Sidney CallahanJuly 12, 2011

Polygamy next?

Prominent churchmen have worried that legalizing same sex marriage will lead to accepting polygamy in the future. To my mind they are underestimating the unique and innate drive for pair bonding that contributes to equality and unity in a marital relationship.  Such mutuality is impossible for three or more. A dyad is unique because it is one relationship  formed by two persons; it gains a intensity from its face to face, I-Thou quality. This power may be a legacy of mother-infant nursing in which mother and child commune in a loving gaze and pleasure filled dialogue. In this dialogue of giving and receiving, human selves are created—whatever the gender.

Cultures which practice polygamy give up the special mutuality of an equal dyad. Also, they pay a price in depriving poor young men of mates and endangering the equal rights of women. This privileging of powerful males provokes vigorous opposition to polygamy by both secular and gospel feminists.  Apparently Christians won converts in the ancient world by their democratic ideal that each person could have equal access to the goods of pair bonded marriage.      

Today the faithful should not be surprised that persons of different sexual orientation desire the goods of committed marriage and family creation. Promiscuity, temporary hook ups and friends with benefits do not provide psychological or moral sustenance in the long run—especially in old age. Permanent committed family relationships give persons the opportunity to not only receive but also give constant love, care and support. Altruism makes persons happy as the newly discovered “helper principle” shows. 

Kinship and social connections are enlarged with marriage ties as well. “Your people shall be my people” as Ruth vowed to her mother-in-law. This human creation of kin beyond genetics is now thought to be one great evolutionary advantage of human groups.  Humans are uniquely and wonderfully symbolic, meaning making, romantic creatures who create culture and institutions to embody love, sex, and cooperation.

Marriage between two loving committed adult persons is here to stay, never fear.

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10 years 3 months ago
You vastly underestimate the psychological warfare and internal logic of how gay marriage was foisted on us over the past 10 years....

It starts with the rhetorical "well why not?" (why not polygamy?). The author's rebuttal is "because it's inferior".

But the "well why not" will soon morph into "that's just your traditional hidebound, closeminded, bigoted and hateful view point, not science!"

Then the pop culture will begin showing all sorts of wonderful Polygamists on TV and in movies (oops, already has!). Then we'll get Muslims and Mormons telling us how our opinions of the superiority of 2 person marriage is the same thing as religious intolerance and thus a threat to the Constitutional order of things and how our insistance on 2 person marriage must be overcome in the name of fairness, equality, and their human rights.

Of course, before it comes to a vote, women will be given the right to sell their bodies as prostitutes legally and the age of consent will be reduced via Planned Parenthood agitation (well underway already) to the age of puberty.

And all the while it's "well why not?" and then "that's just your opinion, not science" and "if you disagree with me, it's because of your religion, bigotry, hatred, and thus, as irrational sentiment, disallowed for legal purposes".

Stephen SCHEWE
10 years 3 months ago
Two of the arguments for the marriage equality movement wouldn't apply to polygamy.  Although still unproven, there's a growing sense (and witness from those with same-sex attraction) that sexual orientation isn't a choice, but rather some combination of genetic and environmental factors that appear to make some of us ''hardwired'' for heterosexuality or homosexuality.  If sexual orientation is innate, practicing traditional marriage requires that homosexuals deny their very natures, a fundamental definition of injustice.  There's nothing innate about practicing polygamy; it's a cultural construct present in some societies and absent in others.  Secondly, marriage equality advocates are successfully arguing that homosexuals don't have equal access to the benefits and opportunities of marriage expressed in the law.  There's no comparable deprivation for polygamists; they can receive benefits with their initial spouse if it is a traditional marriage between a man and a woman. (I have to admit I'm not sure what happens to these benefits in the event a couple violates the law by adding an additional spouse.)

As Callahan points out, polygamy doesn't have a great track record where it's been tried, while public experience in the early states with marriage equality and the growing body of social science research suggests same-sex marriages are not any more of a threat to society or to children than traditional marriages.

