Legal relationship status should be based solely on consensuality, the right of self-ownership, and bodily sovereignty.Legal recognition of either same sex or polyamorous unions is simply the acknowledgement by the authorities of existing relationship agreements. People should be free to form relationship contracts with whomever they choose, provided all parties are sane, of consenting age, and not under duress. As in other contract law, government should only intervene when there is a clear dispute between parties to the agreement, or when a third party can demonstrate a compelling interest. Where consensual adult relationships are concerned, this two-pronged test for government intervention clearly fails.
I can think of only two very limited areas where the state might have a legitimate interest in regulating relationships:
- Where violence, coercion, or abuse is suspected to be involved.
- For public health, incest and STI prevention.
Any other agenda could be seen as violating basic human rights. Whenever the government gets involved in deciding what lifestyles are legitimate, it invariably leads to persecution and stigmatization of anyone who does not conform. We’ve seen the travesty as politicians have fallen all over themselves to claim to support quote “civil unions” for gay people, but not full marriage. I want to know what the practical difference would really be? If a heterosexual couple gets married by simply going to the courthouse and signing their forms, how is this different from a quote “civil union?”
Now, it would be nearly impossible to find a more sacred cow than heterosexual marriage. But let’s look at the civil purpose for marriage: to formalize a number of separate and important contracts between two people.
- A durable power of attorney for healthcare (or healthcare proxy)
- A living together (or domestic partnership) agreement
- A will
- A durable power of attorney for financial management
Among others. The Alternatives to Marriage project has a website called unmarried.org, which lays out these numerous and complicated agreements which are simply assumed to exist by the law when someone signs a marriage certificate.
Polls have shown that Americans overwhelmingly oppose the recognition of any kind of non-traditional marriage. But let’s look at some of the results: couples who spend years together but who are not married can be denied visitation rights in hospitals, or have their wishes ignored when it comes to hospice care. Such people can also often be shut-out by their partner’s family, who may think because the relationship has no legal standing that they are free to, say, ban a life partner from attending a funeral. But these kinds of moral travesties are not limited to the same-sex relationships. Take the case of April DiVillbiss, whose grandmother successfully sued in 1999 to have her child removed and put in foster care. DiVilbiss’ crime? The young mother had appeared on MTV’s “Love in the ‘90’s” show, which showcased her live-in relationship with two men.
The DiVillbiss case was about as far away from patriarchal polygamy as you can get, in fact, it would technically be called polyandry—the three were not actually married of course. But still–DiVillbiss had done the unthinkable: demonstrate that is was possible for a woman to be non-monogamous, like it, and actually be willing to fight for it. This was a deep challenge to a social order which saw women as sexual gatekeepers. Women’s social value has often been defined in terms of their willingness to parcel out sex sparingly, keep adventurous men in line, and reserve sex for committed monogamous relationships. For daring to question monogamy in such a bold manner, DiVillbiss was slapped down in July of 1999, and lost the right to raise her own child.
What’s really at stake here is my first premise of self-ownership. Traditional marriage uses patriarchal authority and theological arguments to nullify this premise. It’s funny if you think about it: So-called ‘traditional’ marriage is actually polygamy in a sense. Most people think that there are only two people involved. But the third and fourth parties are not human. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m talking about god, the state, or both. What a nightmare foursome THAT is. You, your one-true-love, god, and the government.
Speaking of strictly human relationships, every argument against same-sex marriage can be used equally well against polygamy, polyandry, or polyamory. It’s not right, it’s against god’s law, etc. Conservatives need to make up their mind: Are they against homosexuality, promiscuity, or both? Either way you have total hypocrisy! How many straight couples suffer from infidelity? How many Christian men do you know who would actually turn down no-strings sex from multiple women? Clearly conservatives are sexual hypocrites.
But in all seriousness, they do raise an important issue: promiscuity does lead to an increase in sexually transmitted disease—which is one of the only valid points they ever raise. In the same breath, they speak out against condom use—but that’s another story.
Marriage almost always involves some sort of fidelity pledge, so same-sex or multi-partner commitment would actually reduce the risk of STD’s compared to non-committed relationships of any style. So with either gay OR polygamous marriage, the STD objection falls by the wayside.
To me the whole furor feeds on itself and makes no sense: Honestly, I think it comes down to three key points:
- Conservative “family-values” types who have accepted monogamous lifestyles are bothered by seeing others getting more and different kinds of sex than they are. After all, these are the people who brought you the original laws against blowjobs. (Incidentally, the American blowjob law was struck down in 2003 by the Supreme Court in the Lawrence vs. Texas case.)
- Followers of traditional religion see marriage as a covenant involving god, and can’t stand the idea of any relationship which wasn’t sanctioned in one of their ancient holy books. They haven’t yet accepted human beings as having sufficient self-worth to figure things out on their own.
- Opponents of non-traditional marriage seem to follow a herd mentality. This jibes with their idea of a creator, who made everyone the same.
Now, let me be clear here: no one is trying to convince people who want monogamous, committed relationships to have anything else. So I don’t see how a changing definition of marriage even affects the traditional family. They can go on being traditional until the cows come home. No one is trying to force red-state couples with children to start taking on additional wives. Or force red-blooded homophobic American men to turn gay and marry other men. But from all the shameless rhetoric, you’d think they were. It’s just total alarmist politics, and it panders to the most craven political impulses you can possibly imagine.
Commentator Stanley Kurtz writes about what he calles a quote “complex [anti-marriage] coalition” from the ultra-conservative National Review Online:
This complex coalition ranging from old-fashioned Humphrey-style liberals to anti-marriage feminist radicals, to libertarian conservatives, is what will power future efforts to radically deconstruct marriage. And we’re only at the very beginning of these efforts. For the most part, cultural radicals are holding back, knowing that anything they say may jeopardize the movement for same-sex marriage by validating slippery-slope fears. The remarkable thing is that, at this early stage, the radicals have forced themselves so openly into the cultural argument. That is a sure sign that if same-sex marriage were to be safely legalized nationally, the way would finally be open to a truly concerted campaign to transform marriage by opening it up to polygamy and polyamory, or by replacing it with an infinitely flexible partnership system. Whatever we’re seeing now is only the barest hint of what will happen once the coast is clear.
What Kurtz is describing is not radical, and it’s no calamity. We should welcome an infinitely flexible partnership system. Why not? It would be a compassionate and entirely appropriate response, to the incredible diversity of human love styles.
True family values would support different forms of families, and would simply add to the respect and understanding all families would then have for each other. Family is about love, togetherness, mutual support, and sharing of interests, after all.
So to me, family values are simply human values. They must be separated from the twin oppressors of religion and government. Only individuals can decide what their own family-values are, and they should be free to participate in whatever lifestyle they choose.
Note: Looking back on this from a post-Obergefell perspective, these arguments seem quaint and ridiculous. Gay marriage has been legal for nearly a decade, and nothing untoward happened. American support for gay marriage reached an all time high of 71% this year, just in time for that old religious bigot Justice Clarence Thomas to opine that the Obergefell decision should be revisited. And here we go again. –Sean Prophet, August 2022