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« Carnival of the Godless #6 The RantsSend Us Your Skeptical Writing for the Skeptics' Circle #4! »

Love and Narriage
2005.03.08 (Tue) 20:13

An interesting discussion has arisen in the blogosphere, including such notable bloggers as Ed Brayton, Timothy Sandefur, Jon Rowe and Jason Kuznicki. The discussion concerns the relative merits and drawbacks of allowing gay marriage and, by extension, polygamy — which some see as a natural logical progression from allowing gay marriage, and others see as a horse of an entirely different color. We've been following along with interest as this discussion progressed; now we'd like to weigh in with our own opinions on the matter.

Marriage is marriage is marriage...

First, the easy one: gay marriage. Despite the controversy surrounding this issue, we'd lay odds that within a generation or two (at most), gay marriage will not only be legal, but commonly accepted as normal. As we see it, there are three main categories that most people who object to gay marriage fall into: those who object on religious grounds, those who object on non-religious but still discriminatory grounds, and those — most often of older generations — who are simply uncomfortable with the idea of marriage being anything other than a bond between a man and a woman. Of course, there are many other reasons to object to gay marriage — we touch on some of them below — but these three seem to be the most prevalent. If there is an argument that we've missed, let us know. (No cheating and saying "it's illegal" — the point here is that people are objecting to the legalization of gay marriage.)

The first two categories we can dismiss quickly: the government cannot allow religious or intolerant precepts to shape the laws of our nation. It's that simple — these people's only arguments against gay marriage are either religious or bigoted, and our Constitution and the associated federal laws make it quite clear that neither of these viewpoints can be endorsed by our government. Endorsement of religion is prohibited by the First Amendment; government-sponsored bigotry and intolerance are prohibited (in various forms) by the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-Fourth, and Twenty-Sixth amendments. The wide variety of anti-discrimination laws — regarding such diverse matters as employment opportunities, education, and suffrage — demonstrates two things quite clearly: one, our legislators are remarkably short-sighted and unimaginative when composing them; and two, since every generation adds new legislation to forbid discrimination against a "new" category of people, obviously our laws are meant to protect all categories of people — even the ones our legislators haven't gotten around to protecting yet (see number one).

The last category of gay marriage opponents require a more careful and sensitive solution. Many of the members of previous generations — for example, our parents and our parents' parents — simply don't like the idea of gay marriage, or just have a problem with the idea of calling it "marriage." These are the folks who are often in favor of "civil unions," and are commonly in favor of granting to civil unions all of the benefits derived from marriage...as long as we don't call it marriage. So, as far as they're concerned, gays can marry — provided they call it something other than "marriage."

To these people, we pose a question: would it really help matters if we called it, say, "narriage"? Would it really make it more palatable if two gay men or women could get narried, but not married? If so, we'd need to add an entirely new section to the law, regarding narriage contracts. We could copy and paste the majority of the marriage contract laws, with just a few tweaks here and there (including a search-and-replace which substitutes "narriage" for "marriage"). We could build up a new industry catering especially to narriage (and if Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is any indication, those neddings would be fabulous). Every insurance form, medical form, tax form and census questionnaire would need to be amended to include a checkbox for "narried" — and perhaps another two for "nivorced" and "nidowed," in case you want to drive the point home that these homosexuals were never married in the first place. An entirely new branch of vocabulary would open up, recognizing the existence of narriage, nivorce, nusbands and nives, even nildren!

...or does this all seem somewhat silly and exclusionary?

And, see, that's the point — why come up with a wholly new semantic world just to describe something which we essentially already have? In fact, as evidenced by BushCo's push for a federal amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman, we wouldn't even have to rewrite the laws to include gay marriage — marriage laws can be read to already allow them. The fact that eleven states have rushed to reword their legislation to define marriage as solely between a man and a woman strongly suggests that marriage was not defined that way originally, no matter what the neo-conservatives would have us believe.

Here's a wake-up call: calling gay marriage something other than "marriage" is just as hurtful and exclusionary as not allowing gays to marry at all. What good is it allowing gays "equal rights" when the actual inequality of it is invoked every time it is discussed?

"I got married last week!"

"Congratulations! I got narried last week!"

"Oh, you're gay." And that's the end of that conversation.

The truth is: marriage is much more a secular institution than a religious one — no matter what the Religious Right would have us think. Having a religious ceremony to celebrate your marriage really has no legal significance, because that alone will not grant you the rights, benefits and privileges of marriage that the government grants; you still have to get a secular license from the government to get all the important stuff. On the other hand, getting a legal marriage license without holding a religious ceremony (say, for instance, getting married by a civil servant) still confers those rights upon you and your marriage partner.

