Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Mixing Greek and Latin Roots Is Wrong

Venerable leftist online periodical Alas! A Blog (it's been around for ten years, which makes it practically the Bank of England) has a piece about how same-sex marriage is very, very different from poly marriage, which does not necessarily work as a polemic. That's a fabulous t-shirt, though.

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Interestingly (at least to me), as the U.S. wing of my denomination struggles (better verb suggestions welcomed!) with same-sex marriage, the Ethiopian wing is struggling with polygamy. The current policy, as I am aware, is that polygamists can join the church, but they cannot marry any more wives.


I'm pretty comfortable with being against legal poly marriage. I feel like marriage, from the standpoint of the government, is all about legally designating a next-of-kin. The question is, can this person legally make decisions for this other person? If yes, you can get married. If no (person is a child, person is a dog or robot or whatever rather than a person), then you cannot get married. You also cannot have more than one person like this--what if you are in a coma and your husband, your wife, and your other wife all disagree about what should happen to you? That's just not workable, I think.

(I also think that being a poly person is great, and you should totally have a ceremony and all of the social sex and love and commitment stuff. This is purely about the legal part of it.)

Cat named Virtute

@OhMarie What about in cases where a person does not have a legal spouse but does have, say, multiple children, or two parents? How does the legal designation for next of kin work then, and is it a workable template for legal poly marriage? I feel like poly marriage would have a lot more legal contract work involved to fit it into most current western legal systems, but is it impossible?


@OhMarie Legal marriage isn't only about designating inheritance. I believe there are 1,138 rights of marriage granted in the United States, including things like critical-condition hospital visits, and a lot of tax breaks I know less about. Because the ceremony is so mixed with rewards of a legal system, it becomes unfair when it is granted to some but not all.
There is still an issue with the fate of a comatose person, (or funeral arrangements, or inheritance) because these issues all ready involve children, spouse, siblings, and parents. One person has to be specified to take care of certain arrangements, or else there will be confusion anyway.

Edit: I'm sorry, Cat, I should have refreshed. Any way, I agree with you!


The questions David Link posits are just a show of his ignorance towards poly marriage. If those things were explained to him, would he be for it? Does his ignorance transform into everyone's inability to comprehend and therefore legislate a pretty simple thing?

ALSO the thing about wealthy men having the ability to marry a bunch of young women, leaving other young men out in the cold! Boohoo! "I would have honestly married you, Fred, it's just that poly marriages are the new thing! No, mainly the one where it's a man and a lot of women. No, Fred, that doesn't make sense sexually. I don't know either."

I guess women are just resources to be mindlessly gathered.
PS When are we gonna talk about incest already.

Cat named Virtute

@Inkling Right?! That REALLY rubbed me the wrong way. Yeah, poly is complicated, but wooooah, is that not a legit critique, at all. I get a very strong impression that this guy has done very little reading about poly practice (I'm no expert, but I read things online, right? And it's really not the catastrophe he seems to imagine).


Yeah, I think this article suffers from a pretty big straw man problem: as far as I am aware, no one is saying "let's all put the brakes on activism for same-sex marriage until we can advocate with equal force for polygamy!" But that's the (imagined) argument that the article is responding to. I think that, at most, advocates of polygamy are just asking for acknowledgment that the human rights/individual rights argument for same sex marriage extends logically to them (as I think probably it does).

As for his concern that legalizing polygamy would result in one-husband-several wives marriages, and that this would have undesirable side effects, well, there's more going on there (including some complicated empirical questions) and I think that point may have merit.


@Inkling The bereft leftover men argument has come up in a Japanese issue: women make moves to not marry and live with their parents. It's insulting that it implies an obligation for women to make sure all the men are married up before they have the life they want.
Incest is actually illegal in the United States, right? How does that work?


@Inkling So could someone explain why the author is wrong rather than just calling them ignorant? I have read a bit but not a lot about poly relationships, and his/her arguments seemed logical enough to me.


@Cat named Virtute
SERIOUSLY JUST FUCKING GRRRGH. Just don't be dumb about things you legislate, okay? WHY is that such a hard concept--lookin' at you, Adkin etc.

