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The Contender
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Should polygamy be legalized?

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Post Voting Period
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after 2 votes the winner is...
Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 2/2/2014 Category: Politics
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,310 times Debate No: 45097
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (2)
Votes (2)




I believe that it is each person's right to have as many spouses as he or she chooses to have, and it's really none of the government's business at all.



Random House defines polygamy as "having more than one spouse." [1] A spouse is a person to whom one is married in the eyes fo the law.

==The Case Against Polygamy==

(1) Polygamy is a legal status

Polygamy means *the government* has to recognize a person's multiple partners as legitimate spouses in the eyes of the law. Polygamy laws do not limit a person's ability to *call* themselves polygamous. In their private life, a person can call themselves married to whomever or whatever they like. A person can claim to marry their cat. Or their table. Or 6 different people. The big difference comes when those people demand that *the law* recognize those marriages as legitimate, encompassing all the rights and protections that come with legal recognition.

Married couples have a right to tax deductions, Social Security benefits, etc., and employers must pay to cover a person's spouse on their medical insurance plan. If someone can have 10 wives, that means 10 times tha tax deduction (claiming 10 dependents instead of one), and it means 10 times the insurance cost for employers.

There are two implications to this: cheating and cost. Both go hand in hand. Given that people can marry however many times they want, people would start marrying their friends who have good health benefits through their employers. This would cost employers and the government A LOT of money. In fact, if you could marry more than one person, then literally every American could marry every other American for the tax benefits (imagine claiming one million dependents on your IRS filings). Let's say Jon marries Meredith. Peter marries Samantha. They are having a couples night, when they realize that Jon could marry Samantha as well, and Peter could marry Meredith, doubling their tax exemptions. If they lived in California, Jon could also marry Peter and Meredith could marry Samantha, bringing their tax exemption to 3 dependents. Social Security is already overburdened as it is - it cannot afford opening up marriage to an infinite number of partners. The government could also not survive the loss in tax revenue.

My opponent might argue that government benefits could be limited for polygamous couples, but the Equal Protection Clause in the 14th Amendment prevents such disparate treatment once polygamy is legalized.

(2) Studies show that polygamy is bad for society

A study of polygamous societies throughout history found that generally what happens is that the richest and most powerful men, who are generally older, accumulate the most wives. This leaves too few women for younger males in society. The younger low-status males, who become frustrated with the system, cause unrest and turn to criminality. The study concludes that polygamy drastically increases crime. [2] Generally, societies have evolved away from polygamy as a method for dealing with the social upheaval that polygamy causes. [2]

(3) Polygamy is bad for the families

Studies have also found that in nearly every polygamous family, there is a great deal of marital strife between the same-gender partners. [2] In addition, children in polygamous marriages have worse health and educational outcomes than children in poorer, monogamous families. [3] Polygamous families often grow larger beyond the means of the main wage earner to support them. A polygamous family is like a puppy mill for children, whereas a monogamous family is like a responsible breeder that fosters one small litter at a time.

(4) Administrability

Polygamy would create huge problems of administrability. As many as 50% of marriages end in divorce. But if people can marry more than one person, that rate would likely go up. Regardless, that's a lot of divorce proceedings that courts would have to deal with. Beyond that, most state law property systems are not set up for polygamy. In joint property states, each spouse gets 50% of money earned during the marriage upon divorce. For a polygamous marriage, giving a spouse one-thirteenth of a person's estate would prove very difficult. Assets are often not neatly divided *in half,* so imagine trying to divide a house or a car into thirteenths.

Not only divorces, but child custody disputes would be a huge problem as well. Children born into a marriage would need to be considered to be legal children of *all* spouses (as they are now), which would make for ridiculously complicated custody disputes in a 13-person marriage. In addition, in marriages with 2 or more men and 2 or more women, paternity of the child may be unknown. The child might feel closer to a non-related parent than to a related one. A court would have a very difficult time placing children. [You can see why studies find children do not do well in polygamous families].


