Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Same-sex marriage and polygamy

Tom Cerber also calls our attention to and comments on this piece, in which Jonathan Rauch tries to decouple same-sex marriage from polygamy. Offering a good public policy argument against polygamy--imagine lots of men without the prospect of marriage and imagine how uncivilized they’d likely be--Rauch by implication raises, as Cerber notes, the connection between marriage and liberal democracy. What’s the connection--historical and theoretical--between traditional monogamy and liberal democracy? Cerber has the right answer. Rauch wants to avoid the question.

Discussions - 4 Comments

Under the present view of judicial review, the Supreme Court can’t make judgments according to some theory of the necessary "sociology" for "liberal democracy," a phrase which, after all, is not found in the Constitution. Rauch may be right that polygamy may be more "destablizing" that same-sex marriage. (Actually he is wrong; watch Big Love--polygamy is too opposed to the "spirit of individualism" to have a future in our time. The plausibility of same-sex marriage is a consequence of our spirit of individualism.) But that is irrelevant--individuals can do what they want so long as they don’t violate the rights of others, so our theorists and our Court have said. And they’ve added that all loving (on blank-ing) big or little is dignified and deserving of our respect.


You’re right. From the point of view of some on the Court, individual choice is all that matters, trumping even public policy judgments of the sort Rauch wants to advance. Of course, gay marriage advocates are happy enough to use "choice" and "dignity" to trump public policy arguments with which they don’t happen to agree.

There are many reasons for keeping polygamy illegal. Unfortunately, Rauch’s reason simply does not hold up to scrutiny.

He implies that the root of the problems that arise for polygamy is if a man married more than one woman, then another man is forced to forgo marriage. Rauch overlooks the fact that this can only be true only if there were exactly the same number of men who wished to get married as there are women desiring the same thing.

Unfortunately for his arguments, real life is somewhat different. In the real world, there are more women who desire marriage than men. It’s a matter of simple human nature. Therefore one could say that a strictly monogamous world forces a number of willing women to forgo marriage. What sort of tensions does that create?

Of course, if Rauch is advocating a culture where all men and women are forced to enter into marriage, then all those tensions would be resolved, right?

That’s a good point. Also consider that the typical liberal arts college is now 60+% female, and I would guess that there are at least as many gay men as there are lesbian women. So the only way many well educated women are going to get an intellectually compatible husband is for a limited amount of polygamy to kick in. Of course, it may be the case that the men who have to step up to the plate here are not characteristically manly or erotic enough to even imagine the satisfactions of big love.

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