So each religious community is certainly free to make its own rules surrounding what kinds of marriage ceremonies it will or will not perform and recognize, but the government must recognize any type of marriage and convey the same overarching rights and privileges to any married persons, regardless of their choice of partner (or partners...which we'll get to in a moment!).

The most important point is that marriage is a simple legal contract, like any other legal contract. It is a sort of "incorporation" of the married parties as a single entity with regard to certain laws (rights, benefits, privileges and obligations). There is no difference between this contract and any other which the government recognizes as legally binding. The particular clauses — what is expected of the involved parties and the state, as well as what benefits they gain — are, of course, specific to marriage; just as the contracts required to form any corporate entity have clauses relevant to the nature and purpose of that entity.

Because marriage is a legal contract, no individuals interested in entering into a marriage contract should be prevented from doing so. This means that, as with any other such contract, the government that grants the rights conferred by the contract cannot discriminate on the basis of race (which it used to), sex (which it still does), religion, or any other factor — beyond the issue of the interested individuals being human beings (a clear line can be drawn at species, for now, since we have no definitive way to establish a non-human's behavior as consensual) and of legal age to enter into legally binding contracts (because minors, in general, cannot be burdened with or trusted with legal autonomy, and therefore cannot offer legal consent).

This demand that the government no longer discriminate against any intention to marry, made by consenting human adults, applies — as much as some might wish otherwise — across the board. This means, too, that the government should not be discriminating against pluralistic marriages, with more than two interested parties entering the marriage contract.

Pluralistic marriage has been the stickler for some of the bloggers discussing this issue. Some see it as acceptable, if not desirable, while others name a whole host of problems they expect from allowing pluralistic marriage. However, the problems they address seem to us to be either irrelevant or independent of the existence of pluralistic marriage.

For example, Jon Rowe says:

The desire for men to have more than one wife stems from the fact that men -- especially the more dominant, Alpha types -- seek to spread their seed farther and wider than other males. Richard Posner, in Sex & Reason, estimates that in our evolutionary state, only one half of the male population actually mated and they mated with the entire crop of fertile female women.

...

This is the natural explanation for why polygamy not only has been so cross-culturally widespread, but also almost always one-man, many women. And given that there are roughly equal numbers of men and women, widespread polygamy invariably equates with significant numbers of males with no female mates. That is unfair and wrong. And that's what we seek to avoid by outlawing polygamy.

...We outlaw polygamy for precisely the same policy reason why we would demand the recognition of gay marriage: the meaningful chance for any individual to marry a person they love. The gay man, like the single-unlucky male in a polygamous society cannot marry any person he loves.

So it's "unfair and wrong" to men who wouldn't be able to find a date? And that's a good enough reason to make it illegal? To us, any bachelor who actually used this excuse to protest the institution of pluralistic marriage would be guilty of fiat by whining. And that "single-unlucky male in a polygamous society" could find it just as hard to marry the "person he loves" if he were living in a monogamous society. To quote Milo Bloom of Berke Breathed's Bloom County:

...THERE AIN'T NO 'EQUAL-HUNKINESS' RIGHT IN THE CONSTITUTION.

There is no guarantee of "luck in love" by biological or Constitutional law. Many men in our monogamous society end up lifelong bachelors, and that's just the luck of the draw. Or are we to believe that the desirable female who is spurned by a desirable polygamous male will jump at the chance to hook up with the single and unlucky (presumably because he is undesirable) male? Hey, we appreciate romantics, but that's just a little unrealistic. Whether in a polygamous or monogamous society: some got it, some don't. We could even argue just as successfully (though we don't really believe it) that a society with pluralistic marriage offers the unlucky male a better chance at love, since married females are technically still available — if their marriage partners are interested in allowing the single male to join up.

Jon goes on to say:

I'll...focus on one women, many men. Human nature tells us that this won't happen to the degree that one-man, many women will. Human nature tells us that if widespread polygamy is allowed, its most common form will be one-man, many women and this invariably leads to large numbers of men without mates.

There are two issues here: the biological and the sociological.

Biologically, we might agree with Jon: the tendency for men to cast a wide net (spreading as much genetic material as possible), and for women to cast a tighter, narrow net (seeking stability and protection) seems to be a common biological drive. However, it is not universal: polyandry (one woman, many men) is common among many species, such as birds and bees. Chimpanzees, our closest biological relatives, often form societies where both males and females mate promiscuously — and in fact, the "weaker" male chimpanzees often get lucky with a promiscuous female when the alpha male isn't looking. One proposed reason for female chimpanzees' promiscuity is to deliberately confuse paternity of their offspring; male chimps are known to kill infants that are not their own.