Debate Round No. 1


(1) Addressing polygamy as a legal status
It is true that polygamy could open the door to considerable financial benefits for those involved. However, as of now, the poly community is very small- nowhere near influential enough to cause a significant hole in tax revenue. My opponent argues that if polygamy is legalized, then people will marry each other for the sole reason of claiming dependents and therefore receiving tax evasions. However, when people are in a polyamorous relationship and are not married, they benefit financially as well. Let's use the example of Jon and Meredith. Say that Jon is currently married to Meredith and wishes to marry Samantha as well. Jon cannot marry Samantha because it is currently illegal for him to do so. Jon, Meredith, and Samantha move in together. They meet Megan and want her to join the family as well. We now have Jon, Meredith, Samantha, and Megan all in the same house, and still, Jon and Meredith are the only marriage that is recognized by the state. After a few years, children have been born. Jon and Meredith have two sons, Jon and Samantha have a daughter, an Jon and Megan have a son. Because Samantha and Megan are not legally married to Jon, they are able to collect revenue in order to "support" their children. They are in no way in need of money; each adult has a good job and is making a steady income. However, the women are still able to collect assistance because their individual income is the only thing the government sees. They are not considered Jon's dependents, but they are still collecting money that they don't really need to stay afloat. Megan and Samantha could potentially quit their jobs at this point, simply because they are receiving enough money to live off of without having to contribute to the workforce. They can essentially live off of taxpayer dollars. In the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saint church, which is a polygamist group, 80% of the FLDS members are on welfare and more than 4,000 of them have state medical insurance access. This is because only one spouse in each mariage is considered legitimate by the state. If each marriage were considered legitimate, this would not be possible.

Being in a legally-recognized polygamous relationship demands that more people contribute to the workforce. In a monogamous relationship, it is extremely common for one spouse to work while the other does not. In a polygamous relationship, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible for just one of the spouses to provide income for the family. Depending on the number of people in the relationship and the number of resulting children, more people would have to work, thus contributing to the economy more than a monogamous relationship.

Issues that could arise from the legalization of polygamy will be addressed as time goes on. A hundred years from now, when polygamous marriages will potentially have become commonplace, certainly there will be new laws and regulations in order to deal with issues that have arisen. My opponent argues that the Equal Protection Clause would prevent these regulations from being put in place. However, this is a somewhat flimsy argument to lean upon simply because the Equal Protection Clause does not always apply. For example, in the case of United States vs. Windsor, the Equal Protection Clause did not apply because no state statute was in question. For years now, the issue of what constitues a "legal marriage" has been in question, and the Equal Protection Clause has obviously not been a significant enough reason for the national government to extend marriage benefits to, for example, homosexual couples.

(2) Addressing the effect of polygamy on society
If this is the case, then marriage in general is bad for society. Say only heterosexual, monogamous relationships are permitted. As stated in my opponent's argument, "the richest and most powerful men...accumulate the most wives". This is true in ANY case. In the case of hetero/mono relationships, richer, more powerful men are much more likely to be married than younger men of low-status. Polygamy has no effect on this whatsoever; it is simply how society works.

(3) Addressing the effect of polygamy on families
If there is marital strife or other family issues, it is up to the family to tend to them, not the government, unless someone is actually in physical danger. Additionally, if children are doing poorly in a certain environment, that doesn't mean the environment itself must be made illegal. For example, if a child is being raised by an immigrant who is unaccustomed to ways of life in this nation, they could potentially do more poorly than a child who is raised by a native. Does this mean that it is illegal to raise a child if you are not from this country? Of course not. What a ridiculous idea. There is nothing wrong with the situation itself, just as there is nothing inherently wrong with a polygamous family. If children are doing poorly, it is not because of the environment in which they are being raised, but because of the people who are raising them.

"Polygamous families often grow larger beyond the means of the main wage earner to support them." As previously stated, this is true- which is why more than one spouse must provide for the family. I am also intrigued by the use of the word "responsible" in this argument. Just because a couple is monogamous and is only raising one "litter" of children means that they are responsible parents? This is obviously false. It doesn't necessarily mean that they are responsible. It simply means that they meet society's standards of "normal" and are therefore accepted and are under less scrutiny.

