Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Marriage, evolving

The New York Times has an unusually interesting discussion of marriage, motivated by NY State's recent legalization of same-sex marriage.

Two discussants speculate on what this might come to mean for incest and polygamy.

Ralph Richard Banks: "What now of the two remaining criminal prohibitions of intimate relationships: incest and polygamy? Even as same sex and interracial relationships are accepted, Americans are now imprisoned for incest or polygamy.
The cases against polygamy and incest are not nearly as strong as most people imagine. Yet they will not become legal anytime soon. To see why, it helps to understand the evolution of moral assessments of interracial and same-sex marriage.
"Courts and legislatures began to invalidate laws against interracial marriage after Hitler gave racism a bad name...
"The categorical prohibitions of incest and polygamy persist in part because people who commit either act are commonly reduced to that act (which is viewed as morally reprehensible) and, in turn, are not viewed as worthy of respect as people. More than a century ago, when the Supreme Court upheld the prohibition of polygamy the court reasoned that it was inimical to American values and identity, in part, the court stated, because polygamy was “almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and African people.” Historically, both polygamy and incest have been more widely practiced, and accepted, than the Supreme Court, and most Americans, seem to believe.
Over time, our moral assessments of these practices will shift, just as they have with interracial marriage and same sex marriage. We will begin to take seriously questions that now seem beyond the pale: Should a state be permitted to imprison two cousins because they have sex or attempt to marry? Should a man and two wives be permitted to live together as a family when they assert that their religious convictions lead them to do so?"
John Corvino: "Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Yes, New York’s decision to grant same-sex couples the freedom to marry was a big deal. So was Washington’s before it and New Hampshire’s and Vermont’s and Iowa’s and Connecticut’s and Massachusetts’s. And let’s not forget Maine and California, which had marriage equality and then lost it (for now)....
"Meanwhile, opponents continue to predict a slippery slope to polygamy, polyamory and other “untested, experimental” family forms.
"The grain of truth in their prediction is this: recent progress reminds us that marriage is an evolving institution and that not everyone fits in the neat boxes that existing tradition offers.
"But let’s not confuse issues. Whether it’s a good idea to allow people to marry one partner of the same sex is a separate question from whether it’s a good idea to allow anyone to marry multiple partners — or their siblings, pets, iPhones or whatever else doomsayers toss in. It’s worth remembering that polygamy is quite “traditional,” even biblical. It is no more logically connected to one side of this debate than the other.
"The truth is that New York granted same-sex couples marriage rights not because of a radical idea, but because of an old-fashioned one: when two individuals commit to a lifetime of mutual love and care, it’s good to support them — or at least get out of their way."
Several discussants note that long-lasting marriage is increasingly common in the U.S. among the prosperous and well educated, and decreasingly common otherwise. 
Judith Stacey: "Marriage never has been or will be an equal-opportunity institution. As the legal scholars June Carbone and Naomi Kahn document in Red Families v. Blue Families, the marriage gap between rich and poor family regimes has been widening dangerously in recent decades. Marriage rates are higher and divorce rates lower in liberal Massachusetts than in conservative Mississippi. "...
"As the United States gradually makes the membership rules to marriage gender-inclusive, it risks deepening our sharp class and race disparities in marriage and family life. If we wish to avoid this fate, we should not be celebrating the benefits of marriage. Instead we need to develop family policies that give greater recognition and resources to the growing array of families formed, as Nancy Polikoff titled her book, “Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage.”
W. Bradford Wilcox: "In the nation’s affluent and educated precincts — from the Upper East Side to Bethesda, Md., to Southlake, Texas — the future of marriage is bright. After succumbing temporarily to the marital tumult of the 1970s, college-educated Americans have been getting their marital act together in recent years. For this demographic, divorce is down, infidelity is down, nonmarital childbearing still remains an exotic activity (only 2 percent of children born to white, college-educated women today are born outside of marriage) and the vast majority of children are fortunate to grow up with both their mother and their father.
"But in poor and working-class communities — from the South Bronx to Blytheville, Ark., to Youngstown, Ohio — the future of marriage is bleak. If anything, the aftershocks of the 1970s are growing, with all too many Middle American communities coming to resemble the inner city when it comes to family life. For the majority of Americans who do not hold college degrees, divorce rates remain high, infidelity is up, nonmarital childbearing is way up (more than one-third of births to white, high-school-educated women are now outside of marriage) and about half of their children will see their parents split before they reach adulthood."

Speaking of polygamy, Malaysia to Reward Polygamous Husbands (ht Stephanie Hurder)


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