The slippery slope rebuttal can be pretty annoying depending on how dumb the person using the argument wants to be. For example, many people say all the surveillance cameras we have everywhere are a slippery slope towards totalitarian governments. While I think we still have a few tricks up our sleeves before we have to be worried, I give the argument some credibility because in the past one of the greatest tools totalitarian governments had at their hands was to create a snitch society. When your neighbors (or even your kids) are going to potentially rat you out to the government, it means you really have to watch what they catch you doing. Even something that is innocent (as far as the government’s rules) can be dangerous if your neighbor misinterprets what you’re doing. So if you don’t have to worry about neighbors, but have video everywhere – all the worse!
A slippery slope argument I have less tolerance for is the one that says that gay marriage leads to an erosion of all marriage. What if someone wants to marry an animal or a child or have polygamy? They say. Which, of course, is ridiculous because two able-minded adults are entitled to do as they wish (as long as it doesn’t lead to actual harm to anyone). I can’t see how two men or two women getting married hurts my marriage. I still love the female form and anatomy. Children and animals, on the other hand, are not legally afforded the capacity to make such decisions. So that’s a dumb argument. And leads to one of my favorite songs of the past couple years, Garfunkel and Oates’ “Sex with Ducks”:
Polygamy, on the other hand, is in another category – after all, it involves adults.
And, according to at least one writer on Slate – why not legalize polygamy? It’s an interesting question. I guess we can tackle this on various grounds: religious, civil, and mental/emotional. Anyone raised in Christianity and Judaism knows that the patriarchs and kings practiced polygamy. Sometimes it was portrayed as a fact of life and other times it was portrayed as the reason a king turned from God – one of his wives wants him to worship HER god. As we know, there is no polygamy in the New Testament. However, the intelligent question to ask is this: why is there no polygamy in the New Testament? Does it reflect a change in what God wants his people to do? (Such as the end of the need for animal sacrifice) or does it simply reflect a change in society? During the New Testament time period, Israel is part of the Roman Empire. So perhaps it seems too barbaric to have multiple wives? Additionally, polygamy is traditionally a rich man’s game. It costs a lot to raise many children and provide for many wives. In nearly every culture, including pre-1970s Vietnam, polygamy is seen as a sign of wealth. Even in Islam, followers are told not to take multiple wives unless they can provide for them all. The Old Testament is about kings and tribal leaders. The New Testament is about the people. In other words, and I can’t believe I never realized this until writing this article, but the Old Testament is about the 1% while the New Testament is about the 99%. (At least locally – if you compare Abraham to Egypt he’s a nothing) So I’d say that religion (at least the Abrahamic ones in the majority in America) is a little inconclusive. If you wanted, you could ignore the reasons why we don’t see polygamy in the New Testament and say that by itself is an indictment against it. Fair enough, but America isn’t a theocracy, so let’s consider the civil reasons for and against it.
Marriage is a contract – it always has been. It’s just that in the modern world the only people who think about it that way are lawyers and accountants. Historically it was used by aristocrats and monarchs to gain power and/or land. My country and your country don’t want to fight anymore so what if my kid marries your kid. Now the alliance is a little more solid because if you attack me you’re attacking your descendents. Among the poor (the middle class is a relatively recent invention in the time scale of human history), marriage is a contract that has allowed for various things. For example, back when we were all farmers – compensation for losing free labor (your daughter or son depending on who went to live with who’s in-laws). Or it could be used to gain status if your daughter could marry into a higher social class. Why does the government care about marriage? Well, in modern times it has to do with taxes, property ownership, benefits, and who’s responsible for any children spawned from the marriage or adopted into the marriage. So why would the government care about polygamy? I imagine that the government as an entity doesn’t give a care about polygamy. I have been known to sometimes fail to think outside the box so I’d like to see what others think. However, my guess is that the only reason government cares about polygamy is that government is made of people and those people care. Perhaps the men are loathe to face a shortage of women as the handsome and the wealthy end up with more than one. After all, as an aggregate the natural birth process yields only slightly more women than men – last I heard it was 51% to 49% in favor of women. So given the competition men currently have (including women who decide to be single – which is possible in the USA since ~ the 1960s without negative consequences), they might not want to allow some men to have access to all the women.
