The slippery slope: from decriminalization to social acceptance

From First Things:

The Present State of Our Polygamous Future
Jul 20, 2011
Joe Carter

In an interview on the science in science fiction, novelist William Gibson noted, “[T]he future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” What Gibson meant was that the innovations in science fiction could already be found—at least in embryonic form—in our current ideas or technology. Much the same could be said about future social and legal norms concerning the institution of marriage—they are already here, they’re just not evenly distributed yet.

A prime example is the social and legal acceptance of polygamous marriage. [Not to mention contrary-to-nature acts.] The legal bulwark against polygamy was the first to go, dismantled by the Supreme Court ruling Lawrence v. Texas. “Liberty presumes an autonomy of self,” claimed Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion, “that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression, and certain intimate conduct.”

As Justice Antonin Scalia recognized in the minority opinion, the decision could be used to legalize bigamy and would be a “massive disruption of the current social order.” Last week the New York Times featured a story about a polygamist who is suing the state of Utah to overturn its anti-polygamy law that proves Scalia a prophet:

The lawsuit is not demanding that states recognize polygamous marriage. Instead, the lawsuit builds on a 2003 United States Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down state sodomy laws as unconstitutional intrusions on the “intimate conduct” of consenting adults. It will ask the federal courts to tell states that they cannot punish polygamists for their own “intimate conduct” so long as they are not breaking other laws, like those regarding child abuse, incest or seeking multiple marriage licenses.
One man’s slippery slope is another’s ladder of progress. Homosexual activists needed over thirty years to go from Stonewall to Goodridge. But they have paved a clearer path for polygamists. And, unlike gay marriage, polygamy already has a long-standing cultural precedent. All of the major world religions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity—have at one time in their history condoned the practice of taking multiple spouses.

The same holds true for most every culture on earth. Out of 1170 societies recorded in Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas, polygyny (the practice of men having more than one wife) is prevalent in 850. Even our own culture, which has an astoundingly high divorce and remarriage rate, practices a form of “serial polygamy.”

Advocates for same-sex marriage often refer to polls showing the social acceptance of homosexual relationships as a justification for expanding the definition of marriage. From this we can adduce, a fortiori, that since polygamy has an even stronger claim to historical and cultural acceptance, it should be included in the new expansion of marriage “rights.

The appeal to “rights” also undercuts any reason to give special preference to same-sex relationships over polygamous ones. The precedents established in Lawrence and Goodridge are equally applicable to polyamorous relationships and homosexual couplings. As Scalia noted in his dissent, as long as polygamists are not violating established laws or committing child abuse, states no longer have the authority to regulate their living arrangements.

With this decriminalization comes the inevitable push for acceptance. It happened with homosexual relationships and it will happen with polyamorous ones too. And why should society deny a man the right to marry all the women he loves? What reasons do those who favor gay marriage have for excluding polygamy? Having rejected all arguments from nature and reason when they were used against their position, what do they have left to justify their discrimination? [Eventually they will push for a acceptance of bestiality and "marriage" with young children.  Once they head down this path, they will try to decriminalize and then push for acceptance.]

The answer is nothing but arbitrary personal preference. Those who truly believe that homosexuals have a legal right to marry someone of the same gender have undercut the grounds for barring polyamorous groups from doing the same. If a man can marry another man why should he be barred from marrying two or three or four men if he chooses? [Or his dog?  Or his kid sister?  After all, we can't be species-ist. The degrees of consanguinity - arbitrary, right?  The establishment of an age for consent is arbitrary, right?  It is only a matter of time before some sickos push for the decriminalization and acceptance of these, and their choices will be aided and defended by liberals.]

Unfortunately, many advocates of same-sex marriage are coming to the same realization, and instead of reconsidering their position, they merely shrug. They agree that allowing one requires allowing the other. But for them, polygamy is at worst an unfortunate but necessary tradeoff on the path to normalizing same-sex unions.