However, we think that the real issue that makes polygamy more common than polyandry among humans is, by this point in time, more sociological than biological. Pluralistic marriage has been embraced but strictly regulated in cultures such as fundamentalist Islam, and firmly rejected (despite its ubiquitous presence in the bible, which seems to govern so many similar cultural norms!) by Western civilization. Looking at these mere two examples by no means enables us to make judgments concerning "human nature" — especially since the justifications for the mating patterns in both of these societies is derived from their religious traditions, rather than biological imperatives. The question to ask is: would pluralistic marriage still retain a predominantly polygamous structure if we permitted it in Western society today, in light of the development of fair and equal treatment of the sexes? Perhaps; perhaps not. (No fair cheating and pointing at the Mormons — their marriage habits are based on religion, too!) Either way, the statistical pattern of pluralistic marriage is hardly a good reason to outlaw it.

Other arguments against pluralistic marriage suggest that it is largely non-consensual or abusive — this is a giant red herring. Put simply, pluralistic marriage is a marriage between more than two partners — even though some pluralistic marriages may be non-consensual or abusive. It's like outlawing a specific carpenters' tool because it has the capacity to be used as a weapon — not everyone would use the tool anyway, but the people who want it, and would use it carefully and appropriately, are now suddenly forbidden to use it, and cannot live their lives as they wish, despite the fact that doing so would not bother anybody else.

The reason why people might choose a pluralistic marriage — whether religious or otherwise — simply does not matter. Nor does it matter exactly how they choose to structure their marriage — as long as it is a matter decided upon by consenting adults, it is still just a legal contract. Sure, marriage contracts for pluralistic marriages won't necessarily be standard — neither are pre-nuptial agreements — but they wouldn't be any more complex than incorporation contracts between multiple partners. And after doing a few, we'd have the standards covered; new ones would only be needed when we diverge from monogamy even further. "You seven people want to enter a marriage with completely equal rights? Well, we've got an equal rights marriage contract for six, so we can work that up for you."

The same lack of rationality under scrutiny seems to exist for all of the common arguments against pluralistic marriage that we've seen. You say the state shouldn't support your thirty kids that you have with your four wives? Well, the state shouldn't have to support your thirty kids if you have them with one wife; that's a welfare issue, not a pluralistic marriage issue. You think pluralistic marriages are forced on unwilling participants? The same thing could just as easily happen in a monogamous marriage, and does: that's what an arranged marriage is. You say people will join pluralistic marriages for convenience, to benefit from their married status? It already happens: the "marriage of convenience" is a well-known social phenomenon among monogamous marriages.

In short: any of the abuses that might result from legalizing pluralistic marriages already exist within monogamous marriages.

The question really becomes one of where exactly to draw the line. Jon Rowe lists five categories of marriage, all condemned either in the past or the present in various parts of the world: miscegenation, homosexual marriage, pluralistic marriage, bestiality, and incest.

We'd like to think (though we know it's not universally true) that we live in a day and age when nobody would think twice about interracial marriages anymore, so that covers miscegenation. Homosexuality? As we've stated, we believe homosexuals, like anyone else, should have every right to enter into marriage contracts. We clearly support legalizing pluralistic marriage, for the reasons already discussed. And we mentioned the problem with bestiality above — we cannot definitively establish a non-human's consent to any behavior, and therefore cannot allow them to be a party to a legal agreement.

That brings us to incest. We know this might surprise some — but we fully support the legalization of incest.

Let's clarify that: while we have no desire to marry our relatives — just as we have no desire to enter into a homosexual marriage (because we're not gay) or a pluralistic marriage (because we're not interested) — we fully support the rights of any individuals who wish to marry consenting relatives of legal age.

Again, it comes down to finding a logical, rational reason why this should be disallowed — a reason that cannot be similarly applied to any already "mainstream" form of marriage. And again, the usual suspects crop up: abuse, coercion, marrying minors. These are all problems that can develop in any marriage. The bonus question for incest is, of course, the supposedly increased chance of birth defects. However, while the odds of congenital defects do increase in inverse proportion to the genetic distance between the two parents, there is also a higher risk of, say, Down syndrome in cases where both parents have Down syndrome — but we would (we hope!) consider it abhorrent to legally forbid a couple to wed simply because they both have Down syndrome. For that matter, we also have evidence that congenital defects, including Down syndrome, are more likely to occur when older women give birth...and nobody is lining up to pass legislation to prevent women over the age of 35 from getting married.

So yet again, it comes down to the fact that any abuses that might result from legalizing incestuous marriage can already occur in non-incestuous marriages. As a result, we can't find a valid argument against it.

What is the actual purpose of a marriage? From what we've seen, how this question is answered can also greatly influence a person's views on all of the types of "alternative" marriages we have discussed. Different people would give you entirely different answers, most of which would be correct in only specific cases. In the history of humankind, marriage has been used as a form of barter, as an impetus for alliance, and as a baby factory, just to name a few. In our society, we would scoff at the first two, but many would vociferously defend the third: marriage, they say, is entered into with the express purpose of making and raising children. Yet aren't there many non-incestuous, heterosexual, same-race two-member marriages that produce no children? We don't outlaw those, do we?

