The story of a female throuple in Massachusetts (with a baby on the way) provides further confirmation, as if any were needed, of the proposition that “ideas have consequences.” Once one has abandoned belief in marriage as a conjugal bond (with its central structuring norm of sexual complementarity) in favor of a concept of “marriage” as a form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership (“love makes a family”), then what possible principle could be identified for a norm “restricting” marriage to two-person partnerships, as opposed to polyamorous sexual ensembles of three or more persons?
Sherif Girgis, Ryan Anderson, and I (and others) have been asking this questionor posing this challengeto advocates of the re-definition of marriage for some years. No one has been able to answer the question or meet the challenge. So far as I am aware, only Jonathan Rauch has made a serious effortand completely failed. The truth is that on the premises that one must put into place to generate the concept of “same-sex marriage,” the argument the women in the story below make on behalf of their own “polyamorous marriage” goes through without a hitch. (And they do a great job of making it, by the way.)
Logically scrupulous and candid ssm advocates (Judith Stacey, Masha Gessen, Elizabeth Brake, Victoria Brownworth, the 300+ self-identified LGBT scholars, activists, and allies who signed the “Beyond Same-Sex Marriage” manifestoincluding Gloria Steinem, Barbara Ehrenreich, and Kenji Yoshino) recognize this. They have publicly acknowledged that there is no reason, on the revisionist view of marriage in which persons of the same sex can form a marital bond, not to further re-shape the institution of marriage to include multiple partner unions. Indeed, they argue that do that would represent further progress toward the ideal of equality and the norm of justice. Stopping short of doing it is arbitrary and ultimately unjust. Poly families and children born into them, they say, deserve the same legal recognition, support, and protection as conventionally married families and the children born into them.
Of course, there is no need for new slogans, the old ones will do: “freedom to marry,” “marriage equality,” etc. Nor is there a need for new arguments: “How does it harm you or your marriage if the throuple next door are recognized as being “married”?” “Won’t it be better for their kids?” “The more love in the world, the better!” And, of course, there’s the trump card: “Oh, so you think that marriage is the union of two and only two people? Aha! You are a bigot! You had better get on the right side of history! And in the meantime don’t even think about applying for a job at Mozilla.”