As usual, the progressive legal scholars are ahead of the curve. Six years ago Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, made an eloquent case for the legalization of polygamy:

When the high court struck down anti-sodomy laws in Lawrence vs. Texas, we ended decades of the use of criminal laws to persecute gays. However, this recent change was brought about in part by the greater acceptance of gay men and lesbians into society, including openly gay politicians and popular TV characters.

Such a day of social acceptance will never come for polygamists. It is unlikely that any network is going to air The Polygamist Eye for the Monogamist Guy or add a polygamist twist to Everyone Loves Raymond. No matter. The rights of polygamists should not be based on popularity, but principle.Turley was far too morose in his assessment. It took less than a decade for Kody Brown—the polygamist plaintiff mentioned in the New York Times article—to get a reality TV show. In late 2010, TLC premiered “Sister Wives,” featuring Kody, his four “wives” (he’s legally married to only one woman), and their sixteen children. The promotional material on TLC’s website invites us to “Follow the Brown family and see how they attempt to navigate life as a ‘normal’ family in a society that shuns their polygamist lifestyle.”

After watching the entire first season I can testify that the Brown family is rather “normal”—at least by the standards of our twenty-first century “anything goes” culture. Sure, they’re a bit weird. But who isn’t nowadays? And by society’s moral logic, if you get to know someone and they seem nice and normal then you can’t condemn their lifestyle choices. As long as their flagpole is attached to a well-kept cottage, why shouldn’t they be able to let their freak flag fly?

My fellow Christians are already leading the apathetic shrug of “tolerance.” As one woman wrote on the TLC website:

First off I am not a Mormon, I am Baptist, and let me tell you, those who judge these people remember you shall be judged as you judge. This family is happy, these women all agreed to the arrangement. It is no different than a man having 4 mistresses and children by them. This way they all know about one another, there is no lying, no cheating, there is acceptance and an abundance of love. They need to be left alone to raise their children. God Bless the Browns and keep them safe.
That just about says it all, doesn’t it?  [Yes.  And there is no end to how dumb some people can be,]

The social acceptance of polygamy is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed throughout society. At least not yet.

Joe Carter is Web Editor of First Things and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. His previous articles for “On the Square” can be found here.

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in One Man & One Woman, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

40 Responses to The slippery slope: from decriminalization to social acceptance

  1. MarylandBill says:

    I am not sure that the social liberals will push for bestiality; many of them seem far more interested in protecting animals than in protecting people.

  2. APX says:

    I’m not sure if y0u keep up with any of the Canadian news, but we just had a huge court case in BC over this, and polygamy is on the verge of being legalized here based on the “freedom of religion” rights. As it is, it’s practiced in parts of Canada that have large populations of immigrants from countries where it’s perfectly normal, and the law in rarely enforced unless there’s accusations of child abuse, such as the case in Bountiful.

  3. jflare says:

    “All of the major world religions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity—have at one time in their history condoned the practice of taking multiple spouses.”

    That’s..quite an assessment. I assume they’re counting LDS as Christians for this? I can’t think of any other Christian or Christian-like denomination that has ever allowed multiple marriages.

  4. KAS says:

    MarylandBill, I disagree, the social liberals will push for bestiality because it is a step toward full human rights for animals.

    The world is off its moral rocker and hardly anyone outside of a handful of religious people recognize this fact.

  5. Peggy R says:

    Give points to Rick Santorum.

  6. Titus says:

    All of the major world religions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity—have at one time in their history condoned the practice of taking multiple spouses.

    I seem to have missed a class in Church History: would someone care to enlighten me as to when the Church “condoned the practice of taking multiple spouses.” Or are our intensely ecumenical friends over at First Things counting Mormons as speaking for “Christianity”?

  7. jasoncpetty says:

    . . . Scalia a prophet . . .

    It’s true. There is no interpretive constitutional hermeneutic but originalism and Scalia is its prophet.

  8. MyBrokenFiat says:

    Just a heads up, but yes, the media already pushes polygamy in the way it pushed homosexual marriage – I believe it’s TLC that airs “Sister Wives” which documents the “trials” of a man married to 5 or 6 women. They live in a large house and raise their many children as one family with multiple mothers.

