TUESDAY, 9 OCTOBER 2012

Approaching the last taboo

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Lisa Miller in the Washington Post did a bit of exploration a few days ago on the next big thing in the marriage destruction industry – polygamy.

She takes her line from one, John Witte Jr., a scholar of religion and law at Emory University in Atlanta. Witte is working on a lengthy history of polygamy due out next year. He believes that polygamy is the next frontier in marriage and family law. If states are able to dismantle traditional or conventional views of marriage by allowing two men or two women to wed, then why should they not go further and sanction, or at least decriminalize, marriages between one man and several women?

This of course is familiar territory to those who know Kody Brown and his "wives", the stars of the US reality television show “Sister Wives”.  Brown – and his “wives” - are making in a civil suit against the state of Utah, claiming that anti-polygamy laws there violate their privacy and their religious freedom. “The Browns want to be allowed to create a loving family according to the values of their faith,” according to Jonathan Turley, the family’s lawyer.

Beneath the sensationalism, Miller writes, there lies a real question. If Americans increasingly value their rights to privacy and liberty above historical social norms, then why should the state not legally approve other unconventional domestic set-ups? In his first chapter, Witte presents the problem this way. “After all,” he writes, “American states today, viewed together, already offer several models of state-sanctioned domestic life for their citizens: straight and gay marriage, contract and covenant marriage, civil union and domestic partnership. Each of these off-the-rack models of domestic life has built-in rights and duties that the parties have to each other and their children and other dependents. And the parties can further tailor these built-in rights and duties through private prenuptial contracts. With so much marital pluralism and private ordering already available, why not add a further option — that of polygamous marriage?”

To those who have predicted that this is the road we are on with the effort to include same-sex unions within the definition of marriage Witte says no. According to Miller he argues that

...same-sex marriage does not open the door to polygamy because what matters in marriage is not who but how many. According to his research of civil law and religious tradition, the meaningful number is two. Polygamy creates competition and rivalries; it can foster insularity and religious zealotry; at its worst, it can subordinate women and children. Two has moral resonance, for it forces a couple to seriously consider their vows “for better and worse;” it shows children an example of mutual love and respect.

“The meaningful number is two”. How about that for a strong argument, after all the onslaughts on language truth and logic we have been witnessing since the liberal left began the unravelling of marriage?

Witte, Miller says, is content to let people have sex with however many people they want. But in marriage, he says, the state must insist that it knows best. In a wedded union, three is a crowd. Some hope.

I don’t know if they have read Elizabeth Brake’s book, Minimizing Marriage, published by Oxford University Press in March.  This really is approaching the last taboo.

In that book – reviewed by Scott Yenor for The Witherspoon Institute  recently -  she introduces an argument that reduces marriage to any consensual caring relationship.  The object of her critique is what she calls amatonormativity—the belief that society should value two-person, amorous love relationships. Even same-sex marriage (SSM) advocates are too restrictive for Brake in that they would confer benefits on two people alone; SSM advocates are unwitting amatonormativists. Their defenses of marriage leave out “urban tribes, best friends, quirkyalones, polyamorists” and other diverse groups united by a common bond of caring. Brake argues for an almost complete disestablishment of marriage.

It really is bizarre stuff, but that is where we are going and there is no doubt but that we will be hearing much more about this.


MORE ON THESE TOPICS | Elizabeth Brake, polyamory, polygamy

This article is published by Michael Kirke and MercatorNet.com under a Creative Commons licence. You may republish it or translate it free of charge with attribution for non-commercial purposes following these guidelines. If you teach at a university we ask that your department make a donation. Commercial media must contact us for permission and fees. Some articles on this site are published under different terms.

 
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Conjugality deals with the true nature of marriage and the challenges it faces today. Our current focus is on the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage. We'd love to get your comments and suggestions. Send an email to conjugality@mercatornet.com


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