Oh yeah! I even forgot same-sex marriage was part of the discussion, it was so fucking unrelated.

Incest is usually paired up with rape, or implications that it was coerced. That view strikes me as very prejudiced and similar to how homosexual men were termed pedophiles and rapists as well. Just because it's not for you doesn't mean it's not for everyone. And if you're worried about incest rape, ENFORCE anti-rape laws, don't just make laws against incest.

Might as well add DILLHOLES to my Google Chrome dictionary at this point.

ETA: SibylDisobedience is my imaginary rollerderby name!
Most of his article was just him saying "what happens in this event?" and "what happens in that event?" and then acting like, because he doesn't know the answer to those questions, no one knows and no one can figure it out and it shouldn't be law. Just because this dude doesn't know anything about poly marriages doesn't mean they're some unimaginable riddle that can't be legal.

@Cat named Virtute I think SSM and poly are related in that a lot (A LOT) of poly activists advocating for poly marriage are using SSM as a basis for their arguments, which is fine but kind of problematic because of the differences between same-sex marriage and recognition of poly marriages. They're mentioned because many poly activists reference lgbt rights when discussing poly rights.


Just of curiosity, when people on the Hairpin say "poly" are they generally referring to a relatively tiny sexual subculture in the US, Europe, and other developed countries, or to the longstanding cultural practice that exists in many if not most societies around the world?

Cat named Virtute

@S. Elizabeth I have not seen this, but I will take your word for it (not being facetious). But are they really arguing that the SSM movement should wait for the poly marriage movement to catch up/that the poly cause MUST be an integral part of the SSM movement? Because in that case, I absolutely agree, that's silly, and in an American context the legalities are so different that they need an entirely different approach. I just don't think that the author is very familiar with the poly movement, who HAS a vibrant dialogue about legality issues happening, and in that sense, I think it's in poor faith to make the arguments that he does.

@Cat named Virtute No, I haven't seen anyone putting same-sex marriage on hold to advocate for poly marriage. His assertion that it happens isn't something I've seen. I was mostly pointing out that people are right that they aren't really related very much, but there is a reason why they're mentioned in the same post.

But yeah, the way he's doing it, not so much.

Side note: I'm not a huge fan of the idea of legalizing polygamy for legal reasons. However, I always wonder if saying that out loud makes me an awful bigot (the way that people who say "I don't mind gay people but I don't think they should get married" are now frowned upon). I am, for the record, a big queer, who used to be in a poly relationship, and is now monogamous.

BTW, there are great ways to put legal rights into your poly relationship with 2nd or 3rd parent adoption, power of attorney documents, your will/trust, etc. NOT THAT THIS IS THE SAME AS MARRIAGE, but you can totally do what a lot of gay couples do with your lawyer. There are lots of poly-friendly attorneys out there who are willing to do this.


@Inkling Just curious, what does everyone think poly marriage would mean for immigration and green cards?


@Inkling In the US, not much, as marriage is no longer basis for a green card in and of itself (not to say that it does not affect the green card/naturalization process, but by my understanding it is no longer BOOM! MARRIAGE = LEGAL STATUS).


Well, since we'd probably have to have legislation to create poly marriages, the legislation would have to deal with the immigration question as well. So I guess the answer is: whatever the sausage-making political process spits out!


@stuffisthings Yeah, that is a question I have as well. There is more than one kind of plural marriage- what's the activist definition?


@lil_bobbytables @jaya
The US still does privilege "family unity" in doling out green cards and visas, which means that spouses (and fiances) and children of US citizens are eligible to jump the queue, so to speak, and get green cards only for being related. So yes, boom, marriage=legal status, more or less.

This is not to say that it's an automatic or easy process to do. There's still tons of paperwork and waiting, and it seems like a pretty hair-raising experience from watching several friends go through the process. For instance, you're first issued a temporary "conditional" green card that means you're legally a resident -- but if you don't renew it at the right time, you're in trouble. Still, it's a lot more clear cut and a lot easier to get a green card as a spouse than through most other methods.