    I cry for those children who grow up thinking that sort of behavior is not only normal, but something to strive for (as it’s brought their family fame and fortune through the series). Ugh… I shudder.

    Holy Spirit, help us. Holy Family, be our example!

  9. MyBrokenFiat says:

    And apparently I missed that entire paragraph in my excitement. Good job… lol.

  10. SK Bill says:

    Eh? It is no different than a man having 4 mistresses and children by them.

    Baptists don’t recognize mortal sin, but surely the writer doesn’t think there is nothing morally wrong with cohabitation outside of sacramental marriage? And he’s going to shake his finger at me with the “don’t judge” thing?

    The world really is off its rocker. I just wish we had a clue how to put it back upright and on the right track. Yes, we need to pray, and yes, the Holy Spirit will do the Holy Spirit’s work, but we need to do our part in the world — if only we can figure out what that is.

  11. Pachomius says:

    This is why Catholics should avoid libertarianism, regardless of which wing it’s currently hiding under.

  12. Andrew says:

    If I dare to look into the future, it just might be that the current ‘economic crisis’ is just a symptom of the current ‘family crisis’. We are being cornered to a point where we will have to wise up or become totally irrelevant. If we continue on the wrong path we’ll become not a third world country but a fourth world wasteland. A nation cannot go on like this and continue to prosper. Millions of aborted humans and one man marrying another man and frozen embryos and in vitro babies and surrogate mothers and rampant cohabitation, fornication, contraception, pornography, divorce: if that’s not enough for a meltdown of a nation, I don’t know what is. We are sinking because family life is sinking.

  13. Iowander says:

    While I agree that toleration/legalization/promotion of polygamy necessarily follows from that of same-sex unions (not to mention serial polygamy), I really don’t think the slippery slope continues to marriage or sexual acts with children or others who don’t or can’t consent.

    With all of the problems with society’s moral compass, I just don’t see it rising to the level of accepting child rape.

  14. DFWShook says:

    While I agree that toleration/legalization/promotion of polygamy necessarily follows from that of same-sex unions (not to mention serial polygamy), I really don’t think the slippery slope continues to marriage or sexual acts with children or others who don’t or can’t consent.

    By re-defining marriage, the door is wide open for Sharia Law which does include marriage/sexual acts with children. It is just a matter of time.

  15. wecahill says:

    All of the major world religions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity—have at one time in their history condoned the practice of taking multiple spouses.

    When did “Christianity” condone the practice of taking multiple spouses??? Is the author referring to Martin Luther? Certainly no Catholic ever did so (and remained Catholic!).

  16. raitchi2 says:

    Before we cast the first stone with child marriage, let’s keep in mind that current Latin Rite law states the minimum age for a marriage is 14 for girls and 16 for boys. These ages was raised from 12 years in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. http://www.canonlaw.info/a_tooyoung.htm

  17. chcrix says:

    “By re-defining marriage, the door is wide open for Sharia Law which does include marriage/sexual acts with children. It is just a matter of time.”

    DFWShook: what do you mean by children? If you mean anyone less than 18 thats one thing. If you mean 8 that’s another. Remember that Almanzo Wilder was courting Laura Ingalls seriously when she was just 15. Our current standards are not necessarily typical.

    The Romans I recall were having trouble confining marriage to females over 12. I think the Senate passed decrees three times requiring brides to be at least 13. (A lot of their problem was due to throwing away the female infants leading to scarcity – China take note.)

    This is why Catholics will have to embrace libertarianism. It will become imperative that marriage in the Catholic view simply be removed from the clutches of the state. Before anyone says that’s unworkable remember that Imperial Roman society was at least as hostile to Christianity as our contemporary world. Christianity did not triumph by getting the Emperor on board. It triumphed by showing it was a better way to live. Constantine was just ratifying an existing situation.

    If one wants to improve the moral tone of society, remember that you are in this for the long haul and won’t see the end of it – any more than Pope Clement of Rome did.

