The Marriage Waterslide?

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar North
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    says:

    Yes, agreed pretty much all over. The polygamists are going to have to try and muster up some genuine plausible advocacy for some actual legal marriage before I’m gonna give any credence to that slippery slope argument. This presents a major logistical problem for polygamists since they would logically need a couple to file a legal complaint and then stay together long enough to make their court date (I kid, but seriously every plural coupling I’ve known has had the half-life of lithium-4 isotope).

    Dreher has always been very intently on the watch for either proof of the slippery slope. That and his writings always seem to hold an earnest hope that gays will show up en masse and start pitching Christians to the lions. It’s his go to assumption.

    Californians demand that the Mormons not be allowed to anonymously donate to anti-ssm causes? We’re throwing the Mormons to the lions. Some idiot over sensitive queens sue over a wedding cake? Throwing Christian small business owners to the lions. Some gay taxpayers object to being barred from a taxpayer subsidized religious wedding pavilion? Throwing Christians to the lions. Some governments insist that if Catholic adoption agencies are going to run partially on taxpayers dime they have to consider placing kids with gay couples? Throwing adoption to the lions.

    Dreher is an amazing writer but he has a funny vibe vis a vis the gays. If I were psychoanalyzing the man I’d guess that he has repressed guilt about the way his religious fellow travelers treated homosexuals in the past and he’s hoping they’ll prove to be as cruel to his own kind now that the worm has turned. That and Christianity is at its most comfortable when it’s being violently oppressed, thus the weird fetish with being “under attack”.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North
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      says:

      I’m sure that if you go into some of the fundie communities, you can find some polymarriages that have been together for long periods of time. They’re just a very unsympathetic lot. Youth marriages, lost boys, etc. That, to me, is one of the biggest problems confronting the polys. Gays have done an outstanding job of sympathetically conveying themselves as being the same as everyone else who want to get married for the same reasons that everybody else does. They became accepted within higher society and all that (who could then help Middle America – or their children – come to accept it. Which couldn’t be more different than the FLDS and the like, who remain anathema to higher society and detestable to Middle America without any advocates of cultural or social influence.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Oh yes Will, I honestly was trying to be fair and was focusing on non-coercive consenting poly relationships rather than the horror show of the fundie versions. Plus I know people in/formerly in/in another/in another?!?/in another anothere?!?!?!? poly relationship.

        Really, though, the facts on the ground are stark; people are crazy and I mean that about everyone. When you’re with another person, living intimately with them you’re virtually living a coupled life together. People find is massively difficult syncing their brains up with the brains of another (hopefully simpatico/compatible) human being. The complexity and difficulty of pulling this stunt off with more than two people increases exponentially. Add in the fact that as soon as you have more than two people in a room together cliques begin forming and you’re in serious trouble.

        In reality poly couples respond to this various ways. At the dark end of the spectrum are cults, religious nutbars and other coercive external systems to force compliance of the group to an individual. At the brighter end of the spectrum are well meaning loving group relationships that usually don’t last longer than the milk in the communal fridge.

        In principle I suppose one can make an argument that people should be able to form formal poly relationships. In principle settling on the surface of the sun has some good upsides: ample power, lots of real estate, great tans. The practical considerations kill both stone dead.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        well meaning loving group relationships that usually don’t last longer than the milk in the communal fridge.

        To be fair, many exclusively-paired relationships don’t last much longer than this either.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman
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        The problem with the polyamorous communities is that you two polyamorous communities in the United States. You have the traditionalist sort associated with FLDS and some Muslim immigrants, a few of which practice informal polygamy in the United States. Than you have the open relationship people, who form a part of the alternative sexuality and relationship community.

        Neither community, the traditionalists or the open relationship variety, come across really sympathetically to most Americans. The traditionalists like the FLDS come across as problematic for the reasons Will listed; they are seen as ultra-reactionary traditionalists living in a society with lots of social problems that are seen as directly related to their polyamory. The open relationship sort come across as kind of weird in a bad way to a lot of people. This may or may not be deserved but thats how they are perceived.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        The open relationship sort come across as kind of weird in a bad way to a lot of people.

        I submit there are many, many more people living this way, either tacitly or intentionally, without your knowledge than you think there are.

        The most visible poly people, are the people who don’t really care what you think; by definition, many are going to seem weird, because they don’t care what you think about the rest of their life either, such as the way they dress or comport themselves.

        The spearhead always looks “weird”, IOW.

        The Pilgrims seemed kinda weird, and look…here we are.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Glyph, possibly but I distinguish between cheating and an open relationship. Simply seeing another person romantically or having sex with another person while in an official relationship with somebody else does not make a person poly or in an open relationship. Polyamorousness and open relationships should be explicit rather than implicit in order to distinguish them between cheating.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Yes Glyph, but that doesn’t help the case for Poly’s.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Exactly, North. The LBGT community was able to win their greatest victories when heterosexuals and cis-gendered individuals saw them as normal people like them rather than as freaks. If polys are seen as freaks and the polys themselves want to “shock the bourgeoisie” than they are not going to get much traction in having their choices honored by society.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        The first waves of “out” gay people were more flamboyant too. Same dynamic.

        It’s when, not if.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Glyph, I submit that in order to firmly establish the parallel you must first demonstrate that, in addition to the visible poly community that we can see, there is a very significant number of unseen poly couples who would be more visible were conditions more sympathetic, who have needs that can and should be addressed by changes in public marriage policy and who are trying to muster advocacy to effect such changes.

