Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Unitarian Universalists Argue for Polyamorous Marriage

My other office, in Monroe

The same-sex marriage debate is, at heart, about the definition of "marriage." There are two competing views: 1) conjugal; and 2) revisionist. Revisionists want to revise the meaning of "marriage."

The conjugal view is this: Marriage is a comprehensive union of persons. Marriage unites two persons in three ways: "First, it unites two people in their most basic dimensions, in their minds and bodies; second, it unites them with respect to procreation, family life, and its broad domestic sharing; and third, it unites them permanently and exclusively." (Girgis, Sherif; Anderson, Ryan T; George, Robert P, What Is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense, Kindle Locations 378-379)


"Joining spouses in body as well as in mind, it is begun by consent and sealed by sexual intercourse. So completed in the acts of bodily union by which new life is made, it is especially apt for and deepened by procreation, and calls for that broad sharing of domestic life uniquely fit for family life. Uniting spouses in these all-encompassing ways, it also objectively calls for all-encompassing commitment: permanent and exclusive. Comprehensive union is valuable in itself, but its link to children’s welfare makes marriage a public good that the state should recognize and support. (Ib., Kindle Locations 103-107)

The revisionist view is this: "It is a vision of marriage as, in essence, a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity—a bond that needn’t point beyond the partners, in which fidelity is ultimately subject to one’s own desires. In marriage, so understood, partners seek emotional fulfillment, and remain as long as they find it." (Ib., Kindle Locations 78-80)

Girgis et. al. point out that there is nothing specifically homosexual about the revisionist view of marriage. "It informs many male-female relationships. But it brooks no real difference between these and same-sex relationships: both involve intense emotional union, so both can make a marriage. Comprehensive union, by contrast, is something only a man and woman can form." (Ib., (Kindle Locations 114-116). So to enact same-sex civil marriage would not expand the institution of marriage, but redefine it.

The revisionist view misconstrues the meaning of marriage. In its misconstrual it allows, for example, for the legality of polyandry. What if, for example, three men are in a romantic triangle? If two men can have their romantic relationship acknowledged as a marriage, why can't three men do the same? Girgis et. al. write:

"Why is it not invidious discrimination to deny the state’s recognition to their relationship of mutual care and affection? For revisionists, marriage must be distinguished simply by emotional union and the activities that foster it. But why should these be limited to two people?" (Ib., Kindle Locations 319-321) Why can't polyamorous relationships qualify as marriage? On the revisionist view of marriage, surely they can, as seen by some in the Unitarian Universalist Church today.

See the Washington Post, "Many Unitarians would prefer that their polyamory activists keep quiet." A small but activist group within Unitarian Universalism supports polyamory. "That is to say “the practice of loving and relating intimately to more than one other person at a time,” according to a mission statement by Unitarian Universalists for Polyamory Awareness (UUPA). The UUPA “encourages spiritual wholeness regarding polyamory,” including the right of polyamorous people to have their unions blessed by a minister."

Many committed Unitarians are telling the polyamorists to sit down and be quiet, because they are undermining the fight for same-sex marriage. But they are not. Indeed, on the revisionist view of marriage, why should they? For example, "In 2007, a Unitarian congregation in Chestertown, Md., heard a sermon by a poly activist named Kenneth Haslam, arguing that polyamory is the next frontier in the fight for sexual and marriage freedom. “Poly folks are strong believers that each of us should choose our own path in forming our families, forming relationships, and being authentic in our sexuality.”"

Why not, on revisionist thinking? In 2011 Boston University sociologist Peter Berger wrote that once you legitimize same-sex marriage “you open the door to any number of other alternatives to marriage as a union of one man and one woman: polygamous (an interesting question for Muslims in Germany and dissident Mormons in Arizona), polyandrous, polygenerational – perhaps polyspecies?”

Of course, on the legal logic of revisionism. (Note: this is not a slippery slope fallacy, but simply the logical implications of the revisionist position. See Girgis et. al. for a more complete presentation of the two views of marriage.)