really addressed the substantive point, which is that you can pretty much have whatever kind of s*x you want with whatever consenting adult you want to, and no one will stop you.

Not any kind of s*x, inc*st is still illegal, at least in this state. And I addressed the point already by saying that there’s a difference between tolerating something and giving it explicit legal sanction. You’re free to choose homeopathy (or some other junk medicine) treatment to treat your high blood pressure, but that doesn’t mean the government should require your health insurance plan to cover it. By doing so, they would be giving the implicit stamp of approval to homeopathy as a form of medicine, which I don’t want them to do.

.

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rf 03.13.13 at 7:02 pm

“The peanut gallery here doesn’t much seem to like my argument about Bill Gates and his wives”

Because there’s only one of ‘em Hector!
Anyway, let’s say for the sake of argument that if we legalised polygamy the ultra rich would indeed ‘outbid the rest of us on the wife market’ ….and let’s accept, unquestioning, that this would then lead to anarchy..why not just redistribute wealth on gender grounds..have the same number of male/female billionaires..the female billionaires could then use their wealth to attract multpile husbands..and gender balance would be largely restored in society at large?

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MPAVictoria 03.13.13 at 7:06 pm

“The peanut gallery here doesn’t much seem to like my argument about Bill Gates and his wives”

People don’t like your argument Hector because it is idiotic! Why should I care how many people want to marry Bill Gates? Should I be worried about people who just want to stay single? If you cannot find a partner perhaps the problem is yourself and not that other people are having relationships that you disapprove of.

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.13.13 at 7:07 pm

Oh ok, so you’re ready to assume that women are property then. Awesome. Good thing your assumption is one that most people reject. I’m going to stop arguing this now, for the simple reason that I don’t see how I could possibly sway anyone who holds these premises, and it’s not worth my time to try.

I don’t see the point of drawing any distance between tolerating something and explicit legal sanction; if it’s not forbidden, it’s allowed, and if it’s allowed, you might as well formalize it given that formalization actually carries substantial benefits in this regard (which, not coincidentally, is why gay people want that formalization as well). Basically, you’re ok telling people “do what you do out of sight of society and don’t demand the kind of rights that other people enjoy.” It’s charming disgusting that you’re willing to cut the baby this way, because apparently “ewww triads” or something, but I guess I should thank you for personally illustrating exactly what I’m talking about.

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Substance McGravitas 03.13.13 at 7:08 pm

Do poor people find partners? NO.

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rf 03.13.13 at 7:11 pm

“Do poor people find partners? NO.”

Only b/c Bill Gates is unavailable, apparently

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 7:17 pm

Re: have the same number of male/female billionaires..the female billionaires could then use their wealth to attract multpile husbands

Uhhhh….because wealth and status aren’t generally attractive to men to nearly the same degree they are for women?

I think it would make more sense not to have very rich people (i.e. Bill Gates) to begin with. In a society with low economic/social inequality, at least within s*xes, you wouldn’t tend to see much polygyny.

.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 7:20 pm

Re: People don’t like your argument Hector because it is idiotic! Why should I care how many people want to marry Bill Gates? Should

MPA Victoria,

But it’s simple math. The more women Bill Gates marries, the less there are on the market for Joe the Plumber.

Re: have the same number of male/female billionaires..the female billionaires could then use their wealth to attract multpile husbands

Uhhhh….because wealth and status aren’t generally attractive to men to nearly the same degree they are for women? I don’t think most men, at least in my experience, care much about how much their partner makes.

I think it would make more sense not to have billionaires (i.e. Bill Gates) to begin with. In a society with low economic/social inequality, you wouldn’t tend to see much polygyny.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 7:21 pm

Re: People don’t like your argument Hector because it is idiotic! Why should I care how many people want to marry Bill Gates? Should

MPA Victoria,

But it’s simple math. The more women Bill Gates marries, the less there are on the market for Joe the Plumber.

Re: the female billionaires could then use their wealth to attract multiple husbands

Um, because wealth and status aren’t generally attractive to men to nearly the same degree they are for women? I don’t think most men, at least in my experience, care much about how much their partner makes.