(4) Addressing administratability
First of all, polygamy has nothing to do with divorce rates. 50% of marriages end in divorce; why would the legalization of polygamy change this? I assume that my opponent's point is that if a person is in a polygamous relationship, it will be more likely for them to find that they are not compatible with one of their spouses. However, polygamy has a very minimal effect on compatibility. That's like saying that people of different races who are married to each other will have higher divorce rates than people of the same race who are married to each other. This could potentially be the case, as it could be with polygamy. Divorce rates are often higher or lower depending on demographics. However, it would not be a significant enough impact to change the country's overall divorce rates. In addition, one could also argue that divorce rates of polygamous relationships would be LESS than those of monogamous relationships- having more than one person in a relationship has been shown to decrease infidelity, which is a common reason for divorce.

Disputes over property and custody would indeed be more difficult. However, the only solid argument that comes from this fact is that it would be challenging for the court and for the families. Divorce is difficult and complicated NO MATTER WHAT. Obviously if someone files for divorce, they are willing to go through the difficult processes in order to achieve the ends they desire.


(1) Polygamy is a legal status

First, extend my argument that the autonomy of individuals is not violated by polygamy laws because individuals remain free to enter whatever relationships they like. The ban on polygamy concerns whether *the law* has to recognize a given relationship as deserving of the same legal rights we currently afford to monogamous spouses.

In addition, extend my argument that legalizing polygamy imposes significant costs upon society. My opponent responds that many Mormons who are on welfare right now would be kicked off of welfare if they could legally enter a polygamous marriage because the income of their spouse would be calculcated when considering their welfare eligibility. First, this likely is not correct. Welfare eligibilty depends on the number of members of the household - the more members, the more the family can earn and still be eligible. [1] A single wage earner with four wives and 8 children is going to qualify for welfare unless he earns a significant amount of money. Second, my opponent is assuming that the eligiblity requirements would not be modified if polygamy were legalized. Each state has the ability to set its own eligibility requirements for many social services, and Mormons are a powerful lobby in Utah. It is likely that eligibility would simply be raised if many Mormon families lost their state-supported benefits. Third, my opponent is assuming that it would be socially optimal to have families with no ability to provide for themselves on a single income to lose elibility for welfare. Cross-apply this argument to my arguments about the welfare of children. I feel bad for any child who cannot get fed because his mom gave up her food stamp eligibility to be legally wed to a single wage earner as his 8th wife.

My opponent doesn't really respond to the argument that people will use polygamy to get good employer-provided health benefits and to cheat on their federal income tax by claiming additional dependents. His only response is that this cheating might be offset by the cost-savings from Mormon families losing welfare eligibilty. But as he himself says, the Mormon community is pretty small. It would take very few cheaters to offset any potential cost savings. And given that this is an *entirely legal* way to cheat on your taxes, there is very little reason for people not to marry multiple people. Tax lawyers will start telling their rich clients that instead of setting up tax shelters in the Caymans, they should simply marry a bunch of people and claim more dependents (which will only exacerbate the problem I described before, that the rich will accumulate more wives).

My opponent claims, without explanation of how, that society could reform how benefits are provided to married couples. But it is an Equal Protection and Due Process violation to give certain benefits to someone as long as they only exercise their right to marry *once,* as opposed to multiple times (assuming, of course, that we recognize a legal right to marry more than one person). In Loving v. Virginia, the Supreme Court held that the right to marry is a fundamental right that cannot be abridged by Congress or the states. In addition, in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court invoked elements of federalism, Equal Protection, and Due Process to hold that if a state legally recognizes a marriage, the federal government cannot refuse to recognize that marriage (in terms of federal tax benefits, etc.). Windsor involved a legally married lesbian couple, one of whom had to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes when the other died because the federal government did not recognize their marriage as legitimate, even though the state of New York did. The Windsor case actually proves that as soon as a state legalizes polygamy, the federal government is required to grant federal benefits to those marriages, just as they are now required to do for same-sex marriages.

My opponent's claim about Windsor is wrong: that the Equal Protection Clause did not apply because no state statute was at issue. The Fifth Amendment, which applies to the federal government, has both a Due Process and Equal Protection requirement (see Bolling v. Sharpe).

