In the recent November election, three U.S. states approved same sex-marriage. So begins the slippery slope to polygamy, incest, and bestiality. If we loosen the restrictions on marriage, who’s to say what will be permitted next?!
Is the question absurd? Yes, in all respects but one: multiple-partner marriage. Same-sex marriage really does force us as a society to decide on a whole range of questions that were previously out of the question. Multiple-partner marriage is an outcome we must be willing to accept if we accept same-sex marriage.
What is the purpose of marriage? What benefits does it bring to society, thereby justifying government regulation? Partnered people can count on each other for emotional, financial, and physical support in a way that individuals can’t; partnered people are less of a drain on society. Child rearing requires hard work that is arguably best shared between partners. It makes sense for the government to be involved because the partnerships bring benefits to society but depend on a long-term commitment between partners that must be enforced though some sort of contract.
Nowhere in these reasons is there an argument against same-sex marriage. Same-sex couples can still offer support for each other and same-sex couples can raise a child just as well as heterosexual couples. Other arguments against same-sex marriage fall apart quickly when looked at honestly and logically. Some argue that to marry, a couple be biologically able to conceive a child, but we don’t deny heterosexual couples the right to marry if they refuse to have children or if they can’t conceive a child. Others argue that same-sex marriage will destabilize the institution of marriage, but heterosexual marriage is already unstable (it is predicted that a bit less than half of all marriages will end in divorce). There may be any of a number of religious reasons against it, but we don’t live in a theocracy, so your religion should have no bearing on the laws that govern me or anyone else. Ultimately, the only reason to oppose same-sex marriage is the same kind of bigotry that reared its head against inter-racial marriage.
That said, the argument can be taken further down the slippery slope to marriages between more than two partners. Replace “same-sex” with “multiple-partner” in the previous paragraph and it still makes perfect sense. In fact, it may be even more sensible to spread the responsibilities among more people. In a two person marriage, if one partner dies or is disabled, the responsibility falls fully on the other person. In a multi-person marriage, the remaining partners could pick up the slack more easily. Yes, there is the concern of the stereotypical polygamous marriage in which the wives are inferior and the husband abusive and overbearing, but this is different from the multi-partner marriage among equals that is suggested here. There are many additional complexities to contend with in such a relationship, but many of these have been addressed already (see, for example, the Ethical Slut).
Proponents of same-sex marriage may understandably want to ignore these issues because it makes it harder to argue for same-sex marriage. Perhaps this is tactically wise. Open and honest multiple-partner relationships are much less common than same-sex partnerships and it is much more important and relevant to fight for same-sex marriage in this historical moment. Still, perhaps it is best to head into the future with open eyes about the implications of what we are asking for. Same-sex marriage is good. So may be multiple-partner marriage.
And now… a related video:
(yes, I sort of argued against myself a bit)