  18. Clinton says:

    I don’t imagine that we’ll see an organized attempt to lower the age of consent here in
    the US, at least not until the sexual abuse of minors is no longer such a convenient stick
    for some to beat the Church.

    Peggy R @ 3:27pm was right– years ago Senator Santorum pointed out the inevitable
    impossibility of any legal boundaries remaining once the premise that the state
    could redefine marriage was accepted. He was of course mocked by our shiny modern
    betters, but he was right. If you accept the premise that it can be redefined one way, then
    you accept that the state could later redefine it any other way it pleases…

  19. DFWShook says:

    chcrix: I think this will answer your question: http://www.wnd.com/?pageId=68074 Under Sharia Law menarche is usually the determining factor as to when a female is eligible to marry. There are some caveats which allow for the marriage of a female prior to menarche. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baligh The average age of menarche is 11.75 years while being 12.5 years in the US.

  20. SMC-BC says:

    Under the present circumstances, I don’t think there is any way we will be able to avoid legalizing polygamy. But on the up side, I think I’ll be laughing my butt off when the corporate world realizes how much this is going to cost them in employment benefits.

    (Take that Microsoft and Google for endorsing same-sex marriage)

  21. Peggy R says:

    Here’s a link to Santorum’s prediction. He was right along with A. Scalia. He took a lot of heat for it. Still does today.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santorum_controversy_regarding_homosexuality

    Also on age. I just read a National Geo article in which the western (American?) reporter was horrified at the arranged marriages of girls under 18. There is a strong desire by western feminists to see that girls get an opportunity at education. The “backwards” cultures of Islamic villages are not what the modern feminist is going to work toward. But the feminist could not answer a father who asked how otherwise–than to have his daughter married young (or promised young)–to protect his daughter from the uncivilized men who accost and rape unspoken for girls.

    But, our American society does infantilize us too long. School until 25 or so. Marriage maybe by 30…and to be able to reproduce so late is hard. American kids ought to be prepared to live independently by the time they are 18, if not sooner. We aren’t doing a good job as a society on that.

  22. Laura R. says:

    All of the major world religions—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity—have at one time in their history condoned the practice of taking multiple spouses.

    My take on the reason for including Christianity in this list would be that we had our origins in Judaism and include the Old Testament in our sacred scriptures. I’m not sure if that’s really correct, but that’s what I assume was the author’s intent.

  23. PostCatholic says:

    Barbara Bradley Hagerty did a thoughtful in-depth bit of reporting on this for NPR a little over a week ago. You can read it here: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/12/137772853/sister-wives-family-to-challenge-anti-bigamy-law

    In any event, the analysis above is missing the liberal counter-argument to bigamy, one viewpoint Hagerty represented in her piece by quoting a professor from Yeshiva University’s law school:

    This isn’t about personal rights, says Marci Hamilton. It’s about a state’s ability to regulate marital relationships. Hamilton, an expert on polygamy law and a professor at Cardozo School of Law, says there is a mountain of evidence that polygamy is bad for women and children. Just do the math, she says: A man who has multiple wives will have to marry younger — often underage — brides as he runs out of women his age.

    “This isn’t a lifestyle choice,” she says. “This is a culture in which men must rule and women are not equal. Three women are equal to one man, nine women are equal to one man — and the children are second-class citizens.”

    Hamilton says there have been more than 100 challenges to polygamy laws, including in Utah, and all have failed.

    {…}

    Sure, the Supreme Court ruled that private sexual conduct between consenting adults is protected. But, she says, “The court does not say that every activity involving sex is now immune from regulation.”

  24. Stvsmith2009 says:

    Just days ago, I made a comment to a fellow blogger that I am fully expecting polygamy to quickly follow the acceptance of contrary to nature acts. I feel so inclined to ask, “where are we going and why am I in this handbasket?”

  25. Brad says:

    “As long as their flagpole is attached to a well-kept cottage, why shouldn’t they be able to let their freak flag fly?”

