As the battle for marriage equality ratchets up, one of the treasured conservative counter arguments is that allowing gays and lesbians to marry will lead down a slippery slope to polygamy. Cool!
Plural marriage—or any other kind of arrangement between consenting adults—obviously will come next, and rightly so. The argument that the "institution of marriage" is some special compact with which we cannot tamper has little historical grounding. The idea of two partners forming an equal union of love and mutual respect is basically an invention of the last 50-75 years. Prior to that, marriage was more about combining land-based property holdings and enrolling women into indentured servitude for the rest of their lives while men carried on sexual relationships with whomever they pleased.
There's always the knock that polygamy is sexist and exploitative of women, but then again, regular marriage can be too. Or that it's harmful to children, but again, regular marriage can be too. Or that it's the practice of crazy religious subsects, but there are also plenty of weird religious people in standard marriages.
As Jillian Keenan pointed out in Slate, there is no practical argument against polygamy—or rather, every argument against it could also be an argument against your own parents' marriage. Secular plural relationships are already far more pervasive than anyone's letting on; they just exist in the shadows, much the way homosexual relationships did for a long time.
You're probably saying, "Markley, you're just trying to normalize polygamy so you can get started on putting a harem together. You're just like every other man fantasizing about marrying his cake and then marrying some more cake and then having big group cake parties where you eat lots and lots of cake (and probably you'll need some Gatorade)."
To those critics, I'd say that my crippling commitment issues will severely challenge my getting married to one woman, let alone multiple. Also, Olivia Wilde is getting married, so now becoming a brother-husband is my only shot.
My beef is with this club of societal police who talk about freedom this and liberty that except when it comes to sexual relationships, in which case they want government intrusion and regulation of our activities until the only thing anyone is allowed to do is marry at 18 and get it on missionary-style through a hole cut in a bedsheet. (Admittedly, that's hotter than it sounds.)
Take two wives! Take four husbands! Take a wife and a husband! Get together with two other couples in one house and just trade each others' genitals and bathroom cleaning duties around! You don't want to pay for children's health insurance or universal preschool, but somehow it's acceptable for the government to act as a moral arbiter of consenting relationships between adults in order to promote the family? We only live once, and bone cancer is a thing, so all we should care about is finding another person(s) who makes us happy.
That's why the fight over marriage equality is part of a longer tradition that still is ongoing: It's about getting the institution of government out of playing the role of sexual beat cop all together.
RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."
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