As I start to write this, it’s been a little over 24 hours since the Supreme Court issued their opinion which made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States. While that decision will have profound effects on the lives of many Americans, for me, it’s kind of a yawner. I’ll continue to love and care for my family, work at my job, and hope that I will be left alone to do those things. But, seeing as how I spend most of my time working at a job that requires the full attention of the part of my mind that controls my sensory and motor functions, while leaving the more contemplative part free to roam, I often find myself giving a lot of thought to subjects about which I have no strong feelings. And every now and then, some of those thoughts seem worth sharing at a moment when I actually have enough of a break in my schedule to do so. Such is the case here.
If anyone wants to take my words as an attempt to advocate for or against any policy, feel free. But that’s not really my intention. Think of this as a cerebral exercise, a springboard for discussion, or just a scary opportunity to look into the disjointed thought process of a truck driver.
In light of the SCOTUS ruling, I will state upfront that I believe in traditional values. But for me, the most important, most traditional, values are what you see in the tagline of this blog, and the overriding theme of most of my commentaries, here and on radio: Personal Liberty, Personal Responsibility, & Personal Accountability. These are values for which I will always advocate.
So, in the months leading up to the Supremes’ decision, pundits on the right were warning of the slippery slope we were stepping onto. As soon as the LGBT community got their lifestyle legitimized nationally, the polygamists would start demanding their “rights.” The same-sex marriage advocates said that these were totally separate issues, and most of them were not in favor of plural marriage. Of course they would say that. Why let an issue that didn’t concern them muddle the discussion of one that did? Move along, no slippery slope here. So imagine my surprise this morning, when, looking through the stuff that I try to read, I find a long article extolling the merits of polygamist families. Ah, what to do when you find yourself on the unintended slide? Try to crawl back to the top? Or just enjoy the ride, and hope that there’s a nice, refreshing pool at the bottom? Being personally unaffected, I think I’ll go for option #2. And, of course, take advantage of the fortuitous timing to bloviate on the subject.
To make sense of this issue, I want to examine the whole concept of marriage from a biological, social, historical, and cultural standpoint. I approach this subject from a strictly secular, humanist viewpoint. I understand that many with sincerely held religious beliefs will disagree with me in the strongest way. That’s fine, I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from their faith. And I certainly don’t claim to speak for God, or anyone else, other than myself. Just take or leave my ideas for whatever they are or aren’t worth.
Ok, so where did this whole idea of marriage come from? Let’s start with the basics.
Simple Fact of Life #1: We want to survive, but nobody lives forever.
This obviously presents a problem, but nature does provide a solution, of sorts. While individual members of our, or any, species will die, we can reproduce, and the species can live on indefinitely. We all know the procedure for making this happen. But following this procedure does more than merely continue the human race as a whole. It allows individuals to pass on their specific genetic information to future generations. Sure, it’s a pretty sorry excuse for immortality, but it’s the best we can do. So there is a natural biological imperative to find a mate, get it on, and ensure that some small part of us lives on.
Simple Fact of Life #2: Men and women are designed differently.
Whether by God or by Darwin really doesn’t matter. And the physical differences go beyond what’s going on downstairs. I believe that these secondary differences, plus the nature of human development, form the basis of traditional gender roles, and for the need for the establishment of what, up until recently, became known as marriage. I’d like to put this in historical context, but I really can’t, since it goes back much further than that. To explain what I mean, I’m going to have to go full Cro-Magnon on you.
Compared to other species, humans develop at an incredibly slow rate. While the young of many creatures, and most mammals, enter the world rather helpless, this is especially true of people. A colt can be up and running around within a few minutes of being born. Puppies and kittens can at least move around enough to get to their mother’s nipple, and within a couple of weeks they’re bouncing around and looking really cute. Not so with us. A newborn baby can’t even roll over. As it grows, a baby’s abilities develop, but very slowly. Without close care for at least a couple of years, its chances of survival are absolutely zero. And while this remains true even today, consider the plight of the cave-baby at the dawn of man.