        It strikes me as significant that the majority of people who I see or read advocating about recognition of poly relationships are doing so not on their own behalf but mainly as a form of concern trolling gay marriage. If there is a big poly community out there in dire need of change with a good case to make then they have a lot of work to do.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Will Truman
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        Another thing is that you also have to prove that first generation of LBGT rights activists, the more militant, angry and flamboyant ones that advocate a radical revolution, did much to advance the cause of LBGT rights. The probably set the stage for the fight by sitting up the the infrastructure but the victories happened when heterosexual, cis-gender people realized that the LBGT community wanting a bit more ordinary than previously thought.

        Did Black Nationalism and the more militant responses to racism do much for the African-American community or did it hinder the Civil Rights movement?Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Given that the straight population is estimated to significantly outnumber the gay population (90/10 or so); and given that there are polys on both sides of that slash; I’d be surprised if polys don’t come close, as a percentage of total population, to the gay population.

        That’s just a guess.

        Do they have work to do? Sure.

        Do I think they’ll do it? Yes I do.

        Do I see any reason they shouldn’t? No I don’t.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        Oh, and the other thing the poly’s really have to do: have a policy to actually suggest. Unlike gay marriage, for instance, poly marriage would be extremely complicated legally speaking. I doubt they’ll get anywhere unless they can address in a clear and understandable way how exactly it would work.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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        North touches on what I think the firewall will be. The case for SSM is made much easier by the fact that it doesn’t, in my view, change the fundamentals of marriage. No laws would need to be change. No special rights would need to be clipped. No one’s marriage would be weakened.

        Polygamy, though, would complicate my own marriage. It would diffuse the rights of marriage that are dependent on each person only getting one spouse. (The ability to bring someone you married into the country? Easier to do when you can marry one person than when you can marry as many as you want.)

        Could all of these be addressed? Maybe. But it’s going to be a much, much harder sell.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Will Truman
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        @North – Plus I know people in/formerly in/in another/in another?!?/in another anothere?!?!?!? poly relationship.

        Could there be some degree of fundamental attribution error happening?

        That is, when you know someone in/formerly in/in another/in another?/in another??? monogamous relationship, do you conclude that the problem is with that person’s relationships? When you know someone in/formerly in/in another/in another?/in another??? poly relationship, do you conclude that the problem is with the form of that person’s relationships?

        On what terms are you judging the success of polyamory? My wife and I have been married eleven years and have no plans to stop being. During that time, we’ve been open to relationships outside the marriage (I’ve not really been in many, my wife has – chalk it up to personal inclination and happenstance).

        Some but not all of those relationships have been short-lived, just as some monogamous ones are – does the fact that she went on a few dates with someone and then stopped seeing them support poly relationships being inherently unstable to you? Or is that just a normal part of dating?

        And does the eleven year duration of our marriage support the stability of poly relationships from your perspective? Because, whether on any particular date, one, both, or neither of us was currently seeing someone else outside the marriage, it’s been a poly relationship the whole time.

        There is also a tacit assumption that comes up often in discussions of relationships, and that gets under my skin. It’s the assumption that any romantic relationship survived by both parties is a failure.

        If you quit your job and take another, you’re not considered a failure at the first job, just someone who changed jobs. If you move out of one apartment and into another, you’re not considered a failure at living in the first apartment, just someone who moved. But if you end a relationship and begin another one, somehow the first one becomes a “failure.” I don’t see the good sense in that.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Hi Dragonfrog, thank you very much for raising these points because the lot of them are excellent!

        Let me stipulate, first off, that you’re absolutely correct and none of my anecdotal stories can necessarily be applied to the category of Poly relationships over all. Just as the endless parade of social con horror stories that were trotted out during the SSM debate don’t define gay coupling neither do my experiences define poly coupling.

        That said I would like to clarify that I have known several different poly couples and am friends with people who have been in such couplings in the past. If I count in the gossip and stories I’ve heard I would estimate my sample size to be around 20 or so distinct couplings (maybe twice that number if you include couples that were different combinations of the same people). Of that entire sample the longest any specific pairing has lasted has been slightly in excess of a year and those were outliers. I will repeat again, however, that my anecdotal experiences are not necessarily representative of the population of poly pairings out there. Now if you can point me to a study or other form of wide ranging survey of the stability of poly relationships I’ll happily amend my own assertion. I haven’t seen any such studies but my personal experience, plus what I can theorize based on my understanding of human nature, leads me to conclude that poly couplings are highly volatile.

        To your specific example, I do not wish to offend but I am curious to know more. If I am understanding you correctly you and your wife have been married for eleven years (congrats, I’m informally on year 13 and formally on year 4) and you have occasionally (often with your wife, occasionally with you) added another person? I assume this was more than just one or both of you having a fling with another person but they were considered part of the relationship? Now, and correct me if I’m wrong, what I think you’re telling me is that you and your wife have been married for eleven years but from a poly relationship your history is more like Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog; then Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog+Mrs.DragonFrogs’ Paramour; then Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog; then Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog+DragonFrog’s Paramour; then Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog; then Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog+ Mrs.DragonFrogs’ Paramour etc.. etc… down over the years? I do not wish to sound judgmental (and I have no standing to, my Husband and I got up to all kinds of mischief over the years together) but in terms of polygamous marital stability is this not a literal example of the instability of polygamous relationships? Yes, you and your wife have remained together throughout but all of these people adding to and departing from your relationship does suggest a certain, shall we say dynamic vibrant changeability to your relationship? Also would you consider your relationship fundamentally polygamous- as in your wife’s partners were in a relationship with her as important to her as her relationship with you? Or were the two of you in an conventional marriage relationship that happens to be open? The monogamous equivalent would be people marrying, divorcing and marrying again repeatedly over eleven years yes? Am I incorrect in my analysis? I apologize if I offend here as well, it is not intended.

