The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
1 Points


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Post Voting Period
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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 6/22/2016 Category: Society
Updated: 3 months ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 325 times Debate No: 93002
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (7)
Votes (1)




Full Resolution: Polygamy should be legal in the United States

Polygamy involves marriage with more than one spouse.

I will begin my arguments in Round 2. Thanks.


I accept. I will be arguing that polygamy should not be legal in the United States.
Debate Round No. 1


The Legal Status of Marriage

Marriage is the legal status, condition, or relationship that results from a contract by which people, who have the capacity to enter into such an agreement, mutually promise to live together in the relationship for life, or until the legal termination of the relationship. Marriage is a legally sanctioned contract. Entering into a marriage contract changes the legal status of both parties, giving them new rights and obligations [1].

A marriage is considered a contract, so it must meet the requirements of a contract [2]. For instance, you must be over the age of 18 and must have the mental capacity to enter into a contract. Marriage solidifies a business arrangement. Without this legal/business agreement, the relationship would be spiritual (emotional) in nature and not require any legal protection or sanctioning whatsoever. However in order to be afforded the rights and privileges that come with marriage, people must enter this legal agreement. In this debate, my opponent will have the burden of proving why this legal status should be limited to just two people.

The History of Marriage and Family

There is no such thing as a truly "traditional" marriage, since the definition and standards for marriage have changed many times since its inception [3]. Throughout history, different types of families have existed based on the cultural needs and preferences of the society.

Polygamy was widely accepted throughout the world until the Roman Empire and the Roman Catholic Church imposed the rule of having just one wife [4]. Prior to that, the Hebrews, Chinese, Africans and people all over the world engaged in polygamous relationships. The Hindu god, Krishna, had 16,108 wives. Polygamy was also accepted by various holy books including the Bible and the Torah; for instance Solomon had as many as 700 wives. Today polygamy is still common in many Muslim countries in West Africa [5]. There can be no doubt that historically, this status was permitted in the vast majority of cultures.

In 1998 the University of Wisconsin surveyed more than a thousand societies. Of these just 186 were monogamous. "Some anthropologists believe that polygamy has been the norm through human history. In 2003, New Scientist magazine suggested that, until 10,000 years ago, most children had been sired by comparatively few men. Variations in DNA, it said, showed that the distribution of X chromosomes suggested that a few men seem to have had greater input into the gene pool than the rest. By contrast most women seemed to get to pass on their genes. Humans, like their primate forefathers, it said, were at least mildly polygynous" [6].

There is a practical utility in polygamy. In 1972, the evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers outlined the foundational reasons for the reproductive benefits of having more than one spouse. In short, reproductive success is limited by number of mates [7]. Further, there may be social utility in polygamy. Consider the fact that rather than engaging in extramarital affairs, polygamists choose to stay in committed relationships with their sexual partners.

The point of this section is to note that there is no definitively right or wrong way to experience sex and relationships. People as individuals have subjective values based on their culture (religion, exposure, economic or pragmatic circumstance, etc.). It is possible to love multiple people at once; for instance I currently love many of my friends and family. Strong feelings are not limited to one exclusive person. Neither is sexual attraction or the ability to be in a relationship and parent effectively.

Proactive Arguments

A marriage is a merger. It requires laying everything out on the table and some negotiation. It involves combining assets and a transfer of ownership or joint ownership regarding communal property. It also has to do with assessing power of attorneys -- in other words deciding what rights and legal relationships people have toward each other. For instance if someone suffers from a serious injury or illness, spouses often act as power of attorneys who can make medical decisions on their partner's behalf.

Like all business arrangements, marriage requires consent and the signing of a legal document to seal the deal. Contracts outline the specific expectations, obligations and parameters for the agreement. The contract of marriage comes with specific conditions as well.

Contracts are NOT limited to two people. A multi-lateral contract is an agreement between several people or groups of people [8]. The government's role is not to legislate morality or preferences, but instead to protect rights and facilitate contracts. The government does not get to have a say in dictating people's personal relationships or lifestyles, so long as they involve mentally competent adults. Similarly the government doesn't get to decide the terms of people's mutual and voluntary contracts. The government's role here is simply to ensure the terms of the contract are being met.

The government does impose certain standards about what qualifies as a legal contract. For example it sets the standard for legal capacity, meaning someone that is drunk, underage or under duress cannot legally provide consent. Con will be responsible for explaining why the government should limit the contract of marriage to 2 people against the will of other adults of sound legal mind. Whereas the government has an incentive to protect the interest of vulnerable parties, inhibiting polygamy acts to restrict the interest of fully consenting parties.

Legalizing polygamy gives people the freedom of choice. Americans should live free from the tyranny of other people's moral preferences, so long as nobody is being directly harmed (aggressed against). This could also be an integral part of religious freedom. Criminalizing polygamy unconstitutionally deprives certain people of their First Amendment right to freely practice their religion. Under the First Amendment, the Congress cannot pass a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion.