While many creatures solve this problem by producing vast numbers of offspring to compensate for the fact that almost none of them will live to adulthood, that’s not how we roll. Our children normally come one at a time, with a fair amount of space between them. So if your bloodline is to continue, if your genes are to survive, it becomes necessary for most of your kids to have the chance to grow up. Now throw into the mix the strain that pregnancy and childbirth put on a woman’s body. While her basic body design is great for producing, feeding, and caring for her child, at the most crucial stage of this process, she is hard-pressed to care for herself. So what’s a mother to do? Fortunately for her, outside the cave one day, the sun rose on the dawn of marriage.
So how does this new institution benefit our Cro-Magnon male? Why not just grab his club and seek out and impregnate as many cave-women as he can find? While it might have sounded like fun, he knows that it won’t satisfy the biological imperative. He can’t achieve genetic immortality if none of his children live long enough to pass on their genes. And that’s where the secondary design differences, such as larger size, better agility, and greater upper-body strength make marriage advantageous for him. His body is better designed to be the provider for, and the protector of his children, and their mother, while she gives her baby the close care that it requires. But there’s a problem here. You see, a woman always knows which children are hers. Like, she was kinda there when junior was born, got a good look at him, and knows who he is. But how does daddy know if that baby sprung from his loins, or those of Grog in the next cave? He has no biological imperative to provide for and protect Grog’s pelt-rats (the rug hadn’t been invented yet). But as long as he can be reasonably assured that he was the only one plowing that farm, his primal needs will be met. So the institution of marriage came to be as a means for men and women to ensure the survival of their individual genetic information. At least that’s how I see it.
But what does all that have to do with the Supreme Court and the slippery slope toward plural marriage?
Simple Fact of Life #3: Unlike same-sex marriage, plural marriage has a long history, rooted in the biological imperative.
It comes from human nature and social progression. People, being what we are, strive to acquire more and more. More stuff, more prestige, more power. Most of us enjoy only modest success in this endeavor, but a few individuals are wildly successful. Some by an accident of birth, but most by a concerted effort to gain what they have, or to hold on to what they were born with. And having achieved exalted status, what does the normal person seek to do with it? Well, deep down, we’re not that far removed from the troglodytes that I spoke of earlier. We seek to fulfill the biological imperative. Plural marriage allows us to take it to the next level. Our genes can spread farther and wider.
Plural marriage is generally thought of as one man with multiple wives. This, of course, makes perfect biological sense. A woman can only pass on her genes at a fixed rate, no matter how many husbands she has. The only biological reason for multiple husbands would be to enhance the chances of her children’s survival by giving them more providers and protectors. And a woman with that much wealth and power wouldn’t likely need that. So the only reason for multiple husbands would be increased status, more companionship, or sexual gratification. Biologically, she would do better to find the one man with the traits that she most wants to join with hers to produce the best offspring. Maybe that’s why you don’t hear much about that sort of arrangement.
A man, on the other hand, who has the wealth and power to provide for and protect a very large family, is only limited by the amount of that wealth and power, as well as his time and stamina. He can, and probably will be, the patriarch of a very large gene pool. Several revered characters from scripture were.
So, with all that said, how does it make sense to allow singular same sex marriage, which has no biological or historical basis, while continuing to prohibit plural opposite-sex marriage. It doesn’t. Slippery slope, anyone?
As I said near the top of this post, I’m not advocating for yet another revision to the definition of marriage. But I see one coming over the horizon. In an age where people have the “right” to be defined as whatever they choose to be defined as, and the highest honor is to be thought of as some sort of victim, can it really be that far off?
In closing, allow me to advocate for a few simple rules for dealing with the coming redefinition. Rules based on personal liberty, personal responsibility, and personal accountability.
Simple rule #1: If you have a family, it is your responsibility to take care of that family. Not my responsibility, not society’s responsibility, not the government’s or taxpayer’s responsibility. That’s whether you have one spouse, more than one spouse, or no spouse.
Simple rule #2: If you fail to meet your responsibilities under simple rule #1, you need to be held accountable. Before society cleans up the mess that your lack of responsibility caused, it needs to take everything that you have. And I do mean everything, short of your life. If you can’t or won’t act like a responsible adult, don’t expect to be treated like one.
Here’s hoping for a nice soft splashdown at the bottom of the slippery slope.