It all comes back to matrimony simply being a legal contract. A marriage is nothing more than a "contractual entity." If you choose to assign religious or traditional significance to your marriage, have a blast — we wouldn't dream of stopping you. But the marriage itself is a legally recognized entity that exists for the purpose of providing a support network for its members: legally, financially, emotionally, and socially. That is its purpose — its only legal purpose, since the "deal" that the government makes with a matrimonial entity only covers these factors. As such, the marriage contract should be granted to any group of two or more consenting adults who wish to support each other legally, financially, emotionally and socially. Anything else is beside the point.

With us, it will always come down to a simple, basic fact — if no one else is being harmed in any way by your actions, whatever you want to do is fine with us. Just respect us enough to return the favor, and we'll fight for all of our rights.
A Very Brady Wedding...VERY Brady...
We've all heard the argument that it's easy to be in favor of free speech until someone says something that you disagree with — the true essence of free speech is having the stomach to defend that speech which offends us most. The same can be said here. While we may personally find the idea of someone marrying their three sisters and two brothers to be an unappealing and revolting proposition, to the people actually involved, such a homosexual/pluralistic/incestuous love hexagon might be their idea of pure bliss. And who the hell are we to tell them otherwise?

[A Brief Caveat: Our purpose in this Rant was to approach these topics from a purely academic standpoint — investigating the logic and reason behind the various arguments for and against different forms of marriage.

What we are not trying to do is equate all of these different forms of marriage as "causes" — that is, we are not suggesting that all proponents of gay marriage must also support the legalization of pluralistic marriage or incest when arguing in the political arena.

The fact that thousands of gay couples are seeking equal marriage rights obviously makes gay marriage a much more pressing concern — politically — than, say, incestuous marriage, the demands for which are as close to zero as to make no difference. However, if a particular couple were denied their right to an incestuous marriage, we would support them, since we haven't yet seen a convincing argument against such marriages.

The point is, this Rant is not written from a political point of view, but rather an intellectual point of view. We humbly request that you read it with this in mind.]


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Comments (11)

Eric, 2005.03.11 (Fri) 03:01 [Link] »

It's good to find there are still people who believe that rational argument should drive the construction of public policy! In the interest of reason, however, I offer a few critiques of this line of argument:

(1) The conclusion that pluralistic marriages, incest, etc., follow naturally from the recognition of gay marriage seems to be predicated on two assumptions. The first is that marriage is a "right", such that its denial constitutes discrimination (via equal protection, or some such). But is being treated differently by law always discrimination? Certainly there are many laws that treat people differently based on their circumstance. For example, I would not expect to be able to demand welfare payments, simply because some people receive them. If I went broke, though, I could. Similarly one could argue that if a gay man marries a woman, he would have a legal marriage just like any other heterosexual. I'm not trying to promote this line of reasoning, just trying to point out that it's not necessarily obvious where legitimate difference ends and discrimination begins. We tend to just "know it when we see it" (unfortunately people disagree on when they see it). The second assumption is that marriage is "just like a legal contract". But clearly it isn't, or there wouldn't be an issue; after all, gays are certainly welcome to enter into legal contracts today. They often do, for those elements of marriage that can be reflected in a contract (the drafting of wills, for example, in lieu of de facto rights of survivorship). But for other perks, they need the participation of the government (say, for tax related issues), and that requires something more than a standard legal contract between the interested parties.

(2) I believe that rational arguments can be made against polygamy and incest that are not well treated here. The primary interest the State has in restricting these types of marriages is the way in which they alter the structure of society. You gloss over the issue of men without mates as just someone being "unlucky in love", but while they may be true on a small scale, if it becomes widespread in a society it may lead to real problems. Studies have demonstrated correlation between the concentration of young unmarried males and violence (both crime and war). Granted, I'm not aware that causality has been demonstrated, just correlation; but still it is a factor that ought to be considered. Also, incest is not just a matter of cousins falling in love. In societies where inter-family marriage is the norm, such marriages strengthen family wealth and power. These societies tend toward tribalism, nepotism, and corruption. Again, I'm not sure that this has been shown to be cause and effect, but it ought to give a person pause. Try this article for a better discussion of the incest issue.
I will admit that in a society that generally succeeds at promoting sexual equality, the odds of either of these styles of marriage becoming prevalent are slim. But principles should not rest on the shifting sands of culture, no?

I, like you, believe that gay marriage should be legal and is inevitable in this country. But I also lean toward the belief that the State may have legitimate interest in restricting pluralistic and incestuous marriages (it is absurd to me that bestiality even makes the list).



