**Guest post by tf

Polygamy has become a bogeyman in polemics in both the United States and in France recently, but for different reasons.

In the States, some opponents of gay marriage argue that the next step after legalized gay marriage is legalized polygamy. For instance, Stanley Kurtz writes in The Weekly Standard that

… increasingly, bisexuality is emerging as a reason why legalized gay marriage is likely to result in legalized group marriage. If every sexual orientation has a right to construct its own form of marriage, then more changes are surely due. For what gay marriage is to homosexuality, group marriage is to bisexuality.

There are several things wrong with this argument. First, Kurtz sets up a straw man opponent who claims that sexual orientations have rights. An opponent who would be much harder to knock down would be the one who claims, as is common in such discourse, that individuals have rights. Also, the last sentence is a fallacy. The correct comparison is: What gay marriage is to homosexuality, either gay marriage or straight marriage is to bisexuality.” But, putting aside defects of rhetoric and logic, we can still charitably ascribe the kernel of a reasonable argument to Kurtz. That is, that introducing some fluidity into the definition of marriage potentially opens the floodgates to all sorts of redefinitions, including, eventually, polygamy. This is a slippery-slope argument, as Rob Anderson points out in The New Republic, and as Kurtz admits in his reply in the National Review, but it is an argument nonetheless.

(Via the post by Julian on Andrew Sullivan’s The Daily Dish.)

In France, a number of people in government, or aligned with the government, have ascribed the recent rioting at least in part to polygamy. As Elaine Sciolino reports in The New York Times:

The head of President Jacques Chirac’s UMP party in the national assembly, Bernard Accoyer, called polygamy certainly one of the causes, though not the only one” for France’s worst urban unrest in four decades.

There are more problems for a child of an immigrant of black Africa or of North Africa than for a son of a Swede, a Dane or a Hungarian,” said [Interior Minister] Mr. Sarkozy, himself the son of a Hungarian. Because culture, because polygamy, because social origins contribute to more hardships for him.”

Another government official, Gérard Larcher, the junior employment minister, said in an interview published in The Financial Times on Wednesday that polygamous families produced anti-social behavior,” although he added that unemployment was a more important cause of the violence.

I believe that the evocations of polygamy in these arguments in both countries have little to do with polygamy itself. Instead, I believe that polygamy is being used as a symbol of something that is beyond the pale. In the States, it is symbolically attached to gay marriage, in order to taint it. And, in France, it is symbolically attached to African immigrants, in order to taint them.

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