March 25th, 2013

surprised, popeye

Pondering plural marriage

My high school pal Meggan tweets today:

Good point, Meggan! Henceforth I am a supporter not of same-sex or gay marriage but of marriage equality.

Speaking of which, watching five episodes of Big Love didn't convince me that I should watch the next 48, but it did get me wondering if there's any objective reason polygamy should be illegal. And honestly, I'm having trouble thinking of one. As long as the relationship is among consenting adults, and they all agree to it, why shouldn't they be allowed to wed?

To my way of thinking, the biggest stumbling block to legalizing plural marriage is that family law is currently ill-equipped to deal with a marriage among more than two parties. You'd have to rework the divorce laws so that one spouse can leave the marriage while the other parties remained married. But that shouldn't be hard; law firms don't dissolve when one partner decides to strike out on her own or go in-house as a corporate counsel, so I don't see why a marriage of three couldn't continue as a marriage of two if one spouse wants to go it alone.

And I don't know what you'd do about child custody. Joint custody is rough enough for kids when just two parents are involved, and I would imagine that it would be exponentially worse with more than two. Still, as a Simpsons fan I tend to think of "Won't somebody please think of the children!" as a punch line rather than as a basis for public policy, so I can't say that angle is enough to convince me that plural marriage should remain illegal.

But neither am I 100% convinced it should be legal. It's not like two-person marriage equality; the whole point there is that the existing laws concerning marriage would apply just as well to same-sex partners as opposite-sex, with no changes required (except for the repeal or judicial nullification of the laws that prevent them from being so applied). Clearly, some serious thought would need to be given to how our existing system of family law would have to be modified to accommodate marriages among more than two people, and the truth of the matter is that our legislative system is not well equipped to deal with things that require serious thought. Not that legislative incompetence is a good reason to maintain the status quo, but maybe we're better off keeping things the way they are than making a half-assed change.