The dirty word

By | 2012/06/13

We do

To me it seems that one of the saddest parts of the marriage equality debate is how one word, more than any other, is persona non-grata to much of the marriage equality camp: polygamy.

The problem with reference to polygamy (or even just polyamorous relationships) is that the bigots in the debate use it as a “slippery slope” argument. Yet, anyone with a shred of intelligence can see the slippery slope argument as a logical fallacy. The argument invariably runs that if same-sex marriage is allowed, then pretty soon polygamous marriage will be allowed, and pretty soon thereafter, that’ll lead to people marrying children, pets, corpses and toasters.

It’s such a sad and pathetic argument that I’ve seen it adopted in the gay community as a humorous way of stating strong enjoyment: “I want to gay marry my iPad”, or “I want to gay marry my job”. I periodically use it myself. Mocking bigots is a good way of holding their harshness at bay.

Yet, because of that slippery slope argument, the same-sex marriage advocates rarely, if ever, defend polygamy when it’s raised by the other side. At times they’re downright content to see it relegated to the same bucket of stupid non-consensual relationships, such as marrying toasters, trees and cows.

To what end? To satisfy howling bigots?

I recently mentioned on Facebook that I didn’t want to see same-sex marriage come as a result of “throwing polygamy under the bus”, and got some strong comments back on it. The most logical argument, which I have to agree with, is that polygamy isn’t something which is technically a gay-rights issue. Probably the closest quote I’ve seen on this front was Michael Kirby, before a parliamentary committee on same-sex marriage rights, stating:

“The question that is before the parliament at the moment is the question of equality for homosexual people. There may be, in some future time, some other question. The lesson in courts and in the parliament, I suggest, is that you take matters step by step.”

Which, of course, the howling bigots did seize on, and invoke the slippery slope argument again. And the proponents of same-sex marriage let them, either by omission or deliberate refutation, continue to castigate the polygamous and polyamorous. Quite possibly hypocritically, too.

Yet, we’ve all been at pains to make it very clear that we’re not arguing for gay rights, we’re arguing for human rights. I went to an “equal love” rally in Melbourne a month or so ago now, and the speakers there made it very clear this is about human rights and equal rights for all.

But apparently, for values of “2” for “all”.

So if we’re arguing for human rights, and we’re arguing for marriage equality, why are we letting a bunch of bigots dictate the argument to be about just two people? After all, we’re strongly disagreeing with them over the genders of the people involved in the marriage. What’s so scary – what’s so dirty – about also arguing about the number of people involved in the marriage?

Is there a subtle undercurrent of hope that the undecided in the debate will assume that same-sex couples, once married, will stop leading promiscuous lifestyles?

slut (noun): a word used by a sexually repressed person to describe a non-sexually repressed person.

If you want some dirty words in this debate, I think the dirtiest is “promiscuous”; if I’m allowed to marry my partner of 15+ years, I can bluntly say one thing that won’t result from the marriage is monogamy. Even the word sounds boring to me. Sure, some people happen to like it, but for those who are in, and in favour of open relationships, marriage is about equal recognition of the relationship, not adopting the lie that marriage equals monogamy.

Yes, a lie.

Sure, some people manage to stay in monogamous relationships all their lives – but look at the number of divorces caused by cheating, and one thing is abundantly clear: open relationships, polyamorous relationships and even polygamous relationships are often formed out of an honest recognition that we’re all human. The difference between cheating and open relationships? When a partner cheats, only one person in the relationship knows it’s open. In an open relationship, everyone knows and agrees.

Yet, I’m not promiscuous. Nor is my partner. Between “open” and “promiscuous” there is a gulf so large you could drive every car in Australia through, side by side. If we want to throw one word under the bus in this whole affair, it’s “promiscuous”, just because it’s used in such harshly judgemental ways.

Having always thought of myself as a bit of a cynical bastard, I was shocked to realise a friend was right when he said “You’re not only an optimist, you’re an idealist”. Maybe I am an idealist by wanting to ensure that marriage equality really is about equality.

And so, I remain convinced that if same-sex marriage rights are granted in an equal marriage rights debate over a human rights issue, but multi-partner marriages continue to be thrown under the bus right up until the vote, then we’ve not really achieved anything at all. Indeed, in the them-and-us debate, one might even suggest that if we win by kicking the guts out of the polygamous and polyamorous community, we’ve won not by changing opinion, but by becoming “them”.

That may be the dirtiest word of all.