(2) Polygamy is bad for society

My opponent does not really respond to my study which demonstrated that in polygamous societies, women tend to marry the richest and most powerful men and shun poorer and younger men. This is because once multiple marriages are allowed, the most desirable mates (in terms of money and power) are able to capture more partners. However, this leaves a frustrated class of poorer and younger men, who empirically (according to research by Franklin Zimring) are the most likely to commit crime in the first place. But these young, poor men are even more likely to commit crime because now they are unable to find love or enter a stable relationship.

My opponent's only response is "this happens now." But it only happens now in the Mormon community. If polygamy were legal, Brad Pitt would have 500 wives, leaving 499 men without a match in the population (since the gender ratio is 50:50). If you magnify that effect, you leave a lot of men without any potential mate. My opponent, in fact, seems to be conceding that women vastly prefer mates that are rich and powerful (an assertion that is obviously overly simplistic). But by saying "that happens now," my opponent agrees that this selection happens now. But now, rich and powerful men can only choose one wife. Once they can legally have a harem, this leads to societal breakdown as the gender ratio for potential mates becomes unbalanced.

(3) Polygamous families are bad for those in them

I would like to add that polgyamous marriages, at least in the Mormon community, are often abusive, involve child brides and forced marriages, and teach women that they are not equal to men and their proper place is in the home. [2] Also, extend the argument that such marriages involve a great deal of marital discord, and studies show that children raised in polygamous households do worse on health and educational outcomes than children raised in monogamous households.

My opponents response is: people choose those bad environments, so we should let them. There is a difference between allowing someone to make a bad choice and legally sanctioning that choice. Many countries have shown success in decriminalizing drugs, which involves a bad choice, but those countries still recognize that *legalizing* those drugs might give drugs the legitimacy of law and lead more people to try those drugs. If cocaine and heroin were sold at Walgreens or any other drug store, this could pose serious problems. The same applies to people who make the choice to enter a polygamous relationship: they have the right to make that choice, but society doesn't need to legally sanction it.

My opponent responds also that we don't take away someone's right to have children just because their situation is not ideal. My opponent is correct and no one is banning Mormons from having children. There is a difference between banning and legally sanctioning (or encouraging) something.

My opponent also asserts, without explanation, that if polygamy were legalized, more people in polygamous relationships would work. I don't see why their legal status affects their work-ethic. Those women do not work now because they are married at young ages, denied an education, and taught that their place is in the home.

(4) Administrability

My argument here had to do with the ability of states to reform their property systems to account for polygamous marriages. My opponent fails to explain how joint property would work or to justify whether divorces would even still be feasible.