        This example and, really, the entire subject underlines especially just how much –massive- amounts of work poly people will need to undertake to attempt to replicate the achievement of the SSM movement. We do not even have language in the common vernacular for addressing the experience of poly couples. Note I’m using couples but that’s inaccurate, do we call them groups? What actually IS a polygamous relationship? What does it look like? What separates it from just dating? The Poly movement, let’s call it that, has so much groundwork to lay it boggles the imagination. What terms do you use for your groupings? What is it when a person enters or exits the relationship? What do you do about kids? On a policy level does an institution like marriage actually offer utility to people of your predilection? How would it help? What would it look like?

        SSM had it easy! You just change the labels on the seats in the opposite sex marriage car and the same sex couple can just hop in and take off. Virtually everything works the same! Virtually nothing in a poly marriage would be similar and that’s an enormous problem for the Poly movement. This, mind, is also why when conservatives trot out the SSM will lead to Poly Marriage movement so many SSM advocates look at them like they’re smoking crack and struggle not to assume bad faith. The two concepts are so different as to make the gaps separating OSM and SSM look like nothing at all.

        Finally, and I appreciate your patience in this Dragonfrog, there’s your interesting question about stability. Yes, in marriage and (now in) same sex marriage there is a general view that the dissolution of the relationship is a failing. This is fundamental to the marriage question as it is now currently viewed. Marriage is presumed to be a permanent state of affairs and when it fails to be such it’s considered unfortunate. A lot of the point of marriage sort of flows from that presumption: mutual support for each other through the years; pooling of resources (financial and otherwise), caring and supporting each other in times of duress, these all flow from the assumption that when you get married the intention is to do it for the long haul. When you get together with a person for a short time and then go your separate ways it’s considered a fling or maybe dating. So then the question remains if the intention of marriage is a long time horizon and poly relationshipsReport

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Will Truman
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        @north I appreciate the open minded and honest curiosity – I absolutely don’t mind the questions; if I did I shouldn’t have brought up the topic.

        I agree re applying anecdote as data – my own experiences are no more a properly randomized sampling corrected for confounding factors than anyone else’s…

        Now, and correct me if I’m wrong, what I think you’re telling me is that you and your wife have been married for eleven years but from a poly relationship your history is more like Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog; then Dragonfrog+Mrs.DragonFrog+Mrs.DragonFrogs’ Paramour; (…)

        That’s about right, yes. It’s been Dragonfrog+Mrs.Dragonfrog+Mrs. Dragonfrog’s Paramour (who’s also a good friend of Dragonfrog’s) for the past year and a half now. I’ve been seeing someone the last few months as well.

        in terms of polygamous marital stability is this not a literal example of the instability of polygamous relationships? Yes, you and your wife have remained together throughout but all of these people adding to and departing from your relationship does suggest a certain, shall we say dynamic vibrant changeability to your relationship? (…) The monogamous equivalent would be people marrying, divorcing and marrying again repeatedly over eleven years yes?

        It’s a good question – and “dynamic vibrant changeability” captures it nicely. It does rather depend on how you count things, doesn’t it? If the beginning or end of every relationship of mine or my wife’s is seen as resetting the clock on the whole works, then we’ve only been in our current relationship for two or three months (Sure, French history dates at least to the end of the Roman Empire – but this is the Fifth Republic, and it only started in 1958). Is a relationship the whole spiderweb, or is it one strand of the web? If it’s the former, then poly relationships are definitely going to be less stable than monogamous ones just by the law of averages. In a big spiderweb, strands break and are added all the time; if that means it’s a whole new web each time, then small webs are much more stable than big ones – even if the reinforcement of adjacent strands meant that individual strands in big webs tended to last longer than standalone strands.

        Also would you consider your relationship fundamentally polygamous- as in your wife’s partners were in a relationship with her as important to her as her relationship with you?

        I wouldn’t presume to rank Mrs. Dragonfrog’s relationships in terms of their importance to her – but they are of equal validity. It hasn’t always been so – and I would consider the point where we stopped explicitly or implicitly categorizing relationships as “primary” and “secondary” to be the point at which we started doing it “right” – i.e. with everyone afforded the respect they deserved. Our relationship, cemented as it is by vows, years, a child and a shared home, has a good deal of weight to it, that her other relationships have not.

        What terms do you use for your groupings? What is it when a person enters or exits the relationship? What do you do about kids? On a policy level does an institution like marriage actually offer utility to people of your predilection? How would it help? What would it look like?

        Hoo boy, I don’t know I’ve even got the start of an answer to much of that.

        One thing I can comment on – if I understand Canadian law right, legal paternity of a child whose mother was married at the time of conception is entirely based on that marriage. Genetics are only relevant where the mother isn’t married. I can see the reasoning for this – you don’t want children raised in the same household disowned because of an affair.

