Scalzi recently posted an entry about poly marriage. A couple of commenters there brought up a concern I've encountered before: the idea that if it were legal to marry more than one person in the US, then the Mafia could form one big group marriage and would therefore be legally prohibited from testifying against each other.
I have several partly tongue-in-cheek responses to that, so rather than derail the discussion in Scalzi's blog, I figured I'd post them here.
- As I understand it (which is very imperfectly), spousal testimonial privilege doesn't necessarily work like that. I don't think a member of a criminal group that's married to each other could necessarily legally prevent the other members from testifying against them. (And if you're just worried about their choosing not to testify--well, they can do that already.)
- Even if it did work like that, the law could be changed; plenty of other laws would have to be changed before poly marriage could fit into the US legal system.
- This is an argument for calling it "marriage." I can imagine the Mafia entering into a marriage-like group contract, but somehow I can't really imagine them actually deciding to marry each other en masse. (And call it a marriage.) My understanding (based on nothing but movies and TV, so possibly useless) is that the Mafia is fairly entrenched in tradition; I suspect many or most of them would be uncomfortable with a "marriage" that departed that far from tradition.
- If avoiding testimony in this way were a major goal, one would think that the Mafia would welcome full female members; the female members could marry the male members and thereby reduce the possibilities of adverse testimony. (Also, spousal privilege today presumably applies to husband-and-wife criminal pairs; nobody claims that man/woman marriage therefore shouldn't be allowed.)
- Assuming that the Mafia is primarily male (again based on nothing but fiction), presumably Massachusetts is now a great place for them--I assume that lots of otherwise single mobsters are marrying their male buddies to reduce the chances of adverse testimony. What's that you say? This isn't happening? Oh.
- Okay, you found us out. Us poly people are really undercover Mafiosi, working to undermine the very fabric of society. [Added later: Yes, we're Mafia! Wanna make something of it, lowly villagers?] The most efficient and cost-effective and low-profile way for us to achieve our nefarious criminal goals and avoid getting caught is to work for decades to change American perceptions about polyamory, and then make far-reaching changes to the American legal system on the subject of marriage.
As I noted above, these are at least partly tongue-in-cheek. I'm willing to concede that it's an issue that would result in complications that would have to be worked out, one way or another. But I'm not willing to concede that it's a valid argument for opposing poly marriage.
Um, but in case this isn't clear, I'm certainly not calling for poly marriage to become legal right now, immediately. I want to get same-sex marriage legal and widely accepted first, which may take decades. But I do think poly marriage will happen eventually.