Comparisons to same-sex marriage hold back progress
About two weeks ago, The Bilerico Project, which claims to be “the web’s largest LGBTQ group blog,” published a post that may shock many and opens up a new can of worms in the same-sex marriage debate. The post, “Bigger Love? Same-sex Marriage and the Poly Problem” advocates for recognizing the legitimacy of both polygamy and incestuous marriage on the same grounds as recognizing same-sex marriage — that marriage is a fundamental right. While one might expect opponents of same-sex marriage to equate it with the practices of polygamy and incest in order to detract from the cause, it seems quite unusual for advocates of same-sex marriage to do so.
The blog post argues that since recent federal court cases have found that marriage is a fundamental right, the state cannot infringe upon this right when it comes to groups of people wishing to marry close relatives any more than they can infringe upon that right when it comes to gay and lesbian couples. As an advocate of same-sex marriage, I find the notion of including polygamy and incest as part of the movement toward equality unsettling and problematic, to say the least. I would like to believe that those who favor legalizing polygamy and incestuous marriages are a radical fringe of society in America, and that they will never get their way.
An October 2013 public opinion poll by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics found that 61 percent of registered voters agreed with a New Jersey State judge’s ruling that the state must legalize same-sex marriage in order to prevent discrimination. The poll also found that for the first time, a plurality of Republicans agreed with allowing same-sex marriage. But where would the percentage stand among the voters of New Jersey if asked if they agreed with allowing polygamy or incest? Five percent? Three percent? Among Republicans? Probably zero.
Although we are still far from having marriage equality in all 50 states, today in 2014 we are closer than ever before. The culture wars seem to be winding down as an increasing number of people, including conservatives, realize that prohibiting same-sex marriage is discriminatory and contrary to American values. I fear, however, that coupling polygamy and incest with same-sex marriage can do great harm to the movement, slowing down the momentum or even reversing course. Radical views of allowing group marriage and marriage between brothers and sisters (Mothers and sons? Grandparents and grandchildren? The blog post does not make clear how far the legalization of incest would go) would confuse people who currently favor same-sex marriage, and would ensure that conservatives who currently oppose but have the potential to be swayed would never switch sides, and would probably push back harder than they have in the past.
The particulars of incest are too abhorrent to common decency to discuss in a newspaper for public consumption. All I can say is that incest is considered a taboo amongst all cultures and time periods and has no place in society. As for polygamy, the argument that consenting adults have a right to make contracts (marriage at the end of the day is a contract) should apply for groups of people doesn’t hold much water. Marriage as a contract is meant to be between two consenting adults (regardless of sex or gender) in order to legalize a stable relationship, a family and a household. This right cannot be extended to include polygamy. Men who wish to have multiple wives or women who wish to have multiple husbands are simply not mature enough to be married. If one wants to have multiple partners, go ahead and do so — it’s called being single. If not satisfied with your current spouse, consider getting a divorce, it’s legal in all 50 states.
Wherever polygamy is practiced, negative societal effects have been observed. Mormons have practiced monogamous marriage for 124 years, but a radical offshoot known as the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints currently practices polygamy. In this sect, girls as young as thirteen are forced to marry older men, and these men with multiple wives have almost complete control over their family. In a time where gender norms are becoming increasingly lax, and men and women have an equal voice in their own families and households, the polygamist model is a step backwards, with one authoritative figure being the head of the family and multiple spouses being subservient. Recent studies of polygamist cultures (many countries in Africa and the Middle East allow polygamy) find increased rates of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality and traumatic experiences for children.
The Supreme Court is expected to take up a same-sex marriage case this term, and thus marriage equality may hopefully be upon us within the next year. I urge the Court, all lower courts and allies of the marriage equality movement to disavow the legal logic put forth in the Bilerico blog post that marriage rights must be extended to include polygamy and incest. Following this logic would bring about great change to society that is not desirable, and advocating for these changes is only holding back the progress of the same-sex marriage movement.
Sergio Rojas is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in history and journalism and media studies. He is the chairman of Rutgers College Republicans. His column, “Common Sense Conservative,” runs on alternate Tuesdays.