Unconventional marriages may be legal next

"Polyamory advocate: Gay marriage 'blazing the marriage equality trail.'" (U.S. News & World Report headline, June 24)

"Will polyamory come out of the closet next?" (PolicyMic headline, June 24)

"Polyamory": noun. Having more than one sexual loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all partners involved.

Among the possible effects of the Supreme Court's ruling last week in favor of "marriage equality" for same-sex partners is the legalization of even more unconventional marriages. Just more of the tired "slippery slope" argument? Read on.

Polygamists, of course, will be looking toward the decriminalization, then legalization, of marriages containing one husband and many wives or one wife and multiple husbands — all in the name of equality.

Here, though, we're talking about polyamory. To see the future, look at Canada, where polyamorists gathered recently in convention to press the government to recognize their multiple relationships just the same as married couples.

In America, U.S. News reported that Anita Wagner Illig, who runs a group called Practical Polyamory, said the "'polyamory community has expressed little desire for legal marriage,' but now more options seem possible in the future. 'We polyamorists are grateful to our (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) brothers and sisters for blazing the marriage equality trail.'"

That slippery slope? She thinks it's a good thing.

"A favorable outcome for marriage equality is a favorable outcome for multi-partner marriage, because the opposition cannot argue lack of precedent for legalizing marriage for other forms of non-traditional relationships."

Polyamorists are right. Theirs is simply the logical extension of the "equality" rhetoric that the same-sex marriage proponents and the Supreme Court picked as their key argument. Now that they've picked it, they're stuck with it. Too bad.

Because if equality is the reason for legalizing same-sex marriage, then the polyamorists, polygamists and any other poly relationship that you can (or don't want to) imagine also should be legalized, sanctified, endorsed and praised. If it is only a question of giving one group of lovers equal rights, respect and access to all the benefits of traditional marriage, then there is no reason for not giving others the same.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy made it perfectly clear in his perfectly irrational majority opinion striking down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The people who supported the act did so out of animus, he said. And they activated their animus by denying equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.

Put aside his own contemptible demeaning of half of Americans who support traditional marriage by declaring they're all a bunch of haters. Shamefully Kennedy now has made that assertion a part of America's jurisprudence.

Beyond that Kennedy opens the door for the equality argument for more than two people in a marriage. The begged question: What is so sacred about a couple? If same-sex marriage is a right to have equality in "matters of the heart" for two people, why not make things exactly the same for three or more people in love?

This is an argument made from emotion, not from reason or consideration of the consequences. To be consistent, same-sex marriage proponents now are obliged to push for equality in these other kinds of marriages with the same passion, energy and resources that they campaigned for their own cause. Or will they try to deny polyamorists their equal rights by arguing that two-person marriages are special?

On this path, we will have diluted the meaning of marriage to the point of it becoming meaningless. Marriage will no longer exist as a useful and defining social institution that was created because of wider societal benefits — too numerous to list here.

Sociologist Jonathan Turner defines a social institution as "a complex of positions, roles, norms and values lodged in particular types of social structures and organizing relatively stable patterns of human activity with respect to fundamental problems in producing life-sustaining resources, in reproducing individuals, and in sustaining viable societal structures within a given environment."

Or to put it simply: Marriage is about the wider good of society. Not about me.

What will become of marriage now that it is defined as simply a mechanism to deliver the same benefits to every comer? Who can say? But it is hard to imagine that it will be of any other use.

Dennis Byrne, a Chicago writer, blogs in "The Barbershop" at chicagonow.com/byrne.

dennis@dennisbyrne.net

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