~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I O 93 93/93 I O ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Location: LaGrange, Kentucky, United States

The opinions and interests of a husband, analyst and Iraq war veteran.


Friday, June 09, 2006

On gay marriage

For various reasons, philosophical, practical and according to my own sense of liberal justice, I support the legalization of monogamous gay marriage. For me, it basically comes down to mirroring the recognition we already grant monogamous hetero couples without children. But defending this position has always been a bit tricky for me. I felt I was walking a fine line between the Beatles' childish and naive All You Need Is Love and Lennon's hellishly nihilistic Imagine. How to explain why I support gay marriage without being lumped into either of these two philosophically noxious camps?

Well, Stanley Kurtz, writing in the Weekly Standard last week, has done me a great service. He has written a clear, rational rebuttal of polygamy and polyamory. He's strengthened my support for gay marriage and highlighted the dangerous tactics of some gay marriage advocates. (More on this later.) Kurtz has been meticulously researching and documenting the resurgence of polygamist chic not just here in the West, but in the Islamic World as well.

Polygamy Versus Democracy
You can't have both.
by Stanley Kurtz
06/05/2006, Volume 011, Issue 36

IT TOOK A TELEVISION SERIES about a Viagra-popping patriarch with three friendly/jealous wives and tightly scheduled evenings to set off a serious public debate about polygamy. And that was precisely the intention of the creators of this now infamous television show--no, not Big Love, the American series that debuted on HBO in March, but 'Ailat Al-Hagg Metwalli (Hagg Metwalli's Family), an Egyptian serial that stirred emotions and sparked a bitter debate about polygamy in the Muslim world during the holy month of Ramadan 2001.

A debate that pitted Muslim against Muslim, one side arguing in favor of traditional, patriarchal authority, the other wanting a reformation of the traditional definitions that would protect women from abuse of that authority. That this debate happened at all gives me hope for democracy in the Mid-East. Kurtz then names the touchstone that the rest of his article is based upon, the unanimous 1878 Supreme Court dicision upholding the constitutionality of anti-polygamy law, Reynolds v. United States...

Reynolds v. United States is a landmark decision. It was the first Supreme Court case to clarify the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom by limiting that freedom to beliefs, rather than social practices (like polygamy or suttee, the former Hindu custom of burning widows alive on their husband's funeral pyre). Interestingly, Reynolds also defends the idea that American democracy rests upon specific family structures, which are legitimately protected by law.

... and returns to Reynolds often as he makes the historical case that polygamy and polyamory are incompatible with the principles of Western liberal democracy. And that they stand opposed to the institution of... love!

The 12-year federal drive to enforce Reynolds was far more than a quest to root out polygamy. In effect, the fight against polygamy was a slow, frustrating, expensive, ultimately successful campaign to democratize Utah. (The parallels to the war on terror are eerie.)


Given the demonstration effect of the Civil War, polygamists knew that armed resistance was futile. Yet by evading capture and withholding the evidence needed for conviction, the Mormon leadership hoped to win a legal war of attrition. Still, Mormon resistance was limited by the fear of provoking a full-fledged military occupation, and by the thirst for statehood.


Why were Americans outraged by polygamy? In a word, because of love. The idea of love as central to marriage, by no means common in the world at large, has a long history in the West, going back to the Bible, notably the letters of Paul. Even so, romantic love as the fundamental pillar of marriage (alongside parenthood, of course) truly came into its own in the mid-nineteenth century. Polygamy was an offense against love, the structural glue of American marriage. To those who valued compassionate love, polygamy seemed little better than slavery.

Powerful stuff, love. Read the rest. It's truly fascinating. Well reasoned, well researched and easy to read, Kurtz (according to Kurtz himself) has produced the first serious argument against modern polygamy. He summarizes the historical battle for monogamy in the US, suggesting that it's never been as clear cut as we'd like to think, and "shoots down facile comparisons between Christianity and Islam." It's a compelling case, and though he acknowledges the religious roots of our democratic principles, he's not dogmatic.

After reading this, I'm more confident I could explain why All You Need Is Love lacks a principled foundation in classical liberalism, and why the soulless "anything goes" Imagine is similarly dissatisfying. Uncoerced, monogamous gay mariage based on love, it would seem to me, is easily supported by the liberal Western tradition of individual conscience.

But at the end Kurtz examines the symbiotic ties between gay marriage advocates and those who would glom onto the gay marriage agenda to legitimize multiple marriage.

A few same-sex marriage advocates pretend that by simply offering rational reasons to oppose polygamy, they can neutralize the dangers of the slippery-slope. Multi-partner unions breed jealousy and marital instability, says Slate's William Saletan. True, but that hasn't stopped polyamorists from mimicking the argument of gay marriage advocates: Take away the stigma of nonrecognition, and our unions will be as stable as yours. Polygamy deprives men of marriage partners, says National Journal columnist Jonathan Rauch. Potentially, yes, especially in small closed communities. But in a huge country where growing numbers of men don't marry, and many are unmarriageable, polygamists will make their usual claim to have solved the dilemma of the unmarried woman. Polyamorists will add that unions of one woman and multiple men will help balance out sex ratios.


More important, by training us to see marriage as a civil rights issue, gay marriage advocates have largely defanged all of these structural arguments. Redefining the family is increasingly seen as a fundamental right.

Me? I'm not a fan of the slippery slope argument. Legalizing monogamous gay marriage today does not obviate a successful future fight against multiple marriage. I am, however, concerned about the overlapping of agendas in the gay marriage / multiple marriage debate. Kurtz fears a slippery slope. I fear it will hurt our chances of finally legitimizing gay marriage.

Especially appalling is 1) the winking and nodding going on behind the scenes between the two camps, 2) the tacit approval of shock demonstrations designed to offend fellow Americans, and 3) the gross comparisons to the Civil Rights Movement. Most Americans are equal-parts suspicious of non-transparent organizations, contemptuous of shock tacticians, and reverent of our commitment to racial equality.

1) We good-faith advocates for gay marriage need to immediately distance ourselves from the polygamist / polyamory agenda. Stop accepting monetary and other support from those who would cynically use the gay marriage platform as a stepping stone to further their muti-marriage goals.

2) Good-faith advocates of gay marriage need to condemn vulgar, street theater displays. The frustration driving these acts is understandable, but it doesn't excuse them. They do nothing to convince Americans that gay couples are "just like them, only gay."

3) Good-faith advocates of gay marriage must stop issuing fallacious analogies to racial oppression. Apples and oranges. This is a failing of the Social Left in general. When every issue is defined in terms of human rights, the very word "right" is diminished. When the "right to gay marriage" is purported to carry the same weight as the "right to racial equality," it reduces the seriousness of America's history of racial oppression, and dims the bright light of our successes in recent decades.

Look, the burden of proving to America that recognizing gay marriage is consistent with the best traditions of liberal democracy lies with those of us who advocate for it. It's an awesome responsibility. It's time we started rising to the challenge.

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