Last week’s decisions by the Supreme Court constitute a milestone in the progress of the United States toward complete equality and justice, paving the way as they do for nationwide acceptance of gay marriage. The nullification of the indefensible Defense of Marriage Act and the overturning of California’s Proposition 8 are especially welcome in their affirmation of American values on the eve of our nation’s 237th birthday. At the risk of dampening the celebration, however, I gently suggest that the full legalization of same-sex marriage, however commendable in its own right, represents only a partial solution to the problem of marriage inequality, for Americans whose sexual orientation is pluralistic in nature remain outside the pale. Their marriages are illegal, their very identity is denied, and they experience discrimination on a daily basis because their capacity for love transcends the restrictive custom of monogamy.
I shall now therefore humbly propose my own thoughts, which I hope will not be liable to the least objection.
It appears to me that the advocates of same-sex marriage have already shown us the path to the long-overdue equalization of plural marriage. The arguments most commonly advanced in support of gay marriage can just as easily be applied to marriages between three, four, or more consenting adults of all sexes. To begin with, plural-oriented individuals, testifying that they experienced their orientation from an early age as an integral and immutable part of their identity, can affirm their multi-faceted sexuality as a gift, a source of joy and a matter of pride. They can assert that their preference for multiple partners has a genetic basis and that attempts to “cure” them of their pluralism are not only ineffective but psychologically harmful. They can, as well, point out that the Constitution, and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in particular, require that plural marriage be placed on an equal basis with traditional monogamous marriage, and they can remind their fellow citizens that the denial of this equality constitutes unjust discrimination. In addition, they can assert that the opponents of plural marriage equality are motivated by fear, prejudice, and hatred, toxic emotions that can collectively go by the term “pluralophobia,” suggestive as it is of mental illness. Religiously based objections to plural marriage, of course, carry no weight in a polity that separates church and state.
Moreover, the advocates of plural marriage can take heart from the fact that they enjoy a couple of advantages over their same-sex counterparts. For one, they will not need to counter the criticism that their marriages are biologically infertile. (Indeed, they may serve as a partial solution to the persistent problem of low birth rates and a “graying population” in those areas of the world where sexual progressivism has triumphed.) For another, they can find historical precedent for polygamy and polyandry in many civilizations (whereas gay marriage is unprecedented), and they can extol the technological and artistic accomplishments of those same civilizations.
Finally, it is worth noting that the abbreviation “LGBT” implies the need for plural marriage since the bisexuals of this broad movement, in order to fully live out their sexuality, require at least one partner of each sex. The widespread acceptance of the LGBT designation is an encouraging sign that the American public is nearly ready to embrace the concept of plural marriage.
For all of the above reasons, I have no doubt that plural-oriented individuals will eventually win full equality with their monogamous fellow-citizens. I do not, however, suggest that the journey will be without obstacles. Change is always difficult, and antipathy toward plural orientation is deeply rooted. Nor, indeed, would the achievement of plural marriage equality be the end of the road. Individuals whose sexuality is oriented toward near kin would remain stigmatized. Those whose capacity for love embraces the animal kingdom face still greater challenges, although the anthropocentrism of the past is now greatly diminished.
But these broader liberation movements, however laudable in themselves, are beyond the scope of this essay. On the theory that progress necessarily advances incrementally, I have made it my modest goal to take a small part in advancing the cause of plural marriage, trusting that others whose intellectual gifts exceed my own will take up the banner of equality where I have left off.