Don't worry, legalising same-sex marriage won't create a world of lesbian 'throuples'
Published 07/05/2014 | 02:30
THE worst fears of opponents of same-sex marriage were confirmed last week when it was reported that three lesbians had gotten married in the US.
Breathless media reports recounted how Massachusetts-based Doll, Kitten and Brynn were married in August and the "throuple" are now expecting their first child.
Doom-monger in chief the Iona Institute was quick off the mark, rapidly posting a we-told-you-so blog post on its website.
"What we see is that once we decide that marriage is not by definition the sexual union of a man and a woman, it becomes very hard to hold on to certain other features of marriage, for example monogamy and sexual union," it lamented.
Elsewhere, a conservative commentator in the US wailed: "We have been saying for some time that once you remove the gender requirement there is no reason for marriage to be confined to only two people".
So, legalise same-sex marriage and say goodbye to monogamous marriages and hello to a dystopian polygamous future of lesbian throuples.
Except, predictably, a number of problems arise. For a start, the women in question were never married because bigamy remains a crime in the US. Instead they held a "marriage-style" ceremony, but just two of the women are legally married to each other.
For the record, there's nothing to stop you or I from holding a "marriage-style" ceremony with any number of people in this country but it would hardly count as evidence of the imminent demise of the institution of marriage.
But, even if this polygamous marriage never happened, are these fears warranted?
Once the definition of marriage is redefined to accommodate homosexual couples, will it inexorably evolve to include, in the words of former Republican senator Rick Santorum, "man on child, man on dog or whatever the case may be"?
This strangled logic is what has been dubbed the PIB argument – legalising same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy, incest and bestiality.
The social policy reasons against legalising incest and bestiality should be glaringly obvious, and the comparison is so offensive to gay people as to not be worthy of further comment, but what about polygamy?
If gay and lesbian couples who love each other can get married, why should loving polygamous couples be denied a wedding?
There are a number of reasons.
While there is no evidence to suggest that same-sex marriage is harmful to society, hundreds of years of history and numerous studies suggest polygamy is damaging.
In fact, the use of the word polygamy in this debate is a misnomer because there is scant evidence, even in polygamous societies, of women taking more than one husband.
Instead, what is usually meant in discussions of polygamy is actually polygyny – one man with multiple wives, usually in deeply patriarchal societies where women are marginalised and subordinate to men.
Additionally, a near universal feature of polygynous communities is that only the most affluent men have multiple wives.
This creates a deeply dysfunctional society in which low-income men become virtually unmarriageable while women are reduced to the status of chattel.
The result, according to a recent comprehensive Canadian study on the issue, is "greater levels of crime, violence, poverty and gender inequality than in societies that institutionalise and practise monogamous marriage".
The impact on women is especially harmful, with rivalry among co-wives causing severe psychological problems while women in polygynous marriages are also more at risk of abuse and statutory rape.
There are implications for children too, with monogamous marriages being linked to lower rates of child neglect, abuse, accidental death and murder.
In short, there are many good reasons why most progressive, democratic, developed societies have outlawed polygamy but no similarly persuasive reasons why marriage remains illegal for gay couples.
Reliance on specious theories, like society's inexorable slide to polygamy if same-sex marriage is introduced, only serves to underscore the paucity of opponents' arguments.
Bereft of supporting evidence for their apocalyptic predictions of the dire consequences for society if same-sex marriage is introduced, they instead resort to straw-man PIB arguments.
It is instructive that the same slippery-slope thesis, now being employed by same-sex marriage opponents, was also used to defend the ban on inter-racial marriage in the US.
Tellingly, when that ban was lifted in 1967 the surge of polygamous relationships failed to materialise.
Those who are pro and anti same-sex marriage can agree on at least one thing – society benefits from the support, stability and security that the institution of marriage confers on couples.
Where they diverge is the belief that affording same-sex couples the right to marry, and form a stable family unit, will in any way undermine or damage the dividend that accrues to society from marriage.
Unless groups like the Iona Institute can rely on more than scaremongering about polygamy to defend their discriminatory position, they've already lost the debate.