Here is a nifty infographic about immigration and naturalization: http://visual.ly/what-part-legal-immigration-dont-you-understand


No! Huge peeve of mine! We speak English, not lazy-Greek or lazy-Latin. English has a long and robust tradition of combining roots. "Television" is a word that every single English speaker on the planet believes is a good English word, but it is Greco-Latin. (Cf. "homosexual," etc.)


Poly marriage is just a ploy to create more jobs for accountants. Imagine the tax implications!


@stuffisthings Oh sorry I thought this was The Billfold.


Wait, are people really suggesting we put SSM marriage on hold until we get poly stuff figured out?

Cat named Virtute

@Jaya Just this guy?


@Jaya Right? I don't think anyone is suggesting that. And these arguments are terrible.

1) Sure, it's complicated. That doesn't mean that outlawing poly marriage is right.

2) There's not enough popular support to change a bad law, so we just won't worry about it? No, then we try to create popular support, just like with SSM.

3) This one doesn't even make sense to me. Lots of religious people do believe that SSM is a threat to hetero marriage. How on earth would making poly marriage legal threaten hetero marriage any more than that? The threats are imaginary, not real. (The point about being able to marry someone without the permission of your other spouse is interesting, but not determinative. Married people can do (legally) lots of things that threaten their marriages, like sleep around, go into debt, and file for divorce.)

4) What? Lots of hetero marriages aren't egalitarian. Let's outlaw those.


@RobotsNeedLove Yes! All those questions posed by Link I'm sure everyone could sit down and find answers to if there were enough popular support. And yes, from what I gather of poly relationships, it is perhaps more difficult than in non-poly relationships to make everyone feel like equal parts. But, just like in non-poly relationships, either that's something the relationship already works on or it's a shitty relationship. Shitty relationships happen everywhere!


OK so I am against poly marriage but mostly because historically (and even now still) women are treated as chattel.


@Megano! What about all male poly marriage?


@Megano! I'm more inclined to think that's a human rights issue, and a problem whereby we're not enforcing appropriate legal frameworks writ large, and less that it's an inherent problem with poly marriage.

...maybe we just need to promote polyandry, but good lord, I don't want another husband.


@Megano! No, but seriously, I think the arguments about women are very very important, and as I feminist I believe that it behooves us to ensure that we don't set up social structures that oppress women.

But I also think that we can't ignore the fact that, in a vacuum, outlawing poly marriage doesn't make any more sense than outlawing same sex marriage. If you believe people should create families from their hearts and the state should recognize those, poly marriage, in my opinion, must be legal.

Treating women like chattel and poly marriage are not synonymous, just like owning and dog and beating a dog are not synonymous.


@Megano! Is that something like banning women's head scarves? An issue viewed as oppressive towards women, without taking into account that it can also be a woman's choice?


@Ophelia But even in places where it is legal (mostly Muslim countries), women are still treated that way, and largely polygamist marriage is to show everyone how wealthy you are cuz look how many women and children you can support!
Not that it's not sometimes the women's choice, but that is very much in the minority.


@Megano! Not that I think there is anything wrong with polyamory, but in the contet of marriage I'm not sure it works. One way I DO think it could work is more in the context of like, a creche, where several men AND women come together in a group and basically marry each other and all raise each others children.


Polygamy can be a tool of oppression, but is arguably not oppressive in and of itself. Like what I was saying up there about incest, if you're worried about the oppressive potential of polygamy, you have to address the oppression. It's more a problem in society than a problem with the issue itself.

I don't know exactly what kind of overhauls it will take for society to not tell women to follow men's wishes, but I don't think taking away women's opportunities to do what the crap they want is the right way to go. We just gotta make a society where they can be sure they are doing the thing they want to do.


@Megano! Is someone who is going to treat multiple wives like chattel really going to treat a single wife any better? Poor treatment of women and polygyny seem to often be correlated, but I'm not convinced that there's any causality there. It's legal to date multiple people, but not marry multiple people, and I don't feel like women on the dating scene are treated any more like chattel than women who have gotten married.


