WASHINGTON -- And now, polygamy.
With the sweetly titled HBO series "Big Love,'' polygamy comes out of the closet. Under the headline "Polygamists, Unite!'' Newsweek informs us of "polygamy activists emerging in the wake of the gay-marriage movement.'' Says one evangelical Christian big lover: "Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle.''
Polygamy used to be stereotyped as the province of secretive Mormons, primitive Africans and profligate Arabs. With "Big Love" it moves to suburbia as a mere alternative lifestyle.
As Newsweek notes, these stirrings for the mainstreaming of polygamy (or, more accurately, polyamory) have their roots in the increasing legitimization of gay marriage. In an essay 10 years ago, I pointed out that it is utterly logical for polygamy rights to follow gay rights. After all, if traditional marriage is defined as the union of (1) two people of (2) opposite gender, and if, as gay marriage advocates insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one's autonomous choices in love, then the first requirement -- the number restriction (two and only two) -- is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.
This line of argument makes gay activists furious. I can understand why they do not want to be in the same room as polygamists. But I'm not the one who put them there. Their argument does. Blogger and author Andrew Sullivan, who had the courage to advocate gay marriage at a time when it was considered pretty crazy, has called this the "polygamy diversion,'' arguing that homosexuality and polygamy are categorically different because polygamy is a mere "activity" while homosexuality is an intrinsic state that "occupies a deeper level of human consciousness."
But this distinction between higher and lower orders of love is precisely what gay rights activists so vigorously protest when the general culture "privileges'' (as they say in the English departments) heterosexual unions over homosexual ones. Was "Jules et Jim'' (and Jeanne Moreau), the classic Truffaut film involving two dear friends in love with the same woman, about an "activity'' or about the most intrinsic of human emotions?
To simplify the logic, take out the complicating factor of gender mixing. Posit a union of, say, three gay women all deeply devoted to each other. On what grounds would gay activists dismiss their union as mere activity rather than authentic love and self-expression? On what grounds do they insist upon the traditional, arbitrary and exclusionary number of two?
Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.
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