Marriage, equality and subsidizing families in liberal public justification: Is there a right to polygamy?

This essay argues that the four most plausible arguments compatible with public reason for an outright legal ban on all forms of polygamy are unvictorious. My purpose is not to survey exhaustively the empirical literature on contemporary forms of polygamy, but to tease out the types of arguments political liberals would have to insist on, and precisely how strongly, in order for a general prohibition against polygamy to be justified. The most common objection to polygamy is on grounds of gender equality, more specifically, female equality. But advancing this argument forcefully often involves neglecting the tendency of political liberalism (whatever name it goes by in contemporary, complex, multicultural societies) to tolerate a certain amount of inegalitarianism in private, within the bounds of robust and meaningful freedoms of choice and exit. Properly understood, polygamy involves no inherent statement about the essential inferiority of women, and certainly not more than many other existing practices and institutions (including many expressions of the main monotheistic religions) which political liberals regard as tolerable.
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