@Inkling Given that misandry is an active movement even in Western countries, we are SO not evolved enough to allow polygamy. Like, a lot of stuff has to change within society to make this a viable option, and I don't think we're there yet.


@Megano! MisAndRY iS AwEsOMe


brb changin my name to lil orphan misandry


@Megano! Well, let's say you're a tribal sheik w/ lots of farmland. Or other politcal leader. You need lots of wives and kids to work the land, too. So you support them, but also they are economic contributors. And if you didn't have several wives to grow and make huge meals for [insert big occasions where you feed absolutely everyone], then you'd have to, like tax people to hire servants and buy food. And no one likes taxes!

I mean, yes. In polygynous settings, women are frequently getting the short end of the stick. But they get the short end of the stick anyway.

And depending on where you are, a polygynous marriage might give you lots of room to be alone and do your thing, say if you have your own homestead. There are rights associated with wife-status too. And being a second wife can often be insurance for women who have no support networks.

Point is, marriage as an institution can suck more or suck less for women however it is constituted. But it's the fact that women are second class citizens that makes polygyny bad news, not the actual form of marriage that does it.


@PistolPackinMama OK, in that situation, polygamy probably does make sense. But in North America that's not really what we're dealing with here. Here a bajillion wives and kids are more likely to be a drain on your resources than a boon.


@Megano! That's assuming you have one income coming from... someone. But if you have four wage earners, or five...

Also, people's value for many children doesn't always correspond with the fact that they are living in a Western, late-capitalist system. (See: Catholics who don't use birth control, as only one example.) If children are considered a resource, even if they aren't working on your farm, they are still desired in the kin system.

Depending on who is doing the polygyny-ing, there might also be an expectation that you are drawing on resources across your kin network, including outside your primary family unit. Those kinds of family systems are a lot less common in the US, even if they don't have polygynous marriage and the corresponding domestic economy in them as a common practice, but they do exist.

Incompatible economic systems isn't a reason to not allow certain kinds of people to marry. Who is the state to be telling anyone how to value kids, or living arrangements, or anything else just because we have an economic system that favors nuclear families?

There are lots of other reasons (SEW and you have given some) that are arguable, for sure. But "it's not an efficient use of resources" isn't one.

I am, by the way, suspicious of allowing plural marriage in the US because I also think it's mostly going to wind up with women getting the short end of the stick even worse than they already do. As marriage patterns go, though, it was and is totally economically viable in lots of places. Depending on how you did it in the US, it could probably be the same here.


The thing is, in US (and Canada) we already "allow" plural marriage. While it may be illegal, it's happening anyway (it's on TV, I mean come on), and nobody is successfully being prosecuted for practicing it. The successful legal avenues for addressing abusive situations are statutory rape laws, for the most part.

If poly/plural marriage was legal, the state may be more equipped to address abusive situations. The institution may come into the light, and thus put the focus on those communities where women have few or no choices.

And, moreover, it would address what I perceive to be a real human rights issue. The definition of family as deriving from a singular heterosexual couple is restrictive, patriarchal, outdated, and false. There should be legal protection and recognition for those who choose to create families outside of this paradigm.


@RobotsNeedLove I dunno, I feel like one dude being able to marry all the women is also patriarchal and outdated. I'm only really for it if it's more of a creche scenario and it's men AND women who are marrying into one large family unit. Or of course all same sex. As for one woman marrying more than one man, do women even want this? I mean, pretty much all polygamy (that I have heard of) seems to be one man to several women. I know I personally have absolutely no interest in having more than one husband (I actually don't even want one).


@Megano! I hear you, and the concern is a valid one.

But who are we to say that a one-man, multi-woman scenario is automatically abusive or even not-feminist? My point is that how people arrange their families, outside of abuse, coercion, and so on, is not ours to decide.

I know of several poly relationships in my extended circle that are one-woman, multi-men, and some that are multi-women one-man, but the central partner is a woman.

To be honest, I'm pretty monogamous myself, but I feel strongly that we will look back in 50 years and see this debate really differently than we do now.


@RobotsNeedLove Yeah but are they married? And do these women even want to marry all their partners?