        But it does mean that if Mrs. Dragonfrog’s and her Paramour wanted to have a child and raise it to know Mrs. DF’s Paramour as its father, even if it were fully planned, had Dragonfrog’s approval and support – the law would extend no benefit of parenthood to Mrs. DF’s Paramour. His access to his own child would be entirely dependent on his remaining on good terms with me and my wife. And that strikes me as a place where some of the benefits of marriage could be of benefit in poly relationships.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Will Truman
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        …and, to make it personal and specific – Mrs. Dragonfrog’s Paramour does in fact want a child at some point and we have seriously discussed the possibility of Mrs. Dragonfrog being the mother. And the prospect of the two of them having a child to which he has no recognized rights as a parent absolutely terrifies me for his sake.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        That is all enormously fascinating and I very much appreciate you sharing it so frankly, thank you. I do believe that one very concrete take away from all of this is that poly relationships are a whole universe apart from monogamous relationships both in terms of degrees and kind. I wish I could comment on Canadian law but as a gold star homosexual I know so little about child custody it’s not even remotely funny.Report

      • Avatar James Vonder Haar in reply to Will Truman
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        If the polys do wind up getting very far, it’ll probably be by throwing those undesirables under the bus. The poster-child of the movement, to the extent that it has one, will be the Dan Savage polyamorous folks, stressing the gender-equal nature of their communities, rather than patriarchal religious traditions.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to North
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      North, in a previous thread I argued that its going to be tremendously hard to create a polygamy law thats both equitable and that isn’t a legal clusterfish. The traditionalist polygyamous marriage; where you have one anchor spouse, usually a man, and numerous spouses, usually women, married to the anchor and nobody else is not equitable as currently understood. The properterial and dissolution of marriage parts is going to be extraordinary complicate as well.

      Legalized polygamy is going to be a gold mine for lawyers though.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq
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        Lee, yes I would assume it would be. Legally poly marriages would make the SSM change look like nothing at all, less than nothing really. As a practical matter I don’t think we even really have a mechanism to even understand how a legal formal poly marriage would work.

        Marriage, for instance, is often presented as a means of resolving that screaming argument over a patient’s bedside over care. The married spouse has control, period. Poly marriage, on the other hand, seems like an attempt to formally create that screaming argument at the bedside in law. How would it even work??Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Or worse, custody battles over kids are going to be immense. I used to situations in the previous thread to illustrate the problem.

        Situation 1:Woman A is married to men A, B, C and becomes pregnant with Man A’s child. As the child approaches school age, Woman A and Man A take a conservative turn and decides that they want to raise the child as a monogamous couple. Woman A divorces Man B and C but she also asks for child support and alimony from them. Does she have a right to alimony from men that she was legally married to but who aren’t the biological father of her child? Do Men B and C have custody rights? Are Men B and C still in some form of legal partnership with each other because both were married to Woman A at the same time, an inadvertant same sex marriage that needs to be severed by a separate divorce?

        Situation 2: Man A is married to Woman A and B. Woman A gives birth to Man A’s child but Woman B does most of the child-rearing and housework because Man A and Woman A are both high-level, heavy work-load professionals. Man A and Woman B decide to go monogamous. They want custody of the child but Woman A argues that she should have primary custody because she is the birth mother. Who is right?

        The polyamorous community treats these issues as quibbling to avoid the legalization of multiple marriages but to governments, these are very legitimate issues because they have very real consequences. Allowing for SSM just involved changing the wording in the existing law. Polyamory is going to be much more involved.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to LeeEsq
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        I have no idea what the polyamorous community considers these questions, but I certainly don’t think they’re “quibbling.”

        On a previous discussion here, someone (might even have been you) expressed it nicely – SSM is a no-brainer, plural marriage is a lot-of-brainer. It might well be the right thing to do, but it’s going to take a lot of work, there’s no way it’s going to be simple like SSM (not that SSM has been easy to achieve, but the change itself need be little more than a find-and-replace of “one man and one woman” to “two adults” in existing laws).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        dragonfrog, in other forums when I’ve read this issues a lot of people that describe themselves as poly have dismissed them out of hand and accussed me of overthinking the issue at best. At worse, I’ve been called a bigot for pointing out that legalizing polygamy has issues that SSM does not from a legal perspective. They never could describe to me how their regime of legalized polygamy would work though. Thats why I wrote that they dismiss these as quibbles.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        And the more I think about it, the more issues come up? How is spousal privilege going to work with plural marriages? Spouses can not be compelled to testify against each other in court. Lets say that Woman A is Married to Men A and B. Man A commits a crime. Obviously Woman A can not be compelled to testify against Man A, they are after all married. What about Man B? He isn’t technically married to Man A but he is in a sort of marital relationship by virture of both being married to Woman A at the same time and presumingly sharing some sort of living arrangement. Does he get the spousal privilege to?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Well obviously, Lee, this is the League so we have a higher standard of commenters*, including our poly commenters.

        *not counting me, I’m a partisan hack. The doc fills out the virtuous gay roster.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq
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        @leeesq I presume that, like now, a judge will decide what’s the best interest of minors and of justice. It’s not like family court cases now can be decided straightforward deterministic algorithms.

        The Terry Schiavo case, to use an extreme example, would have been no less a tough case – and no more of one – were there yet another spouse in the mix, and that’s, yes, regardless of the position in the dispute taken by that spouse.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        @kolohe, your probably right but the simple fact is that your going to have many more people, and therefore many more lawyers, involved in family law issues with plural marriages. Its going to make things more complicated and more head-ache inducing, especially if people approach with a lot of drama.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq
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        Lee, K, and dragonfrog,
        I think that poly marriages might not need/should not get the same privileges of normal marriage.
        It’s a no brainer to allow people who are romantically entangled to visit someone in the hospital. To do otherwise would be inhumane.

        But, on inheritance? On a whole host of other issues? I don’t think it’s WRONG to ask someone in a pretty complicated relationship to have to specify it (n.b. maybe not to the gov’t, just a notary).

        The compelled to testify business is … difficult. I’m not sure what the common law reason was for it in the first place, only that it exists. (was it to protect women from getting beaten by their husbands?)

        What happens when your entire community (50-100 people) is “poly married” to each other?

