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Sunday 12 July2015


Polygamy, polygyny, polyandry? What's next?

Single-sex marriage is so yesterday. What do we think about legalising multiple marriages? asks Ruth Dudley Edwards

'I said publicly that the 'No' side in the referendum on gay marriage had valid arguments that should be addressed respectfully - not least that there would be unforeseen consequences if we changed the definition of marriage'

What with the relentless contempt and abuse one receives for expressing unfashionable views, sometimes it's quite wearing being a "conservative". Having written that word, I googled it to check what I was owning up to, and was told it meant "averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values".

Well, actually, though I don't think change is necessarily good, I quite like a lot of it and I've rejected plenty of traditional values in my time. Indeed, since as a child I began to read about people from other times and worlds, I've had a rooted objection to anyone being stuck automatically with the values of their often ignorant, bigoted or thick ancestors.

Still, "homophobe" was one term of abuse I was awarded a few times recently because even though I would probably have voted 'Yes', I said publicly that the 'No' side in the referendum on gay marriage had valid arguments that should be addressed respectfully - not least that there would be unforeseen consequences if we changed the definition of marriage.

Once or twice in liberal company, I hesitantly mentioned "polygamy" as a possible next demand in the name of "equality" and/or "love", only to be drowned out by shouts of "Rubbish", "That will never happen", "You're just making excuses for the bigots" and so on.

Pink News has a gallery of shame devoted to bad people who said polygamy was the next step on the slippery slope.

In no less a place than the US Supreme Court, where last month same-sex marriage was legalised, Justice Anthony Kennedy - a Roman Catholic who was appointed by Ronald Reagan and is broadly conservative but socially liberal - was the decisive swing voter. His opinion was short on first principles, but full of emotional rhetoric that would go down well in Pantibar: "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were."

He might have, but didn't, properly address the question of why that mightn't apply to three, four or more.

In his dissent, which all good people are supposed to boo, but I thought impressive, Chief Justice John Roberts, a Catholic appointed by George W Bush, did. "[F]rom the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world. If the majority is willing to take the big leap, it is hard to see how it can say no to the shorter one."

The day after the ruling, the American magazine Politico ran an article claiming that the hostility against polygamy of many campaigners for same-sex marriage had been merely a tactical way of beating the "slippery slope" argument.

But "given that many of us have argued, to great effect, that deference to tradition is not a legitimate reason to restrict marriage rights to groups that want them, the next step seems clear. We should turn our efforts towards the legal recognition of marriages between more than two partners. It's time to legalise polygamy."

The commentator Mark Steyn predicted: "Some day soon, some judge somewhere will rule in favour of polygamy, not because the left is especially invested in this particular "expansion" of rights but because of the opportunities it provides for further vandalism of what's left of the old order. That's what matters."

In Britain, where there are thought to be around 20,000 polygamous Muslim marriages, as long as they've acquired the extra ones abroad and therefore haven't contravened the law against bigamy, men can claim benefits for a few wives. Fortunately, from the taxpayer's point of view, their religion confines them to four.

Obedient Muslims don't approve of single-sex marriage, but they'll be right behind legalising polygyny (man and two or more wives) but not polyandry (woman and two or more husbands). Feminists will be upset at the notion of pandering to the patriarchy, but what will they say about three women who just love one another and want marriage equality for plural gay relationships?

During the last UK election campaign, Redfern Jon Barrett, who has a master's degree in "gender" and a PhD in "queer literature", tackled Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party. "As someone living with his two boyfriends in a stable long-term relationship," he asked her, "I would like to know what your stance is on polyamory [non-exclusive consensual open sexual relationships]. Is there room for Green support on group civil partnerships or marriages?"

Ms Bennett has the virtue of being honest about her party's policies, which is one of the reasons the Greens did much worse than expected. "At present," she said, her party had no specific policy on legal partnerships involving more than two people, but members could develop one and vote for it to be introduced. "We have led the way on many issues related to the liberalisation of legal status in adult consenting relationships, and we are open to further conversation and consultation on this issue."

As Steyn put it: "The Right never learns that there is no last concession to the Left, only a nanosecond's respite to catch your breath and then more KY for that slippery slope." Well, my conservative friends, now it's game on.
To confuse the issue further, Virginia, the daughter of the distinguished conservative thinker TE Utley, has asked the prime minister and the chancellor to tell her "what a family is".

She has shared a house with her sister for years and they would like to wed so they can get the benefits that accrue to married people.

"I am sure," she told them, "that you will not say No to us when you said Yes to all the others… Because that wouldn't be fair, would it?"


Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards