Drew Cline poses a reasonable question, Jack. To wit, if we accept gay marriage, what principled reason might we offer to oppose polygamy? My friend Jonathan Rauch offers one reason, but I’m not persuaded.
If we posit that conservatism is about promoting freedom (a stipulation that some, of course, might not agree with), a question naturally arises: If two men — or a man and two or more women — want to pursue happiness and voluntarily enter into some sort of unconventional contractual relationship, what is it to me? Freedom doesn’t mean anything, after all, unless people are free to do things that you — or majorities of “you” — might disapprove of. What right do I (or majorities of Is) have to prohibit those voluntary, noncoercive relationships?
I think that most of those who embrace freedom as their political lodestar would argue that, as a general matter, people should be free to do whatever they like as long as it does not impose harm on others or impair their rights in some manner. Hence, I ask my fellow Cornerites — who by all appearances have thought a lot more about this issue than I have — to tell me:
* If you’re worried about social harms (as distinct from rights violations), is there a threshold that must be crossed to justify state action to address those social harms? How comfortable are you in employing that principle for state action into areas outside of marriage?
For those of you who don’t embrace freedom as your political lodestar and, thus, oppose gay marriage and whatever else that might follow from it on different grounds, I also have questions:
* If we are to prevent people from engaging in what some deem to be self-destructive behavior (guys marrying guys, women joining a structured harem, whatever), on what principled basis do we decide what sort of self-destructive behavior is ripe for legal sanction as opposed to, say, other sorts of legalized self-destructive behavior like gambling, drinking, smoking, or watching Oprah?
* Is there good evidence that “marriage” makes these relationships more destructive (to participants or third parties) than were those relationships to go on outside of marriage?
Given that I believe that the conservative movement should be about the promotion of freedom, I require some fairly compelling reasons to defect to policies that might be fairly construed as “anti-freedom.”