EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the 16th story in a series examining the national debate over same-sex “marriage.” This series will resume April 2.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Late last year, months after the landmark Lawrence v. Texas decision striking down anti-sodomy laws, two Utah polygamists filed suit in state court, asking that their relationships with multiple wives be validated by the government.
Laws against polygamy, they said, are unconstitutional.
“Everyone should be free unless there’s a compelling state interest that you shouldn’t be,” John Bucher, one of the lawyers, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “The state is not able to show that there’s such an evil to polygamy that it should be prohibited.”
As the nation continues to debate same-sex “marriage,” some have begun examining the logical extension of its legalization. If the legal benefits of marriage are awarded to homosexual men, then why aren’t they also given to, say, three polygamists?
“There isn’t a single argument in favor of same-sex marriage that isn’t also an argument in favor of polygamy –- people have a right to marry who they love, these relationships already exist … we have no right to deny the children of their protections,” columnist Maggie Gallagher, an outspoken supporter of a federal marriage amendment, told Baptist Press.
Jennifer Marshall, director of domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, said she sees no “logical stopping point” if same-sex “marriage” is legalized.
“This is the dissolution of the parameters around marriage,” she said. “You’d be hard-pressed to say, ‘Why not any other kind of arrangement?’”
Conservatives and traditionalists say the debate over same-sex “marriage” is the result of marriage being separated from its religious roots and from procreation. If marriage is not tied to childbearing, traditionalists warn it literally could mean anything.
In its landmark ruling on same-sex “marriage” last year, the Massachusetts high court ruled that marriage’s purpose is not procreation, but instead the commitment of two people to one another for life.
That argument troubles Gallagher, who asserts that government benefits are awarded to married couples because they, in turn, benefit society by raising the next generation of adults.
“If marriage is only about private love, why is the government involved?” she asked, rhetorically. “Why does the government care? Why is the [government] involved if you have this view of marriage that’s just kind of a private, emotional lover’s vow? But for some reason, you record it in law and it changes your tax status.”
The issue of polygamy has been one that has frequently stumped supporters of same-sex “marriage.” During a January debate, University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson, a supporter of homosexual “marriage,” called the polygamy argument a “red herring.” Candice Gingrich, a homosexual activist, made the same assertion during an appearance on Sean Hannity’s radio program.
Last November on ABC’s “This Week,” conservative columnist George Will asked two homosexual men — Rep. Barney Frank and columnist Andrew Sullivan — to give him a “principle” as to why polygamy should be banned in light of the Lawrence and Massachusetts decisions.
“Some distinctions are hard to draw,” Frank answered. “But the difference between two people and three people is almost always clear. It is responsible for a society to say, ‘Look, you can do what you want personally. If three people want to have sex together, that’s not against the law. But when it comes to being married and institutionalizing these legal relationships with regards to the ownership of property and children, then we believe a three-way operation is likely to cause difficulty, friction with the children.’”
Sullivan responded: “I don’t want the right to marry anyone. I just want the right to marry someone.”
Sociologist Glenn Stanton of Focus on the Family said one reason same-sex “marriage” has made advances is because marriage itself is viewed as a means of receiving legal benefits.
“If we have to honor the relationship that two guys have, then we have to honor the relationship that a guy and his three wives have,” Stanton said. “We have to honor the relationship that two heterosexual single moms have. If we are going to offer health benefits and government benefits to other configurations, why keep anybody from joining together and saying, ‘Our relationship is significant, too,’ regardless of what that relationship is?”
Gallagher said there is “no logical reason” for not awarding benefits to polygamists if they are given to same-sex couples.
The irony of the current debate is that polygamy is rooted far deeper in human history — and is accepted in far more cultures today — than is same-sex “marriage.” Polygamy once dominated the Mormon church, and Utah was not given statehood until it outlawed the practice. The church officially disavows it now, although estimates say that up to 100,000 people in the West still practice it. Worldwide, polygamy is legal in some countries and is common among Muslims. Islam’s founder, Muhammad, had multiple wives.
The United Nations allows employees to divide their benefits among multiple wives, as long as they come from a country where polygamy is practiced, The Washington Post reported.
Seeing the logical extension from same-sex “marriage,” some in America have begun to argue for the legalization of polygamy, too. Anthropologist Robert Myers wrote in a USA Today editorial March 14 that the United States has a “narrow view” of marriage.
“[W]e will allow marriage to any number of partners, as long as it is to only one at a time,” he wrote.
Gallagher said she believes that polygamy is less of a departure from traditional marriage than is same-sex “marriage.” After all, she said, it involves procreation.
Of course, Gallagher and other traditionalists aren’t arguing for polygamy’s legalization. They’re showing the logical inconsistency of same-sex “marriage.”
“The argument in the 19th century that Congress made is that polygamy is associated with despotic forms of government, because basically the most powerful men start hogging all the women,” Gallagher said. “There is something to be said for that. I think it’s also associated with less investment by fathers in their children. Some children get subordinated in polygamous marriage systems. The attention of the father and the family tends to focus on the heir.”
Other arguments against polygamy include an increase in child and spousal abuse, welfare fraud and forced marriages.
Christians say Scripture has an answer for both polygamy and homosexual “marriage” — in Matthew 19 Christ points to Old Testament law as limiting marriage to one man, one woman.
Marshall, of The Heritage Foundation, said the onus must be placed on same-sex “marriage” supporters as to why marriage should not include polygamy and other forms of relationships. The polygamy question is not a “red herring,” she said.
“It seems to me,” she said, “that those who are trying to argue for the redefinition of marriage should have to answer the question, ‘What is the logical stopping point after this?’ It seems to me that that question should be turned around, and the ones who are answering it should be the ones who are proposing the redefinition of marriage.”
For more information about the debate over same-sex “marriage,” visit