Why don't you think women in general would want multiple husbands?
It seems more natural for a woman to have several husbands than vice versa, at least for the sex aspect. With a biological basis in the Male Mutation Bias, human males' sexual abilities are relatively brief and end in one, reproductively-intended orgasm. Human females have more completed structure and can enjoy multiple orgasms separate from reproduction.
Just as far as sexual satisfaction goes, it makes more sense for one lady to do a lot of guys than one guy to try to do a lot of ladies. Males just aren't biologically intended for a lot of partners.

ETA Okay that kinda makes me sound like an evolutionary psychologist, but I didn't want to start the conversation of The Elusive Ex-Boyfriend Who Could Orgasm Eight Times. From a basic standpoint, this is how bodies work because XY creatures were mutations from pre-existing XX creatures, who bring variety to the gene pool.


@Inkling I think women do want and like having multiple sexual/romantic partners, but not necessarily HUSBANDS.


@Megano! I don't know if they do. Isn't that the point? I haven't married any of my boyfriends, but I might want to in the future.


But how do you feel comfortable saying that all women don't want that? It's not a socially popular idea, but it does adhere to nature logic and, in my opinion, makes more sense than the other way around.

Also, if women don't want that, they could just not do it.


@Inkling I'm sure there are women who do, but if that were the case, wouldn't be there be sects of women hiding out in the backcountry of America (or...anywhere really) with their 20+ husbands like Mormon men do? So they're already not doing it.
Also, women can have multiple partners now without getting married, OR have an open marriage, so like, is it even really necessary?
And if we're going to bring biology into it, let's not forget that the institution of marriage has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with ensuring the validity of a (male) family line and male property rights and patriarchy (this is what it was originally intended for anyway).


I think our society is so against the idea of a woman having multiple partners, even in a casual sense, that it's out of the realm of imagination for a woman to have multiple married husbands. There's not a biological difference in men and women when it comes to wanting to be married of course (because, like you said, marriage has no biological basis) but our current society rewards the idea of men having multiple ladies and isn't terribly hateful of men having multiple wives. Women aren't doing these things because they don't feel they have the right to.


@Inkling Sooo I am again brought back to my point that our society hasn't progressed to the point where it's really a fair and viable option yet.


@Inkling Fun Multiple Husband Fact!

Polyandry does exist, but only in a very few societies in the world. They are societies where property is divided between sons in a family. And, land is scarce.

Basically, what happens is brothers will marry one woman. This means you have many fewer possible children in a family, and they all are perceived to belong to all the possible dads more or less. This keeps inheritance in a smaller circle, and means you don't spread resources out thinner than can be productive.

Brothers will travel a lot as well as farm, so a woman only has one or maybe two husbands around at a time. She also might have to basically raise the youngest husband for a couple of years if he's really young and the oldest brother is marriageable.

Also there are references in Gaelic documents to women having two husbands because basically one couldn't keep up with her. That was a thing reserved to nobility, though.


I don't think not letting women do something because they don't feel that they can is the answer. Again, making poly marriages legal doesn't force anyone into them. These will be choices--right now, that are clouded by our sexist society, but our society clouds all of women's choices, and we still do okay. It's not the available options that throw us, it's other shitty things about the country. Gotta start trusting women sometime.


@Inkling I still think that because of how our society is right now, it just means that if we made polygamy legal, it would still more often than not be abused. That's all I'm gonna say.


Hold the phone and EVERYTHING.
I would like to marry two brothers. And then I would also like them to kiss.

Megano! don't ruin this for me.


@Inkling I would never ruin two hot boys kissing


@Megano! I love how we have found the common ground of HOT MEN KISSING OH YES. This is why I love this little corner of the internet.

(In which case, I think I would make an excellent Celtic Warrior Queen.)

(In fact, two dudes "proposed" to me on those grounds. "PPM, will you marry us? Because Celtic Warrior Queens would marry two men, and frankly one husband won't be able to keep up with you." And I said "yes." Ah. College.)

