Op-ed column: What’s next? Marriage benefits for bigamists and polygamists?

I oppose same-sex marriage. If that makes me a bigot, then so be it. I do agree with gays, however,

I oppose same-sex marriage. If that makes me a bigot, then so be it. I do agree with gays, however, on one point — the current marriage laws do discriminate against them. According to one report I read, our current laws deny more than 2,000 legal benefits to homosexual couples that heterosexual married couples enjoy.

I would be hard-pressed to come up with more than a dozen legal benefits; nevertheless, gays are straight on this issue. However, they rarely mention that our laws also deny these same benefits to single people, heterosexual couples who live together but choose not to get married, bigamists and polygamists.

Becoming a majority

Gov. Paterson’s renewed push to get same-sex marriage approved is a cynical ploy to take our focus off of the economy, rebuild his political base and improve his ratings, which have plummeted like a penny from the top of the Empire State Building. If it succeeds, then homosexuals will become what they have always claimed heterosexuals are — part of a majority that discriminates against minorities. They will have joined a coalition that still discriminates against singles, people who choose to live together but not get married, bigamists, polygamists and people in a variety of other nontraditional relationships.

As proponents of tolerance, I am surprised that gays have not spoken up for the right of polygamists to marry more than one spouse. (Spare me the argument that homosexuality is biological whereas polygamy is a choice. I don’t buy it). I am surprised that instead of asking only for their own right to get married — most of the benefits of which they express in financial terms — they haven’t shown the way that marriage laws discriminate against millions of single people and heterosexual and homosexual couples who choose to live together but don’t want to get married.

Singles pay more

One of the legal benefits of marriage that I am very aware of is the income tax benefit. Being married saved my wife and me about $2,000 in federal income taxes alone this year. So if gays are allowed to get married, their taxes will be cut. But the income tax laws will still discriminate against millions of people.

Why should single people pay more taxes than married people? And if gay people are allowed the legal benefits of marriage, including tax benefits, why shouldn’t people who practice polygamy and people who don’t believe in marriage at all get the same tax benefits?

You can argue that there are few polygamists in New York state (even though polygamy in the United States started in Palmyra, N.Y.), so it is not a problem. You can argue that polygamy is illegal. Homosexuality was once illegal also, and there are still anti-sodomy laws on the books in some states. And we don’t know how many polygamists or bigamists are in New York state because they are still locked in the closet. There are, however, an estimated 50,000 polygamists in the United States.

In a Oct. 3, 2004, USA Today article, Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington Law School, wrote about the hypocrisy of our polygamy laws. He argued that he personally detested polygamy but believed that we should not single out one hated minority for discrimination.

Turley wrote about Utah polygamist Tom Green, the subject of a highly acclaimed British documentary, “One Man, Six Wives and Twenty-Nine Children.” Green was convicted of polygamy under Utah law. He challenged the law but lost in Utah’s Supreme Court.

I am opposed to both same-sex marriage and polygamy. But if gays can enjoy the benefits of marriage, then why shouldn’t everyone, regardless of what their definition of marriage is, or even what their marital status is?

Revolutionary step

I believe that our society is moving toward legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. The move will indeed be revolutionary. It will not stop with gays. The logic by which gay marriage is being accepted will eventually be used to approve bigamy, polygamy and other non-traditional forms of marriage. The logic will eventually force us to question why we give benefits, particularly financial ones, to married people but not to single people.

If you change the definition of water so that it no longer just means H20 but now includes Coca-Cola, you can’t just stop there. You have moved from chemistry to alchemy, where anything goes. If Pepsi advocates want to define Pepsi as water, you have to let them.

I know this is a slippery slope, domino theory, thin edge of the wedge, foot in the door, camel’s nose in the tent argument, and those arguments don’t always hold water. All of Southeast Asia did not become Communist because Vietnam did, although at least three countries did. However, in the case of marriage, which has only ever had one definition until recently — the legal union of one man and one woman — the camel’s entire body, not just his nose, is going to enter the tent when you change the definition. I don’t see how anyone can stop it.

I just hope when the camel does enter the tent, no one asks for her hoof in marriage.

Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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