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Polygamy, Sodomy, and Santorum

memfree (227515) writes | more than 11 years ago

The Courts 22

I'm looking for input on a specific side-issue to the following.

Senator Rick Santorum (R., PA) commented on the Texas/Gay Sex issue before the Supreme Court (quoted from local newspaper -- a local TV station's blurb omits the second part) :

I'm looking for input on a specific side-issue to the following.

Senator Rick Santorum (R., PA) commented on the Texas/Gay Sex issue before the Supreme Court (quoted from local newspaper -- a local TV station's blurb omits the second part) :

"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual (gay) sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything."
...
"All of those things are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family," Santorum said. "And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist, in my opinion, in the United States Constitution."

While Santorum has a point, I think he went too far overboard with his statements. First, "consensual" pretty much rules out what we think of as incest because law (and child psychology) already establish that we cannot expect children to be capable of giving meaningful consent when confronted with an adult -- especially when the adult is an authority figure. Second, I always worry when elected officials make statements *against* a right to privacy (want it reserved to people -- but save that for another day).

I see his point on this part: how can The Court determine that a state has no business violating a gay couple's privacy, but *does* have the right to violate the privacy of bigamists/polygamists? The simple argument is to say that states may not investigate ANY consensual sex, but states *do* have the right grant marriages to only consenting partners consisting of a single man plus a single woman -- which is public record and entirely outside the privacy issue (oh, and from here on, I'll lump bigamists in with polygamists).

In my mind, the above causes a problem for the very people protesting Santorum's remarks. Not only do homosexuals want bedroom privacy, they also want legal gay marriages with the same standing as currently-legal marriages .... and this is the side-topic I'd like to pursue.

Regardless of opinions for or against non-religious Civil Unions of gay couples, I would like to hear compelling arguments that assert, "gay marriage should be legal, but not polygamy." I've already heard plenty of arguments for keeping both illegal, so there's no need to repeat those arguments here.

So far, the best argument I've heard for a distinction is the (weak) claim that while we can assume gay unions to be consensual, polygamy is too often nonconsensual, and therefore it is in the interest of the government and its citizens to allow the former but forbid the latter (as keeping polygamy illegal protects poor helpless under-educated girls).

I'd like to hear a better argument for forbidding all from marrying more than one other person, but allowing any single, consenting adult to marry any other single, consenting adult. Anyone got one?

cancel ×

22 comments

Nope. But I'm a radical on the other side. (0, Flamebait)

Interrobang (245315) | more than 11 years ago | (#5781893)

Why do we need to have "civil unions" in the first place? Why should the state have any say in what I do (or do not do) in my bedroom and in my personal household? In fact, why do we give pair-bonded adults certain rights, permissions, and obligations that non-pair-bonded adults do not have? Why should I need to "legitimize" my private relationships with some outside socializing agency?

Basically, people's bitch with Santorum is with his reactionary "traditional family" (whatever that means) bullshit: In modern society, standards have changed to the point where (to many people, at least) gay couples are acceptable, but polygamous/polyamorous couples are not. I guarantee you if you pulled 100 non-homophobic people off the street, most of them would still think there was something inherently wrong with "open" or group marriages, even when they're stable, long-term, and work well...and they probably won't even be able to tell you why. The short explanation, of course, is cultural pressure, and it goes back a long way, getting tangled up with outdated but still surviving notions of paternity, property, and inheritance along the way.

Personally, my bitch with Santorum is that I'm firmly in the Pierre Trudeau school of government/personal relationships: "The government has no business in the bedrooms of the nation," and also that according to Santorum, I'm at least two kinds of monster. Well, thank goodness he's not making the law in my jurisdiction.

Re:Nope. But I'm a radical on the other side. (1)

Oculus Habent (562837) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782081)

Civil unions are purposeful only for government-involved programs. Taxation, insurance, medical/dental benefits - these things rely upon legally-defined relationships to provide certain levels and aspects of coverage. They are neccesary in most governments these days.

