I have heard the mantra for years: "Don't talk about polygamy when you talk about gay marriage. They are not related." Well, yes and no. I continue to agree that they are not related in one sense, but in another sense the issues follow one from another because both involved a compromise of the definition of marriage.
For centuries, marriage has been defined as a covenant between a man and a woman. Now, gay activitists are slowly turning the tide in communities across the world and making the idea that marriage should not be limited to two people of opposite gender, but rather should be based upon a covenant of love and commitment regardless of gender. People immersed in the theology of personal rights believe that people should be able to love and commit themselves to whoever they desire and that we should not be so close-minded as to limit marriage to being between a man and a woman. The important thing, it is argued, is the commitment and love that the couple shares. The all-too-politically-correct Ellen Goodman makes this point in one of her columns entitled Same-Sex Marriage:
As Anne and Chad Gifford, former head of Bank of America, wrote this week in The Boston Globe, their son's wedding "brought home the reality that marriage is about two people who love each other and who desire to commit to a life together."
Of course, there have been people who have argued that once you define marriage in the manner voiced by Anne and Chad Gifford (and cited favorably by Ms. Goodman), then what is left to limit the number being married to two? Why not three or four? No, no, no, say that gay rights activists, we aren't talking about that -- we are talking only about the right to two people to get married. For example, in a piece entitled "Gay Marriage, then Polygamy?" on the Independent Gay Forum, author Paul Varnell argues that the two are definitely unrelated. He says,
Gays are not arguing that people should be able to have whatever marital arrangement they want. They argue only that everyone should have access to marriage as it is now commonly understood. Nor are gays arguing for any legal rights other people do not have. They argue that they are uniquely denied a right everyone else already has — the right to marry someone they love.
By contrast, an advocate of legal polygamy cannot argue that he (or she) is seeking anything akin to traditional marriage — unless the Old Testament is considered "traditional." Nor can he argue he is being denied a right that everyone else has. He would have to argue that he desires and deserves a new right that no one currently has. Perhaps that argument could be made but it has not been so far.
The problem with Mr. Varnell's viewpoint is that he is not arguing for gays to be given a right that everyone already has because it is not true that marital laws already give everyone else the right to marry someone they love. It gives them the right to marry someone of the opposite sex if they are of sufficient age, unrelated, etc. Mr. Varnell, in fact, adopts the very definition for the right to marry that the polygamists would love to see adopted -- people should have the right to marry whoever they love. And despite his dismissal of the polygamist arguments as having "not been made so far", it is obvious that if marriage is defined as Mr. Varnell defines it, these arguments are coming. In fact, they have already come.
The March 20, 2006 issue of Newsweek has an article entitled Polygamists, Unite! which says:
[Marlyne Hammon ], who's involved in a polygamous relationship, is a founding member of the Centennial Park Action Committee, a group that lobbies for decriminalization of the practice. She's among a new wave of polygamy activists emerging in the wake of the gay-marriage movement—just as a federal lawsuit challenging anti-polygamy laws makes its way through the courts and a new show about polygamy debuts on HBO. "Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle," says Mark Henkel, who, as founder of the Christian evangelical polygamy organization TruthBearer.org, is at the forefront of the movement. His argument: if Heather can have two mommies, she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy.
The gay rights movement has always claimed that their arguments don't lead to polygamy. I, for one, have never believed that contention, and it appears that the polygamists don't agree with that contention either since they are building on the foundation laid by the same-sex marriage advocates. If these same-sex marriage advocates really, truly believe that their arguments aren't arguments for polygamy, I expect that they will shortly be taking a strong stand against these polygamist advocates. I will be anxiously awaiting the gay rights advocates rallies in support of the two person marriage. For some reason, however, I won't be holding my breath.