        Can we even have any legitimate reason for disallowing that?Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    IANAL, but the Utah law, which forbid people from

    1. Calling themselves married
    2. Having non-legally-binding ceremonies called “weddings”
    3. Cohabiting in groups of more than two (without the man pretending to be gay to fool his landlord)

    seems unconstitutional on its face. And, as Will points out, all of these are legal in (pretty much) every other state.Report

  3. Avatar LeeEsq
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    I do not support legalized poly-marriages for reasons previously discussed on this blog in other posts. However, there is no legtimate reason for the state to forbid informal polyamory, as in a person living with one legal spouse and a bunch of lovers in the same dwelling or whatever confriguration they deem works best for them.Report

  4. Avatar NewDealer
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    says:

    I’m going to agree with LeeEsq and Mike S. There is no legitimate state reason to not allow cohabitation but there are legitimate state reasons for not allowing multiple legal marriages (child custody, wills and trusts, taxes, etc.)

    Lee is also right in noting that there are two different polyamorous groups in the United States and how they roughly divide and this is rather interesting.

    Semi OT: Articles like this make me think that Salon.com exists to prove every fear and thought that conservatives have about liberals:

    http://www.salon.com/2012/01/20/our_polyamory_disaster/Report

  5. Avatar Kazzy
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    says:

    Great analysis, Will. Connecting this with gay marriage is a red herring.

    I don’t know who said it, but I heard someone say, “You want to talk about gateway drugs? 100% of heroin users started with a baby bottle in their hands. I guess that makes milk the ultimate gateway drug.”Report

  6. Avatar Damon
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    says:

    While I don’t think this is a “I told you so” instance, I’ll repeat what I’ve said before. I see no compelling reason not to allow poly marriage and I dont’ view any of the concerns listed above a much more than “legal wrangling”–easy enough to get fixed. This also is the continuation of the “marriage for all” trendline. Once the “traditional” concept of marriage was broken, this is the logical outcome. Menken said something about the voters getting what they wanted, good and hard.

    And finally, I’ll add my long standing caveat. I’m all for marriage to anyone who wants it. The state should have no say in the matter nor should anyone derive special consideration for it.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Damon
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      says:

      Oh indeed Damon, the pure libertarian copout on the subject of marriage remains philosophically irreproachable, intellectually rock solid and a political fantasy but it certainly bears noting.

      As to Poly Marriage; I’m not a supporter currently but if the people who actually want poly marriage did their homework I could possibly be persuaded to support it.
      To clarify their homework would be:
      -Organize, demonstrate they exist and that there’s a movement of like-minded people devoted to the cause.
      -Define their terms, what is poly marriage?
      -Define their issues, how does current law cause them difficulties?
      -Define their goals: what form of legal poly marriage do they seek? How would it actually work- specifically?
      -Answer challenges: How would modern poly marriage avoid the horror show historical baggage of poly relationships of the past? For instance.
      -Agitate and persuade people. Why is it that 9 out of 10 people publicly pushing poly marriage have no interest in poly marriage for themselves but are using it as a foil against something else?Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        Well, frankly, I don’t see why anyone has to convice you to allow them to arrange their lives how they choose.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        @north

        “Oh indeed Damon, the pure libertarian copout on the subject of marriage remains philosophically irreproachable, intellectually rock solid and a political fantasy but it certainly bears noting.”

        Ha! Oh, man, that was good…..Full endorsement with one little quibble.

        The pure libertarian copout on marriage is not actually rock solid intellectually.

        After all, the reason that we have state recognition of marriages is that people want their marriages to be recognized by the state. Now I know that “responding to the wants and needs of its citizenry” isn’t one of the accepted functions of the state in Libertarian dogma, but it’s a pretty important one to everyone else.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        Damon: No one has to if they wish to just live however they like (barring some isolated local anti polygamy laws which I oppose) but if they wish to get in on the “statist” institution of formal marriage they will have a lot of persuading to do.

        Herb:
        The point you’re bringing up is fundamentally a political issue. The ur-libertarian position that no marriage arrangements should be recognized by the state (and that people privately arrange them on their own) is, at its core, quite intellectually and philosophically coherent. That people in general have absolutely no interest in that solution in any form of reality is a political problem.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to North
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        says:

        Well, frankly, I don’t see why anyone has to convice you to allow them to arrange their lives how they choose

        Given marriage comes with a whole basketful of legal rights, responsibilities, and privileges — um, yeah.They — people seeking legalized polygamous marriages — are gonna have to explain how the legal framework will work.

        Gay marriage? Easy. Just strike gender references (husband and wife turns to “spouses”) and you’re golden. It’s otherwise functionally identical to straight marriages. Two people, equitable exchange of rights and responsibilities, etc.There are no new legal can of worms, no new law, no changes to the boilerplate concepts of ‘marriage’ (even the issues with reproduction have been hashed out by straight couples, since there are plenty of such marriages with kids who are not biologically both, or either, of the parent’s).

        But polygamy? For the simplest example: Medical power of attorney. It’s pretty easy when your default is “My spouse”. It’s a lot harder when you have multiple spouses, which means you need some mechanism to handle when they disagree.

        You can handle such things — but a polygamous marriage, to function like a standard marriage (gay or straight) would frankly need the work of a good contract lawyer and then the partners would have to horse it around to settle whatever legal disputes popped up, since the stock framework for marriage doesn’t apply.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        @north “The ur-libertarian position that no marriage arrangements should be recognized by the state (and that people privately arrange them on their own) is, at its core, quite intellectually and philosophically coherent.”

