published Saturday, March 30th, 2013

Get government out of marriage

If gay marriage is legal, what about polygamy?

That question was a hot topic among pundits and columnists during this week's Supreme Court hearing on Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage. Many thought-leaders believe that if the Supreme Court case directly or indirectly expands the definition of marriage to include same-sex partners, the legalization of polygamous marriages would logically be next on the agenda.

Former Cincinnati mayor and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell claimed on CNN's "Erin Burnett OutFront" that gay marriage would lead to polygamy. "[M]aking a decision based purely on love is putting us down a slippery slope," Blackwell argued. "What about the person who loves two women and wants to engage in polygamy?"

In an appearance on MSNBC, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council claimed that if government determined "people ought to be able to marry who they love," it would set America up to be overrun by polygamous immigrants who "immigrate to this country from a country that allows multiple spouses."

A commentary co-authored by Harvard law professor Robert P. George, Rhodes Scholar Sherif Girgis and Ryan T. Anderson of the Heritage Foundation warned that if the Supreme Court finds that marriage is "simply about recognizing bonds of affection or romance," then "the increasingly common phenomenon of group ('polyamorous') partnerships" could be recognized as a marriage.

The topic of polygamy even found its way into the Supreme Court hearing, itself. In her questioning of former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked: "If you say that marriage is a fundamental right, what state restrictions could ever exist?"

Sotomayor went on to wonder if the state could place "restrictions with respect to the number of people [that could marry each other]." Hopefully one day soon the answer to that question will be, "No, the government can't place restrictions that prevent consenting adults from entering into whatever type of marriage they want, whether its straight or gay, monogamous or polygamous. Period."


Awareness of polygamy is reaching new heights in America, largely as the result of recent television shows including HBO's "Big Love" and the TLC reality series "Sister Wives," which feature polygamist families.

"Sister Wives," the best-known television show featuring polygamy, allows viewers into the home (and, in more recent seasons, homes) shared by Kody Brown, a fundamentalist Mormon, and his four wives -- and their 17 kids.

The show films the lives of five adults who made the decision to willingly enter into a polygamous marriage, and a throng of apparently happy, healthy, well-adjusted and well-educated children. As far as anyone can tell, the Browns' actions do nothing to harm their children, their community or society.

After watching a few episodes of "Sister Wives," it's hard to argue that the government should be able to dictate what kind of relationship consenting adults should be allowed to have, whether it's monogamous or polygamous.


Opponents of polygamy looking for religious texts or heritage to defend their claims that polygamy is immoral or improper won't find much help. In fact, the sacred texts of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all contain passages that appear to endorse taking multiple wives.

The Christian Old Testament and the Jewish Torah share a number of mentions of polygamy. Most versions of the story of Moses indicate that he had two wives. The Quran recommends taking several orphaned women as wives. Currently, under Sharia law, Muslim men may take up to four wives.

If the most common religions in America encourage polygamy, why should government ban it?

Others who oppose polygamous marriage point to Warren Jeffs, the former leader of a break-away cult called the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as an argument against polygamy. Jeffs exploited the idea of religiously mandated polygamy to rape minors, encourage incest, arrange marriages and hold unwilling participants captive. But Jeffs' disgusting and despicable acts occurred as a result of his abuse of power in the context of a religious sect, not as a byproduct of polygamy.

There's no evidence that polygamists who choose to enter into plural marriage of their own accord are any more likely to rape a minor, commit incest or hold people hostage than people in traditional marriages who entered their unions as willing adults. The problem is the cult, not the polygamy.


In his response to Justice Sotomayor's question regarding polygamy, Olson responded, "You've said in the cases decided by this Court that the polygamy issue, multiple marriages raises questions ... with respect to taxes, inheritance, child custody, it is an entirely different thing."

Issues related to taxes? That's an argument against plural marriage?

Olson's reference to taxes illustrates the very problem with government involvement with marriage in the first place. Rather than the very intimate, personal and often religious union that marriage is intended to be, states have turned marriage into equal parts tax shelter, opportunity to extort money through fees and licensing requirements, and binding government contract. Wow, how romantic.

Rather than dictating which type of marriages should be legal and who can marry whom, the government should get out of the marriage business entirely. Marriage should be dictated by love, not government.

For those who fear that government renouncing its role in marriage could lead to plural marriages, there's an easy solution: Don't become a polygamist.

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AndrewLohr said...

And does this government-out-of-marriage thing mean that groups which have standards about marriage can freely apply their standards? Can a Christian wedding photographer turn down business from people whose marriages don't meet her standards? Can an insurance company charge Hugh Hefner more for STD insurance than it charges Mother Theresa?

