Gay marriage does not lead to polygamy, Lord Carey

Oliver Kamm

In a fringe meeting at the Conservative Conference yesterday, Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, extraordinarily compared the position of those who oppose gay marriage to the plight of Jews in Nazi Germany. His comment is ignorant and grotesque, but he does raise one issue that merits a response. According to our report:

Speaking after the event, Lord Carey also warned that gay marriage was a step on the ‘slippery slope’ to the polygamous relationships of traditional Mormons.

The Times supports gay marriage. I’ve held that view myself since the mid-1990s, when it became clear to me that the issue was of central importance to civil rights and the ability to lead a worthwhile life, and not merely a worthwhile reform that should one day take place. I’m proud to have had a role in forming this newspaper’s arguments on the subject.

The notion that enabling same-sex couples to marry is a step towards polygamous marriage is a fantastic misconception. Polygamy (or polyandry, the marriage of one woman to several husbands, which is far rarer in history) would be genuinely a transformation in the nature of the institution of marriage. Same-sex marriage is not: it is merely the extension of an existing right. The advocates of that reform are not asking that homosexuals be able to marry anyone and everyone they like, only that they be able to marry someone.

That’s equivalent to the legal right that heterosexuals have. As Jonathan Rauch, the American columnist, writes in his excellent book Gay Marriage: “Heterosexuals, of course, cannot marry anyone or everyone they love. They cannot marry their sister or a group of two or three people. But they can all marry one person they love, and the pool of potential mates is very large….”

Enabling same-sex couples to marry is a reform more like enabling a married woman to own property (something that was once, too, considered to be contrary to the natural order). It’s a matter of equity.

@OliverKamm

Read the editorial from earlier this year where The Times comes out in favour of gay marriage

Notes

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