To Mr. Lyon's point, there are TV shows with polygamists.  But I've noticed that a lot of stuff shown on TV wouldn't pass muster in the real world.  Other than among break-away Mormon fringe groups in the Mountain States, there don't seem to be analogous incidences of the implicit same-sex relationships and ''Boston marriages'' that have existed through U.S. history.  The slippery slope towards group marriage seems dry and flat.
10 years 3 months ago
"To my mind they are underestimating the unique and innate drive for pair bonding that contributes to equality and unity in a marital relationship.  Such mutuality is impossible for three or more. A dyad is unique because it is one relationship  formed by two persons; it gains a intensity from its face to face, I-Thou quality. This power may be a legacy of mother-infant nursing in which mother and child commune in a loving gaze and pleasure filled dialogue. In this dialogue of giving and receiving, human selves are created—whatever the gender."

I am a moderate with respect to gay marriage, but I don't see how this "essential quality" argument differs from what the Church has argued: that there is something essentially irreplacable about marriage between a man and a woman that you cannot simply take out.  When people raise the issue of polygamy, it is because the "libera/civil rights" logic that doesn't see anything uniquely irreplacable in marriage bewteen a man and a woman, thus opening up a slippery slope.  Then on top of that you slip into a kind of equivalence about inter-personal love implying that the love between a man and a woman is equivalent to the love of a mother and child; seems a sloppy step.

Jim McCrea
10 years 3 months ago
Any man who wants more than one wife has larger problems!

That said, he should be allowed to be as stupid as he wants with other consenting adults.

What's the essential difference between polygamy and the serial monogamy that passes for many heterosexual marriages any more?
10 years 3 months ago
Why not a committed relationship between an uncle and a nephew (of legal age)?  Shouldn't they be able to enjoy the legal benefits of marriage.

What is the argument to discriminate against this type of marriage?  We don't need to worry about the genetic problems of offspring.  They could be loving parents for all of those orphans that need a loving home.
David Nickol
10 years 3 months ago
It seems to me opponents of same-sex marriage are the only ones arguing in favor of polygamy.  They claim they can't think of one good argument against it. Try to put one forward, and they'll dismiss it out of hand.

Joe Kash asks, ''Why not a committed relationship between an uncle and a nephew (of legal age)?'' Joe, have you not heard that now that same-sex marriage has been made legal in New York, there are no arguments against incest or pedophilia? Or, for that matter, bestiality? Why not a polygamous marriage between (among?) an uncle, his underage nephew, and a sheep? Who could argue against it? 

My heart goes out to Sydney Callahan for attempting to say something halfway sensible about the consequences of same-sex marriage. There seem to be only two acceptable reactions: (1) ''Hooray for same-sex marriage!'' and (2) ''I am convinced that within the decade, brainwashed children will be turning their Christian parents over to the authorities to be interned in re-education camps.''  

It is true that the very early Church did survive persecution by the Romans, and then later the Barbarian invasions, the Reformation, Catholic-Protestant wars, and Communism. But it has never faced anything so serious as same-sex marriage, and it can't possibly survive.

