Friday, July 07, 2006

Polygamy, voyeurism, and other fun things to do on the weekend

New York State Court of Appeals refused to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage.

Shakespeare's Sister is deeply concerned.

I wish the Court had ruled differently, but I'm not as distressed as Shakes.

Nothing the Court said or might have said matters outside of New York. A ruling the other way might have emboldened courts in other states, but it wouldn't have set any precedents or examples they would have felt compelled to follow, especially in the more regressive states.

And a ruling the other way would still have put the issue back in the lap of the legislature, which is where the Court tossed it anyway.

And this is New York. We're not Massachusetts, but we're getting there. After all, this is our Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals.

Eliot Spitzer's going to be our next governor. Hillary's running for re-election. The two of them together will have some coattails in the fall.

It would be nice to be there now, though.

"There" being civilization.

After I heard about the ruling I got to thinking deeply on a subject that's concerned me for a long time now.


I'm against it.


Bet that's a load off your mind.

"Look, dear. Lance Mannion's come out against polygamy. That'll put a stop to all this Big Love talk. No chance you're getting that second wife now, sweetie pie, not without a very, very expensive divorce. Ha ha!"

Actually, what I was wondering about is why so many of the Right Wing "defenders" of "traditional" marriage always go right to the polygamy argument.

"If we allow gays to marry, then there's nothing we can't deny. Next thing you know, polygamy will be legal!"

There's a delightful inconsistency here, all these Godbotherers waving their bibles in our faces, shouting, bug-eyed, "It's Adam and Eve! Not Adam and Steve!" Their beloved Scripture approves of polygamy, after all, and bans divorce, which is something their flocks do with the regularity and cheerfuly clear consciences of Hollywood royalty.

But I can follow the line of reasoning. If you are trying to preserve marriage as an exclusively monogamist and heterosexual form of torture then every step away from that model is a step toward the erasure of marriage. First you get rid of the heterosexual part, then out goes the monogamy, and finally you do away with licenses, churches, vows, and matching dishware. And then where are you?

Trailer Park America.

They already live there, or awfully close to the border, and it's not fun.

That's not a joke, actually, and it's not a put down. ("It's not? Sure sounded like one, Lance." "That's because you're assuming I'm as snotty an elitist as you are." "Oh. I see. Thank you for sharing your egalitarianism, Lance. I feel so cleansed now." "What I'm here for.") I think it was Kevin Drum who I first read point this out, but a lot of Right Wing America lives on the frontier between civilization and Trailer Park choas. The reason they are so terrrified by change and the prospect of sexual and personal freedom is that where they come from all those things are aftereffects of social breakdown.

It's why many African-Americans are extremely socially conservative too.

In the more progressive parts of the country, we have managed to preserve our social order. Somebody else can show that this is a result of Liberalism. It's mainly a benefit of prosperity. Somebody else can show that that's a result of Liberalism too.

Still, the leap from being a-skeered of gay marriage to watching for harems to start popping up in the neighborhood is domino theory thinking. Problems don't always line up like dominos though. In fact, they rarely do. Which is a way of saying that even if you ban gay marriages, it won't stop people from arguing that polygamy is acceptable and loads of fun too. Better to ask and answer questions one at a time.

The "problem" presented by gay marriage---is a union between two people of the same sex really that much different between the union of a man and woman that it must be prohibited? How so and why?---is very different from the problem of polygamy.

The problem of polygamy, as I see it, is that it is unfair to the wives.

After all, nobody's talking about a truly polygamous society. When we say polygamy we mean a system where a man gets to be polygamous with as many women as he can afford to support (or convince to support him), all of whom are required to be monogamous with him.

Once upon a time, I got a faraway glimpse of what life in a polygamous household might be like. When the blonde and I were young and carefree, a great many of our evenings were spent playing host to one or the other or both of a couple of our close woman friends. They would arrive at dinner time and stay until bedtime. One of them had a habit of staying until past bedtime and falling asleep on our couch. Then we had to carry her off to the guest room and put her to bed, so she was often there in the mornings, and, if it was the weekend, there until Monday morning.

I'm here to tell you that when you are in a room with two or three attractive and happy young women who like each other and like you, watching them make and serve dinner together---I cooked sometimes, I swear!---you get to thinking that polygamy might not only work but be a very pleasant way to live.

Of course, there was no sexual jealousy in our little menage. And no children. And no shared bills and expenses.

Adding just one of those elements would have thrown the whole arrangement out of alignment.

Plus, I hated it when another guy showed up.

This struck me as terribly selfish of me, but there it was.

What I'm saying is that the central problem of polygamy isn't so much about sex as about preserving harmony. And I think the easiest, and therefore what would be the most usual, method for preserving harmony is male and predominance.