The Two Percent Company, 2005.03.12 (Sat) 15:41 [Link] »

Some very interesting points here, Eric.

Our opinion is that marriage is a right, in that it would fall under the rubric of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Allowing a gay man to only marry a woman — in addition to denying his pursuit of happiness — also amounts to nothing more than a discriminatory application of this right. The analogy would be allowing blacks to marry other blacks, but not whites, as during the era of segregation; and then arguing that this is "not discriminatory," since blacks still have the "right to marry." The issue isn't that denial of marriage rights in general is discriminatory, but rather that discriminatory application of those rights is discriminatory.

Your example of welfare rights is a very different animal. There is a logical reason why people who are gainfully employed (or otherwise supported) are denied welfare. We see no such reason for denying marriage rights. The rules and regulations regarding welfare are not about discrimination, but rather discretionempirically, the poor and unemployed need it, the well-off and employed don't.

We understand your suggestion that we "know it when we see it" with regard to discrimination, but we think the whole vaguely defined issue can be avoided by sticking to the Two Percent Company's basic precept: as long as you're not infringing on anybody else's rights, you're free to do as you wish.

With regard to marriage being "just like a legal contract" — the truth is, it is. The key issue, though, is that it is a legal contract which the government recognizes and endorses by granting certain rights to the entity formed through matrimony; i.e., the married couple. In this manner, marriage is similar to an incorporation agreement; both legal agreements create a new entity, recognized by the government and granted certain rights and obligations. For example, an advantage of incorporating is the protection the government grants to personal assets, separating them from the corporate assets and limiting the liability of individual members for the actions of the corporation as a whole. If the government suddenly decided that women are unable to effectively run a corporation, and that therefore they may only enter into such an agreement provided it includes at least one man, then the government would be guilty of discriminating against women — because despite the fact that it still allows them to incorporate, they are unable to do so with same freedom as men.

Further, as you say, there are limits to the contractual agreements two men or two women can enter into; some rights cannot be established via contract — the endorsement of the government is required. If there is no other way to obtain these rights, then in our opinion, the government should not be allowed to restrict these rights on a discriminatory basis.

If these alternate forms of matrimony were legalized, we share your opinion that the odds of either of these styles of marriage becoming prevalent are slim. However, if they did become quite common, isn't that a sign that society and culture should be — or, more to the point, are — changing?

The correlation between "young unmarried males" and incidence of violence and crime is, as you say, not proven to be causal. We would say that there are so many other factors involved here that can lead to an abundance of single young men or the prevalence of violence and crime. In addition, we could make the reverse case that the violent tendencies of some men lead to their remaining single.

The article you link to discusses a broad range of social and political issues. We agree that arranged marriages, coerced marriages, and marriages of convenience (for example, for the purposes of gaining a visa) are legitimate issues that need to be addressed, and we agree that legalized incestuous marriage can create unique avenues for abuses such as these. However, the potential abuses of a practice should not be the sole reason for excluding it.

Yes, our current society may have a legitimate interest in restricting these alternate forms of marriage, but it doesn't follow that the "values" of our current society are 100% correct — or that they should not change and develop dynamically as our civilization progresses. Culture, just like species, evolves over time.

As a note: bestiality made our list only because we were addressing Jon Rowe's list of matrimonial categories. As we said, we draw a firm line at species.



Jason, 2005.03.14 (Mon) 14:47 [Link] »

I agree that in time gay marriage will be the accepted norm. As it should be. Now the issue of polygamy? I have some concerns about that. My concerns are not over all the lonely men who form gangs and start wars. The lonely man argument completely dismisses the independence of women. Jon Rowe's argument, assumes that a disproportionate amount of women would only marry alpha male types regardless of how many wife's he already has. My question to Mr. Rowe is: Has he ever met a modern American woman? The women I know wouldn't share their mate with anyone for any reason.

The question I have with polygamy is, "Will there be any restrictions on the amount of partners one can have?" If marriage is just a legal contract the answer is no. This would cause a multitude of problems. Here is one off the top of my head. Suppose polygamy was legal and you could marry anyone you wanted as many times you wanted to regardless of gender. I could start a marriage company. Send me 10$ and you would be married to me. By being married to me you would be entitled to all of the benefits of marriage: health insurance, reduced auto and home insurance, adoption rights, tax benefits. If I was in the military you would get VA benefits and post privileges. Since marriage is just a legal contract, you could set up a pre-nuptial agreement that would protect my assets (and the assets of the thousands of other "spouses" in my company) and you in case you want a divorce. Marriage would more resemble a credit union than the institution we see today. If marriage is just legal contract would there be any up side of being single? If not, wouldn’t the government and insurance companies just end the privileges that married people have today? If that happens what’s the point in entering into a legal marriage in the first place?



