Posted by hyperpat on June 27, 2007
Just what is marriage? The ‘traditional’ definition is: the institution whereby men and women are joined in a special kind of social and legal dependence for the purpose of founding and maintaining a family (Merriam Webster). Many people have taken this to mean one man and one woman. But it doesn’t have to be. Polygamy and polyandry have both been practiced by various groups even within American society, and the current move towards recognizing same-sex marriage shows that people are not monolithic in their choice of relationships.
In practical terms, a marriage really needs to perform two functions: provide a stable environment within which intimacy and caring for another can flourish, and provide enough emotional and economic stability that children can be safely raised. Any method that satisfies these can work. The current legal and social insistence that only the union of one man and one woman constitutes a marriage has some very negative consequences, not the least of which is the phenomenon of serial polygamy/polyandry (marriage, divorce, marriage, divorce, rinse and repeat) which has a very profound effect on any children caught in middle of this.
People are naturally attracted to others, it’s hard-wired into our DNA. Monogamy is not. But children need stability and security, an environment where they know what to expect come tomorrow and the next day. With the current setup, if mommy or daddy suddenly gets a yen for someone else, there is no legal or socially recognized alternative to the divorce and re-marriage route. Regardless of how well this is handled, the children are net losers in this equation, as what they saw as eternally stable is turned upside down.
Instead, why not have the new person become part of the existing family? While obviously not all people have the emotional makeup to handle multiple partners in a marriage, for those that do, it would at least minimize the traumatic effect on the children as they wouldn’t ‘lose’ either parent, while at the same time probably provide a more secure economic basis for the family, with three (or more) breadwinners. And if this scenario is extended in time a little bit, where current members can bring in new partners to the marriage, you just might end up with an immortal family. This was the kind of scenario that Heinlein envisaged in his line marriages of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, or a little more formally, with written contracts, as his S-Groups of Friday.
I think our current laws need to be modified to allow the marriage of two or more people (gender irrelevant). While it’s most likely that only a small percentage of the population would take advantage of this, it would at least provide an alternative to the current mess, where some cannot be legally married, though they wish to be, and other marriages are split up unnecessarily.