Friday, June 10, 2011

Gay (Same-Sex) Marriage and Polygamous Marriage

Missouri Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, who defeated longtime (1977-2011) 4th District Representative Ike Skelton in last fall’s election, has been called, for good reason, “Missouri’s anti-gay zealot.”
Recently Rep. Hartzler (b. 1960) has compared gay (same-sex) marriage to polygamous marriage. She asked, in opposing the idea, “If you just cared about somebody, have a committed relationship, why not allow one man and two women or three women to marry?”
Listening to a local radio station earlier this week, I heard clips of Hartzler’s June 2 talk (at the Eagle Forum in D.C.), which included the above statement, and comments on her talk. The host of the program fully agreed with Hartzler on that point, although he did disagree of some of her later, more outrageous statements.
But is polygamous marriage and same-sex marriage basically the same ethically and to be equally accepted if traditional marriage is not maintained? I think not.
The difference is that of innate orientation. Surely no one can argue that people are born with a polygamous orientation. But there is ample reason to recognize that some people are born with a homosexual orientation. That is the way they are “wired” from birth.
A more serious question might be whether other people are perhaps born with, say, kleptomania or pedophilia. But even if such should be the case, which I seriously doubt, there is no doubt that such “disorders” are harmful to society, just as promiscuity often is. But the same cannot be said for homosexuality, depending on how it is expressed, of course. (There can be, and is, harmful homosexual activity just as there can be, and is, harmful heterosexual activity.)
Hartzler ran the public campaign for Missouri’s anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment, which 71 percent of voters approved. Thanks to Hartzler and the many who agreed with her, since 2004 the MO constitution has stipulated: “That to be valid and recognized in this state, a marriage shall exist only between a man and a woman.”
Now seven years later Hartzler is working hard to see that that law remains in MO and that DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act that became federal law in 1996) is defended. She has the full support of the Faith & Freedom Coalition, of course, who join with her in criticizing President Obama. Earlier this year the President concluded that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and so the Justice Department should cease defense of that section in the Act.
(Section 3 of DOMA ends by declaring that “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”)
Certainly Representative Hartzler has the right to oppose same-sex marriage, and it is clear that a majority of voting Missourians has agreed with her position in the past, and may still agree with her.
But it is not valid for Hartzler to oppose same-sex marriage by saying that there is no basic difference between approving that and other non-traditional forms of marriage such as polygamy. The two are not the same kind of thing, and we should beware of people who try to equate them in an attempt to “protect” traditional marriage by opposing same-sex marriage.


  1. I have written elsewhere and I still maintain that to deprive some minority of the same rights that others have merely because of social or religious disapproval of their lifestyle is a FORM OF PERSECUTION, no matter how you justify it.

    I doubt very much that we're hardwired for monogamy. Many people have argued for a polygamous orientation, and they've made their case based, in part, on the amazing statistics regarding infidelity in modern, monogamous societies, but also, in part, on the anthropological finding that most human societies have not been strictly monogamous.

    Although I don't think we can distinguish homosexuality from polygamy on the grounds of human nature, they are different practices with different practical implications for the culture, so the justification for legalizing/not legalizing one cannot be the same as for the other, I would agree. But the fact is that we're not permitting one kind of person to live in polygamy and legally denying it to another socially disapproved type of person. But this is what we're doing with regard to sexual orientation and marriage, and, I restate: this practice is not merely discrimination; it is persecution.

  2. As I understand it, sexual orientation is innate and cannot be changed. Promiscuity is probably an innate tendency for both heterosexual and homosexual persons. Promiscuity can, and should, be controlled by socialization. Unfortunately, USAmerican society is not doing a very good job of that right now.

    Anton wrote, “I don't think we can distinguish homosexuality from polygamy on the grounds of human nature.” I disagree, and that was the point of my blog. Homosexuality is an orientation with which some people are born. But how can you say some people are born polygamous? Having multiple partners or wives, is something chosen. Sure, there is probably a promiscuous tendency, and monogamy is probably not an innate human characteristic.

    But that still doesn’t mean that same-sex marriage is the same as polygamous marriage.

  3. The subject of homosexuality is impossible to address as a single subject. The label does not have a single referent, but can be applied to almost anything in a vast array of human behavior, some of which is entirely innocent and wholesome, some of which is deadly and death-dealing, some of which is appropriately considered personal and private, some of which spills out beyond the personal and the private, some of which is certainly Christ-like, some of which is certainly anti-Christian.

    Under the one label people can be thinking of same-gender friendships, expressions of affection in same-gender friendships, same-gender co-habitation, culturally-defined gender roles or dress or conduct, same-gender sexual attraction, the tendency of societies to single out scapegoats who will bear the brunt of social tension, or certain specific sex acts that are only ever described euphemistically. And that is to name just a few of the possibilities!

