The Evolution of Plural Parentage: Applying Vulnerability Theory to Polygamy and Same-Sex Marriage

44 Pages Posted: 27 Jun 2016 Last revised: 17 Aug 2016

See all articles by Stu Marvel

Stu Marvel

Emory University School of Law; University of Leeds - School of Law

Date Written: June 25, 2016


Much of the legal debate surrounding the challenge to “traditional” heterosexual marriage has involved questions of liberty, discrimination, and equal treatment. Similar moves have now been made by advocates for polygamous marriage, indicating that polygamous families may be on track to follow in the rainbow contrails of same-sex marriage. This Article argues that such an evolution is indeed likely, but for different reasons than commonly held. Instead, it applies the emerging paradigm of vulnerability theory to a recent suite of polygamy and same-sex marriage rulings, with particular focus on the figure of the “vulnerable” child. At the same time, this Article will also consider the legal and social consequences of the mechanics of reproduction within both same-sex and polygamous families. It will ask what the lessons of same-sex parents using assisted reproductive technology (ART) might offer in thinking through the future of polygamy. Plural forms of parentage indicate that we are in a period of marriage evolution, wherein multiple adult caregivers may have a potential claim on the right to parent a given child. These contemporary struggles are already transforming the legal landscape in other countries. The vulnerability analysis will shed light on why it is only a matter of time before they also shift the two-parent mode of care taking in the United States, given the overlapping vulnerabilities of dependent children, the state, and the institution of marriage itself.

Keywords: Same-Sex Marriage, Marriage Equality, Polygamy, Vulnerability Theory, Parentage

Suggested Citation

Marvel, Stu, The Evolution of Plural Parentage: Applying Vulnerability Theory to Polygamy and Same-Sex Marriage (June 25, 2016). Emory Law Journal, Vol. 64, No. 2047, 2015; Osgoode Legal Studies Research Paper No. 69/2015. Available at SSRN:

Stu Marvel (Contact Author)

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

University of Leeds - School of Law ( email )

Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom

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