When the Supreme Court ruled against legalized polygamy, they did so under the premise that some might suggest a number of things falls under their religion (i.e. human sacrifice) and that would be problematic. However human sacrifice involves murder and the aggression against another person; polygamy does not. Therefore, since polygamy is essentially a business contract between mentally sound and consenting adults, it should be legally upheld as it is a victimless crime. No one is being directly harmed in such a way that warrants legal intervention.

Note: where the government allows for specific provisions for spouses and only one spouse is reasonable, the terms of the contract can be amended to specify which partner receives which benefits. For example, if two spouses disagree on how the third (incapacitated) spouse's medical treatment should be handled, the contract should mention which spouse takes precedence or has the final say. This is similar to just about every other contract with multiple parties. Contracts involving more people are trickier, but they are legal and with perfectly good reason.


Polygamy allows for a strong familial support system and helps provide economic stability. It also provides extra fatherly or motherly support to those in need. Polygamist George Q. Cannon quipped, "Our crime has been: we married women instead of seducing them; we reared children instead of destroying them." There is nothing inherently immoral about loving or engaging in relationships with multiple people. Moreover, the government does not exist to legislate morality or specific religious ideals, as that would be unconstitutional. The government does however facilitate contracts.

It is perfectly legal to enter into multi-party contracts. Since marriage as far as government is concerned acts as a legal contract, then it is perfectly reasonable for polygamy to be allowed. Not allowing polygamy is arguably a violation of one's religious freedom, and certainly a complete and utterly unnecessary violation of people's liberty.

[7] Trivers, R. L. 1972. Parental investment and sexual selection. In B. Campbell, ed. Sexual Selection and the Descent of Man, 1871-1971, Aldine-Atherton, Chicago, pp. 136-179.


I would like to begin by thanking my opponent, Danielle, for instigating what I expect to be an interesting, productive debate.


I will later discuss polygamy in detail, but first, let me ask a somewhat broad (albeit important) question: Why is "marriage" a legal institution? In other words, why does "marriage" constitute a de jure relationship, as opposed to a de facto relationship, like, say, "friendship"?

As a legal institution, a marital relationship is not simply a private bond between parties. Rather, it is a relationship that exists both (1) between the married parties and (2) between the married parties and the State—which, in a democratic republic such as that which can be found in the United States, serves to represent the public interest.

The institution of "marriage" is granted exclusive legal status by the United States government, and those who are married are granted exclusive privileges (their tax burdens are reduced, they receive more redistributionary benefits, etc.). Of course, this means that married people are granted benefits at the expense of the rest of the public (i.e., non-married individuals).

The reason that marriage is an exclusive legal institution—indeed, the reason that we can justify the government-orchestrated reallocation of wealth from the unmarried to the marriedis that it serves the public interest. Marriage, as an institution, serves the interests of both the non-married and the married—and it outweighs the moral cost of the inequality that implicitly comes with its exclusivity.

For the rest of the debate, I would like the reader to continually ask himself or herself: While the legalization of polygamy would make the institution of marriage less exclusive and hence more "equal," would its addition serve the public interest? Indeed, would it work against the public interest?

My contention is that the legalization of polygamy would work against the public interest. Therefore, its legalization would defeat the purpose of having an exclusive legal institution called "marriage" in the first place.

Narrowing Things Down

In the Ethnographic Atlas, out of 1,231 societies studied, 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had frequent polygyny, 186 were monogamous, and 4 had polyandry [1]. Clearly, polygyny (marriage between a man and multiple women) is significantly more common than polyandry (marriage between a woman and multiple men). Nonfraternal polyandry (mariage between a woman and multiple men who are not related to one another) is virtually nonexistent. Why is this? When multiple men have the same wife, it becomes unknown who the father is of each child. As a result, the children are neglected and have a far less likelihood of surviving. This is why nonfraternal polyandry has been "selected out" as a sociobiological behavior, while polygyny—which does not come with this problempersists in certain cultures [2].

With the above explanation in mind, I will only be talking about polygyny, since polygyny would be, by far, the most common manifestation of polygamy in the United States if it were legalized therein.

Moving Past Polygyny

Why has polygyny been abandoned in modern developed countries? According to a study conducted at the University of British Columbia, polygyny causes crime, poverty, violence, gender inequality, and far-from-optimal reproductive outcomes [3].

According to the above study, the pool of unmarried men that results from widespread polygyny resort to crime in order to gain resources—in a desperate attempt to compete for the few remaining women. The society is overcome by the struggle of lower-class men to overcome the scarcity of unmarried women. This would involve committing rape (in order to forcefully impregnate a woman and thereby attempt to pass on one's genes), committing robbery (in order to gain resources to attract the few available women), and committing homicide (in order to get rid of the powerful, wealthy men who are able to marry multiple women at any given time) [4].

By adopting monogamy, modern societies were able to avoid the strife and poverty that the above system came with. Moreover, modern societies have overcome the hurdles that may necessitate polygyny in more primitive societies: there is no shortage of males (due to disease, famine, etc.), and there is no extreme environmental stress that would make it advantageous for extremely fit males to monopolize reproduction (at the costs described in the prior paragraph).

