Thursday, 16 August 2012

The polygamy argument: will it get any traction?

A few days ago Bishop O'Kelly of Port Pirie argued that the inevitable consequence of approving same sex marriage was approval of polygamy and polyandry.

It is certainly one of the logical consequences of the gay lobby's argument that any committed relationship between consenting adults should given a legal tick of approval. 

The question is, can it get any traction?


Bishop O'Kelly is certainly not the first to run this line of argument in Australia: in fact the Australian Christian Lobby put out a video raising this issue a couple of months back.  I did consider putting it up here back then, but personally I didn't find it a very compelling argument.

Because really, what's so terrible about polygamy?  Is it really a worse sin than homosexual practices for example?  Personally I wouldn't have thought so.   Is it something that should or does repel us more than other forms of sexual immorality prevalent in our society?  I doubt it.

In fact, I would suggest, the only reason why the Greens and others haven't added legalizing polygamy onto their bill is that efforts to engender sympathy for Muslims, with whom polygamy is most associated, have to date been rather less successful (courtesy of assorted bomb plots, 'honour' killings and the like) to date at least, compared to the campaign to make us feel sympathetic to allegedly denigrated/bullied/unloved homosexuals. 

But is the lack of sympathy for Muslims and Mormons (or new age experimenters) on polygamy enough to sway anyone's thinking on same sex marriage?

I'm not terribly convinced.

The reality is that polygamy is already practiced in Australia, at least on a small scale, and is recognised in law for social security and other purposes.

A lost war?

To be honest I think that while we have to keep fighting, the battle on same sex marriage has already been lost.

In reality it was lost, in my view, somewhat ironically, when the Howard Government amended child support and custody laws to make joint custody the default, and take greater account of men supporting 'second' families in the child support formula.

Here is why.

The public policy justification for the State to recognise and regulate marriage, in my view, traditionally at least goes to the financial and other protection of women and children. 

Women, because they typically sacrifice earning capacity by taking time out of the workforce to have and raise children, and provide support to their husbands; and children in order to ensure the future of our society.

A number of factors have progressively eroded that rationale. 

Children as a consumer product

Instead of children being a more or less inevitable consequence of marriage, a gift to the parents entrusted to them to ensure the continuation of society, they have become a deliberate individual choice, courtesy of contraception and abortion. 

And more than a choice, courtesy of selective abortion, IVF and other forms of intervention, children have effectively become a consumer product to be bought (through IVF and surrogacy), sold (through sperm banks etc) and disposed of if they don't meet our ideas of what they should be like (via abortion, divorce and de facto parental abandonment, and so forth). 

One of the logical consequences of the consumerist approach to children is to question why parents should get extra support for having them: they wanted them after all didn't they? 

Moreover, by having those children they are surely contributing to killing the planet, so shouldn't we actually penalise them financially rather than help?!

A long bow?

Is it too long a bow to suggest that this conceptual framework is how we ended up with the Howard Government's tax concessions for retirees, a group who should surely have been saving for their old age and need support far less than young families just starting out?

And loopy proposals such as that of Vice-Presidential candidate Paul Ryan in the US, to exempt over 55s from his plans to kill Medicare and Social Security?

I'm not suggesting either Howard or Ryan subscribe to the conceptual framework set out above, far from it.  But I am suggesting that their respective proposals could sound attractive only because this framework has been implicitly adopted by so many in our society.

The ostensible rationale for proposals like the joint custody arrangements in family law in Australia sounded like they had a conservative basis.  In practice, however, perhaps as an inevitable consequence of the democratic process, what came out the other end was child custody and support laws that are more about privileging the 'purchaser' (viz normally fathers) right to enjoy his children, regardless of the harm that might do; and facilitating the desire of parents to pursue future relationships than about protecting the interests of the children of a previous marriage.

Above all, though, legal marriage becomes primarily about giving rights and recognition to any random grouping of people who wish to be 'consumers' of each other and their (potential) offspring (and providing the means for them to be acquired by one means or another), rather than about privileging the rights of biological parents as guardians of their children on behalf of society.

Can the tide yet be turned?

Is there any way of recovering and promoting the real purpose of marriage and stripping it of the consumerist overtones it has acquired in our society? 

To paint a positive vision of what the family should be like and about, and what that means for our society, represents an enormous challenge.

It means pointing to things like the costs of divorce, for example, and the consequences for our society of our ageing demographic due to the lack of actual children.

It means challenging individuals to sacrifice their own short-term well-being for the good of society as a whole.

It requires the recovery of the sense that celibacy is a virtue, but so too is having children: the traditional means of population control in catholic countries, after all, was to devote some of the populance to the task of securing the spiritual future of society (viz monks, nuns and priests), while others secured its biological future!

But this, I think, is the task the Church must take on, and must start by challenging its own members to adopt a higher standard on.

In the meantime...

In the meantime, though, I guess we have to fight the immediate battle as well, and that means pointing to things like the logical consequences of gay marriage like polygamy.

It means pointing out things like that homosexuals constitute somewhere between 0.3and 3% of the population at most.

It means pointing to the likely consequences for religious liberty.

I do think, though, that finding a way to take the argument up a level could be helpful.

1 comment:

A Canberra Observer said...

re polygamy, while at first blush that doesn't seem plausible, the Canadian experience would suggest otherwise.
Apparently they now also have legal polygamy legislated on the coat tails of the same relativist arguments that brought them homosexual marriage.