I think it would make more sense not to have billionaires (i.e. Bill Gates) to begin with. In a society with low economic/social inequality, you wouldn’t tend to see much polygyny.

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MPAVictoria 03.13.13 at 7:46 pm

“But it’s simple math. The more women Bill Gates marries, the less there are on the market for Joe the Plumber.”

So we should keep adult women of sound and stable mind from making their own choices in order to prevent the possibility that some man, somewhere may find it more difficult to find a partner? By this logic we should make it illegal for women to be single.

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rf 03.13.13 at 7:48 pm

..and Joe the Plumber was earning a couple of hundred grand a year, so he’ll be okay

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Substance McGravitas 03.13.13 at 7:50 pm

It often seems that all modern problems could be solved by higher taxes on the wealthy. Level the playing field and Hector may be able to purchase a not-too-used woman down at the local auction house.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 8:00 pm

Re: ..and Joe the Plumber was earning a couple of hundred grand a year, so he’ll be okay

Seriously?!?

Life sciences professors at my university max out at $130,000. And that’s after you win the tenure rat race. Maybe I picked the wrong career.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.13.13 at 8:01 pm

Re: It often seems that all modern problems could be solved by higher taxes on the wealthy.

No argument from me there.

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rf 03.13.13 at 8:04 pm

That’s what he said Hector..you could probably do it if you ran your own business I guess..probably working on your own

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rf 03.13.13 at 8:04 pm

should be .. probably NOT working on your own

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Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 8:11 pm

We’ve been through this one before — Hector’s reason for opposing legally recognized polygamy is different from the “ewww triads” reason for opposing legally recognized polygamy. If you search the page for “Slave Princess Leia” I think you’ll find his reason set out. I think that what Jerry Vinokurov meant to say originally is that Hector’s silliness is at least openly set out, so that people can see what it is, while “ewww triads” hides under a whole lot of different apparent arguments, some of them which look quite feminist at first (like “if we legally recognize polygamy, then men will own women”).

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Jerry Vinokurov 03.13.13 at 8:13 pm

Rich: yes, indeed.

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Carleton Wu 03.13.13 at 8:42 pm

“Say for example that the husband in our imaginary polygamous marriage has contracted a rare disease that has incapacitated him and for which there are two or more treatment options, with different associated risks and potential outcomes. Who gets to decide which path to follow if two wives disagree?”

Does Sullivan’s commenter imagine that this exact scenario does not play out on a daily basis with two parents disagreeing over treatment decisions (or many other things) for their children? Does he therefore conclude something odd eg that polygamy ought to be mandatory, so that an odd number of parents are always available to prevent deadlocked votes?
Of course not. Being a small-minded person, s/he invokes such examples to reinforce his prejudices without even realizing their silly implications.

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novakant 03.13.13 at 10:47 pm

Wow. That’s amazing. Sullivan really shouldn’t be publicly debating with someone like that.

Please explain: do you think Sullivan has any moral authority that could be undermined by this? After his role in the Iraq debate I don’t see any reason to believe so.

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Katherine 03.13.13 at 11:34 pm

I think it’s worth making the point that most, if not all, of the Muslim countries that have a tradition of polygamy in their history have made it illegal. It is gradually being accepted, legally and culturally, that there isn’t anything especially “Muslim” about polygamy, so those “culturally relativistic” arguments can go take a running jump.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.13.13 at 11:45 pm

MPAVictoria: “Rich I like you but I am getting a little tired of “the air is clear up here on the moral high ground” act. This is a blog post and John is free to write about what he likes. You don’t like it I am sure Crooked Timber would be happy to refund you your yearly subscription fee.”

I don’t think that “No one is listening to blog commenters, so we can write whatever” is exactly taking the moral high ground, but I freely admit to being a scold, which is probably what you’re mostly objecting to. So I’ll try to recast what I’m saying purely pragmatically. Way up at comment 25 I wrote “let’s also remember that this is Andrew Sullivan, and that anything he writes no matter how seemingly sympathetic will turn out to be based on an underlying stratum of stupidity and viciousness”. At that point I didn’t know any more than Holbo did that Wilson was a slavery apologist. But I was confident — from prior experience, not from moral discernment — that there was some kind of hidden land mine in anything that Sullivan was involved in.