The Two Percent Company, 2005.03.15 (Tue) 21:46 [Link] »

Your first point is right on target, Jason. We agree — as we said, permitting pluralistic marriage in today's Western society, what with the astronomic (though in some ways not yet complete) strides towards women's rights we have taken, is unlikely to lead to a "reversion" to the old patterns of a male-dominated polygamous culture. And the "lonely man" argument is both unrealistic and irrelevant, as far as we (and, apparently, you) are concerned.

You bring up some interesting factors in your second point. However, to us legal does not mean unregulated. With the introduction of pluralistic marriage, there would by necessity be the introduction of regulations meant to control the practice of pluralistic marriage; no policy exists in a vacuum. We're not talking about limits on the number of partners; we're talking about both legislative and non-legislative controls meant to curb abuses like the ones you mentioned.

For instance, with regard to insurance benefits, we would count on the free market system — the insurance companies themselves could determine how best to determine the benefits and costs for members of a pluralistic marriage. As an example, today there is typically a monthly cost for a single person being covered by an insurance policy, a higher one for a married couple, and a higher one still for a family. We would imagine a similar system for pluralistic marriage, maybe just broken down to the "unit" level. So, perhaps the first spouse carries an additional premium of $20 per month, and each future spouse carries an additional premium of $20 per month. These numbers are, of course, illustrative only, with regard to their exact values and the fact that they are all equal, so don't read too much into our example.

The point is that pricing could be changed such that a marriage of three or more people doesn't just count as a "family" to be billed at the "family" rate, therefore negating the incentive to pile on spouses at no additional cost. These are only suggestions — to paraphrase Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: "Capitalism finds a way."

The upshot is that, in the pyramid scheme marriage example, you couldn't just charge $10 (which we know was also just an illustrative number) to your sham marriage partners — you would also need to consider the added expense of the insurance premium the new partner incurs on your insurance plan, as well as any similar costs. We think that this would effectively prevent marriage scams like the one you describe, meant to procure insurance benefits for little or no cost. And if people did engage in marriages of convenience in order to provide insurance coverage, they would be paying for it, which seems okay to us.

As for taxes — we're not sure that pluralistic marriage would automatically translate into a benefit to the married partners. The more partners you have, the more sources of income you presumably have; the more income you have, the higher your tax bracket. So the more spouses you have, the more likely it is that you will end up in the highest tax bracket; that doesn't seem overly beneficial.

Of course, you could have a single income and multiple non-working partners, which would create a great number of dependents that you could claim on your tax return. To us, this is no different than a couple having lots of kids for the same purpose. Yes, it happens today, and yes, it's a bad thing; but it's not the norm (it may be in certain locales, but not in general), and it's not illegal. Intelligent people will realize the downsides to this type of behavior (like the fact that more mouths to feed, whether they are children or adults, means more expense), and unintelligent people will continue to procreate or marry themselves into financial jams.

Again, the potential problems don't lie within the policy of allowing pluralistic marriage, but rather in the accompanying laws and policies.

For our part, we don't see a problem with allowing adoption rights to multiple marriage partners. Sure, the Religious Right might complain, but if they're so rabid about making sure kids have two parents, then why the argument against more? (We're not in any way implying that you fit into the Religious Right category, Jason, we're just explaining why such an argument seems unsupported to us.)

More parents could help children immensely; presumably, you could always have at least one parent looking after the children, and the opportunity for more family income is a great benefit. As a note, we believe that adoption in a pluralistic marriage culture must be processed equally with regard to all parents in a marriage — if any marriage partner is deemed unfit as a parent, the marriage group cannot adopt a child. If you really want to adopt, you just don't marry somebody who might present a problem for adoption (to take an extreme example, a convicted sex offender).

These are all just examples. The underlying factor is that, as always, these problems don't seem to be inherent to pluralistic marriage, but rather inherent to pluralistic marriage as it would exist under our current laws and policies. Sure pluralistic marriage can create new avenues for the old abuses, but at the end of the day, we believe that it is the governing policies that must be examined and modified, in lieu of outlawing pluralistic marriage.



Josh, 2005.05.10 (Tue) 21:10 [Link] »

One factor that strangely hasn't seen much attention are the economic cost of gay marriages. If gay marriage was legalized then divorces would no doubt greatly increase, and that cost would be passed on to other people.
It is for this reason that a friend of mine opposes gay marriage, the raised taxes that would be involved. It's the only problem I can find with gay marriage.
It seems to me that this indicates the laws and system concerning divorces need to be changed, rather than simply banning gay marriage.
My questions are thus: How great would the cost increase be to the public? How could this cost be dealt with?



