From the Fringes: A Marital Blitz

April 2017

It’s no secret that marriage in America has undergone a radical recalibration. The traditional definition of the term is “a legal union of a man and a woman as husband and wife.” That’s so 1950s! The new-fashioned understanding of marriage, imposed on all fifty states by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell v. Hodges ruling (2015), is a legal union of one man and one woman, or of two men, or of two women. This more expansive conceptualization became a matter of convention so quickly that opposition to marriage between two men or two women evaporated almost immediately after the court handed down its decision. Within a matter of days, Donald Cardinal Wuerl, archbishop of Washington, D.C., could be heard proclaiming, “The law of the land is the law of the land. We certainly follow what the law says.” We would have hoped that the good cardinal were more interested in following the law of God rather than the law of men. Alas, our Catholic leaders would have us submit to Caesar in this too.

But even the Obergefell-begat reboot seems somewhat outdated now. It’s so 2015! If we can expand the meaning of marriage to include not only one man and one woman, but two men or two women, why can’t we expand it even further to include, say, one man and two women, or two men and one woman, or two men and two women, or more? The combinations are limited only by our ability to count!

We’re talking, of course, about polygamy, another social taboo just waiting to be toppled. Frankly, the leap from the legal recognition of same-sex marriage to the legal recognition of “plural marriage” isn’t that large — certainly not as large as the leap from opposite-sex to same-sex marriage. This proximity of causes is something Chief Justice John Roberts noted in his dissent from the court’s majority decision in Obergefell. “It is striking,” he noted, “how much of the majority’s reasoning [re: same-sex marriage] would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.” There may be “relevant differences” between same-sex marriage and polygamy that “compel different legal analysis,” Roberts said. “But if there are, petitioners have not pointed to any.”

Though many same-sex-marriage supporters scoffed at what they saw as Roberts’s right-wing alarmism, a social movement had already been organized to normalize multiple concurrent romantic partnerships well before Obergefell was even a gleam in Sonia Sotomayor’s eye. It’s called the polyamory movement. Shoot, we wrote about it in these pages seventeen years ago. Polyamory is the practice in which multiple people engage in an intimate relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge and consent of all involved. Polygamy is the nuptial formalization of a polyamorous relationship: It is a “marriage” of three or more people.


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New Oxford Notes: April 2017

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