Support for Polygamy?

In my most recent post, in that short list of topics we United Methodists must find a way to discuss in love and truth, I mentioned sexuality.  In light of that point, here is an example of why I said what I said.  Of all the things I’d like to talk about in my blog, this is not one of them, but I believe we must pay attention.

Monogamy per se is being called into question.  Have a look at this essay in Slate.

http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/04/legalize_polygamy_marriage_equality_for_all.html

I share this link for the sake of thoughtful discussion.  I am not interested in tit-for-tat polemics.  I think this author’s argument is porous, but what is important to notice is not so much the details, but the basic claim she is making…and on what basis.

Please remember: Slate is considered mainstream.  And here we have:

“The definition of marriage is plastic.”

Yes it is, and evidently becoming more so.

Referring to herself as a feminist, the author reveals the basis for her argument for polygamy:

“And if she wants to marry a man with three other wives, that’s her damn choice.”

As long as the relationship is consensual between adults, it’s your damn choice, apparently, to form whatever arrangement you prefer.

Does the church have an answer?  Maybe.  What do I think about this?  I don’t know.  My head hurts right now.  Eventually, I’ll get back to you on what I think.

 

About Stephen Rankin

Professionally I am an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. I currently serve as University Chaplain at Southern Methodist University. Personally I am married to Joni and we have four grown children and four grandchildren. You can find my personal thoughts on this site, as well as on twitter at @stephenwrankin.

Comments

  1. Elisabeth says:

    Dear Steve,

    Appreciated this post, particularly since Thomas and I were discussing that same article yesterday. This is another discussion of the polygamy question from the Economist, which ultimately comes down to arguing for monogamy only because it is best for the state’s stability, but seems to share many of the themes with the slate articles. http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2013/04/gay-marriage.

    Also, an opinion article from the post on Unitarians and polygamy.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/on-faith/unitarian-universalists-would-prefer-their-polyamory-activists-keep-quiet/2013/03/22/f3d14eaa-9333-11e2-8ea1-956c94b6b5b9_story.html

  2. We’re all good utilitarians/libertarians now, at least on this subject. We are firmly convinced that only the individual can make a valid decision regarding the good (because there is no good beyond the good “for me”). The only role for government is to make sure we don’t harm anyone in the process. (And being universally intelligent well-educated folks we all know intuitively what counts as “harm.”)

    As long as the only recognized institutions are autonomous individuals and the referee/State, there seems no way to not recognize polygamy or any other arrangement these autonomous individuals might choose. All the middling institutions are being either eliminated, redefined, or heavily regulated in the name of fairness, justice, love, and freedom from oppression.

    Maybe I should just be quiet.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Steve, thanks for sharing. I think it is very important to keep in mind that this writer is in the minority. The vast majority of gay and lesbian persons are not interested in having multiple partners, but committed, monogamous same-sex relationships. The slippery slope here is the idea that allowing two consenting adults of the same gender to commit to each other is the same as polygamy. They are very different things. We must recognize that LGBT couples are not wanting to destroy or even redefine marriage – they simply want to have the same rights and privileges that you have with your wife, to pledge their commitment to each other, and for their relationships to be respected.

    • “LGBT couples are not wanting to destroy or even redefine marriage”

      Isn’t taking away the male + female dimension of marriage a redefinition of marriage? Sure looks like a redefinition. It might be taken to be a small redefinition, but I don’t see how it can be said that it is not a redefinition. The institution of marriage has not simply been defined as a set of actions and status roles between any two (or more) undifferentiated individuals.

      It may be that once upon a time or some where in the world marriage was defined merely in process and function terms. But I’m unaware of such a definition being operative in our culture. (I am NOT claiming that the LGBT push for a redefinition of marriage is the only force for change in the definition of the institution. Such a claim would be indefensible.)

      So please help me understand how this is not a desire for a redefinition of marriage.

    • Re: Anonymous: How do you know that this writer is in the minority?

      My purpose for including this post is not to make a veiled reference to same-sex marriage. My point is that our conversations in United Methodism about sexuality, marriage and relationships in general have stayed at a surface level. So far as I can tell, we’re not even considering matters that – if this Slate essay is any indication – some people in our society are ready to consider. Whether they are minority or not doesn’t seem to me to matter that much.

    • “Vast majority”? The vast majority of male homosexual marriages are not monogamous. Female homosexuals are only slightly less monogamous. Lots of studies on this point.

      Also, Doesn’t the “b” in LGBT make that group prima facie in favor of Polygamy?

  4. The problem is, we’re all nominalists. Luther and Zwingli argued over the meaning of “is” long before Billy Clinton. (Bad example, but cut me some slack, please.)

    There is a reality, a beyond, that doesn’t define, but rather establishes not the meaning but the thing “marriage) as a transcendent reality. Jesus rejected the quibbling over divorce because It was not “thus at the beginning.”

    Have we so domesticated transcendence (Placher) that it can never be recovered?

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