Debate Round No. 2


While it is true that the government does not have legislation over private, unmarried relationships, the government does not allow people to perform PRIVATE polygamous marriages without being criminalized. Polygamous marriage is illegal, regardless of whether or not the government is involved. In fundamentalist Mormon communities, their marriages are NOT recognized by the government; therefore, they do not receive any benefits at all. However, they could still be criminalized for practicing polygamy.
In addition, while Mormons are indeed a "powerful lobby" in Utah, only a very small number of "Mormons" are polygamists, and are not even considered a part of the Mormon church. Polygamy is looked down upon by the mainstream Mormon church, which is indeed a powerful influence in Utah. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that any state, not even the state of Utah, would raise eligibility.
While it is true that claiming more dependents would allow people to "cheat" the tax system, still: very few people would be willing to marry multiple people for the sole reason of tax exemptions. Yes, it would happen. No, it would not happen frequently enough to be a significant problem.
In ANY society, polygamous or not, women will marry the richest and most powerful men and shun poorer and younger men. Whether or not this is an "overly simplistic" assertion, it can be seen throughout the world. This also happens with women- men tend to seek out more powerful, wealthy mates as well. My opponent seems to be under the assumption that "polygamy" would only encompass relationships in which men have multiple wives. This is not true; therefore it is unlikely that the gender ratio of prospective partners would become unbalanced. In addition, my opponent thought it prudent to equate polygamy with a harem, which is not only incorrect but also offensive.
In regards to abuse in polygamous marriages, ask yourself this: in what sort of relationship does abuse most frequently occur? The answer is, of course, monogamous heterosexual relationships. Why? Because that is the most common form of marriage in this day and age. Should we ban this type of marriage simply because of the abuse that occurs? Of course not. Abuse is a result of the PEOPLE in a situation, not of the situation itself.
If an environment is bad, certainly one should try one's best to avoid it. However, why would it be the government's privilege to specify what consitutes a "bad" choice? That is, in essence, legislating morality. My opponent chooses to equate polygamy with the decriminalization of drugs. Decriminalizing drugs is, for the most part, successful, because it neither prohibits a behavior nor sanctions it. However, this argument is invalid, seeing as polygamy is still a criminal offense. My opponent argues that people can be in a polygamous relationship without gaining legal status as a married group. However, in this case, these individuals are still commiting a criminal offense. Polygamy, whether condoned by the government or not, is a crime. In addition, society does not have the power to "legally sanction" anything- the government does.
Being in a polygamous relationship would not affect someone's work ethic. Having more spouses and children in the house would. If a family has more mouths to feed, they will obviously require a higher income, thus demanding that more people in the household work. "Those women" do not work now because they don't need to- they are on welfare. (My opponent seems to be referring only to the small community of fundamentalist Mormons in the statement.)
It is impossible to determine how divorces of those in poly relationships would work unless they are actually in practice, just as it is impossible to determine the outcome of a monogamous divorce. Of course divorces would still be feasible; they would simply be more difficult to perform.


I'm going to go through each of my points, and then take a step back and look at the big picture.

==Polygamy laws only deny legal recognition==

My opponent claims that it is illegal to be in a polygamous relationship in Utah. First, this isn't true. After a recent federal court decision, Utah's polygamy law only forbids people from possessing multiple "purportedly valid" marriage licenses. [1] It does not forbid merely being in a polygamous relationship. [1] Second, as a more general issue, the topic was about "polygamy." I defined polygamy in Round 1 as *marrying* multiple people, not simply being in a relationship with them. Polygamy is from the Greek word `0;_9;_5;`5;^7;^5;_6;^3;^5;, which means "state of marriage to many spouses" or "frequent marriage." The word "polygamy" therefore only encompasses the legal status of "marriage," not merely being in a relationship.

Conclusion: my opponent has failed to show how polygamy laws are bad. He does not explain how they violate anyone's rights. People remain free to enter multiple relationships and do everything else that marriage involves, except claiming legal recognition. Therefore, there is no rights-based reason to vote for the Pro side in today's debate, but I give multiple reasons to vote Con because there are disadvantages to providing *legal recognition* to multiple marriages.

==Disadvantage 1: People would use polygamy to cheat on their taxes and claim other benefits==

Pretend polygamy were legalized. If you were to marry more than one person, you would pay less in federal taxes. If you wanted to leave someone a lot of money when you died, you could marry that person so he or she does not have to pay estate taxes. If you wanted to keep collecting someone's Social Security checks when he or she died, you could marry that person (at least 9 months) before he or she died. [2] When you remove any limits on marriage, you make it much easier for people to cheat the federal government out of taxes and other benefits (like Social Security). In addition, you risk a situation where cheating becomes so commonplace that it is seen as acceptable. People will marry once for love and then multiple times for other benefits, and at some point, there will no longer be a social stigma for doing so. It will become the norm.

My opponent's response is to claim that cheating will happen infrequently. Yet, he never explains why. Cheating is a function of (1) the risk of getting caught and (2) potential downside. Since multiple marriages would be legal, there would be zero potential downside to cheating. In fact, when cheating becomes legal it is called a "loophole," not "cheating." Multiple marriages will just become another tax loophole [which would be very lucrative for estate taxes, as the Windsor case described above shows: $300,000+ in estate taxes if unmarried, zero if married].

In addition, in polls, 13% of Americans said that they would cheat on their taxes. [3] The IRS only collects about two-thirds of the money owed to the government, so the wealthy disproportionately "cheat" on their taxes more than the poor (partially because they have tax lawyers to help them). Adding another huge tax loophole could cost the government massive amounts of money.