However, the ability to obtain civil unions or other variations of legal relationship should not be based on gender qualifications.

Moving well beyond the issues of gender and orientation, what about the wide variety of non-intimate relationships?

If I live with my friend and his wife, and we are all members of a single household - sharing the bills and financially dependant on all three members - I am still completely separate from them. No polyamory is involved, there is no way to represent to an insurance company that we are a single domestic unit.

What of an elderly parent living with a couple?
What of three 20-somethings who live together?

Perhaps we should separate the social issues from the legal ones, and provide legal coverage regardless of most factors.

Of course, this makes the use of many systems easier. I can get mail at my friends, live one place, and obtain insurance from his or her carrier. The service is being paid for. Is this an abuse, a misuse, or an acceptable use?

Re:Nope. But I'm a radical on the other side. (1)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782188)

Why do we need to have "civil unions" in the first place? Why should the state have any say in what I do (or do not do) in my bedroom and in my personal household? In fact, why do we give pair-bonded adults certain rights, permissions, and obligations that non-pair-bonded adults do not have? Why should I need to "legitimize" my private relationships with some outside socializing agency?

Right there with you. The history of marrage revolves around property rights and transfers with a little "liniage of the offspring" thrown about at random.

In some US States, the government will determine after-the-fact that you are married with a kind of dart-board approach, like California does: person with job - "We broke up and are no longer dating." State - "Nooooo!! Someone wants you to be their perminant paycheck for life and you lived in the same neighborhood for X# Months, seen together often, you looked like a couple, so now you keep paying". Or Virginia: deadbeat - "we lived together for x years before he died, now I want all the money and his survivors benefits, to hell with his kids" State - "here you go and we want our cut too".

Some, like Maryland, recognize nothing of the sort. I am sure there are some other antics in there, but no such animal as "common-law marrage" there.

Liniage is even better in MOST States: Woman - "I don't know who's baby it is honey, you were away, etc, and . . ." Doctor - "She's right, you have no genetic relationship to this baby" State - "Tough crap, you were married to her and any children that she has are YOUR financial responsibility for life"

I am all fo marrage as long as the government is not involved.

Trenchant points, which brings me... (1)

Interrobang (245315) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782580)

...to my next question:

Is there a better way to do this? (I don't know about in your jurisdictions, but in mine, you can get tax benefits on something called "equivalent-to-spouse," but for some gov't programmes that unconstitutional common-law/spouse-in-the-house rule will get you every time.)

Personally, I don't care one way or the other about whether other people want to get legally/religiously married; I would just like it to matter less, since I'm not too keen on it myself. (I also know a woman who de facto, if not de jure, has two husbands. They have a great relationship!)

Re:Trenchant points, which brings me... (1)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782767)

My view is that nobody should get any special status for anything, including marrage.

If you need welfare and meet the financial qualifications, then you get it. If not you don't.

If you have stuff to give away at your death, whomever you say gets it, gets it.

If you want to assist your employees with insurance, so be it. If you want them to add a friend, fine too. If you want a third party to determine what friends qualify, fine with me. Use any or all of that with recruiting. Sorry, the "spouses get it, lovers should too" falls on it's face as I have worked several places that insured employees only, i.e., no spouses, parents, kids allowed.

Taxes? If you make 0 then no income tax. If you make $x it is the same tax married or not. No such thing as filing jointly either.

Re:Trenchant points, which brings me... (2, Informative)

memfree (227515) | more than 11 years ago | (#5784722)

Off topic but ... I expect that eliminating all marriages/unions would make laws and government *more* complicated.

Government issued licenses (rather than religious ceremonies) for marriage/unions/what-have-yous are intended to ratify a decision that each licensee will enter into a partnership in which they share their rights, responsibilities, property, and debts with the other licensee(s). They pay the government a fee to have their shared-status publicly and legally recorded.