The Two Percent Company, 2005.05.10 (Tue) 23:11 [Link] »

Josh,

Just as a note, the first point that we want to raise is that there is no reason to believe that the divorce rate among homosexual couples would be any higher than that among heterosexual couples. So, for the purposes of this discussion, allowing gay marriage would have the same effect on the total number of divorces as that of adding an equal number of heterosexual marriages into the mix. We don't think that you believe otherwise, but we wanted to make sure we clearly stated this.

That said, of course more marriages should translate into a higher number of divorces. As you note, though, this is a problem associated with divorce and not specific to gay marriage. You can tell your friend that, if this is his argument, then he should probably be in favor of legalizing gay marriage in lieu of heterosexual marriage, as this approach would certainly reduce the total number of marriages (heterosexuals statistically outnumber homosexuals) and consequently lead to fewer divorces. Or maybe he should support the abolishment of marriage in general, since that would lead to the number of divorces dropping to zero. Or, perhaps your friend should advocate having divorcing couples pay for their court time so that it isn't publicly funded. Of course, these solutions aren't too helpful in practice, but we're really just trying to illustrate why using such an argument against gay marriage doesn't hold water.

Regarding the cost to the public of divorces, we don't know how it could be calculated. The primary (and perhaps only significant) cost that we can think of is court time. Is there any other public cost when it comes to divorces?

Let's run with this for a minute and assume that court time is the main public cost associated with divorces, that allowing gay marriage would proportionately increase the number of divorces, and that therefore the cost to the public is similarly inflated. How could this be offset? Well, by clamping down on frivolous lawsuits (those pesky "I was hit by a train while walking along the railroad tracks now someone owes me money because I'm too stupid to know that was a bad idea" type lawsuits) we could certainly save a whole lot of public money. But this is really, to us, beside the point.

As we see it, and as you already said, none of this should influence the granting of a basic freedom to homosexual couples. If someone has a problem with how divorces eat up taxpayer money, then by all means suggest a fix for that problem; this seems to be the usual logical response to arguments against gay, pluralistic, or incestuous marriage.

Consider a metaphor: a hypothetical computer programmer is coding a new application. His supervisor asks him to add a new feature, but the programmer notes that an as-yet-uncorrected bug will cause problems for this feature — just as it causes problems for many other currently existing features. Should the programmer avoid implementing the new feature, or fix the bug that is causing problems with or without the new feature? To us, and we'd bet to you, the answer seems rather obvious.

Applying the same logic to the issue of gay marriage: if there are potential problems with other laws, those problems should be solved instead of using such problems as arguments against gay marriage.

As far as we're concerned, you've got the right idea here. It's your friend that needs to rethink his position.

Thanks for the comment,
The Two Percent Company.



Josh, 2005.05.11 (Wed) 10:51 [Link] »

Thanks for the helpful advice. I know little about marriage/divorce laws, but I strongly support equality in society. I've seen few legitimate arguments against gay marriage, but this stumped me.
If this problem with increased costs because of divorce could be solved then I can't think of a legitimate reason to stop gay marriage. I'm tempted to say "screw taxes, justice matters more!" Unfortunately in this world we can't ignore the practical problems.
At first I found it strange that this subject isn't brought up more. Obviously gay-marriage proponents wouldn't want to bring attention to this, but opponents could. It seems to me that this could "convert" a few supporters of gay marriage.
I've tried to find information on the web but failed. My friend found out about this from his Applied Economics teacher (high school) so I guess I'll question him.
Though I thought of something interesting: Is my friend planning on marrying? If he does than obvious he has no problem with other people, including those who can't get married, help hold the burden. That is some amazing hypocricy to me. If he isn't going to get married or, if that turns out badly, get divorced then that isn't the case...
SEB, Pharyngula, and now the TwoPercentCo. I've fallen deeper into the "bad crowd," heh.



The Two Percent Company, 2005.05.14 (Sat) 14:28 [Link] »

Josh,

We've been talking about how to respond to you, because we really think you deserve a good response.

The thing is: you're so close. From your words, you know what the right answer is; we think you just might lack that extra tiny bit of confidence in your convictions that would allow you to set aside your friend's argument against gay marriage.

In point of fact, you got it exactly right when you said:

It seems to me that this indicates the laws and system concerning divorces need to be changed, rather than simply banning gay marriage.

You couldn't possibly be more right. What you've said covers it all — problems with the divorce system demand intense scrutiny and revision of those laws, not the outright refusal of new (and more egalitarian) laws. It's the same with any of the so-called "problems" with gay marriage; they keep coming down to a general flaw in our legislation as is.

As for your friend's high school economics teacher, if he cited problems with divorce laws as a reason to deny homosexuals the right to marry, then quite simply he is wrong — your skepticism is both admirable and justified.

