TED Conversations

Paul Lillebo

Constructive citizen, independent


This conversation is closed.

Does permitting same-sex marriage lead to permitting polygamy? And so what?

Traditional western marriage is a union between a man and a woman. This involves two restrictions: 1) as to sex (M & F) and 2) as to number (1 & 1). The first (sex) seems to have been enforced in all societies until the past decade. The second (number) has not been restricted at all in many cultures - it's mainly the West of the last few hundred years that has insisted on monogamy. Even today many societies permit polygamy. Clearly, allowing same-sex marriage is a more radical decision than allowing plural marriage.

Recently same-sex marriage has been legalized in some states. The reasoning is that marriage, with its social and financial advantages, should be allowed among persons who love one another, and that this "natural human right" should not be denied on account of the sex of the parties.

Overlooked in discussions of same-sex marriage is this: if we decide that the "sex restriction" in marriage is an abrogation of a natural right to marry whom we love, it may be difficult to maintain the "number restriction." The argument for someone wishing to marry more than one loved one is the same (but less radical) as that for same-sex marriage. I see polygamists soon in the courts and legislatures demanding their right to marry those whom they love. And the courts will not deny their "natural right."

Legislation responds to "the squeaky wheel." Gays have squeaked, but polygamists have not. The full effects of laws are rarely discussed. One effect may be that redefining marriage will result in a new kind of domestic association, where groups of various sizes and sex ratios may join together in a new form of marriage.

In that future the best course may be to base all domestic relations on civil contract law, freeing marriage from its religious connections. In this future we may marry whom and as many as we wish, with a contract that tells our rights and duties within the group, along with rules for secession, etc. Sounds like a complex contract, but a logical outcom


Closing Statement from Paul Lillebo

Thank you all for good contributions. The answer in the end is that we must wait to see what the future brings. In the meantime, we all have the opportunity to try to influence our future. That's a fun - and often frustrating - part of the game of life.
Paul Lillebo

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    Apr 25 2013: Hello friends.
    As host of this debate thread, I'm understandably interested in seeing some discussion of the issue I posed, so I'll give a gentle nudge back toward that.

    Certainly, one of the charms of TED conversations is that they tend to branch out to who-knows-what, just like face to face talks. That's both fun and useful, and I'm all for it. But not very many respondents have spent much time on the original question, so I'll restate it in a more straight-forward form:

    "With the various historical restrictions on marriage - such as race, religion, social caste, and now gender - falling or having fallen by the wayside, should we expect that the next restriction to fall (in the western world) will be that of number? That is, do individuals have a natural right to engage in plural marriage, such as is common in some societies?"

    A few respondents have answered the question with yes or no, but I'd love to see more rationale. I offered one line of argument for the right of plural marriage in the set-up, and I'm sure that others have good arguments for or against.

    Paul L.
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      Apr 26 2013: Individuals have the natural right to engage in whatever relationships they want and they do; societies are the ones that impose restrictions. By natural law gay people would have the right to form couples but natural selection would eliminate them from the gene pool since they would not have descendants (provided that they behave consistently with their sexual preference) Societies for intrinsic reason put restrictions on certain associations and they still do even though there is no written legislation to it; churches still don't marry people of different religions (I personally know a case of and orthodox and a Jewish that were turned down by both churches unless one agreed to convert to the other's religion) It's good that we have the separation of church and state even just for marriage. We never had a caste system in the west but for the most cases I am pretty sure people married within their social rank; plural marriages are common in male dominated societies where women have not obtained equal rights; I don't see a demand for these marriages in the western world unless some terrible wars will wipe out most males and women will have to share the existing ones ;)
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        Apr 29 2013: I agree that there won't be a great demand for polygamous marriage in the West, but I think there will be some demand. To me it will be interesting to see how courts and legislatures handle those demands.

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