It makes sense that states use one, simple document to express as many common issues with such partnerships as possible. Doing so allows for a fast and reasonably reliable way to determine legal accountability for spouses and/or children rather than requiring a new case-by-case statement of shared rights/responsibilities for every new doctor, new rental/housing agreement, major purchase, new school setting, and on and on.

Examples: When different parties argue on whether a clinically dead relation should be removed from life support, the spouse should get more say than friends. Even Doctors and hospitals don't want to hire lawyers to examine each "partnership contract". They want their legal team to decide what to do with their state's ONE document. Spouses should automatically get certain guardianship rights/responsibilities for their children. Spouses should inherit property and debts upon their spouse's death. All such 'special' rights could be altered by legal documents saying otherwise, but in their absence, one standardized agreement is more useful than to restate co-ownership/co-guardianship, etc. each time a new situation arises.

Analogy: If I want to fish in my state, I pay the state for ONE fishing license that covers a variety of fish, rivers, and seasons for each. I don't need to buy a license for catfish in river #38, another for bass in lake #42 in spring, and another for trout the same lake #42 in summer. I might have to buy an additional license for a very particular case that requires additional protections (restricted area, threatened species, or such) but the most common stuff gets covered in one big lump.

Another thing on marriage: I want a distinction between convenient living arrangements versus committed relationships. I want the law to understand that if I'd died in college, my dorm mates had no responsibility towards my remains nor any inheritance rights of my possessions -- but if I'd died while married, I'd want my spouse to automatically get both the burden and the stuff (minus any 'death tax').

Summary of stance: 1) having some laws is good, but too many is bad. 2) it is inefficient to require special handling of common practices, so don't.

Oooh. Dilemma. (1)

Interrobang (245315) | more than 11 years ago | (#5786412)

I agree with both you and GMontag -- is that cognitive dissonance, or what? I'm still not entirely sure why there has to be a legal recognition of a "committed relationship," whatever that is (everyone who's tried to explain this to me so far has failed), that extends beyond a standard (or even boilerplate) reciprocal power-of-attorney -- which might just be a better way, for those of us for whom this is an issue (YMMV, personally and jurisdictionally, of course).

I like GMontag's idea that some things should be best left up to individuals -- tax filing, Welfare benefits, etc (please no more cases of people getting burned on that tedious "spouse-in-the-house" rule where you have to prove Buddy isn't your spouse, yeah, you heard me right!), but at the same time, I see your (bioethical) point. Still, knowing my PIC, I'm not entirely sure I'd want him (as opposed to other people I could name) running my show if I weren't able to do it, which adds a cautionary note to my thinking.

Seems like I've really tossed a match into a fireworks factory here, eh?

Re:Trenchant points, which brings me... (1)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5786933)

Cuba has an even more simple system than that. Sorry, I am not going to go there to sign up.

Self-fulfilling Request (2, Interesting)

Oculus Habent (562837) | more than 11 years ago | (#5781937)

The problem with the request is that the simplicity of it is the problem. Why shouldn't any legally single, adult be able to marry and other legally single adult with consent from both - current laws barring immediate family, etc still effective?

If you set aside religious convictions and prejudices, there is no decent reason to prevent any two people meeting the above qualifications from forming a civil union, thereby granting them the privileges of legal marriage.

This goes beyond homosexual marriage. Right now a man and woman can get married for tax and insurance benefits while both are in other relationships. Indeed they need not live in the same city. This priviledge is only extended to man/woman couples because of the religious backings of the system.

Bigamy and polygamy are different subjects. To place them together with two-person homosexual relationships is to place them together with two-person relationships of any gender.

Gender inspecific laws do not require additional value changes about 3+ person relationships.

It comes down to the acceptance of any given practice by a society. If society ultimately allows civil union for any gender, that is their choice. If they decide later (or at the same time) to allow polygamy or bigamy, it is also their choice. I would submit, however, that the general acceptance of homosexual unions is much closer than the general acceptance of polygamy or bigamy.

