Thursday, July 5, 2007

Same-Sex Marriage and the Slippery Slope to Polyamory

So I recently promised in my last post here to explain how it is that polyamorists and same-sex marriage advocates find themselves sometimes at odds with each other. It all started with a guy named Stanley Kurtz. Kurtz is a fellow at the think tank Hoover Institution, a contributing editor to the National Review Online as well as The Weekly Standard, all highly respected bastions of conservatism, with a special interest in America's culture war. As a Harvard Ph.D. in social anthropology, his writings focus on the family, feminism, homosexuality, affirmative action, and campus political correctness.

Over the past few years, Kurtz has become the darling of the religious right and the marriage movement via his writings about why permitting same-sex partners to marry will literally bring about the demise of our civilization as we know it. He explains everything so smoothly, logically and reasonably while using no hate speech that he gains a lot of credibility for his assertion that same-sex marriage will open the door to the “slippery slope to polyamory”

He first establishes this premise in his August 4, 2003 Weekly Standard article entitled “Beyond Gay Marriage: The Road to Polyamory” in which Kurtz explains his point like this. If same-sex partners are permitted to marry, once the legal definition of marriage is altered to permit anyone other than two opposite sex partners to marry, then there will be no legal basis for denying the same rights to polygamists, polyamorists, or even members of the same biological family. Naturally, the very idea of this is so abhorrent to conservatives (who, by the way, know little to nothing about polyamory itself), especially to religious conservatives, that this premise grew legs almost instantaneously and began to be used far and wide by religious extremists to incite those opposed to same-sex marriage to stand up and voice their opposition in what has at times sounded like a genuine frenzy of freaking-out. Of course, they've been intentionally alarmed with the belief that what other people do in their marriages is somehow going to affect *their* marriages. What a lot of baloney.

For the record, Cathy Young, a columnist I often admire who writes for The Boston Globe and the libertarian magazine Reason, also wrote on this subject in 2004 in her article entitled "Opening Marriage: Do Same Sex Unions Pave the Way for Polygamy?" She also blogged on the subject here.

Kurtz seems to do his homework, at least after a fashion. In his subsequent, lengthy piece in the National Review Online dated March 23, 2005, entitled Rick Santorum was Right, he managed to unearth the Divilbiss child custody case which took place in Memphis back around 2000 – and he also located Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness, though he misidentifies their mission as one of advocacy for polyamory and poly marriage instead of advocacy within the Unitarian Universalist Association – a HUGE difference - for polyfolk who are UUs. How he missed Lovingmore, The National Coalition for Sexual Freedom, and The Institute for 21st Century Relationships I can’t say, each of which is a bona fide non-profit advocate for polyamory (though none has taken on multi-partner marriage as part of their mission as of yet).

What is more important in the March 2005 article is that Kurtz cited Elizabeth Emens, whom he refers to as “A whiz kid with a Ph.D. in English from Cambridge University and a J.D. from Yale Law School.” He goes on to say:

“Emens, who [while writing her paper taught at] the University of Chicago Law School, has published a major legal and cultural defense of polyamory (group marriage). In ‘Beyond Gay Marriage,’ I showed that state-sanctioned polyamory was rapidly becoming the favorite cause of scholars of family law. Yet not until now has anyone offered so bold, informed, intelligent, and comprehensive a brief for polyamory. Emens's breakthrough article is a sign that the case for mainstreaming polyamory is finally being...well, mainstreamed.”

From Stanley’s mouth to God’s ear. Yes, Elizabeth Emens did indeed do we polyfolk an excellent turn with her paper. One could argue that she is equally responsible for endangering the same-sex marriage movement, but there is no denying the integrity of her work.

Kurtz, to bang the drum some more, followed up the two previously-referenced articles with yet another in the Weekly Standard dated December 26, 2005, entitled "Here Come the Brides: Plural marriage is waiting in the wings." I don't recall there being much in this one that he hasn't already said. Maybe he still owed those for whom he shills a bit more drum banging.

Ironically, we polyfolk have no argument with his premise that same-sex marriage must logically lead to multi-partner marriage. He is likely correct. Where we differ is whether we think that is a bad thing or a good thing.

As you can imagine, none of this came as good news to the same-sex marriage movement. As a result, some of its guiding lights, as well as its supporters, don’t think much of polyamory and really, really, really hope we will just be quiet and not spoil their chances. (See my last post here for an example of this.) Why it is that sexual minority groups feel so free to discriminate against other sexual minorities, an affront no less hurtful to we polyfolk than the same kind of discrimination from the mainstream is to them, I cannot say, except that there is a huge sense of entitlement that must come from being treated as second class citizens for so long.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no desire to actively seek to derail the effort for same-sex marriage. I know how important it is to many GLBTs, and, on the one hand, I understand and empathize with their longing to achieve this status so long denied them. But on the other hand, I still have to wonder why they long for something that has clearly showed itself to be fatally flawed for half the people who marry, only to end up in divorce court. Surely there is a better way, and I think Emens and the people who issued the Beyond Same Sex Marriage manifesto make a compelling case for some very viable alternatives, which I support. See my earlier post on why I think that government should get out of the marriage business entirely and why that is the only fair way to resolve the issue.

Bottom line here is that Stanley Kurtz can be credited with putting polyamory squarely in the center of the debate and making it the political football everyone is kicking around. Neither side sees a resolution of the issue as being in its best interests, mainly because they fear how such a resolution might affect them.

The polyamory community is still maturing and has not as of yet become organized enough to advocate for itself effectively in all of this - despite Kurtz's assertions to the contrary - but eventually that day will come, I assure you. Just give it some time.


Robin Edgar said...

You might find this recent blog post by a Boston area Unitarian*Universalist minister to be of interest in this matter. Unfortunately he deleted my comment which pointed out that it would by no means be the first time that UUA elected leadership was "not being honest" with U*Us and "finessing and not confronting an issue" that is right before U*Us. I will probably get around to reproducing my "memory-holed" comment on The Emerson Avenger blog.

Anita Wagner said...

Robin, thanks SO much for this, I can't tell you how much I welcome it. I am also UU, and after having read the blog post by the Boston area minister, I am quite concerned, and that's an understatement.

I was aware that UUPA is controversial within the UUA by its very existence, but it now appears that via Washington-like backroom politics, UUA leadership has with great intentionality marginalized us and pushed to the back seat of the bus. I never expected such treatment from the one religious organization I thought I could depend upon to honor its commitment to social justice. How very disappointing.

I've entered my comment to the blog post and to one of the commenters there.