    The UU place (do they call it a church?) in my town is literally an ultra quaint cottage with a rainbow flag on the high flagpole. As I pass by it on my way to Mass, I ponder if the hip,tolerant, certain demographic (married, 60 years old, white, subaru, cough cough) who attend have any concept of what really goes on under the auspice of the rainbow, i.e. the difference between family-friendly, carefully scrubbed (almost) gay pride parades and, say, Dore Alley parade (careful if you google the images). How about the local bath house? How about xyx they have absolutely no concept of and would simply wither at?

    By the way, I thought this may interest some here: the difference between the 6 and 7 color rainbow. Now you’ll never not count.
    http://cleansingfiredor.com/2011/07/on-rainbows/

  26. Jerry says:

    @Andrew – “If I dare to look into the future, it just might be that the current ‘economic crisis’ is just a symptom of the current ‘family crisis’. ”

    The documentary Demographic Winter explores this association in great detail. (The link is to the first of 11 parts on You Tube.)

  27. BLB Oregon says:

    Once we have polygamy and same-sex “marriage,” the single people are going to ask, “What is there about this so-called institution of marriage that benefits society? What part of their ‘contract’ has to do with anyone but themselves and what part are they held to when it no longer suits them?” It will be very hard to explain to the single people why they ought to foot the bill for extending any of the priveleges of marriage, save automatic rights of inheritance, mutual visitation rights, and an established way to divide assets in the event of a break-up….and they’re going to want the married people to cover the costs of that, too. They might go for tax breaks for adults with children, but forget any financial advantage for adults with a legal partner.

    Considering the many definitions of family that are accepted, one as good as another, it would be hard to mount an argument against the complaint.

  28. jpheart says:

    I don’t know if marriage with very young girls will become widely socially acceptable but sexual activity with the children(this includes homosexual incest) is already acceptable in some liberal circles. I know personally, in real life, a handful of people who think that this sort of behavior is completely normal. One of my biggest fears for the future is that by the time I have children this “open-mindedness” will be written into law and I will not be able to protect my children from those who most of us rightly see as predators.

  29. Joe Carter says:

    Titus: I seem to have missed a class in Church History: would someone care to enlighten me as to when the Church “condoned the practice of taking multiple spouses.”

    My intent in using the word “condone” was in the strict sense of “to disregard or overlook.” In that sense, we have two giants of the faith who publically condoned polygamy.

    Aquinas thought that polygamy was not the Christian ideal, but was not intrinsically evil. And in a letter to the Saxon Chancellor Gregor Brück, Luther stated that he could not “forbid a person to marry several wives, for it does not contradict Scripture.”

    So we can blame the Thomists and the Lutherans for not upholding the Christian condemnation against polygamy. ; )

    Or are our intensely ecumenical friends over at First Things counting Mormons as speaking for “Christianity”?

    I can’t speak for others at First Things but my ecumenicism doesn’t include considering Mormons (or any other deniers of the trinity) to be “Christian.”

    wecahill: Is the author referring to Martin Luther? Certainly no Catholic ever did so (and remained Catholic!).

    1) Yes. 2) Aquinas would be surprised to hear that. ; )

  30. Athelstan says:

    It’s true. There is no interpretive constitutional hermeneutic but originalism and Scalia is its prophet.

    No. Robert Bork is. And Clarence Thomas is the closest thing he has to a real disciple on the Court.

  31. David2 says:

    Sometimes, I lament, like “Grampa” Simpson, that “I used to be with it, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m ‘with’ isn’t ‘it,’ and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary.”. I’m only 35.

  32. Stephen D says:

    When the first same sex polygamous ‘marriage’ occurs, I think even some liberals will shake their heads and wonder ‘what next’. As to children, a state can choose to ignore its own laws as does Holland where the age of consent is officially 16 for both heterosexual and homosexual sex but no action is taken where the child is between 12 and 16 and neither the child nor its parents complain to the police, any other complainant is ignored. So effectively the age of consent in Holland is 12, this could (and probably does) happen in other countries.
    It will be interesting to see what happens with the Mormons whose official line appears to be that polygamy is divinely instituted but against the law of the land. It seems that they have left open the possibility in their statutes that it may at some point be re-introduced. The polygamous off-shoot organisations of the LDS will have a ‘field day’ if the secular law permits polygamy but the LDS will not.

