With The Left, There Is Always A Farther
The Law of Merited Impossibility: It will never happen, and when it does, you bigots will deserve it.
Waaaaay back in 2012, at the dawn of time, Salon.com published a piece with the following headline:
Won’t legitimizing same-sex marriage lead to legitimizing polyamorous relationships too? If two men can marry one another, why not one man and two women? This argument is a favorite of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, the so-called Christian right and the right-wing blogosphere.
Responding to these arguments is a challenge. On the one hand, I reject the tactic of distinguishing the good gays from the “bad” poly people. Further marginalizing the marginalized is just the wrong trajectory for any liberation movement to take. And it reminds me of the way that some mainstream gay activists have sold out transgender and gender-nonconforming groups. We’re the married gays who make neighborhoods stable and herald the arrival of cool coffeehouses; we’re not those awful drag queens. This is all trash, it sells out members of our own community who deserve more than that, and it’s a punt, really, not an argument.
On the other hand, I don’t want to fail to draw any distinction, either. I don’t know what polyamory’s approval ratings are, but I bet they aren’t high — Newt Gingrich notwithstanding. At the very least, it would be bad politics to agree and argue that there really is no difference.
We should do the same when it comes to polyamory: just decline to answer. Really, there are a host of questions that arise in the case of polyamory to which we just don’t know the answer. Is polyamory like sexual orientation, a deep trait felt to be at the core of one’s being? Would a polyamorous person feel as incomplete without multiple partners as a lesbian or gay person might feel without one? How many “truly polyamorous” people are there? Are there compelling policy reasons why we would want to discourage polyamory (as we do incest or sex with minors), or are those reasons really just fears? These are all important questions, and the answers are not self-evident. We don’t really know.
Yet we do know the answers when it comes to same-sex marriage. We do know that sexual orientation is “a deep trait felt to be at the core of one’s being.” We do know how incomplete and alone many gay people feel without the possibility of fully accepted partnership, and we know there are millions of gay people out there in the world. We do know that the policy arguments sometimes brandished against gay people (child welfare, encouragement of homosexuality) are hot air, unsubstantiated by evidence.
That’s not what the objection was about at all. The objection was about redefining marriage in law to sever its connection with childbearing, child-rearing, and tradition (whether sanctioned by religion or not). The claim was straightforward: if marriage has no referent to a purpose higher than itself; if marriage is nothing other than a formalization of the feelings two people have for each other; if male and female are only incidental to what marriage is … then why not let polyamorous partnerships be accepted socially, and even formalize themselves as marriage?
The answer is: there is no stopping the downward slide to polyamory. It has taken only seven years, but now the mainstream media are covering polyamory with the same sentimental advocacy with which they approached the gay marriage issue starting 20 years ago. See this recent CBS News story.
See this piece (“Polyamory Works For Them”) from August in The New York Times. Type in “polyamory” on the Times website, and you’ll get lots of results. I found this one just a few weeks after the 2015 Obergefell decision: a column arguing that now is the time to legalize polygamy:
Here’s the lesson: never, ever, ever believe the Left when it says, “This far, but no farther.” There is always a farther.