Mark Shea said in December of last year, ''The goal of gay marriage, as I have said many times, is to create a legal basis for persecuting and, if possible, legally suppressing the Catholic Church. That's the goal.'' Who would have predicted that in only six months, that goal would be achieved? 
Nancy Dallavalle
10 years 3 months ago
Sidney,  I think I get it, but is the dyad the bottom line for Christians?  I'm trying to work out your dyad rationale in a trinitarian context.  Any help?  Nancy
Jim McCrea
10 years 3 months ago
Polygamous marriage valid in Lebanon but not under Irish law
Mon, Jul 11, 2011
EU family reunification directive is found not to cover families based on polygamous marriages
H -v- A Neutral citation: (2010) IEHC 497.
High Court
Judgment was given on April 4th, 2011, by Ms Justice Elizabeth Dunne.
The marriage of a Lebanese man and woman in Lebanon, which was potentially polygamous and later actually polygamous when he married again, was valid under Lebanese law but not under Irish law.
The applicant was married twice in Lebanon, first to the respondent in 1975 and later to the notice party, in 1988. Both marriages took place under Muslim and Lebanese law and all parties are Muslims, whose religion permits a man taking up to four wives. The applicant came to Ireland seeking asylum in 1998 and was granted refugee status in 2000.
He then sought to bring both wives and children to Ireland to reunify his family. The notice party (second wife) and children were given permission to come as his wife and family, and came to Ireland in 2001.
A compromise was reached with the minister concerning all of his application for family reunification, part of which included his undertaking to bring an application to the court under section 29 of the Family Law Act 1995, seeking a declaration his marriage to the respondent (first wife) was valid. This was heard in 2010, with the attorney general and the second wife as notice parties.
The second notice party said on affidavit that she knew the applicant was married when she married him in 1988 and that this was acceptable under Lebanese law and Muslim marriage custom. The respondent said she knew when she married the applicant in 1975 that her husband could marry up to three more wives, in accordance with their religion and with Lebanese law.
A Lebanese lawyer, Salah Mattar, gave evidence that Lebanese law acknowledged there were different religious communities in Lebanon and that each community practised according to its own books and beliefs, and therefore the Muslim communities did so according to the Sharia and the Koran. He confirmed both marriages were valid under Lebanese law.
The submissions on behalf of the applicant and both the respondent and the second notice party stated that the rules of private international law were clear. These were that the validity of a marriage was determined by the domicile of the parties and the place where it was celebrated. Therefore, the polygamous marriage of the applicant and the other parties should be recognised unless there was strong reason to the contrary.
An authority on Conflicts of Law, Dicey and Morris, was quoted stating a marriage which was polygamous would be recognised in England as a valid marriage unless there was some strong reason to the contrary. Counsel for the applicant said the central legal issue here was the rules concerning the conflict of law. It was clear the rules governing the validity of marriage were based on the domicile of the parties, and it was also clear that the marriage at issue here, that in 1975, must be declared valid, he said.
Counsel for the second notice party said the case being brought was a procedure looking for declaratory relief and not seeking any actual remedy or benefit.
Counsel for the Attorney General said these proceedings may impinge on the State interest concerning the status of marriage as an institution. Public policy had an important bearing on the case, and in Conlon -v- Mohamed it had been stated by the Supreme Court, as a comment in the course of the case, that a polygamous marriage could not be recognised in our law as a valid marriage.
He pointed to the various cases in which marriage, as protected by the Constitution, had been described by the courts as a monogamous union of one person with another.
Ms Justice Dunne said it was clear the marriage contracted in Lebanon in 1975 was a valid marriage under Lebanese law. Referring to the authority on Conflicts of Law, she said the reference to a “strong reason” for the non-recognition of polygamous marriages raised the question of public policy.
A number of English cases had opened the question of the recognition of polygamous marriages, but in them references were made to the “everyday running of our commonwealth and empire”, considerations which clearly did not apply in this jurisdiction.
The question here was whether the recognition of this marriage was contrary to public policy, or incompatible with the Constitution. The public policy of the State was informed by the Constitution, by legislation and to an important extent by our culture and tradition. These were outlined in a number of judgments describing marriage.
While marriage was not defined in the 1995 Act, to interpret it as including polygamous marriage “would be to give it an interpretation which is simply not compatible with the constitutional understanding of marriage”.To do so would be rewriting the understanding of marriage in this jurisdiction. Therefore, it was not possible to grant the declaration sought.
She added the EU directive on family reunification did not provide for the reunification of families based on polygamous marriages and there was no unified approach in the EU on this question.
While there was no doubt this marriage was valid under Lebanese law, polygamous marriage was at odds with marriage as understood in this country and protected by the Constitution.
The full judgment is on

Gerry Durcan SC, Dervla Browne SC and Corinna Leddy BL, instructed by Eugene Smartt Solr, for the applicant; James Devlin SC and Genevieve Burke BL, instructed by McGarr Solrs, for the respondent; Inge Clissman SC and Rita O’Meara BL, instructed by the Law Centre, Tallaght, for the notice party; Feichin McDonagh SC and Denise Brett BL, instructed by the Chief State Solicitor, for the Attorney General.
© 2011 The Irish Times
Stanley Kopacz
10 years 3 months ago
Dr. Callahan makes valid points existentially and sociologically.  But I'm not sure it holds up against the libertarian paradigm that presently rules our country.  Under that weltanshauung, people have the right to join as they see fit and for whatever reasons and without the interference of others.  However, dyadic relationships, whether lifelong or serial, will remain the rule.  Afterall, laws are limited in their effect on behaviour.  Even the laws against murder don't prevent murder.  Most people don't kill because they don't want to.  They, like me, would settle for delivering a nice punch in the nose.