And there it was. I don’t think it’s too unreasonable to ask people to generalize from experience and avoid predictably contributing to this kind of problem.

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John Holbo 03.13.13 at 11:48 pm

“But, mysteriously…”

I don’t really know how to respond to that, Rich. You seem to be saying ‘you know you can hear the spooky music, and I know you can hear the spooky music, and you know that I know …’ and so on. But I still don’t hear the spooky music.

“The original post was mockery? You took his statement that he was serious and sincere at face value, and explained why sincerity wasn’t enough.”

Rich, I said up upthread and I’ll say it again: your problem is that you take comedy of manners way too seriously. You don’t have to laugh at the jokes, but you have to recognize that when I say things like “The light stuff. (Why else would I read First Things?)” I am – for better or worse – joking.

Also, you seem to inferring from the fact that I say mere sincerity is not enough to make an argument good, or its conclusions necessarily acceptable, that therefore I must think that offering unacceptable arguments is, at any rate, proof of sincerity. So therefore, by critiquing Wilson’s arguments as bad, I am in effect vouching for his sincerity.

Honestly I have no idea whether he is sincere or not, but I certainly am not offering any sort of badness-implies-sincerity argument, or anything of the sort.

I feel there’s a Great Pumpkin joke lurking around here somewhere.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.14.13 at 12:31 am

Re: I think it’s worth making the point that most, if not all, of the Muslim countries that have a tradition of polygamy in their history have made it illegal

I think ‘most’ may be an exaggeration. According to Wikipedia polygamy is currently explicitly legal in 39 African or Asian countries, not all of them Muslim. It’s legal in a further 3 countries for Muslims but not for others (India is one of those). And it’s legal in about 10 countries (mostly non-Muslim countries in Africa) under ‘customary law’. The legal status of polygamy in India is a perennial topic of debate, which pits secular feminists and Hindu nationalists on one side, against conservative Muslims and pro-Muslim leftists on the other. (I generally take the pro-polygamy side when it comes to India, because I dislike Hindu nationalism much more than I dislike polygamy).

There are also African countries where marriages aren’t generally ‘official’ anyway, so polygamy can be not legally recognized but quite common nonetheless.

Russia is apparently considering legalizing polygamy now, to deal with the fact that a large proportion of Russian men are alcoholics, chronically unemployed, have serious health problems, or are otherwise not prime marriage material.

The worldwide trend is probably against polygamy, but the change isn’t coming as fast as you might think.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.14.13 at 12:34 am

Re: If you search the page for “Slave Princess Leia” I think you’ll find his reason set out

Well, more precisely, your satire of my reason set out. Which is fine. I’m a culturally concervative complementarian, not a feminist, so I make complementarian arguments against polygamy. Feminists can make feminist arguments against polygamy, which I find notoriously unconvincing and unappealing, but which probably appeal to some of you. Hopefully we can agree that polygamy ought not to be legalized, even if we get there by different routes.

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Alan 03.14.13 at 1:42 am

Well as far as I can see no one has helped me in my admitted ignorance about questions that might precede more inflammatory ones on these issues. Dyadic or binary-termed contracts have at least a possibility of equality given ceteris paribus knowledge/power conditions. That is because they are entered into synchronically (at least as tendered if not in terms of final agreement). But typically poly-x-ic matrimonial contracts (unlike many similar business ones) are not synchronic–later entrants into the contract may not have knowledge/power privileges that earlier ones do for simple lack of shared history about such things. I take it that most poly-x-ic matrimonial contracts are of this latter character, because people are added into them over time, and thus later entrants are potentially disadvantaged simply because of the asymmetry of time as related to matters of knowledge and power. And this is a point about potential moral disadvantage in such poly-x-ic relationships that counts against them in principle. I may be wrong, but I wish those with more experience and wisdom about these things would (kindly) dismiss my worries. Of course this does not count against poly-x-ic synchronic matrimonial contracts; my point is that such are not typical in the history of multiple partner relationships.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.14.13 at 2:34 am

Alan, have you considered that entrants into a bog-standard heterosexual monogamous marriage may not enter into it with equal knowledge / power privileges? That anyone about to get married might find it a good idea to learn as much as they can about their prospective spouse’s prior history, but that many people for understandable reasons don’t do so? How is “the asymmetry of time as related to matters of knowledge and power” different from any case in which an older person marries a younger person?