It wouldn't have to work like this. I just think it would. I also think that the only women who would submit themselves to this would be submissive and easily taken advantage of. Just as I think the only men who would want this for themselves---I'm talking about a system where they could have their cake and eat too; not random opportunities for relatively guilt-free sex with different women after having said I do to one of them in a weak moment---would be selfish and domineering.

In short, I think that if marriage is a funadamental support of an ordered society, the kind of society that polygamy would support would be sexist, partriarchal, authoritarian, rigidly hierarchical, and undemocratic in the extreme. Keeping order would require enforcement of the husband's privileges.

Working the dominos backwards, gay marriage raises none of those issues.

Polygamy is antithetical to a democratic society. Gay marriage can be an additional support to a democratic society.

Reasonably, then, the two forms of marriage aren't anything alike at all. Debating them as if one were just an extreme of the other is very much a case of not just comparing apples and oranges but saying they are both kumquats.

So where's the connection?

Oh, we all know what it is.


Gay marriage is like polygamy because they both allow sex that's not limited to one man and one woman.


Talking as if in allowing gay marriages we are opening the door to polygamy and going from bad to worse, reveals a degree of disgust at the thought of other people's sex lives that can only come from spending your time imagining other people's sex lives.

Who does that?

Who wants to?

Ok, I know. Amateur pornography is very popular. But, really, I don't want to know. I don't want to know what my friends are doing in bed---well, there was this one very attractive couple we used to know who...


Sex is wonderful and I'm all for experimentation and generally in favor of whatever floats your boat, but---

Mabye I'm just squeamish, or prudish, or deep in denial, but nothing turns me off so fast as the details of other people's sex lives, even when their details aren't all that different from my own.

Dr B recently had some very lively threads going on sex and sexuality. (Jackmormon of Not Yet Enlightened provides a handy table of contents---with commentary---to Dr B's threads here.) Being a normal heterosexual man and a bit of a voyeur the only one I've looked at is the straight women talking to straight women thread.

There's a lot of intelligent, open, funny, honest, and intriguing talk going on between a lot of smart, vivavious, open, and happily lusty women. But quite a lot of what I read gave me the shivers.

Every other comment had me thinking Thank God I never ran into that when I was single.

I'm not talking about anything kinky or weird or sick either. There was hardly anything I read that wasn't actually quite tame and even sort of cute and tender.

I'm talking about personal preferences in kissing styles, foreplay, what counts as an errogenous zone, expectations, fetishes of the sort that do not require costumes, props, and role playing, needs, desires, fantasies, and just plain likes and dislikes.

But I realized as I read that what was actually turning me off was my own voyeurism. I admit it, I like to watch sometimes, and I've seen some lovely sights, but I don't mean that kind of voyeurism. I mean the spying on your neighbors kind.

This was none of my business.

So I left.

I don't want to know, because I'm not supposed to know. It's none of my business what you do in bed. Or in the kitchen. Or the backyard. Or wherever.

Unless it's in the bathroom on airplanes.

Come on! There are other people waiting out here!

This is probably why I can go weeks, months even, without thinking about other people's sex lives.

Watching characters in movies or TV shows or reading about them doesn't count. You're really thinking about your own sex life then, just picturing yourself as someone else...or your usual partner as someone else.

So I've just never been able to understand the disgust that often wells up in other people when the conversation turns to homosexuality or to any sexual topic.

The ewww! factor.

Leaving aside the normal, natural, and even fun reflexive fantasizing that might be going on, I think for many people that ewww! is a reflexive expression of obligation. They are reacting the way they've been taught they are expected to react. Women are more likely to do this in my experience, since they're often raised to believe "Good girls don't even think about that stuff."

For other people that digusted ewww! is a reflexive translation of a titilated Oh, my! They're not really disgusted at the act being discussed but surprised at their own curiosity and excitement.

I think, though, in order for that ewww! to be heartfelt, you have to be doing more than a little fantasizing. You have to be imagining it in a direct way that I can only describe as voyeuristic.

You have to be spying in your mind on strangers having sex.

You have to have a real, obsessive, and purient interest in what other people are doing.

Gay sex, straight sex, group sex, kinky sex, boring old run of the mill sex, doesn't matter. When we meet someone who is that involved in imagining other people's sex lives that they can react so strongly, either with an ewww or an Oh, my! we think, "Wow, they're screwed up. All kinds of issues there."

When an entire subculture is obsessed, is defining itself by a collective voyeurism, then something truly weird and probably depraved is going on. There are all kinds of issues there.

I'm thinking a whole lot of molestation, abuse, and rape is not getting talked about.

Some people need to set their own house in order before they tell the rest of us how to live in ours.


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