Sincerely, Jane

Sooo it'll still be awhile until we can have DIY marriages where you can either print the standard form off the internet, or draw up your own marriage contract with a lawyer and the 1 to 20 other people that you wish to create a legal familial link with?

That way the only people involved in hashing out the "polyamory issue" are poly people, which is probably how it should be...

The only thing that raises a flag for me is: what happens if two people are married, and the other one gets married again without the other's consent?


@S. Elizabeth
Isn't that actually the easiest of all the possible problems? You just make both currently-married people sign off on the addition. Am I missing something? Obviously there's the potential for coercion, but not really worse than for any kind of marriage, as far as I can see.

But is it a marriage between all 3 parties or between the one marrying the new addition? There's a public policy concern -- consistently, courts have upheld policies to encourage marriage and discourage divorce. The idea that one person needs to give the consent for others to marry is legally unheard of unless it's underage people and parental consent. However, in this case, the "consent and sign-off" would look like a. "I sign off that my spouse can marry this person, and whether or not he can marry depends on my decision" or b. "I sign off that both my spouse and I are marrying this person." B is slightly more legally kosher, but I imagine not all poly units would want a triad.

And will there be a numerical limit to the number of spouses one can have?


@S. Elizabeth I would think there would have to be, in order to prevent poverty and oppressive conditions.


@S. Elizabeth
Ah, got it. Interesting! Possible to legislate around, I would think, but I can see how it could be potentially problematic were a court to recognize a constitutional right to marry more than one person.

@josiahg I highly HIGHLY doubt there will be a constitutional right to marry more than one person. Under what doctrine would they claim to have that right?

Same-sex marriage is constitutionally significant because of how many doctrines you can really discuss: substantive due process, equal protection, the full faith & credit clause (DOMA comes in here), etc. But I doubt anyone will be successful when applying the facts of a poly union because the arguments for SSM and poly are so legally and constitutionally different.

I don't think it's necessarily a constitutional question that I have, more of a policy argument, i.e. what social good are we trying to promote? And I don't know if you can really make a good policy argument for requiring a 3rd party individual's consent required for marriage.


@S. Elizabeth
Didn't the cast of Sister Wives make a constitutional argument? I'm not saying that it's going to win as a practical matter, but I can see the logic flowing from a sort of hybrid of Lawrence v. Texas and the state supreme court cases finding a constitutional right to gay marriage.

I'm not sure what to say about the policy questions.


@S. Elizabeth Couldn't that just be treated as if one partner got a girlfriend without the other's consent? Or moved across the country? Or left their job to become a full-time Burner? Namely, they either work it out or get a divorce.


@S. Elizabeth "Bigamy is an ugly word!--I meant, however, to be a bigamist; but fate has out-manoeuvred me, or Providence has checked me--perhaps the last. I am little better than a devil at this moment; and, as my pastor there would tell me, deserve no doubt the sternest judgments of God, even to the quenchless fire and deathless worm."

@josiahg The constitutional argument was a right to privacy after the authorities searched their home. That is much different than a constitutional right to marry. Lawrence v. Texas didn't work for her, but Lawrence v. Texas is a case about the right to privacy, and its holding impacted gay people via sodomy laws.

@MilesofMountains No. Because we are talking about Wife A and Husband being married, and Wife B wanting to marry Husband. Wife A and Husband are already in a legally binding union (unlike a dating couple). The issue is that Husband wants to enter into another legally binding union with Wife B.

Right now, the law is that Wife A and Husband need to get a divorce before that's ok. In the proposed poly-marriage situation, that wouldn't be necessary. However, people have made the argument that Wife A could give consent. However, the court generally frowns on this type of agreement.

If Husband ran off to become a full-time Burner? I have no idea why that is at all like wanting to enter into a legally binding, legally recognized union with another human being. Going off the grid/quitting your job/going to Burning Man is not the same as getting married. That is a legally irrelevant argument.

@SuperGogo Fuck Yes, Jane Eyre.