To reiterate: you've totally got it, Josh. Don't be hesitant to point out what you, as evidenced by your own words, have already had the intelligence, compassion and courage to figure out.

The challenges you raise to your friend's stance are also very smart. You're right again: it is truly hypocritical to deny any rights to others that you expect to enjoy for yourself.

Trust us, Josh: you knew the answer before you even got to our site, don't hesitate to acknowledge that.



Jason Spicer, 2008.12.28 (Sun) 16:43 [Link] »

Every right involves some indirect costs borne by society at large. I don't see that as being much of an argument against those rights. After all, it's not just divorce that can have costs not paid by the married people. Marriage itself can have costs not borne by the matrimonious. Any tax breaks had by married people filing jointly are paid for by other taxpayers. (Whether being married costs you more taxes or saves you taxes depends on your circumstances--there's no overall "marriage penalty" as the right would have it.)

I suspect that divorce costs covered by the taxpayer are the smallest part of the cost of a divorce. Most of the time, the judge and court clerk spend very little time rubberstamping the deal worked out by the divorce attorneys, who are paid directly by those divorcing.

We could certainly move more towards a user-fee based justice system, but aside from the costs of the lawyers themselves, there is some reluctance to price people out of justice, as there should be.

And I think that's the bottom line here. The point is that gay marriage is a right that people should have. In fact, as the Two Percenters point out, it wasn't actually specifically prohibited until recently, so it's been legal all along, as the Vermont, Massachusets, and California supreme courts decided. The financial cost of that right is very much of secondary importance, compared to the goal of non-discrimination. Think how much the Civil Rights Act has cost the taxpayer over the years (all those "extra" voting booths, for starters). Doesn't mean it was the wrong thing to do. Some things are worth paying for.



Jurjen S., 2009.02.26 (Thu) 22:30 [Link] »

(Thanks to Jason Spicer there, I'm not resurrecting this thread entirely out of nowhere.)

I'm not opposed to multi-party marriages in principle, but I do think they would be a lot more complicated to implement than same-sex marriages. Historical examples of "multiple-party" marriages, like in the Old Testament or in Islam, are not much multi-party marriages, because the women involved aren't married to each other; they're all married to one person--the man--and in the event of a divorce, the women essentially have few or no rights, and the husband gets custody of any children, plus the communal property. This is not a tenable model in 21st century western society.

At present, our system of marriage is set up towards pair bonding, and this convenient with regards to children born within wedlock, since the legal parents are assumed to also be the biological parents. As a result, in the event of a divorce, both parents (usually) have an equal claim on custody on the basis of being the biological parent. Things might get a little trickier in a polyamorous situation, where you might have spouse A & B being the biological parents, but spouse C being the primary caregiver. In the event that spouse C decides to leave the marriage, who gets primary custody? Courts generally assign primary custody to the mother because the mother is usually the primary caregiver. But if the primary caregiver, as in this hypothetical case, is not one of the biological parents, how do we handle this situation?

Not that these issues can't be resolved, but I suggest it would be better for all parties involved if we could work out at least provisional answers to these kinds of questions before we legalize multiple-partner marriage, rather than leaving it to be dumped in the lap of some judge, who might make a bad ruling and set a precedent that will sour the institution for a long time.



Jason Spicer, 2009.02.27 (Fri) 02:52 [Link] »

I wouldn't have resurrected this thread out of nowhere if I hadn't received a spurious email from twopercentco.com with a link to this thread leading me to believe that it was freshly minted. Ordinarily, I only get subscription notices when a new rant is posted. Not sure what went wrong there--never happened before. In any case, I noticed the age of the last comment only after I posted. I was sort of hoping nobody would notice. :)

But it's an interesting topic, as are most of the threads on this site. And reasonably topical what with Prop 8 in California in November. In principle, I don't see why a mulitple-partner marriage couldn't work the same way as a law firm partnership. Well, except with less money, less sex, and more underhanded dealing. I guess what I'm saying is that I don't think traditional two-person male/female marriages have a great track record, so I don't see how it could be much worse. There would be more scheduling difficulties, but there would also be more people to do the dishes.

In the event of a split, the math is the same, just with a larger divisor. Child custody issues aren't necessarily all that tied to biology. Adoptive parents have every parental right and responsibility that biological parents do. There would just be more than two people sharing those rights and responsibilities. The "best interests of the child" guideline would still apply. Joint custody would mean more shuffling, but again, no real conceptual difficulty.

I agree that it might be prudent to work out some of these things in advance, but it's not like we bothered to do that with traditional marriage. "Common law" marriage was created by judges over several centuries with no planning ahead of time.

I just noticed the diagram at the top of the rant with the international symbol for forbidden, hot, man on fish sex. Or were the Two Percenters suggesting that it should be illegal for men to marry Christians?




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