In addition, if only 10% of Americans started cheating to get more Social Security benefits, that could bankrupt Social Security, which already accounts for 20% of the nation's budget. The potential risk of legalizing polygamy is too great and the potential legal problems and administrative headaches too cumbersome compared to the benefit (of making a very small proportion of the Mormon community very happy).

==Disadvantage 2: more administrative headaches - divorce, custody, intestacy, etc.==

My opponent concedes that "it is impossible to determine how divorces" would work for polygamy. That's not very reassuring. States would need to change their property and custody systems to get ready for polygamy *before* or *concurrently* with legalizing it. We cannot wait until after-the-fact and then come up with laws later, assuming it is even possible to do so. What if someone in a polygamous marriage wants to get divorced but there is no law on the books about how to do that? Uh oh...

State property systems become really complicated when you have multiple marriages. Normally, in California, a married couple owns half of everything that they acquire during the marriage. But for polygamous marriages, the clock starts running at different times (they own some fraction based on when *their* marriage started) and it becomes impossible to divide certain assets so many different ways. In addition, divorce is supposed to serve a *support* function. Spouses often lose all marketable skills because they were a stay-at home parent. While one-half of the estate might be enough to live on, one-eight (in the case of an 8-person marriage) is not.

Also, what happens if Person A marries Person B, Person A marries Person C, and Person B marries Person D. Supposedly, Person A should not have to divide his property with Person D because he never consented to having Person D be part of the marriage. It was Person B that brought Person D in. What happens in such a situation? I don't think it's possible to answer these questions? So polygamy is an impossible system to administer.

==Disadvantage 3: polygamy gives legal recognition to abusive, bad relationships==

My opponent claims, at times, that no one except certain Mormons would ever use polygamy. Then it matters to look at whether those relationships are ones that we want to legally sanction (i.e. encourage). We have rich and powerful men (like Jim Jeffords) who prey on young girls, teach them that their only value is in the home, socially isolate them and make them dependent so that they cannot run away, and then abuse and even rape them. The young men in the community are forced out because their are no women for them. These are sick relationships and communities. We should not give such relationships the color and protection of law.

Realistically, our society would stigmatize a polygamous marriage with one woman and multiple men and women are wired for monogamy (since they can only raise one child at a time). Polygamy has a serious risk of being used as a tool by powerful men to oppress vulnerable young women. Legal recognition just makes it easier for unscrupulous men, like Jim Jeffords, to use this tool.

==Disadvantage 4: polygamous marriages are bad for children==

Children in polygamous marriages get their resources stretched thinner because there are so many of them. My opponent claims more people would work, but right now (when legal status is denied), many of those women do not work. My opponent says, "that's because they have welfare!" But welfare is a poor substitute for an income - it's not that much money. If the women in polygamous relationships were going to work, they'd be doing it now. Society should not sanction something that leads to worse health and educational outcomes for children.

==Concluding remarks==

In today's debate, my opponent has provided *zero* advantages to polygamy, while I have provided four unique disadvantages. Since as judges, you can only vote on what was said in the debate itself, that decision should be easy. If you read back, you'll notice my opponent literally makes zero case of his own *for* polygamy. Therefore, since there are no named benefits of polygamy in today's debate, *any* risk of any of my disadvantages happening means that you should vote Con.

Remember, legalizing polygamy will: (1) bankrupt the government because cheaters will claim tax deductions and other benefits, (2) make state property systems unadministrable, (3) encourage bad, abusive relationships, and (4) harm the children.

Debate Round No. 3
2 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Posted by nargles97 2 years ago
Haha I was wondering what Greek word that was... :)
Posted by bluesteel 2 years ago
lol, the Greek didn't come out at all... oh well.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Wylted 2 years ago
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Total points awarded:05 
Reasons for voting decision: Con gave more, better sources. Con also showed several disadvantages to legalizing polygamy that were never overcame by pro. Also con changed my mind on a subject I've never given much thought to before. It was a very interesting debate.
Vote Placed by GodChoosesLife 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: Con used more sources and made interesting regards to the topic which made it very interesting all the more.