The fact that Democrats had a heyday over the Dubai ports deal recently proves one point above all: Like conservatives, Democrats have unfortunately mastered the art of the diversionary tactic.
The Dubai ports deal was a fearful ruse of little consequence to the war on terror. Unfortunately, it may have far-reaching consequences to our role in international trade.
Conservatives are masters of the diversionary tactic. With the national debt and government spending soaring out of control, they instead waste our time over silly issues like the Pledge of Allegiance and the Flag Desecration Amendment. Our policies regarding abortion and birth control in developing nations keep millions on the verge of death, yet they manage to focus everyone’s attention on one bed-ridden woman’s feeding tube. In what was surely the conservative movement’s crowning achievement, they cast a decorated Vietnam War veteran and presidential candidate as a traitor deserving of national contempt, all the while defending the honor of someone who’s never seen battle.
Now, with the national conscience seemingly saturated in all things polygamy with the HBO series Big Love, conservative shock troops are about to launch another diversionary tactic in perhaps their most important battle ever. That is, of course, the battle against gay marriage, and with election time fast approaching, we won’t have to look far for more anti-gay rhetoric.
You’ve no doubt heard their argument somewhere before, perhaps in a recent column by conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer. Open the door for gay marriage, the argument says, and legalized polygamy will surely follow. Or, as Krauthammer wrote in his column “Pandora and Polygamy,” if the gender requirement of a marriage partner is “nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one’s autonomous choices in love,” as gay-marriage advocates argue, then the restriction on the number of spouses “is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.”
Sounds reasonable, right? Sure does. In fact, loads of self-confessed liberals fall for it just as hard, even waving the 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence v. Texas, a ruling that said much about private sexual conduct but little about marriage. Only after you consider more serious questions about human nature and the role of marriage in society do the cracks show.
Living in Utah makes it easy to remember several key points about the practice of polygamy, and the first point worth remembering is that it’s religiously motivated. Married atheists abound, but I’ve yet to meet a polygamous relationship that doesn’t point to Section 132 of Doctrine & Covenants, the Old Testament, or spout the usual hokum about how hitching your train to more than one female boxcar is “required for exaltation and eternal salvation in the hereafter.” Hard not to snicker whenever you hear that line, isn’t it? That’s because reason takes a holiday when it vacations in religious resorts. Remember, too, that while the First Amendment gives us freedom to observe virtually any religion imaginable, it nonetheless limits certain practices. Killing Christian converts may pass as religious freedom in Afghanistan but not here. Human sacrifices? Animal sacrifices? Denying medical care to your children in the name of religious faith? No, no and no.
Prohibiting polygamy is but a small price to pay for maintaining balance in civilized society. Think about it. Whether polyandry (many husbands, one wife) or polygamy, more than one spouse per person will eventually lead to a shortage of spouses for others and eventually more unmarried people. This has already played out in southern Utah and northern Arizona, where men young and old have been kicked out of polygamous communities. “Sorry pal, we’re short a few women.” Those in favor of legalizing polygamy argue that government has “no compelling interest” to prohibit the practice. Really? Not if people value the stabilizing force of monogamy, the only arrangement most people can afford in contrast to the huge financial responsibility of several spouses. Liberals in favor of legalizing polygamy probably won’t care about an increasing number of unmarried people. Conservatives certainly will. That’s why, contrary to the conservative scare tactic, legalizing marriage for millions of gay people will not lead to legal recognition for the 40,000 to 50,000 people who practice plural marriage. A scare tactic is just that, a scare tactic.
Which leads to my next point. Why does society boast millions of gay people but only a few hundred thousand practicing polygamists? Because sexual orientation is not a choice, while polygamy is. It takes lots of religious indoctrination, not to mention women with low self-esteem or an allergy to sexual jealousy, to get modern-day polygamy off the ground. Not so with gay men and lesbian women, who’ve been with us throughout the ages. Conservatives will probably forever insist that homosexuality is “a lifestyle choice,” not a character trait. Most people in the real world know differently, so let conservatives talk all they want. All we need keep in mind is the crucial distinction between homosexuality and polygamy, the distinction between who people are sexually and what they might choose for themselves sexually.
All sorts of sexual arrangements are possible in the privacy of one’s home and behind closed doors, including polyamory (polygamy without the religious baggage) but presumably all the sexual fun. There are open marriages, rare as they are. What’s not possible now under law is the privilege and legal advantages of recognized monogamous relationships between gay people.
Conservatives want it that way, of course, because the continued prohibition against gay marriage lets conservatives cast gay people as philandering sinners incapable of commitment. If gay people could marry, they’d lose much of that card. There’s little need for that now, though, as long as they can keep everyone frightened of legalized polygamy. Don’t fall for it.