        Agree partially. The ur-libertarian view is intellectually and philosophically coherent in a kind of tautological garbage in, garbage out kind of way. Minarchists don’t like it because “recognizing voluntary associations” isn’t one of the state’s “legitimate” night-watchman functions. Anarchists don’t like it because they refuse to accept the legitimacy of the state in the first place.

        In other words, the “no marriage recognition” view is consistent with their previous established philosophical beliefs. But it doesn’t take into account historical context, political reality, people’s desires, or how life is actually lived, all things that must be considered in order to call it “intellectually and philosophically coherent.”Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to North
        Ignored
        says:

        You are indeed quite correct. People would rather beg the state for favors and use the state to punish those who don’t follow their strict intrepertatin of how people should live.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon
      Ignored
      says:

      So we should pay head of household the same as a family, in terms of government benefits?
      Pay based on a per capita basis?Report

    • Avatar Rod in reply to Damon
      Ignored
      says:

      The hardcore libertarian position on marriage is based on a fundamental misapprehension of the nature of marriage. I’ve been married twice, in two different states, and at no time did I sign a contract with my wife agreeing to anything. The closest I came was a public exchange of vows. Vows which actually carry little legal weight and can be altered at will. What made us married was actually the signatures of a public official and two witnesses on a marriage certificate, a declarative document rather than a contract. If anything it’s more akin to a property deed in that it legally establishes a particular relationship between two people in a similar fashion to a deed establishing a property relationship between a human and a piece of real estate. All the rights, obligations, privileges, and duties flow from laws based on that relationship. If anything, it’s more of a contract between the state or society and the people being married.

      As such, the rationale for the existence of this legal institution is a quid pro quo; the rights and privileges accruing to the married parties are balanced by duties and obligations that benefit society at large.

      When contemplating the extension of this institution to other forms of relationships, such as same-sex couples and polyamorous relationships, this quid pro quo needs to be examined. Does it further the interests of society as well as the interests of the immediate parties? I believe, and the consensus is developing, that the answer in the case of ssm is yes. For poly relationships the arguments for and against are much less clear.

      There is no “right” to be married. There’s only a right to equal protection under the 14th amendment, a right which is contingent on being similarly situated. Inter-racial? Yes. Same-sex? A developing yes. Poly? The case has yet to be made.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Rod
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        says:

        You’re quite correct, there is no right to be married. And as to Polys that the case is still being made, I think it’s already there, within the following logic. If hetro and SS folk can get married, why can’t “others”? Right back at the equal protection clause.

        Nor is it in the state’s authority to permit or approve or license marriage, regardless of what it actually does. As it was clearly identified in our last discussion of SSM, those wanting SSM wanted the state’s approval and the tax and legal benefits that accrued from that approval. I reject that entire concept. They were essentially arguing the following: “Hey, those heteros get all these tax and legal goodies and we want them too.” No one would really give a damn if there weren’t any bennies to get, except for the hard core religious, so the argument really is over who’s getting/not getting freebies. So, let’s get rid of the freebies and let everyone marry anyone they damn well please.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        Given that your response boils down to nuh-huh, i.e. simple contradiction without benefit of a logically developed argument, I decline to further waste my time with you.

        Good-day, sir.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        The hardcore libertarian position on marriage is based on a fundamental misapprehension of the nature of marriage.

        I don’t see it as a misapprehension of the nature of marriage but a reasonable measurement of “my business” when applied to “your marriage”.

        You want to get married? Ain’t nobody hurtin’ nobody?

        Knock yourself out.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        @Damon

        “I reject that entire concept. They were essentially arguing the following: “Hey, those heteros get all these tax and legal goodies and we want them too.””

        Do you reject the entire concept of corporations too?Report

      • Avatar Jonathan McLeod in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        Without getting bogged down in the “right” vs. “freedom” debate, there totally is a right to be married. It’d be covered by freedom of association (you guys have that in the States, right?). There is, perhaps, no “right” for your marriage to be recognized by the state (though, depending what the state wants to do to you, maybe there is such a right).Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rod
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        says:

        It’s not phrased as “freedom of association” but “peaceful assembly”. I’m pretty sure that that covers the right to cohabitate… but you have to get into equal protection territory if you want to start exploring stuff like probate.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        No one would really give a damn if there weren’t any bennies to get, except for the hard core religious,

        So you’re calling all of the same-sex couple who’ve explained what marriage means to them, including several of the contributors here, liars?Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        @herb
        I don’t see the connection. Corporations are legal fictions who have very limited legal rights vs real people.Report

      • Avatar Herb in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        @damon “I don’t see the connection.”

        Of course you don’t. You see state recognition of marriage as the state giving out tax and legal bennies, or even “freebies” as you put it, but state recognition of a corporate charter….well, that’s different.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        @jaybird ,

        I don’t see it as a misapprehension of the nature of marriage but a reasonable measurement of “my business” when applied to “your marriage”.

        You want to get married? Ain’t nobody hurtin’ nobody?

        But isn’t that begging the question more than a little bit? I said that the libertarian misapprehends the nature of marriage by viewing it solely as an agreement between the parties in the marriage with no other parties having any legitimate say or stake in the matter. I then pointed out that it’s really an agreement between the individuals involved and society as a whole. It’s like you just ignored everything I wrote and, in doing so, actually proved my point, or at least certainly didn’t even try to disprove it. I mean, you didn’t deny the position I ascribed to you and you didn’t even attempt to counter my assertion vis-a-vis my conception of marriage.

        In any case, there are at least potentially additional stakeholders in the form of children. Stakeholders who have no say regarding the circumstances they’re born into.

        Let me give you another example: In ’02 and ’03 I worked for current employer. I quit, worked elsewhere for a while, and came back a little over two years ago. I was (am) enrolled in their health plan both times. This second time I had to provide proof that my claimed dependents were actually eligible, something I didn’t have to do the first time. Why, I asked? Because they were having employees claiming spouses and kids who weren’t actually spouses and kids, and driving up the cost of the benefit plan. Requiring proof–in the form of state-issued documents–put a stop to that crap.

        State recognition of marriage, as well as documented parentage, are important services provided to the citizens. And believe it or not, the restrictions are actually intended to prevent harms. They went too far, certainly, and potential harm was ascribed inappropriately, but that’s mostly been or being rolled back. What remains–age, incest, and poly–are, in order, defensible, at least situationally defensible, and maybe situationally defensible, depending.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        Rod, see it more as a “I don’t care what you do with your free time and it ain’t none of my business anyway” (standard disclaimers about nobody being hurt, etc).

        I don’t see how my not caring what you do with your free time (and, besides, it’s none of my business) misapprehends anything *UNLESS* your marriage is something that I should care about and how it is my business.

        Now if you want to give examples of people hurting others and/or abusing the system so that it is my business and having outcomes that directly affect me so that I have no choice but to care, that’s great. I’ll agree to each.

        But the second you start pointing out to me that I should care about your marriage and that it is my business, I’m stuck wondering “what if I don’t approve?”Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        When it comes to “I don’t care” “Well, you *SHOULD* care”, I don’t see where the burden of proof is.

        It certainly seems to me that if you’re not hurting anybody (least of all, me), then the burden of proof is on you.

        I mean, this is the argument that I gave against the Pro Traditional Marriage folks. It’s weird that I’m so soon giving it against the Pro Marriage 2.0 folks.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Rod
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        says:

        Jaybird, you’re stuck in a bad conceptual rut on this. No matter what anyone argues, you just keep on complaining that about why anyone should care.

        That’s not the main point here.

        Since at least Lawrence v. Texas the government doesn’t give a crap if you sleep with another man. It doesn’t care if you want to say you’re married. Russell and his hubby had a church wedding and everything. The state didn’t say you can’t do that. But it did say we won’t recognize it as a legal marriage.

        It wasn’t, at least more recently, an issue of having a right restricted. It was about the state not granting recognition. It’s like the difference between the state telling you you can’t smoke pot and telling you they won’t pay for your prescriptions.

        So if you want to invite your best friend over for a three-way, go for it. Hell, get half a dozen of your closest friends together and make daisy chains, fairy circles, and clusterfucks. Knock yourself out. Wash up and get dressed, find an appropriate clergy, exchange a multitude of vows, and call yourselves married. Neither I nor the state gives a shit. But don’t expect the state to recognize it as any kind of legitimate marriage.

        If you expect society and the state to take that positive step you need to make the case for why they and the larger society should do anything more than just leave you alone.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rod
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        says:

        But don’t expect the state to recognize it as any kind of legitimate marriage.

        I don’t see the state as having the competence.

        But when it comes to such things as what I’d call “the manila folder stuff” with regards to marriage, I *DID* argue that, in the absence of the state having so many fingers in so many pies, allowing life partners to get access to the same small amount of protection from intrusion of the government that straight marriages have access to. Why? Well, for one thing, people are getting hurt.

        Which, you may recall, is covered by my position.

        But, to be honest, my ideas of what constitutes “marriage” is somewhat different from what is covered by “the manila folder stuff”.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Rod
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        says:

        allowing life partners to get access to the same small amount of protection from intrusion of the government that straight marriages have access to.

        Flesh this out for me, because I have no clue what the fuck you mean by “intrusion” here. Frankly I find your framing incomprehensible. I have no idea what you’re talking about. Maybe examples would help.Report

      • Avatar Rod in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        I also don’t know what you mean by the “state as having the competence”. Competence to do what? Say you can’t marry a six-year old? Say you can’t marry your sister (because, you know, genetics)? Or are you using that word to mean something other than the dictionary definition?

        And what the hell do you mean by “manila folder stuff”? Can you give me some examples?

        And if you’ve ever actually stated your position, I’m afraid I missed it in the usual obscurantist, quasi-Socratic b.s. that everyone complains about.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Rod
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        says:

        The competence to confer legitimacy upon a marriage. Or, well, anything, really.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        There’s an essay in which I get into the weeds here.

        If you don’t feel like clicking, the distinction I make is between “Marriage In The Eyes Of God” and “Marriage In The Eyes Of The State”.

        I don’t know that I have the competence to say whether two people are “really” married. Here’s an example of two gay people who have been together for 20 years. Here, by comparison, is an example of Liza Minnelli and David Gest. Which of the two are really married?

        Well, at the time of the comment, the argument was that all could be proffered (or withheld) was Marriage In The Eyes Of The State. The “boring manila folder stuff” that consisted of tax stuff, inheritance stuff, immigration stuff, and other lawyer stuff.

        Marriage In The Eyes Of God, by comparison, consists of things like conversations about the requirements of the weekend with regards to gifts, food, and time. Difficult to quantify but, like obscenity, one knows it when one sees it.

        My position is that someones who claim to be Married In The Eyes Of God are making a claim that I, and by extension you, and by extension “society”, do not have the competence to argue against. All we have on our side is the ability to force people into more, or fewer, legal hassles.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        Flesh this out for me, because I have no clue what the fuck you mean by “intrusion” here.