It's one thing to stop sending the cops out looking for people having sex outside of Adam-and-Eve type marriages; it's another to start sending the cops after people who insist on the Adam-and-Eve standard (or perhaps some other standard). Does Drew denounce the tyranny of the government making no standard an enforced standard about sex?

March 30, 2013 at 2:18 a.m.
EaTn said...

The fair thing to do is separate marriage from any government program and let individuals stand on their own merit. For example, only a government employee or their legal children have subsidized insurance. Spouses, or partners, must purchase their own. Private buinesses could do as they please.

March 30, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Easy123 said...


Everything you just said smacks of insanity.

March 30, 2013 at 6:18 a.m.
jesse said...

Easy, consider the source!

While Andrew has his rational moments they are rare!

March 30, 2013 at 9:32 a.m.
Easy123 said...

Anyone that can conjure up the phrase "STD insurance" and be totally serious about it should be lobotomized.

March 30, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.
Plato said...

I have no problem with polygamy myself. Like gay marriage it's no skin off my butt what other people do. But polygamy would open up an entire new area of law regarding next of kin legal rights, visitations, inheritance laws, survivor benefits etc. All the martial law in this country is based on two individuals and there is nothing that could be legally construed as changing that by allowing gays to have the same rights as others.

In my opinion it is unconstitutional to identify specific class of people, in this case gays and lesbians, and restrict their liberties, denying them rights that other citizens have. These laws fly in the face of the precept of "life liberty and pursuit of happiness" and therefore should be overturned.

Also despite the arguments from the Right, the real reason gay marriage is being opposed is based on the concept of government mandated morals. Therefore I agree with the headline - government should get out of the business of dictating morality and let all citizens have equal protection under the law.

It's fine to be opposed to gay marriage based on your faith - that's your right, but it's also not inconsistent to also recognize that our country is a free and open society and people should have the same rights. I strongly condemn everything that comes out of mouths of groups like the KKK but I support their right to peacefully assemble and express their views. That's what makes this America.

March 30, 2013 at 12:32 p.m.
conservative said...

God says the husband and wife marital relationship is natural and the homosexual relationship is unnatural and shameful.

"For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due." Romans 1:26-27.

March 30, 2013 at 12:42 p.m.
rumrunr said...

another in an endless string of republican "straw man" arguments. I really need to invest in "straw futures".

March 30, 2013 at 2:45 p.m.
fairmon said...

Again. Take away the incentives in the hundreds of pieces of legislation discriminating against singles and the issue goes away except for those with some moral agenda. Why is there a married filing jointly, single and a couple of other headings on the tax table? Why can a married person have a surviving spouse benefit that receives additional social security while a single person has no comparable option. I prefer being single and renting. Why should I subsidize a married couple purchasing a house, help support their spouse, their private health care and educate their rug rats plus various other marriage favoring incentives? The only reason is married is a majority and they vote therefore screw the single people economically since they may be screwing without being married. There is no logical reason for the blatant discrimination against those preferring to remain single.

March 31, 2013 at 8:02 a.m.
gjuster said...

Fairmon - you make a strong argument. Our tax laws should be neutral in all cases - not just marriage. And sometimes it cost more in taxes to be married. The tax code needs to be thrown out and replaced with either a flat or fair tax. Take away the power of the politicians, lobbyists, and big corporations. The government should not be involved in marriage - why do we need permission from the government to be married - a simple agreement between two people is all that is needed. I've had one for 33 years - and its not because of a piece of paper saying I have permission, its because of the commitment we have made to each other.

March 31, 2013 at 9:10 a.m.
fairmon said...

gjuster....a state issued and charged for piece of paper does not make a marriage or commitment any more meaningful. It does create some compicated legal entaglements. Provisions for joint ownership, supporting children etc. could be in place and enforced without marriage. Marriage as we view it is man made by politicians.

March 31, 2013 at 10:18 a.m.
CathyB3 said...

Wait just a moment, please. Granting that "Sister Wives" is a really slick promotion of polygamy, there have been many, many reviews polygamy.

Many times the pattern is as follows:

(1)Guy marries Wife 1 (children produced). (2) Guy divorces Wife 1 (3) Wife 1 and kids go on welfare, but still live with Guy. (4) Guy marries Wife 2, and so on.

If Guy wants a plural marriage, it seems only reasonable that the taxpayer should not have to foot the bill.

If Guy can afford it, fine with me. However, considering the expense of caring for one family, I sincerely doubt that it is possible to add more and succeed, unless of course one becomes a great big TV star.

April 5, 2013 at 4:32 p.m.
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