THE BLOG
07/10/2015 11:58 am ET Updated Jul 10, 2016

Polygamy Is Not the Next 'Gay Marriage'

Periodically I see an article about "The question X can't answer." X is usually a group they dislike, so it may be "The question gays can't answer" or, "The question that liberals can't answer," ad infinitum.

It is usually followed by a stupid question, often false, which smuggles in facts not in evidence, or which has been answered numerous times. These articles are written to reassure true believers -- those on the author's side, of course -- that their position is unassailable.

The Christian Post -- not exactly a site for intellectuals -- has just such an article: "Why Two? The Question Gay Activists Can Not Answer." The author, Michael Brown, wrote a book on how Christians will reverse the course of the "gay revolution." No doubt he believes the Second Coming is just around the corner as well. Good luck waiting for either.

The question he asserts that has never been answered is: "If marriage is not the union of a man and a woman, then why should it be limited to two people (or, for that matter, require two people)? Why can't it be one or three or five? What makes the number "two" so special if it doesn't refer to the union of a male and a female?" He claims, and I suggest he's lying, "I have not yet received a single cogent answer." My guess is he is guilty of typical fundamentalist bias confirmation. Any answer he gets is dismissed in order to continue to say he's never had an answer. He has gone into the debate with his mind closed to all opposing arguments, and since he is the sole judge of what comprises a "cogent answer," he can never be proven wrong.

I'll try to answer him, though I doubt he'd care either way. He doesn't want an answer. He wants to pretend there is none.

The question is why is polygamy NOT likely to be the next "cultural war" battle. It is not whether it ought to be, or whether polygamy is moral or immoral.

First, we need to look at a prime function legal recognition of marriage accomplishes. Each of us is born into a family. That family has rights vis-à-vis ourselves. For instance, if you become ill and unable to make medical decisions a family member can do this on your behalf. If you die without a will, the estate goes to your family.

When you marry that bundle of rights transfers from your family to your spouse. Now, they make the decision if you become ill. They inherit your estate if you die intestate. Also, there are additional legal rights or privileges that they receive as your spouse. For instance, you can't pass your Social Security payments -- which you paid for -- to your family of birth, but can do so to your spouse. You may be compelled to testify against a parent, but not against a spouse.

We have a massive number of laws -- federal and state -- that take marital status into account for various reasons. ALL those laws are written on the assumption of two members to a marriage.

It makes no difference to those thousands of laws whether the two spouses are of the same gender or different genders, nor does it matter whether they are of the same race, different races, of the same religion or different religions, same political beliefs or different beliefs. In other words, as long as there are two individuals it makes no difference to these thousands of laws. You can simply slot them in and it works.

The moment you change it to three, the entire legal structure ceases to work for that relationship. Instead of limiting legal disputes, it exacerbates them.

Take something such as a spouse who has a stroke and is incapacitated. He has two wives. There are two medical options -- to make this simple. Wife #1 wants option A while Wife #2 wants option B. They can't agree.

The law currently says the spouse decides, but that is a law assuming one spouse. Now there are two. The law can no longer anticipate what a "reasonable man" would want done if able to make the decision. Typically, a husband would say his spouse should decide, so the law anticipates that choice. Add more spouses and the law can't anticipate. It's frozen. It ceases to perform its function.

This anticipation of what the individual would want lessens legal conflicts. The decision goes to the spouse. The estate goes to the spouse. Of course, that can be overridden if the partners want, through private legal agreements. Absent those agreements, however, the bundle of rights goes to THE spouse.

Change the number of spouses and the entire legal system, meant to anticipate individual wants, collapses. That doesn't happen when two men marry, or a black man and white woman marry.

The situation gets intensely more complicated when you realize that the number of potential spouses is endless in polygamy. You may have two, three, four, or 50 spouses. Certainly the founders of Mormonism were marrying by the dozen.

Not only would polygamy require a rewrite of every one of the thousands of laws and regulations that take marital status into account -- a task that would take decades, I suggest, and one that would always find issues that were overlooked -- but would have to do so on the assumption of three spouses, then four spouses, then five spouses, ad infinitum. The "traditional" biblical marriage of Solomon included 700 wives and 300 concubines, or so the Bible claims.

That's one answer of many, it alone doesn't encompass the entire set of reasons as to why polygamy is a game changer in ways that "gay marriage" is not. It would take a lot more space than we have in one blog post to make the entire case.