To the Editor:

In his column this week, Gregory DuBoff rehearses an all-too-familiar but fallacious case against gay marriage (“U.S. marriage laws perform crucial function,” 3/22), remarking that “[t]he argument for legalizing polygamy reads almost exactly the same as that for gay marriage.” The arguments that led to Prohibition read almost exactly as do those that keep heroin illegal, yet these arguments have led to very different legal and societal outcomes.

“Almost exactly” is not the same as “exactly,” and just as alcohol and heroin have different effects on individuals and society, so do homosexuality, polygamy and incest. Among the many reasons to forbid polygamy and incest, for example, is the fact that these practices typically involve the exploitation of asymmetric power relationships, and therefore the privation of fundamental human rights from their victims. The only sense in which partners in committed same-sex relationships are victims is that they lack a legally protected right to visit their partners in the hospital or in prison, to entrust medical decisions to them, to inherit shared property or to refuse to testify against them in court.

Instead of changing the subject to polygamy or citing out-of-context figures about extramarital sex, DuBoff should follow his own recommendation that the debate over gay marriage should focus on whether homosexuality is harmful to society. I firmly believe I do far more damage to society in the long run when I drive my car to a national chain store than when I go on a date.

Ian Quinn

March 22, 2006

The writer is an assistant professor of music.