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Alan 03.14.13 at 2:46 am

Because the matter of conspiracy (intentional/unintentional) is a factor that cannot matter in dyadic contracts, at least as is a function of contractual participants. That’s my worry.

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Rich Puchalsky 03.14.13 at 2:57 am

A single spouse can’t conspire to conceal his / her past history and current status from you?

I’m also a bit puzzled by these mysterious contracts. Are we talking about the kind of thing that would be likely in any country that approached poly marriage via “well, we did gay marriage, so we might as well do this too?” Or are these supposed to be contracts that specify more than you could get away with in terms of abuse, nonsupport etc. in a current marriage?

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Alan 03.14.13 at 3:07 am

Conspiracy is not concealment simpliciter. The difference is obvious.

I made the ceteris ceribus claims. The relevance of that to various contracts is obvious as well.

I wish you well ceteris paribus. And now I’m done.

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Hector_St_Clare 03.14.13 at 6:13 am

I have a family friend who actually spent several years doing anthropology fieldwork, studying family dynamics in polygamous households among the Bambara of Mali. I think her big research question was the extent to which the wives compete against each other vs. cooperating with each other. I should see what she thinks about all this.

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Carleton Wu 03.14.13 at 3:21 pm

“Now this means that to the extent Andrew is willing to treat his opponents as morally serious people, who have arguments that should be engaged respectfully, to that same extent he appears to be undercutting the view that the continued unavailability of same-sex marriage is a foundational civil rights issue. “

Shorter: We win the argument just by not hitting you with a nightstick.
Or: If you mock us we win because you refuse to engage in serious debate. But if you engage in serious debate, we win because this validates our position as serious and un-mockable.

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rf 03.14.13 at 3:24 pm

Hector at 344

But that shows that it’s more a regional, rather than religious, norm, doesn’t it? (Maybe not, I don’t know)

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Hector_St_Clare 03.14.13 at 3:30 pm

RF,

Well, yes. As is female gen*tal mutilation (plenty of Christians in Egypt and animists in West Africa do it too). Like I mentioned, a lot of African *Christians* practice polygamy, will give you chapter-and-verse from the Old Testament as well as from reasoning about ‘human nature’ to justify it, and in some cases quite mainstream churches (including Anglicans) have taken seriously the arguments in favour of legalizing it.

Katherine was saying though that most Muslim countries don’t allow polygamy, not that some non-Muslim countries do. I don’t think that was correct. And the countries with the biggest Muslim populations (Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, India) do allow polygamy at least for Muslims.

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Nathanael 03.14.13 at 11:22 pm

Mao Cheng Ji:
“Does the second person’s demand have more weight, because (presumably) it’s based on a religious dogma? I don’t like this conclusion, but it seems that logically this might indeed be the case, no?”
Sadly, our government seems to be encouraging this type of thinking, with horrible policies which allow IRS tax exemptions for political activism groups claiming to be “religions” but not for other political activism groups.

There’s only one possible reaction: for the first person to start a religion and make his demands part of HIS dogma. Or in the real world example, for ALL political organizations to incorporate as religions.

And that path — everyone developing competing religions — never, ever ends well.

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jmb 03.16.13 at 2:30 pm

The reason Hector can’t find a mate isn’t that the Rich Guys are taking them all. It’s that no self-respecting woman wants to marry a guy who wants a permanently-dependent subject-serf-housekeeper-sextoy! Even Jane Austen novels make this point repeatedly.
And this was back when cousin-marriage was totally accepted in wealthy WASP society, and women, like poor men, had no right to vote (though some were already agitating for universal suffrage) or own property once married.

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jmb 03.16.13 at 2:33 pm

Also, two husbands (sometimes but not always brothers) of one wife is the norm in some cultures of the Himalayas. It guarantees that there will be two parents at home when one husband is off with the herds or working in the city. Poly doesn’t have to mean polygyny even in “traditional” scenarios.

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