Re:Self-fulfilling Request (1)

memfree (227515) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782861)

Why shouldn't any legally single, adult be able to marry any other legally single adult with consent from both ?

<Devil's Advocate> Current laws only allow traditional marriage. When you start allowing non-traditional marriages of any kind, how can you justify limiting marriage to the tradition of just two people? If you're already breaking with the religious underpinnings and long standing tradition, why not keep going and allow 3+ unions? How can you say, "This immoral union is now legal, but that immoral union is not?"</Devil's Advocate>

I've heard the above as an one of the arguments for keeping marriage laws as-is. Also heard it from people supporting polygamy.

Oh, and I expect laws against wedding close kin will always be upheld because of eventual problems of inbreeding (tho I remember reading that 1st cousins produce healthy offspring for a few iterations). It'd be a public welfare issue.

Re:Devil's Advocate (1)

Oculus Habent (562837) | more than 11 years ago | (#5784023)

It comes down to society's acceptance and comfort level. Even were the general populace to allow same-sex unions, polygamy would likely still be considered immorral on a large enough scale to prevent its acceptance.

My thoughts
Social acceptance of issues, no matter how different or similar, take place on an issue-by-issue basis. Maybe someday there will be no restrictions on marriage or civil unions. But each change is its own battle, with its own moral questions, its own social implications, and, ultimately, its own separate resolution.

Pro Family Values (1)

foistboinder (99286) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782130)

Nowadays in the U.S.A., being pro family means hating gays and against any kind of abortion.

Just like anti crime means pro death penalty.

Sad really...

Re:Pro Family Values (1)

RedWolves2 (84305) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782395)

Nowadays in the U.S.A., being pro family means hating gays and against any kind of abortion.

I would have to disagree on this point. I am profamily but I don't hate gays or am against abortion.

But then again that is just me.

Re:Pro Family Values (1)

foistboinder (99286) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782605)

I ment politicains running on a "Pro Family" platform.

Pro Gay (0, Offtopic)

GMontag (42283) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782791)

I wish there were more bi-sexual women and more lesbians. At least more great looking ones that want to date me or let me take their picture.

One thing I'd like to point out... (1)

Liora (565268) | more than 11 years ago | (#5782610)

...What I traditionally think of as incest is not what you described at all. Incest to me is sex between immediate family members, not between adults and children (although that would be included if they are part of the same family, that's what's widely known as child abuse, as far as I am concerned). Incest could be between two consenting adult siblings. Child sexual abuse, while also terrible, is indeed illegal by the sheer fact that we've dubbed sex with any children illegal, but as far as I know, beyond immediate family, incest is legal. You can marry and have sex with your cousin in most states. That's still incest (IMHO), and still gross (again, IMHO).

Re:One thing I'd like to point out... (1)

memfree (227515) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783027)

Point taken. I, too, get an 'Ewwww' reaction of grossness at the idea of an adult offspring having sexual interest in their parent.

The idea is so alien to me that I guess I jump to the assumption that the most likely way for parent/offspring sex to occur is when a parent manipulates a still-young child into such acts. This is even more despicable in my mind, but it gets so much news coverage that I must accept the fact that it occurs (where as adult incest seems much less reported).

Re:One thing I'd like to point out... (0, Flamebait)

L. VeGas (580015) | more than 11 years ago | (#5784413)

Ya know, God did it with Mary, and God is everyone's father.

Said it before- (1)

Some Woman (250267) | more than 11 years ago | (#5783149)

I believe that the government should recognize civil unions, but not marriages. This way, you could designate anybody of your choice to be your civil partner. This person would recieve whatever benefits we typically set aside for married people. Marriage would be a personal commitment between two or more people and their religion, if that's their thing. You could only have one civil partner (to limit financial drain on the state), but as many marriage partners as you deem necessary.