        When it comes to immigration, can anyone who wishes to move here, move here? Nope. But the fiance visa is pretty much the easiest way for a person of one gender to have a person of the other gender move to the US. At this moment in time, I’m pretty sure that we haven’t tested whether the 14th Amendment applies to a same-sex couple with regards to the fiance visa. At this point, I’m pretty sure that if you are in a same-sex relationship, you cannot speed up the immigration process for your partner. That’s an intrusion.

        When it comes to taxation, there are a non-trivial number of marriages where the two people are better off being taxed at the married rate than the single rate. That’s an intrusion.

        A husband cannot be compelled to testify against his wife (nor vice-versa) in a court of law. This has not yet been established for same-sex couples. That’s an intrusion.

        There are issues of inheritance (that I’m sure you’ve heard of) as well as hospital visitation, adoption, and other situations involving a bureaucrat holding a manila folder explaining how the rules state this, that, or the other… and this speech would not have been given to a different sex married couple (though, perhaps, a few might have been given to a common law marriage or mere cohabitants). These are intrusions.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Rod
        Ignored
        says:

        @Herb
        Well, yah. A corporation isn’t a human being and doesn’t have innate rights.Report

  7. Avatar Mike Dwyer
    Ignored
    says:

    I scanned the comment thread pretty quickly so I hope I am not making the same points here as someone else:

    My feelings on polygamy is that you cannot oppose it on any kind of ‘worst case scenario’ grounds because this approach was tried for years with SSM and it has failed most of the legal and social challenges. So in the initial conversation about whether or not we want to legalize polygamy I think you have to assume that we can overcome all of the logistical challenges, protect child brides, figure out how to draw up a legal contract with multiple parties (seems like we already know how to do that in the business world) and handle complicated divorces. So when we look at polygamy it has to be in the best light and I think it really just comes down to our moral and social preference of monogamy verses polygamy. IMO that is where the conversation should happen.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Dwyer
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      says:

      Well, there are some worst case scenarios that you can actually point to with polygamy.

      When it came to SSM, the general argument against it was never of the form “I knew two guys who got married and then X happened” because X happened in dozens and hundreds and thousands of heterosexual marriages. It always took the form “If we allow SSM, then we’ll have to deal with theoretical situations!”

      When it comes to polygamous marriages, you can actually point to such things as “this thing that happened”.Report

      • Avatar Patrick in reply to Jaybird
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        says:

        Four people are in a polygamous marriage. One of them gets into a car accident and is on a respirator with significant brain damage.

        There is no preexisting DNR or living will. One of the partners – for the sake of argument, let’s say the first – says, “He told me over and over that he’d want us to pull the plug”. The second says, “No way”. The third agrees with one of them.

        Who wins?

        I will tell you this, we don’t want a judge to decide. I’m sure, given a hard case, that a judge will do their best. But we’ve seen that party and it’s ugly as hell.

        Any way you slice it, this is different. This doesn’t make these things insurmountable things, but it doesn’t make them not things, either.Report

      • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        Patrick,

        What if the govt required medical power of attorney, etc before entering into polygamous relationships.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        @mike-dwyer

        What you’re asking, I think, boils down to “What if, before you can enter into a polygamous marriage, you have to make private arrangements to take care of all the stuff that’s handled automatically in a two-person marriage?”]

        My response is “Then they can sign all of those papers, have whatever ceremony they like, call themselves married, and then go about their business.” Since society as a whole has no idea how a polygamous marriage should be treated by the legal system, let the people who want to form one try to figure that out. Maybe in fifty years or so we’ll have some idea of what works and what doesn’t.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird
        Ignored
        says:

        In a “typical” polygamous marriage (assuming there is a typical one), is everyone married to everyone? Or is it typically such that all the women are married to the man (or vice versa) but have no formal relationship with one another?

        While not quite the same, it seems that analogous situations come up all the time. Dad is on his death bed, mom has passed away, so the children are left to sort it out. But what if the children disagree? Also, dad had siblings, who would also like to be involved. And he left nothing in writing. I’m pretty sure we have “next-of-kin” laws that say absent documentation, here is the hierarchy of relations. Couldn’t we do the same in polygamous marriages? If not otherwise stated, we’ll go down the line chronologically, giving preference to the most senior partner? I actually see that being the easiest sort of thing to determine; it just seems so difficult because it involves matters of life and death.

        The trickier stuff will have to do with “dependent” stuff. Their are all sorts of benefits we offer spouses, often via the government. Will every spouse be entitled to this? Or would we divide it between then? Something in the middle? The answer to this would rely on two primary factors: 1) What is the intention of these programs? 2) For funds that come via the government, how viable is a system that might make multiple payouts to the relatives of a single person who paid into the system?Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Mike Dwyer
      Ignored
      says:

      Mike,
      I think we can codify our preference for monogamy without refusing all benefits to the polygamist.
      It doesnt’ really seem … humane… to not let someone visit their partner in the hospital.

      I’m actually okay with polygamists having to jump through more hoops on the “inheritance” aspect, because, um, your relationships are more complicated. It’s not much for the gov’t to demand that you think (aka get notarized) about where your money goes when you die.Report

  8. Avatar Rod
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    says:

    As has been noted by others, proponents of poly marriage need to make their case and they first need to define what they’re talking about.

    One form of plural marriage could be a “molecular” model, consisting of a series of pairwise bonds in various arrangements. This would have the advantage of keeping the form of marriage as it is now, but just dropping the “one at a time” rule.

    The second form would be a kind of ball of marijosity, where the marriage is like a club that you would join. This seems a lot more problematic.

    In either case, rules for community property, child custody/guardianship, and entry/exit need to be explicated before we can really have much of a discussion.Report

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