Sunday, May 31, 2015

What's to stop me from marrying my television?—Ross, I think you did.

Update: Welcome visitors from the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2015!

Joseph Guisol of Toowomba, Queensland, and his bride, Honey, a golden labrador, 2010. "It's not sexual," Guisol told the guests. Via Animal Planet.
Sometimes Monsignor Douthat is really kind of brilliant, and today is one of those times, when he takes up the challenge of turning the mouth-breather Rick-Santorum man-on-dog argument about the slippery slope of marriage equality into a sophisticated, even wearily amused piece of high-class concern trolling.

Not saying, in fact, that allowing people to marry their same-sex partners will inexorably lead to dudes getting hitched to their pooches, but that it will most likely end up with legal polygyny, and then won't you liberals be sorry?

Because he recognizes that liberals won't like the idea of legal polygyny:
It’s associated with patriarchy and sexual abuse, rather than liberation and equality. It flourishes in self-segregated communities, Mormon-fundamentalist and Muslim-immigrant, rather than being widely distributed across society. Its practitioners (so far as we know) are considerably fewer in number than the roughly 3.5 percent of Americans who identify as gay or bisexual. And while some polygamists may feel they were “born this way,” their basic sexual orientation is accommodated under existing marriage law even if the breadth of their affections isn’t...
But will they be able to stop it? Look at the numbers! The number of Americans who support polygamy is way up since 2003, according to a recent Gallup survey—well, from 7% to 16%, which is maybe a little less inexorable than the rise of support for stem cell research (52% in 2001 to 64% today), or the slightly more popular sex between persons not married to each other (53% to 68%—I have a scary feeling this one could catch on), but still. It's more than doubled! (Support for adultery, in contrast, is up a by a little over 14% over the same time period, from 7% to 8%.)

Douthat doesn't, naturally, want you to think he expects polygamy to become legal. He's just reporting what some other people think:
Many social conservatives argue that it will — that the now-ascendant model of marriage as a gender-neutral and easily-dissolved romantic contract offers no compelling grounds for limiting the number of people who might wish to marry. And conservatives do have a pretty good track record (the consolation prize of cultural defeat) when it comes to predicting how the logic of expressive individualism unfolds.
Prime example of the good track record of social conservative predictions, according to Ross Douthat, April 28 2015, that "What a society believes and teaches about the link between sex, marriage and procreation has major implications for how, when and whether people couple, marry and raise children.... lower marriage rates, more unstable families, more children born out of wedlock, more commodification of reproduction". Not in recent years for the only arguably worrisome thing on the list, illegitimate births, especially dramatically among African Americans. Image via Agabond. There has undoubtedly been a continuing decline in marriage rates, but it's pretty clearly for economic reasons. There is no decline in people's wanting to be married, they just can't afford it. Not sure what "commodification of reproduction" means unless the Monsignor's turning Marxist—just kidding, it's Catholic doubletalk for surrogate motherhood, supported by 69% to 16% of Americans according to a recent yougov report—but not by the bishops.
Besides, it's all over the television:
The suburban plural marriage on HBO’s “Big Love” seemed like a fantasia when the show first aired, but thanks to the magic of reality television (which has produced three polygamist-themed shows in the last five years) we know not only that such families exist, but that their lives can be turned into bourgeois-seeming sitcom fodder as easily as any other arrangement.
Like the mushrooming trend toward people marooning themselves on islands where they can spend all their time performing team sports and having dating issues with one another, or being very rich and making sex tapes and having their stepfather opt for gender reassignment. What happens on reality TV is a sure sign of what's going on in the real world. And trendspotting Newsweek says it's not even conservative any more:
Call it polyamory or “ethical nonmonogamy” and suddenly you have a less disreputable demographic interested — not only the commune-and-granola set, but the young and fashionable in Silicon Valley, where it’s just another experiment in digital-age social life.

The commune-and-granola set? Sorry, Ross, 1969 called and says if you don't send their meme back (Newsweek literally went back to 1969 for an illustration for their 2009 story, from Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice) they're suing.

Polygyny (which is what it's all about: polyandry is just not happening outside a few dozen tiny hunter-gatherer groups, and I'm positive group sex doesn't want to be formalized) really is a conservative phenomenon by nature, harking back to the biblical patriarchs, and it always will be.

I'm just not able to worry about it, Monsignor, because (a) it's doomed in the long run, like all oppression practiced by patriarchal figures, and (b) I honestly think it might as well be legal, as a matter of religious freedom (as in India, Sri Lanka, and Singapore, where it is allowed only for Muslims), but I'd like to see it regulated, along the lines developed in Sharia (my diabolical excuse for introducing Sharia into the US legal system!!!), which requires that a man treat all his wives equally, to protect women from abuse. Extensive research and a court system open to complaints in Malaysia may be pointing the way. It would certainly be a beneficial thing in Britain, where widespread practice of illegal polygyny puts some women in seriously bad situations, while others are apparently pretty comfortable and modern-feeling (being only a part-time wife gives them more time for careers).

A comparison like this suggests poverty is a more important factor than Islam in promoting polygyny. Via Bridges from Bamako. The same has been found in Central Asia in recent years.
As to man-on-dog, my position as a representative liberal is absolutist: no, never. Do you really think Honey the Australian labrador was capable of meaningful consent? Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, she was only five years old! True, some would say that's 35 in dog years, and she may have been frightened of being an old maid, but the brutal facts speak for themselves:
According to The Chronicle, Joseph Guisol asked Honey to join him in holy matrimony and "She didn’t say anything so I took that as a yes."

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