Is Polygamy the Next Gay Marriage?

The Daily Beast 9 September 2014
Should we really care if more than two consenting adults want to marry each other, or if polygamy advocates see the LGBT movement as an inspiration?

A few years ago, when I was rushing my daughter to pre-school one morning, a similarly tardy and exasperated-looking mom passed us on the stairs. My daughter took this as an opportunity to announce, “I have two moms.” The exasperated mom picked up her hunched shoulders to turn to Willa and, after a sigh, say, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”
This has happened to us a lot. On more occasions than I can count, overwhelmed straight parents have proclaimed how much they wish their family had two moms and, thus, extra help. This conversation often bleeds easily into a “the more the merrier” logic followed by some joke about polygamy. Like, “I’d sleep with 10 wives and husbands as long as it meant I could actually sleep in once in a while!”

And if most parents are being honest, the idea of more hands on deck is mighty appealing, even if we may not understand the emotional arrangements of open marriages and might legitimately be skeptical about the gender imbalances often found in polygamy.

Back in the early days of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement’s push for marriage equality, this slippery slope to polygamy was pragmatically taboo. After all, arguments about gay marriage leading to polygamy were lobbed almost entirely with the purpose of derailing the gay rights agenda. And there was also something inherently offensive about making the connection, along the same lines of suggesting that gay marriage would lead to people marrying goats. Never mind the fact that opposite-sex goat-human marriage had been looming as a dangerous temptation all along…
Still, people often mention polygamy and gay marriage in the same sentence (not to mention the same essay). Recently—in, surprise, Utah—a judge struck down a part of that state’s anti-polygamy law.

…. If couples want to bring cheating out of the deceitful shadows and instead incorporate it openly into their relationship—plus have more hands on deck for kids and more earners in the household in a tough economy—who are we to judge?
Seriously, I’m a bit too traditional and jealous for that sort of thing, but I’m also too traditional to wear jeggings outside the house. Still, you (mostly) don’t see me judging anyone else for doing so.

In 2013 when the United States Supreme Court ruled in favour of marriage equality for same-sex couples, pro-polygamy groups heralded the ruling as a step away from the conventional one-man one-woman definition of marriage and, thus, as opening the door to polygamy. I get that, and to an extent pro-polygamy activists may be trying to latch their still-widely unpopular cause onto the increasingly victorious rainbow bandwagon.

But while it’s mildly understandable that some see these conversations as conceptually linked—“If we’re changing the marriage laws to include gay couples, how else might we change them?”—polygamy doesn’t inherently flow from gay marriage. If anything, what polygamy does flow from is a general opening up of options.

We increasingly allow Americans to define their own families for themselves while removing coercive public policy and judgmental social norms. And this idea, which is at the heart of everything from increasing access to birth control to the striking down anti-miscegenation laws to so much more, is exactly what conservative religious extremists have always opposed.

Sally Kohn is a lesbian, progressive activist and writer.

Written by