Re:Said it before- (1)

memfree (227515) | more than 11 years ago | (#5787123)

Let's suppose the government only issues civic union licenses and also that many folks who receive religiously santified marriages also choose to enter this legal agreement (probably because it simplfies other legal matters).

Who could legaly enter into a civil union? Only a single male and single female? Only those who expressed a desire for particular sub-conditions (maybe a test is required, or maybe only those intending to raise children can apply)? Any two consenting adults of any sex? Any number of consenting adults of any sex?

If we abandon the traditional marriage, do we put any restriction on who can be included in a civil union? If the only limit was "all parties must be consenting adults" would civil unions be meaningful? What protections/requirements would it include compared to "marriage"? For example, would it enforce full parental-style guardianship (both responsibilties and rights) for a male/female couple over their genetic child, and also give the exact same guardianship to everyone in a union of 100 people over each of 160 children that may or may not have be parented by union members?

I'm interested in hearing if there's any non-arbitrary way to include one non-standard union, but exclude others.

Re:Said it before- (1)

Some Woman (250267) | more than 11 years ago | (#5791823)

I think that civil unions would most often be used for married people, but my intent is not to make them equivalent. I'm having one of those Libertarian days, where I think that the governement has no business in people's romantic relations. I do, however, believe that it is perfectly appropriate to be able to designate one person as your dependent/beneficiary who otherwise wouldn't be.

I was actually thinking that civil unions could be between anybody. For example, if your elderly mother can't afford medical insurance, you could designate her your civic partner. This, of course, assumes that businesses would use civic partner/children as the standards for dependents.

While the traditional concept of marriage would still exist, i don't see why the state has to recognize it. I don't think it's fair say that some people can have state-recognized unions, while others cannot, and I don't think it's possible to implement it in a way that seems remotely non-discriminatory.

I think that child guardianship would have to be a completely separate legal issue, and don't think that a civil union would be what designates guardianship, nor would marriage.

another compassionate conservative (1)

edgarde (22267) | more than 11 years ago | (#5895310)

Senator in Heated Exchange With Parents of Gay Children [nytimes.com]

The question of why polygamy (et cetera) is good or bad is irrelevent -- neither Santorum nor anyone here's considering taking up the practice, right? -- but for what it's worth:

  • Many ex-polygamists denounce polygamy as a form of spouse abuse. I don't understand their issue enough to argue it -- if the problem really is "poor, helpless, undereducated girls", then banning polygamy is at best a partial solution.
  • Institutions that supported polygamy -- I'm weak on the details here too, but obviously the early Mormon -- supported one man marrying many women but not the converse. So anti-polygamy laws when enacted were considered reasonable fairness, and not just institutionalized fear of strange religious groups.

That said, I don't believe Santorum has a "point". The assertion that same-sex marriage will breach the wall that protects us from sexual anarchy is designed to frighten and confuse, framing the discussion so that before you can defend gay marriage, you have to distinguish it from (or defend) bigamy, polygamy, incest, adultery, and "anything". To oppose him on these terms is uncomfortable (for most of the audience), devisive (cos people start arguing the "side-topics"), and generally overcomplicated. (Santorum is playing the "hedgehog", the one who knows one big thing.)

Santorum didn't design this particular slippery slope himself. It's common coin among religious opponents to gay rights, who've heard this statement enough times from different authorities that it counts as a reassuring platitude, like saying "flags are good". Additionally, it makes the argument against gay marriage seem intuitive to people who are uncomfortable with gays being accepted in society; such persons are similarly uncomfortable about the whole list, and affirming this discomfort as a natural understanding of how society works is an emotional counter-argument to the "homophobia" meme, which informs them these feelings are simply prejudice.

People like being told these things. The GOP might try to draw attention away from Santorum for a while, but he'll be re-elected, and he'll go on to more leadership positions after the flak dies down.

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