With a monogamous system come smaller households, more parental involvement, and more "blood-relatedness." As a direct result, a monogamous system comes with fewer incidences of child neglect, abuse, accidental death, and intra-household violence [4]. Monogamy has been conducive to social equality, democracy, and order. Our civilization has moved past polygamy, and we ought to have no desire to look back.

Polygamy and the Public Interest

Given what we now know about polygamy, how can we possibly accept the preposterous notion that our society would benefit from the legalization of polygamy? In order to avoid the problems that a polygamous system naturally breeds, we ought to discourage the practice of polygamy—not to force the public to subsidize it and thereby financially incentivize its practice.

Because of the reasons described in the prior section, legalized polygamy would cause the legal institution of marriage, as a whole, to be less effective at serving the public interest. The purpose of a legal institution is to better serve the public interest. Therefore, we ought to keep polygamy illegal.

Thank you.

Debate Round No. 2


Danielle forfeited this round.
Debate Round No. 3
7 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 7 records.
Posted by whiteflame 3 months ago
>Reported vote: Innkeep// Mod action: Removed<

6 points to Pro (S&G, Arguments, Sources). Reasons for voting decision: The arguments were both properlly layed out and delivered respectfully. Pro had a more rounded execution of delivery and great material.

[*Reason for removal*] (1) The voter doesn't explain sources. (2) Arguments and S&G are insufficiently explained. The voter only assesses these in the most general of terms, never specifically analyzing arguments given in the debate nor establishing the difficulty involved in reading one side's argument versus the other.
Posted by InVinoVeritas 3 months ago
I'm not sure what these votes are about... There were no rebuttals. Pro forfeited.
Posted by Udel 3 months ago

Con agrees with the legal parameters of marriage, but says that marriage is a relationship at the expense of the public. His point is that marriage must benefit the public interest.

In "Narrowing Things Down" he says having multiple husbands confuses paternity.

In "Moving Past Polygyny" Con argus that monogamy is better at reducing poverty and crime. He suggests there would be less abuse and other violations.

Because this is essentially a 1-round debate, neither debater was able to argue a whole entire case including rebuttal. Con should have had the edge because he had the opportunity to respond to Pro's points whereas Pro FF (loss of conduct point) and did not respond to Con's points, so their arguments must stand alone. Con did not respond to any of Pro's points at all but rather made his own individual case. So I am having to judge their own individual cases with a lack of proper rebuttal from either side.
Posted by Udel 3 months ago

Since Con accepts the legal institution of marriage, let's look at Pro's other main arguments: that polygamy has a long history, that there is no right/wrong way to have a family, and most importantly that marriage is a contract (which Con does not deny). Pro argues that since marriage is a legal contract, and contracts can have multiple people, marriage should be no different.

Con says marriage is not just a contract but must also benefit society. He does not prove this. He says that because government legitimizes the contract it means government has an interest. But governments sanction every single contract, and that doesn't mean the state has a specific interest. Pro said the state's job is to facilitate contracts. Con did not prove that the state was PART of the contract.

To show how polygamy doesn't benefit society, Con talks about the problems polygamy may cause such as questionable paternity or rape. But then he says "modern society" rejects polygamy, proving that some of the things he describes are not relevant in modern societies. In modern society we have paternity tests and in the US stringent laws against rape. Con says men would rape women to pass on their genes but he has argued against his own point. He said we as a society moved past polygamy (multiple partners) so by his very own logic, not a lot of people would choose polygamy, so the associated problems of less available women are not relevant.
Posted by Udel 3 months ago

Pro pointed out that different sexual relationships will exist and the government legitimization only validates the contract. Con's source showed that monogamy reduces sexual competition, but this does not address Pro's point about the law. Polygamy could not be legalized and people might still not be monogamous. Pro specified that this was about the legalization of contracts, not promoting one lifestyle choice over another.

If (a few) people are going to be polygamous anyway, then what do the statistics on crime matter? If they choose that lifestyle regardless of danger, then Con was responsible for explaining why they should not have the right to enter the legal contract of marriage (especially when contracts offer legal protection, which means polygamous people would need that protection if they were truly in danger). Instead Con argued that the marriage must benefit society which is questionable and proved that multiple partners is problematic, but does not address the legal component.

Con also dropped the legal argument on first amendment rights as well. Con should have definitely won this debate, if only he responded to Pro's arguments but he didn't.
Posted by Kyle_the_Heretic 4 months ago
I was having a conversation with two Mormon missionaries in a park when a fundamentalist, holding his Bible, walked up and facetiously asked me how many wives I had. I said, "I'm all out right now, but I put in an order for twenty that should arrive some time this week. How many can I put you down for?"
Posted by fung81 4 months ago
I would like to join this debate, but I "do not match the Instigator's age, rank or number of debates completed criteria". I read the debate with harrytruman and wish to add points, however, I will have to wait for him to respond.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Udel 3 months ago
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Total points awarded:31 
Reasons for voting decision: rfd in comments section