So we are left with the emotional/mental argument. It is here that the Slate piece linked above spends most of its time. The Slate piece mentions that those who are not into polygamy venture that the women involved don’t truly have a choice. (Not counting certain Mormon sects where that may very well be true) This line of thinking goes that all women are loathe to share a man so the type of woman who goes into a polygamous relationship must have some mental issues we have to protect her from by making sure that polygamy is illegal. The Slate article argues that this is not the case – women are perfectly capable of making the choice to share a man with another (or many other) women. The Slate article goes to an even more important point – given that polygamy is going to happen no matter what for religious reasons (Mormons and Muslims), are we not making things worse for those women by marginalizing them? The article mentions that the women in those relationships are subject to abuse (as are the children) because they can’t go to the cops. Otherwise they’ll find out about the polygamy and the innocent may end up in jail or have their character impeached to such a degree that no jury would side with them.
The most interesting thing about Slate’s arguments, and what drew me to write this response piece, is that many people make the same argument against porn and prostitution as they do against polygamy. For example, that the women are only into it because they’re damaged. With pornography and prostitution as with polygamy the problem is that we can’t see into people’s minds. (Yeah, that would have all kinds of scary implications, but go with me here) All we know is that when women are interviewed for porn and prostitution we find both types of women. We find those that were forced into it either because of mental issues, abuse, or finances that meant all they had left to peddle were their bodies. We also find those who claim they enjoy doing it and find it liberating to be able to use their bodies for profit while they can. Are they lying? And even if they’re telling the truth, are they damaged and don’t know it? All we know is how we THINK women are supposed to behave and these behaviors don’t conform to that. So the first reaction is that something must be wrong.
Those in sex work also face the same issues that Slate mentions the women in polygamous marriage have – they can’t go to the cops if they’re abused or mistreated by their clients or bosses (be that pimp or madame). It’s a large part of the reason that the sex slave industry can work. As I read in Tokyo Vice among other places, it’s the inability to go to the cops if you’re in sex work (in addition to the fact that your family in the home country might be in danger) that makes it such a powerful cage. Does that mean it should be legalized?
It’s a very interesting comparison because both sex work (the non-coerced kind) and polygamy involve consenting adults. The only difference is that the motivation behind the two is that one is motivated by love and the other is motivated by lust. Or at least that’s how it seems on the surface. There is no requirement for marriage to be based on love. As I mentioned above, that was almost never the reason for marriage until much more recent times. In fact, there was a very long tradition of women getting the love portion of their relationship fulfilled by admirers and serenades. And while probably 99.99% (unscientific number) of all sex work revolves around pure lust – there will be some percentage of people who are simply paying for sex because it’s the only way they can get some. And sex is a recognized human NEED, not a want. On the scheme of things, it’s much more ethical for someone like that to directly pay for sex than go through the charade of a first date on the odds of maybe getting sex.
When all is said and done, I’m not sure what my final position is on polygamy. The Slate article got my mind going. I now have a better understanding of those in a polygamous relationship not as freaks or cult members, but people who want a different marital arrangement. Would I ever partake in one? Heck no! It’s enough work for me to juggle the needs of my wife, daughter, family, and self without adding another adult woman to the mix. I’ve been thinking a lot about the gay marriage issue since it’s been in the news so much and I wonder if a lot of the people against it are just acting on simple fears. For example, it’s now going to be a LOT more complicated to explain marriage and sexual relationships to my daughter. Because I believe our sexual orientation is a part of us, I would no sooner berate her for being gay than I would for being OCD, schitzophrenic, or left or right handed. (Sorry for comparing to mental illness – I know gayness used to be in the book that defines nutty behavior) So I don’t want her to feel that she has to hide herself from me. At the same time it’s probably tiring to explain all the different couplings that could happen. And maybe that’s part of what people don’t want to deal with when it comes to polygamy. “Daddy, why does Jon have five mommies?” Then again, that does bring up an important point, you can’t control (at least it’s my belief that you can’t) being gay. You CAN control how many people you marry. Does that make it right or wrong to legislate against? Who knows. That’s beyond what I can currently conceive.
I know I generally only have about 4 regular commentators despite an average of 100 visitors on a slow day, but I’d be really curious to hear from others what you think about this topic. Good reasons for or against? Hint: good reasons are generally not “Because God said so” given, as I said before, this is not a theocracy. However, if you do have Bible verses (or Torah or Koran) to quote for and against, it’d be interesting to see if my paragraph on religious reasons pro and con is on the money.