@S. Elizabeth Ok, so if it's different because it's a legally binding contract, surely the law is equipt to handle people in contracts with one party signing a similar contact with another party. If we're considering marriage to be a contract to provide a suite of emotional/financial/whatever services to another person, and one of the members of that contract agrees to provide the same services to another person...how is that legally difficult? People enter into contracts to provide identical services to multiple people all the time without requiring consent from the first party. Other than some parts like the next-of-kin issue, how much of what a marriage provides cannot be provided to two people at once? Why does Wife A have to be involved in Husband's agreement with Wife B at all?

The only problem I can see is that marriage is also a social/religious concept. I guess my lack of issue with poly marriage is that I don't think the government should be in the business of regulating religious customs like that.

@MilesofMountains No, it is not a contract. If this were contract law, we wouldn't be having this conversation because you would just go to a lawyer, draft it, sign it, boom done.

I said Legally Binding Union. The government is involved. There are taxes, there is property law, there is probate, there are all of the legal things that come with getting married -- and most of those are regulated by the government, not by the people involved. You don't sit down and say "hmmm, we're married, let's pay taxes like XYZ!" No, the government does that.

You can put together documents and contracts -- same sex couples have been doing it for years. I'm saying that as an entity, there are major issues with legal, administrative, and government issues.

And Wife A needs to be involved in Husband's decision to marry because she has a MAJOR stake in property, taxes, finances, control of her money, custody of children, her marital property, etc.


@MilesofMountains Why does Wife A have to be involved in Husband's agreement with Wife B at all? Can your boss agree to pay someone else half your salary without getting clearance from you? If you buy a home with someone else, can that other person agree that a third person who you didn't know existed owns a part of the home? There are SO many monetary and other legal rights that come along with marriage, and most of them don't make sense in the context of more than two people involved. This is not to say that they can't ever make sense, but currently as the system is set up, they don't. And they especially don't make sense because if one person is married to more than one person, that would effectively take away some legal rights from the two spouses.

Aside from legally, though, morally it is just unconscionable to suggest that secret second marriages would be a good thing at all.


@S. Elizabeth It's a good point, but entering into a business partnership is a legally binding relationship that spouses don't get to control, but has major implications for spouses.

@RobotsNeedLove When you die, it is not presumed that your business partner gets all of your money and personal property.

Guys, let's not make ridiculous arguments.


@RobotsNeedLove Right, which is exactly why if two people own a business, and a third person wants to become a business partner, it is not a unilateral decision. This isn't hard.


@thebestjasmine Well...it's kind of common courtesy and acknowledges that your first spouse has some rights and say into their own marriage, isn't it? Which they should, regardless of whether or not you're bringing another person into the marriage or not.

@RobotsNeedLove See also: the legal concept of privity.


@S. Elizabeth Your arguments are important in the context of a discussion about how we set up a system for legal poly marriage, but aren't very compelling with respect to why poly marriage should be illegal. I may have misunderstood your position.

We may also be having issues arising out of the fact that you are American (I presume), and I'm a Canadian lawyer, and so are discussing from a different legal point of view.

My point is only this: there are lots of things that a person can do unilaterally to affect the interests of his or her spouse, and while of course there would be major challenges in this respect if poly marriage was legally recognized, it is not a reason to maintain a law if the law is not just, right, or effective in curing a social ill. I would argue that laws against poly marriage are not (for instance, have never led to a successful prosecution in Canada, and haven't been very effective in addressing child abuse in the LDS community).

@RobotsNeedLove So I'm looking at this in terms of a. U.S. law and b. the hypothetical of an already-married person wanting to marry another, thus creating a triad. Wife A and Husband are married, Husband wants to marry Wife B.

I see a big issue with this, and that is that Wife A and Husband entered into a legally binding arrangement unlike any other -- one that can look like a contract, but in some cases does not; one that in this country dictates basically everything about your money, taxes, property ownership and interest, etc. While many things may impact that couple, Wife A and Husband entered into this arrangement with some very basic understandings, including that Wife A and Husband equally share marital property.

It would be very difficult and unsound public policy to imagine that in entering into that arrangement, that Wife A and Husband would not be able to count on the basic principle that they own 1/2 of their marital property. It doesn't matter if Husband makes a bad business deal, or they declare bankruptcy -- neither of them owns more than the other, and there is a guarantee that Wife A owns 1/2 of the property, even if the amount of money in the bank goes up and down.