It's cool to see Dr. Callahan here as a blogger.  All you commenters, y'all be nice so we see more of her. 
Thomas Rooney
10 years 3 months ago
@Brett - The article about infidelity extolls the idea that monogamy works for many couples and has many societal benefits.  However, the reality is a 50% divorce rate, many of which happen due to infidelity.
Now, where is the harm to society (not to Church teaching or the individual souls of the people involved) if married people decide...with each other's pursue romantic interests outside the marriage, WHILE STILL MAINTAINING THEIR MARRIAGE?  Such a thing requires brutal honesty and openness, I'm guessing.  

Can you demonstrate how this harms society, when a successful marriage is already less than a coin toss? 
Adam Rasmussen
10 years 3 months ago
It is unfortunate that Archbishop Dolan used the logical fallacy of Slippery Slope ( in his recent blog pos about gay marriage. There is no self-evident reason why, nor does His Excellency give any reason why, gay marriage should lead to polygamy. In fact, gay marriage advocates someimes say "One person + one person = marriage," which is a specifically monogamous slogan. No movement toward polygamy has been witnessed anywhere, as far as I can tell. I hope that he will not use that argument again in the future, as I fully support the cause of traditional marriage.

Now, as for the movement toward allowing for infidelity, there has been plenty of evidence for that for a while, and His Excellency indeed cited a recent story about just that. That is a redefinition of marriage that we should indeed be on the lookout for, though I'm sure there are also gay people equally concerned about that. Many gay people are faithful to their partners, and it would be slander to accuse them unjustly. 
Andy Buechel
10 years 3 months ago
Perhaps I am one of the godless liberals, but ''open'' marriages to contraception to barbarism doens't really seem like a logical sequence to me.  Nor do I necessarily fear the outcome of greater instability to an institution that the churches have raised from sacrament to idol in the past century.  Actually, I would argue that our economic/financial system is much closer to barbarism than allowing people-with the knowledge, or even with the companionship, of spouses-to engage in sex outside of marriage.  I think Thomas asks a very important question on the practical level, and one that Savage has actually investigated. 

As to the polygamy question, I agree with Dr. Callahan that the fears of this are grossly overstated, and for many of the same reasons.  If it's hard enough to make a marriage work with one partner, think of it with multiple!  Theologically, however, I'm not really sure there's a big issue with it.  St. Thomas sees polygamy as entirely natural, just arguing that Christians were called to greater ascesis.  There is merit in this argument, but note that his claim is not that society will collapse, planes will fall from the sky, or whatever our favorite apocalyptic image is.  This is not least because there is absolutely nothing in scripture that condemns polygamy as intrinsically immoral, quite the opposite.  Again, I'm not suggesting that we should revive the institution-its chattel effects on women to begin with-but that it may not be quite the boogie man many want to make it into.
10 years 3 months ago
The point is....People who subjectively experience sexual attraction for members of the same sex will of course say that this attraction is "natural" and hence, ANY idea that pops into their mind with respect to these attractions are "natural" and healthy, and by golly, their human rights. Well, what about men or women who experience an attraction for polygamy? Who are gays (or monogamous minded straights) to say "oh no, that's not a natural attraction"? According to the established laws of politically correct public discourse, NON-MEMBERS or NON-MINORITIES are not allowed to impose their value system or their claims of reality and objectivity on the desires and subjective experiences of ANY minorities.

Thus, a heterosexual male MAY NOT claim to know whether a homosexual male's feelings or attractions are 'good' or bad, healthy or insane, risky or safe. To claim to know objective reality is to engage in metaphysics and that's tantamount to an unfair advantage - after all, such certainties of the reality of things are the exclusive prerogative of 'most favored minorities not the other way around! 

