Do Arguments Against Polygamy Hold Up?

Reasons to oppose recognition of polyamorous relationships don’t do well under scrutiny.

Creative CommonsCreative CommonsIf you’re one of those rare people who think one spouse is not enough, your prayers may be answered. After the Supreme Court decision in favor of gay marriage, conservative critics spotted sister wives on the horizon. “Polygamy, here we come!” tweeted Weekly Standard editor William Kristol.

Some members of the Supreme Court agree. Dissenting Chief Justice John Roberts argued that “much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.” In 1996, Justice Antonin Scalia claimed the court had put itself on the path to upholding the rights of polygamists.

They have a point—though it does more to highlight the problems with banning plural marriage than it does to discredit same-sex unions. There are, it turns out, parallels between the two. Those similarities are not likely to persuade the justices to strike down the existing bans. But they should make the rest of us reconsider.

Before the gay marriage ruling, there was nothing to prevent gays from living together, having sex and raising children like married straights. There is generally nothing to prevent polyamorous people from doing likewise. If several females want to live and sleep with the same guy, nobody will stop them. It’s just that only one of them can legally put a ring on it.

Utah, where polygamy has some fans, chose to make it a crime when a married person “purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.” But in 2013, a federal court said that law violated the right to privacy—the same rationale the Supreme Court used to strike down sodomy laws.

The case for legalizing polygamy builds on the case for legalizing same-sex marriage. The sexual arrangements may offend some people, but they’re not a crime. If they aren’t done under legal arrangements, they’ll be done without them.

If a man is living, procreating and raising children with two or three women, what do we gain by saying he can’t easily formalize his obligations to them? Why not let his housemates gain legal protection?

Conservatives raise the specter of polygamy as though its evils are beyond doubt. But much of their opposition stems from religious objections, appeals to tradition or disgust with sexual tastes they do not share.

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