Yes, unilateral decisions can impact lots of stuff -- Husband could enter into a business agreement that would impact his wife. Wife could run off and become a professional Burner, leaving Husband to fend for himself financially as she quits her job and lives in a yurt in the backyard. The economy could crash and leave them penniless. So yes, there are lots of things that a person can do to impact the financial status of their spouse, but not the interest in marital property. However, the unilateral decision to marry a 2nd wife is different because Wife A is a party to the original agreement, not a beneficiary.

If Husband marries Wife B, the interests would potentially shift -- each party would have a 1/3 interest. That is problematic, and something that would be very difficult to argue would have any sound policy behind it. The new wife, along with the husband, could buy Wife A out; Wife A's investments in the house, personal property, shared possessions, debts, etc would shift. One of the reasons this is problematic is that when Wife A and Husband got married, there was a presumption that the rules would remain the same, and that Husband would not be able to do anything to impact her 1/2 interest. When those two people entered into that agreement, the rules were set.

There is the argument that Wife A could consent; however, this country's judiciary frowns on conditions being met in order to get married. Our laws tend to favor letting people get married (as long as they're not gay, heaven forbid!), and our laws tend to favor those people entering into that arrangement by their own volition. That being said, it would be problematic to impose a rule saying "these people may marry, so long as 3rd Party agrees" because it would be unprecedented and would contradict well-established public policy. However, just letting Husband marry Wife B would permit Husband not only to impact Wife A's money, but her interest in her own marital property. Or would she get to keep her entire 1/2 interest, thus making her a sort of "majority shareholder" of marital property in her own home?

I also wonder about ... a chain? Wife A - Husband - Wife B, who then wants to marry Husband C, already married to Wife D and E. How would marital property work then? How would ownership of property work? How would those other adults -- who could keep marrying in -- impact estates, custody, taxes, marital property, debt, etc. Would Wife A ever be responsible for Husband C?

I'm not opposed to poly marriage on principle or for social/cultural/religious reasons, but because I'm in law school in the U.S. and will be practicing law in a community property state, and this would be a legal "shit hitting the fan" situation here because of how our marriage laws are set up and how property is seen to be shared. Not just "this is complicated," but "this would create situations contrary to public policy."


@S. Elizabeth You raise lots of very important points, that are essential to address when this civil rights issue gets to the legislative stage. I certainly don't have all the answers, and I also imagine they would vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

But I just don't buy that these arguments are a reason to deny people the right to have the state sanction their chosen family units.

I also don't buy the "but the property!" arguments fully. Of course they are relevant. But the way it's done in your jurisdiction is not the only way it's done - there are lots of ways to manage marital property law, and there infinite new ways. The only limit is our legislative imaginations.

We just went through a major overhaul of marital property law in my province that drastically impacts the way property division and ownership in common law and married relationships works. In fact, we are in the anomalous situation where common law poly relationships giving rise to property rights are possible, but official marriage is not. The state can deem poly people married, but they cannot deem themselves. I'm looking forward to the case law arising out of that situation.

Difficult policy questions are not a reason to deny people civil rights. Throughout the history of civil rights issues, arguments like yours (it would be too disruptive to our current social fabric!) have been used to delay and obfuscate the real question, and have been used to oppress those who are in the social minority. In this case, the real question is: do we believe that people should be able to marry who they choose? And do we believe that people should only be able to choose one person?

If you disagree that this is a rights issue, or if you disagree that there is little difference between being able to marry the one person you choose and being able to marry the more than one person you choose, fine. We can debate it (or not) on that level. But to say that "the law is this way, and it can't adapt to this social change" is missing the point of the law. The law can adapt to any social change we want it to. That is its purpose. It is both responsive to social change and engineering of social change. It behooves each of us, as citizens in democracies, to view it that way, and to seek creative solutions when we are faced with the law's inadequacies as our understanding of ourselves as human beings in society evolves.


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