Once it is established that any age old definition of human unions can be re-defined by the agitation of a minority which uses a two-edge argument that a) their desires make it rational and b) their opponents arguments' must be irrational because they disagree with them..... the socio-legal pandora's box is blown open to ever OTHER little minority wanting something.

It's one thing to debate ideas or policies in the faculty lounge - quite another to see how the most nuanced arguments get transmogrified into public policy by pragmatic and ambitious forces always on the look out for weapons with which to beat their opponents with (or cash cows on which to make a fortune). Thus by establishing the principle that marriage is open to re-definition, and ANY defense of the status quo ante was irrational, there can be no "line" drawn against subsequent expansion of the 'definition' which is not itself open to the claim that it's merely irrationally premised on the assumption that what is (or has been) is preferable to some 'change'.

David Nickol
10 years 3 months ago
The point is....People who subjectively experience sexual attraction for members of the same sex will of course say that this attraction is ''natural'' and hence, ANY idea that pops into their mind with respect to these attractions are ''natural'' and healthy, and by golly, their human rights. 

John Lyons:

I would call this a bizarre caricature of an argument, only no one has ever actually made such an argument to be caricatured. There are many people who would argue that same-sex attraction is normal variation of sex attraction, though far less common than opposite-sex attraction, but to extrapolate and say that any feelings a person has are natural and it is good to act on them goes way beyond what anyone has argued about homosexuality or same-sex marriage. Gay individuals may make a personal statement that they believe their feelings of same-sex attraction are good and natural, and they they should be able to act on them, but to take those personal statements as developed philosophical arguments that anything that feels good and natural to anyone is automatically to be recognized as a human right is hugely mistaken. 

There is, indeed, a lot of evidence that same-sex attraction is ''natural,'' in that it occurs widely in nature. You are free to provide proof to the contrary, but I know of no one who has ever argued that even if something can be shown to be ''natural,'' it should automatically become a human right. 

It is very easy to refute the arguments for same-sex marriage if you make them up yourself instead of dealing seriously with what proponents of same-sex marriage actually say.  
Dale Rodrigue
10 years 3 months ago
We're on a slippery slope, with all this dripping liberalism before you know it that other liberal idea will confront us that women will want the right to vote.  The end is near.
Jim McCrea
10 years 3 months ago
Joe Kash @ #6:  no less than the current head of the CDF, while Archbishop of San Francisco, gave a type of approval to a version of what you are suggesting:
“In 1997, the City of San Francisco passed a law that all companies must provide the same benefits for domestic partners as for their spouses. -  Levada stated that unmarried employees of the archdiocese could designate any person sharing the same address as their beneficiary. This complied with the statute while avoiding a privileged status for unmarried domestic partnerships.”  (
Andy Buechel
10 years 3 months ago
But of course there are many people who have little to no problem with contraception and yet do not condone abortion (the author of this post being one of the more eloquent on the subject).  In which case, there does not seem to be the inevitable descent to barbarism you fear, assuming we haven't already gotten there in areas utterly unrelated to sex.
Sanjiv Bhattacharya
10 years 3 months ago
If the issue were public policy rather than individual Constitutional rights, then this would be a no-brainer. If we were talking about whether polygamy is good for women, or for men or  children or for society for that matter, then it's reasonably clear that it isn't - it fails on all fronts.

The Browns do not represent the culture of polygamy anymore than the crazed prophet Warren Jeffs does, or Paul Kingston, leader of a cult called the Order which, according to former members, practices close sibling incest as doctrine. Let's not be too seduced here - this is a world in which girls are routinely forced into marriage, pedophilia is covered up and boys are expelled, thereby gifting society with a surplus of unmarried men, who are historically prone to fight, rob and burn things.  

But this is America, and the guiding principle of the Constitution isn't to legislate according to smart policy - if it was we'd have sensible gunlaws, slower cars and universal healthcare - it's to bend to the rights of individuals. And by that token, you have to give the Browns their due.   

For a full argument for decriminalization, and an expose of what a backward and dysfunctional culture polygamy is, read Secrets & Wives: The Hidden World of Mormon Polygamy (Soft Skull).

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