The Utah state Senate this week unanimously voted to decriminalize polygamy, knocking it down from a felony to a minor civil infraction. Though not quite legal yet, the practice of having multiple spouses is well on its way there, and let’s face it, now that marriage has already been redefined to suit the nature of our times, what could possibly stand in the way of fully legal and recognized polygamous unions?
This, of course, is something we were promised would never happen when gay marriage became a constitutional right. It’s completely different, we were told. Writing in Politico in 2015, Jonathan Rauch said, “There might conceivably (although not likely) be a case for taking the trouble to do all that messy and confusing rewiring if the moral claim of polygamy were remotely as strong as to the moral claim of gay marriage. But it is not.”
Cathy Young, writing in Time Magazine, had this to say the very same day: “Will such an evolution happen? It would likely be a much tougher uphill battle, not least because ‘I want to make a full commitment to the person I love’ is a far more sympathetic claim than ‘my needs are unfulfilled in a sexually exclusive relationship.’”
There are many more examples, and what was clear then and is playing out now is that these arguments suggesting gay marriage would not lead to polygamy simply make no sense. Just like the fallacious claims that tearing down Confederate monuments would not lead to attacks on George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, the plain logic of gay marriage always pointed in the direction of polygamy.
The reason polygamy became inevitable is that once untethered from the concept of man and wife, there is simply no basis for constraining marriage to two people. Both Rauch and Young made moral claims in their arguments as to why polygamy would not flow from gay marriage. But upon what basis? How is a moral argument against polygamy any different from a moral argument against gay marriage?
Courts and legislatures are not tasked with defining morality; they are tasked with making and deciding upon laws that treat people with different moral outlooks equally. Does the possibility of abuse exist within polygamous marriages? Sure. But it also exists within straight and gay marriages. Now that the concept of marriage has been turned into a malleable plastic, how can critics of polygamy who championed gay marriage say with a straight face that consenting adults should be barred from the practice?
Social progressivism has left us after the past two decades in a place where marriage is whatever we want it to be, gender is whatever we want it to be, and even history is whatever we think we need it to be to solve today’s problems. All is relativism. In the digital age, nothing is written in stone. It can all be cut, copied, and pasted; it can all be rewritten, rewired, recoded.
There is, in all likelihood, no way back around this track. Quite soon, our kids will have sleepovers with a friend who has a dad, and mom, and mom, and mom. And it is something we will accept, just as we have accepted gay marriage. So rather than wistfully wishing to turn back the clock, we can at least be proactive in thinking through the implications of abandoning historical definitions of institutions and identities.
The slippery slopes are real. They are not fabricated conspiracy theories spun by bigoted conservatives; they are the obvious fallout of decisions we make as a society and nation. For all intents and purposes, polygamy is now legal in the United States. This proves yet again that any time a progressive utters the phrase, “That will never happen,” you should sprint to your bookie and put down a good chunk of change that it will.
The only real option for social conservatives now is to put forth a positive case for their ideas. If we believe a porn-saturated world in which gender is meaningless and God is dead is not in the best interest of the country, then we must make a convincing case. But we must also be wary of the blessings of liberty, careful as we tug on threads of the social fabric. The tapestry is fragile, and once it unravels, it is likely gone forever.