    With such a vast array of possible referents, it is impossible to say anything worth saying on the subject labeled “homosexuality.” The idea that Christians should be able to decide for or against homosexuality, so thoroughly ill-defined, is ridiculous. The question has to be broken down into much more specific questions. As to those specific questions, some we can answer with a clear word from Jesus and his apostles, and some we cannot. Where we do not have a clear word from Jesus and his apostles, we Christians are not obliged to offer any opinion at all, unless it is a question for pastoral counsel or an issue that clearly bears on our life together as covenant-bound sisters and brothers.

    In those circumstances that require discernment, we will need to find ways of coming to practical, provisional conclusions that seem good to the Holy Spirit and to us. To do that, we must avoid polarization, slogans, presumption, arrogance, rancor, or conformity to any non-Christian society, whether liberal or conservative. Where already we have been caught up in years or decades of polarization, slogans, presumption, arrogance, rancor, or conformity to non-Christian society, we must stop short, and repent. We simply must stop short and repent.

  4. Anton's thoughts are well taken.

    Unfortunately all of us bring presuppositions to arguments. This is not a bad thing, since we should have a foundation for our beliefs. But all should recognize that there is certainly legitimate and conflicting data on both sides. Interestingly the APA also affirms other non-traditional sexualities which are considered morally abnormal by the general, American culture.

    Traditionally and historically, across cultures homosexuality has been considered abnormal and homosexual marriage has not been permitted. These have changed recently in a post-modern world.

    Much grace and tolerance must be given by all sides. Name calling by any (I have received it by bigots on both sides) does not build any bridges. (Yes, I have several gay friends, including a good acquaintance in leadership at a Metropolitan Community Church. I have also lived among and known polygamous people, including within the USA.)

  5. A few minutes ago I was very pleased to receive the following e-mail message from an older, and much respected, Thinking Friend:

    "Thanks for a sharp critique, Leroy. Logic may not conquer prejudices such as this, but it helps to hear such good reasoning."

  6. The Old Testament is very comfortable with polygamy, as it also is with arranged marriages. When Jacob fell in love with Rachel, it actually caused problems! The New Testament, by contrast, favors no marriage at all. Marriage is seen as better than sin, but not as the ideal relationship.

    The American model of marriage has been called "serial polygamy." This has lead to the joke about the current GOP Presidential candidates that the one with one wife is the Mormon!

    In the contest between Islam and Christianity in Africa, it has been noted that Islam offers one god and four wives, while Christianity offers one wife and three gods.

    Our American ideal of one man and one woman in a marriage is just that, an ideal. A surprising number of people have achieved this, but every day the news reminds us that a surprising number have not, Including a number who thought they had, until they had not.

    The irony of conservatives fighting gay marriage by raising the specter of polygamy, is that this very action may in the long run make polygamy acceptable in America! In the meantime, increasing numbers of Americans have come to favor gay marriage. The future belongs to civil rights, not to narrow theocracy.

    My guess is that, at some time in the future, America may adopt a polygamy law not too different from that in Islam. Large polygamous families have cult-like issues, child abuse issues, and spin off too many cast-off young men. However, our society already incorporates many aspects of limited polygamy, which may make more sense to regulate than to ban. In that sense, the parallel approaches our puritanical ban on recreational drugs, which has lead to a devastating war on drugs, which is doing far more harm to our society than the drugs themselves. Which, in turn, leads to the problem with dragging polygamy into the gay marriage debate. Too many issues simply shuts down the discussion. Gay marriage should be handled on its own merits.

    I believe the United States should fully legally recognize gay marriage as legally equivalent to straight marriage. I further believe that the church should do the same. The homophobia found is some passages of the Bible are no more sound doctrine that the endorsements of slavery that also darken the scriptures from the beginning to the end of the Bible. The Gospel is the Good News. Good News to those in poverty, to those in prison, to those outcast by society. David loved Jonathan more than women. The beloved disciple leaned on Jesus' breast. Some were born eunuchs, some were made eunuchs for the kingdom. We do not know nearly as much as we like to think we do. I suggest we work more on getting the beams out of our own eyes, and less on finding the specks in others.

    Caveat: While now a Baptist, I grew up in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS), which was found by the United States Supreme Court, in the late nineteenth century, to be the legal successor to the church of Joseph Smith, Jr. (in a case over ownership of the first Mormon Temple, in Kirtland, Ohio, which, as a result of this suit, is open for public visitation). I suspect this court decision was largely because the RLDS were stoutly opposed to polygamy.

  7. Earlier this morning I received the following e-mail from a local Thinking Friend, a woman (and I mention that only because women, unfortunately, make up a too small percentage of my TF mailing list--and most of the comments posted on this blog are by men.)

    She wrote,

    "You know, it's real popular right now to be against bullying. And of course, I'm dead against it too. What I don't understand is how these politicians get by raging against gay marriage and other issues like it, and no one brands those people bullies. That's just the way they're acting. So sad."

  8. It appears that the original post is opinion only (though strong at times). Is there any way to move past the presuppositions to an ultimate truth that shows gay marriage is "right," or are we just left with a battle of opinion and philosophy with no real "truth?" If, in fact, there is no way to determine an ultimate truth, who is to say that anything is wrong (including polygamous marriage)?