  33. Kerry says:

    What Andrew said, ! And I believe the current financial bankruptcies are the external reflection of moral bankruptcy.

  34. Kerry says:

    When the purpose of human sexuality is considered to be only for personal pleasure, overindulgence becomes the great virtue. When one believes the purpose is participation with God in the great creative act of new life…what, the fear (awe) of God is the beginning of wisdom.

  35. teomatteo says:

    I recently had a middle aged woman in my office reveal her dismay at her grown children. Both are having babies out of wedlock. (man that seems old fashion to say). She lamented to me that, “I never raised my children that way”. I remembered many times overhearing her say that gay marriage is a right and there should be no discrimination against it. She did not hesitate to refer to us against same sex unions as: homophobes. She has always been very pro abortion. I think she even got her daughter on the Pill while in college. I said nothing to her in responce. I just didnt know where to begin….

  36. Martial Artist says:

    @teomatteo,

    I think the appropriate response, although almost sure to be (at best) ignored by the recipient, would have been

    “actually, the reality of the situation would appear to suggest that you did raise her that way, even if such was not your intention.”

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  37. ContraMundum says:

    Or his dog? Or his kid sister? After all, we can be species-ist. The degrees of consanguinity – arbitrary, right?

    This reminds me of a story at the satirical Eastern Orthodox site The Onion Dome (now sadly defunct), about a similar marriage allegedly happening in Russia, this one involving, if I remember correctly, “two lucky guys, three lucky girls, and a lemur, whose luck was questionable.”

  38. quovadis7 says:

    With regard to St. Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther – it is clear from the New Testament Scriptures that the only restriction to one-man/one-woman marriage is that imposed upon Bishops, Priests, & Deacons.

    Don’t believe me? See it for yourself in Titus 1:5-6, 1 Tim. 3:2, & 1 Tim. 3:12.

    The difference between Luther and St. Thomas is that the former rejected the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church and teachings of Her Magisterium wrt marriage (that’s also why divorce is rarely condemned within Protestantism, and as I understand it within Eastern Orthodoxy as well), while the latter fully embraced Her teaching authority and Sacred Tradition on marriage.

    So, here’s a perfect case where Christian tradition makes up for what isn’t specified at all in Holy Scripture – namely, that the perfection of the family comes via what God has ordained in His Revelation to the Church outside of Holy Scripture, which is through one-man/one-woman marriage for life.

    In other words, “Sola Scriptura” isn’t nearly enough to discern God’s Will – certainly, not on the issue of marriage. Much of Protestant theology fails miserably in this arena….

    So, polygamy cannot be denied other than to ordained ministers, unless one subscribes & submits to the time-honored Sacred Tradition of Christian marriage and the God-ordained teaching authority of His Church – the CATHOLIC Church.

    We certainly can’t blame all of the problems of modern-day society on what Martin Luther started via the Protestant Reformation. But, the seeds that it has planted (i.e. the private interpretation of Scripture, and “primacy of conscience”, to name two of its most fallacious heresies) certainly have played a MAJOR role, and have helped to bring forth some VERY rotten fruit for western society today….

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B
    Plano, TX

  39. Young Canadian RC Male says:

    After reading a few blogs this week and seeing a Michael Voris video this week on the Knights of Columbus, and with the homosexuals gaining fast ground in the world and perhaps polygamy too like this article says, I’m beginning to think we Catholics don’t have much time left. Seems that the great Chastizement is encroaching upon us and reving up speed. I feel like I should be getting supplies and maybe even arms. Faithwize I even set out over a whole year creating four 3″ binders full of knowledge on the Church moral principles and and printing out many catholic.com articles from This Rock and certain Vatican documents, as well as buying certain Catholic books in case the inevitable happens.

  40. Patti Day says:

    @SMC-BC: I think I’ll be laughing my butt off when the corporate world realizes how much this is going to cost them in employment benefits.

    Unfortunately, those costs will be passed along to the consumer, us.