Despite conservatives claiming that if same-sex marriage is legalized, plural marriage will be next, so far there hasn’t been any evidence of it actually happening. According to some bloggers, one reason for that might be surprising: many LGBT people aren’t in favor of it, either.
At IGF Culture Watch, an article by Walter Olson points out, “Have you noticed that social conservatives’ notions of what gay-marriage advocates supposedly ‘must’ believe are often very wide of what most actually-existing gay-marriage advocates do believe?”
He goes on to write that, in fact, those in the West who actually practice plural marriage and thus would be most strongly in favor of it are largely divided into two groups: fundamentalist Mormons, and advocates of free love—today’s hippies.
He writes, “It should go without saying that the second group is unlikely to team up with the first into an effective public movement, nor are the numbers of either likely to grow radically, short of mass immigration from certain pre-modern parts of the world.”
Technically, the term for plural marriage is polygamy, meaning “many married.” Polyamory means simply “many loves.” Regardless of what it’s called—and there is no real consensus on terms—plural marriage has in fact been long practiced by many cultures throughout history.
Still, in an article for the Huffington Post, titled “Gay Marriage: Good; Polyamory: Bad,” Eli Lehrer argues that “long social experience with polyamory indicates that the social results are awful. If they’re patriarchal and primarily polygamous and limit the economic roles that women can take (as almost all known polygamous societies do) they will doom a lot of people to living in poverty.”
Though some of the benefits of plural marriage are clear—insurance, hospital visitation, inheritance—the problems it could present make for an enormous, unprecedented legal hassle. A member of Seattle’s polyamorous community, Mistress Matisse, told 429Magazine, “the sticky point is spousal benefits like health insurance or Social Security. Both public and private systems set up to accommodate people having one spouse at a time might flounder if a lot of people had two [or more]. I don’t know of a solution to that issue that seems fair to everyone.”
Same-sex marriage has in fact created some issues itself, being legally unprecedented, but it is also similar enough to mixed-sex marriages that the hassles have been relatively few; plural marriages would be another story.