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poly panic

At Practical Polyamory, Anita Wagner noted some backlash to that recent Newsweek piece that put polyamory "front and center" in the culture war. Robert George's "Gay Marriage, Democracy, and the Courts" in The Wall Street Journal was the site of the attack, wherein George wrote that the "showdown over the legal definition of marriage" is "a raucous battle, but democracy is working." I would observe that same-sex marriage was a fringe idea when Hawaii made the first big splash in 1993; last fall, it came close to winning voters' approval in California--and will likely be a nationwide reality sooner than we think.

Far from "invalidat[ing] traditional marriage laws" or "redefining marriage" as George claimed, the recognition of same-sex marriages (and poly ones, eventually) strongly parallels the Loving v. Virginia anti-miscegenation ruling. George falsely asserted that "The definition of marriage was not at stake in Loving:"

Everyone agreed that interracial marriages were marriages. Racists just wanted to ban them as part of the evil regime of white supremacy that the equal protection clause was designed to destroy. [emphasis added]

However, the Loving case actually demonstrates the lack of agreement on the validity on mixed-race marriages:

Mrs. Loving and her husband, Richard, were in bed in their modest house in Central Point in the early morning of July 11, 1958, five weeks after their wedding, when the county sheriff and two deputies, acting on an anonymous tip, burst into their bedroom and shined flashlights in their eyes. A threatening voice demanded, "Who is this woman you're sleeping with?"

Mrs. Loving answered, "I'm his wife."

Mr. Loving pointed to the couple's marriage certificate hung on the bedroom wall. The sheriff responded, "That's no good here."

(Source: New York Times)

George's focus on procreative sex (or, as he puts it, "bodily unity of the kind that sometimes generates new life") as the defining characteristic of marriage is irrelevant to his same-sex animus, as myriad childless couples--by whatever cause or choice--demonstrate. Andrew Sullivan asks pointedly, "if non-procreative sex can consummate a heterosexual marriage, then why not a homosexual one?"

Indeed, George's procreation argument actually undermines his position on polyamory: Wouldn't more people in loving relationships tend to increase the probability of children? He also seems worried that "this week's Newsweek reports more than 500,000 polyamorous households in the U.S." Since the 2010 Census will be tabulating the number of same-sex households, the data may well yield some numbers on poly households.

George opines that "it is the people, not the courts, who should debate and decide" marriage issues, but a minority's civil rights shouldn't depend upon majority approval. I would be happiest if marriage wins by referendum, and barely less glad to see it recognized legislatively--but judicial means have often been in the forefront of protecting civil rights in the face of prejudiced resistance, and should work equally well in support of marriage equality.

A far less substantive critique of polyamory is Colleen Raezler's piece from the right-wing website NewsBusters. Raezler suggests that the poly family described by Newsweek "sound[s] creepy," but there's nothing backing up her aversion. When Raezler brings up children, as was perhaps inevitable, her argument gets even shakier. She mentions a 2004 Heritage Foundation study, but didn't provide a link to it--probably because it does nothing to support her case. The study in question not only doesn't mention polyamory at all, but is completely irrelevant: it's actually about "protect[ing] mothers and children from domestic abuse and violent crime."

Even worse is Bill O'Reilly's "it's all over the place" polyamory panic over the web sitcom "Family." His continual references to ducks, goats, and turtles makes me suspect that more troubling issues than sexual harassment may be at work in the psyche of BillO. As for the other poly opponents such as Robert George, who can say?

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