Big Love? Big Deal.
The last couple of weeks, I've wrapped up watching the fourth season of the HBO series Big Love, a high-end soap opera about Bill Henrickson, a Mormon fundamentalist with three wives. It's a really great show about an Alternative Lifestyle, and the fact it was created by a gay male couple, and that one of its screenwriters scored an Oscar for writing Milk, doesn't hurt. The alert viewer will, indeed, descry a number of very queerish themes in the show, such as the question of whether to live a closeted life or come out to an often-hostile world, and Henrickson's attempt to juggle multiple affections within a non-monogamous lifestyle will resonate with many of us open-relationship homos.
Pretty much simultaneously, I've also been watching news coverage of the Proposition 8 trial in San Francisco, where, once again, the opponents of gay marriage have trotted out the tired ol' Slippery Slope Argument, viz: If same sex marriage is legalized, it's just one small step to legalizing—gasp!—polygamy.
Which brings up. I guess, the question: So fucking what?
At the risk of being misquoted by some rightwing blogger with time on his hands, let me gently point out that plural marriage is thoroughly legal in nearly two dozen countries, and accepted under customary law in another dozen, and yet Yahweh seems not have been raining down fire and brimstone on Chad, Egypt, or Qatar. At least, not lately. Hell, the president of South Africa has five wives.
It's not that I'm a great booster of polygamy, especially not when polyandry isn’t equally accepted. And I hold no brief for anything that the Latter-Day Saints espouse. I find it a rather silly religion—as goofy as Spongebob Squarepants but not as cute—and if Utah's admission to the Union required a divinely-inspired shift to monogamy, well, that's god biz.
I'm afraid I just fail, in my intellectually-challenged way, to comprehend why multiple marriage is Even Worse Than Sodomy, yet another way station on the primrose path to Hell. After all, if, as we're constantly told, the purpose of marriage is procreation, one must face the fact that many polygamous families squeeze out rugrats like there's no tomorrow.
Even odder is the oft-stated notion that the Big Guy in the Sky ordained that marriage shall always and ever consist of one dick and one vagina, hallelujah! Hey, apparently He never told wise King Solomon who, while ruling over His chosen people, was wed to a staggering 700 wives. Even allowing for some cocksman exaggeration, that's a whole passel of pussy in the palace, no? King David, the Psalms dude, had at least 18 old ladies. And even Abraham, father of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths, had three wives, just like on HBO. I mean, these guys are the heroes of the OT. Adam and Eve, on the other hand, were monogamous, and you see where that got them: expulsion from Eden, one of their kids was a murderer, the whole Original Sin thing. Not a great advertisement for the nuclear family, huh? So if same-sex marriage led to polygamy, wouldn't that be a swell step to restoring truly traditional Biblical marriage? Or am I missing something here?
(Oh, and for the Hindus amongst us: Lord Krishna had 16,108 wives, which might explain why he was blue. Hare Krishna, indeed!)
Okay, many polygamous societies have their downsides: child brides, the oppression of women, and the like. But none of that is intrinsic to the notion of plural marriage, and anyway, the folks opposing gay marriage are, by and large, not rabid feminists.
The good of the children? Well, I'm betting that if I were a kid in one of those big Mormon broods, I'd rather have two or three mommies taking care of me and my sibs, instead of one harried, overworked woman swilling down caffeine-free Coke.
Then there's the slippery matter of the one-way slope. If, indeed, same-sex unions and multiple marriage go together like a horse and carriage (or a horse and a horse and a horse and carriage), then wouldn't we expect that polygamous cultures would be bastions of queer freedom? Well, South Africa does indeed enshrine gay rights in its constitution, but that's about it. Saudi Arabia hangs homos. Uganda has proposed the death penalty for gays, Mauritania already has it. Libya, Somalia, Pakistan? Lahore is a long, long way from West Hollywood. And nobody ever accused renegade Mormon cultists of being excessively pro-gay. One might indeed suspect, if one were to make stupidly reductive slippery-slope arguments, that homophobia actually leads to polygamy. Or vice-versa. Whichever.
But then, when God is talking to you, logical consistency's not a big consideration. One suspects, in fact, that behind plenty of anti-polygamy hysteria there lurks carnal squeamishness shmooshed up with sexual envy—same as with homophobia.
On the other hand—and yes, I can tell the difference between a TV show and real life—maybe one of the underlying lessons of the otherwise nonjudgmental Big Love should be taken to heart: If you thought keeping one spouse happy was a pain in the ass, you should try it with three.