Is gay marriage paving the way for legal polygamy?

Chief Justice John Roberts prompted the discussion with remarks from his dissent after the Supreme Court ruled for same-sex marriage. 

Eric Gay/AP
Jim Obergefell, the named plaintiff in the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case that legalized same sex marriage nationwide, is backed by supporters of the courts ruling on same-sex marriage on the step of the Texas Capitol during a rally Monday, June 29, 2015, in Austin, Texas.

Last week’s ruling for the legalization of same-sex marriage has spurred another marriage debate. Is America ready for legalized polygamy?

The conversation came up after Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts made this statement in his dissent:

“Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective 'two' in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not. Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world.”

His remarks encouraged others to reconsider the plausibility of legalizing polygamous marriage.   

On Wednesday, Montana man Nathan Collier said the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage inspired him to apply for a marriage license so he can legally wed his second wife, The Associated Press reported. "It's about marriage equality," Collier said. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Some are now claiming it’s time to consider whether the idea of legalized polygamy is as far-fetched as the idea of same-sex marriage sounded 20 years ago.
 
In an argument for legalized polygamy, Politico’s Fredrik Deboer writes, “Marriage should be a broadly applicable right – one that forces the government to recognize, as Friday’s decision said, a private couple’s ‘love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.’” In a blog post explaining why he wrote the article, Deboer repeatedly referred to his belief in a “natural moral right to group marriage.”
 
However, many Americans don't see eye to eye with Deboer's belief. A recent Gallup poll found that only 16 percent of Americans find polygamy morally acceptable, an increase of seven percent in 2001. 

Yet arguments that refer to morality, equality, and basic human rights haven’t convinced those who emphasize the logistical obstacles polygamy may bring up. For them, the topic is an issue of practicality.

“It’s simply impossible for plural partners to have the same rights and benefits currently enjoyed by two spouses, gay or straight,” Cathy Young writes in Time magazine.

She claims that matters such as arranging property-rights in divorce cases, adjusting child custody agreements, and determining who has the legal authority to make decisions for an incapacitated spouse all become near impossible to solve in multiple-partner marriages.

National Review’s Charles C. W. Cooke refutes her arguments and says that, in time, those logistical impediments will “almost certainly prove irrelevant.” Americans have been fighting for gay marriage with their hearts rather than their critical thinking caps, he argues, and the same could work for legal polygamy. 

Politico’s Deboer reaffirms Cooke’s claim. “If current legal structures and precedents aren’t conducive to group marriage, then they will be built in time.”

Yet supporters for polygamous marriage are met with another rebuttal. In his op-ed, Slate’s William Saletan stresses where arguments for same-sex marriage and polygamy overlap, then states where they don’t. One of his claims refers to the understanding of homosexuality as an immutable aspect of a person, which he says is the “biggest difference between homosexuality and polyamory.”   

Others have also pointed to immutability as the line that negates the comparison of the two. In a 2009 Newsweek article, Jessica Bennet asks if polyamory could be the “next sexual revolution.” 

She tells the story of Seattle groups who practice "ethical nonmonogamy," engaging in loving, intimate relationships with more than one person and says that the main policy issue polyamorous couples are concerned with isn’t marriage. It’s the right to secure custody of their children.

Yet when considering where polygamy stands in comparison to same-sex marriage, Bennet writes, “Polyamory is a choice; homosexuality is not.”

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