Legalize Polygamy: The Ongoing Debate Over Marriage Equality

Conservatives have long made the argument that, if you allow marriage to be redefined to include gay marriage, legalizing polygamy will be next. This refrain is often followed by the assertion that people will start demanding the privilege to marry their pets, and, while this demand is perhaps a tad far-fetched, the push for legalizing plural marriage has already begun.

Jillian Keenan kicked off a debate across the internet with her Slate opinion column, “Legalize Polygamy,” which argues that “Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice.”

Keenan suggests that legalizing polygamy would offer protections to the children of polygamous relationships, bestows what should already be a constitutional right, and empowers women to make any choice that they please.

“As a feminist, it’s easy and intuitive to support women who choose education, independence, and careers,” Keenan argues. “It’s not as intuitive to support women who choose values and lifestyles that seem outdated or even sexist, but those women deserve our respect just as much as any others. It’s condescending, not supportive, to minimize them as mere “victims” without considering the possibility that some of them have simply made a different choice.”

Keenan’s argument explicitly draws on the victories made in the battle to legalize gay marriage:

“The definition of marriage is plastic. Just like heterosexual marriage is no better or worse than homosexual marriage, marriage between two consenting adults is not inherently more or less “correct” than marriage among three (or four, or six) consenting adults. Though polygamists are a minority—a tiny minority, in fact—freedom has no value unless it extends to even the smallest and most marginalized groups among us. So let’s fight for marriage equality until it extends to every same-sex couple in the United States—and then let’s keep fighting. We’re not done yet.”

Benjamin Brophy, in a blog post for the American Spectator, openly mocked Keenen’s argument:

“Just when I thought that the Left couldn’t make it any easier to ridicule them, Slate delivers this delightful piece. The author (a feminist? Odd) argues that we should indeed legalize polygamy.

“In a refreshing bout of honesty, this author wants to throw monogamy out the door. If marriage doesn’t mean at least TRYING to be monogamous, what the heck are we doing? Might as well break out the Roman costumes and prepare for the endless orgies.”

Bryan Preston over at PJ Media referred to Keenan’s argument as “teenage level thinking.” He asserts:

“The fact is, in many instances rights compete against each other. Rights are often invented in order to oppress, not liberate. The “right” to health care, for instance, can end up commanding someone to surrender what they have earned to pay for someone else’s doctor bills. The “right” to free birth control results in commanding others to give up their right of conscience, on penalty of losing their livelihoods. Sandra Fluke is in competition with the owners of Hobby Lobby on this point right now.”

The Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group well-known for its anti-LGBT stances, has long argued that legalizing gay marriage is a slippery slope that will lead to legalizing polygamy. Tony Perkins, the organization’s president, recently presented the slippery slope argument on MSNBC.

The debate over over whether to legalize polygamy may not have yet entered the broader public discourse, but conservatives are right — it’s coming. If you take the time to look, you see that the movement to legalize polygamy is already here.

[Image via ShutterStock]