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Santorum’s Case Against Gay Marriage: Polygamy is Bad

January 6, 2012 4 comments

One of the more common tactics by opponents of equal marriage rights challenges same-sex relationships by bringing up polygamy. In the video above a student asks Rick Santorum how he can deny marriage rights to gay couples if he believes that all men are created equal and “have the rights to happiness and liberty.” In response, Santorum asks if marrying 5 other people is ok. The students say that’s not the point, while Santorum thinks he’s got one.

I never understood this line of reasoning. When else can someone ask you to justify your position on something and changing the subject to something else constitutes a valid response?

  • Why don’t you think adults should be able to drink alcohol in moderation? Well do you think they should be able to get hammered and drive a car!? 
  • Why shouldn’t I be able to play music in my room? Well should you be able to blare sirens blasts at 180 decibels!? 
  • Can my family buy a second truck? Well should you be able to own an M1 Abrams tank!?

It’s also worth noting that Santorum is utilizing a sort of traditional-marriage-of-the-gaps argument. As we gain more knowledge about gender, sexuality and non-traditional relationships there is less of a reason to restrict marriage rights, so opponents must retreat to more abstract and shaky arguments to preserve their particular notion of marriage.  Many people can’t really explain off the cuff why they think plural marriage is wrong while gay marriage isn’t – they just sort of have a visceral negative reaction to it. I’m sure when people first started debating interracial marriage some traditionalist asked if same-sex marriage is ok. If you don’t fully understand precisely what defines marriage only traditional marriage can exist!

If you’re going to deny an entire class of citizens a fundamental constitutional right it seems necessary to make an actual case against gay marriage rather than frightening people with polygamy or man-on-kethup marriage.  The case against polygamy centers around abuse of women and children, unstable gender ratios, judicial chaos, and other reasons that have nothing to do with the gay marriage. In other words, there is a rational basis for not  giving state sanction to plural marriages.

I’m fairly encouraged by this. It demonstrates that the illiberal religious right continues to lose the argument. They can’t just exploit the taboo and strangeness of gay marriage anymore. The only way they feel they can win is to attack something else.

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