Friday, March 17, 2006

Big Hate

Pandora and Polygamy
Once same-sex marriage is OK, polygamy's next

Here comes the flood!

I suppose it was inevitable that every conservative-minded columnist with a vague knowledge of HBO would pick up on the premiere of Big Love, a show about a Utah man with three wives, as the peg on which to hang a column about how gay marriage is a slippery slope toward legalized polygamy.

Katherine Kersten, the Star Tribune's attempt at Fox News-style balance, even notes that the show's creators are a gay couple, as if that somehow proved a connection that she asserts in her opening paragraph:
The fact is, once you adopt same-sex marriage -- legally changing the standard for marriage from one-man, one-woman to a "committed relationship" -- there is no principled way to prevent its extension to polygamy or other forms of "plural marriage" or partnership.
She's full of shit, of course. Marriage is easily defined as a union of two people in a committed and mutually-supportive relationship. Removing the gender exclusion does not automatically, as Kersten would have you believe, open the door to removing the number from the definition as well.

Charles Krauthammer, too, suggests that the slope is not merely slippery, but inevitable, and that legalized polygamy will follow gay marriage as surely as night follows day. He uses some fancy words to suggest that he's right, but I'm not buying.

He does make at least one genuinely interesting point, though:
What is historically odd is that as gay marriage is gaining acceptance, the resistance to polygamy is much more powerful. Yet until this generation, gay marriage had been sanctioned by no society that we know of, anywhere at any time in history. On the other hand, polygamy was sanctioned, indeed common, in large parts of the world through large swaths of history, most notably the biblical Middle East and through much of the Islamic world.
Although there are those who would suggest that even Middle Ages Catholicism allowed gays a freer hand than they are given today, in general Krauthammer's assertion is correct. Of course, the whole nature of marriage was different in places where polygamy was considered the ideal. Men owned their wives, and having many of them was akin to having many houses. (In Big Love, the two go together!) Do Krauthammer and Kersten wish to go back to those times, those ways? Do they wish to forsake the gains we have made in turning marriage into a union of equals?

Of course not, and Krauthammer, at least, acknowledges that neither gay marriage nor polygamy is likely to lead to the downfall of civilization. (I would argue, self-interestedly, of course, that polygamy is more likely than gay marriage to have this effect. As Bill Maher noted last week, "The question all women have to look in the mirror and ask themselves is, 'Would you rather be the second wife of George Clooney or the only wife of Willard Scott?'" If women had the option of becoming the second wife of a man of means [and, in the case of Clooney, devilish good looks], why would they become the first wife of a man without? And what would become of the men without? Surely that will lead to more unrest than two men watching football together in a well-decorated house and sharing a bed afterward.)

Kersten, though, plays her standard Cassandra, pointing to Canada as if crossing the border were akin to passing into hell as she notes that 20 percent of our neighbors to the north are "willing to accept polygamy." I'm sure, Katherine, that all of them are champing at the bit to marry six other people. But that doesn't mean you need to get hysterical as you wave your red cape in front of your readers:
What's the likely endpoint? Marriage may be redefined out of existence, and replaced by a flexible, contract-based system of government-registered relationships. So get ready. Today gay marriage supporters' mantra is, "How does my same-sex marriage harm your marriage?" Down the road it may be, "How does my marriage of two men and a woman harm your marriage?" If we don't answer the first question with resolve -- making clear that "one man-one woman" is at the heart of marriage in Minnesota -- we may not have a chance to answer the second.
See how that works? Let there be no doubt; while Krauthammer simply wants to talk reasonably about these things (and acknowledges ambivalence regarding gay marriage, because "I have gay friends and feel the pain of their inability to have the same level of social approbation and confirmation of their relationship with a loved one"), for Kersten it's all a big game, all a way to talk about the one thing she loves to deride more than any other. She talks about how great past generations were in one column, about teachers who do things the traditional way in another--always positive, always almost ridiculously sunny about how great the Fox News, Christian-conservative side of the world is. And then, every few months, her vitriol comes spilling out, always about gay marriage.

Maybe instead of banning gay marriage, Kersten just needs to cancel her subscription to HBO. That would improve her closed-minded life a lot more than a gay marriage ban.

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