Opening a Path to Polygamy?


Over at Public Discourse I have an article on some of the points made recently when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the cases involving same-sex marriage.  The piece is a response in particular to an exchange between Justice Sotomayor and Ted Olson, the lead litigator for the pro-same sex marriage side.

Surprisingly, it was Justice Sotomayor — an Obama appointee and member of the Court’s liberal wing — who raised the question of polygamy.  In view of Olson’s argument that marriage is a fundamental right, she asked, would the state be able to place any restrictions on marriage, including on the number of people who can be party to a marriage?  Olson responded that polygamy involves a whole host of considerations that do not even come into play in relation to same-sex marriage, and thus tried to assure Sotomayor and the Court that finding a constitutional right to one will not necessarily lead to a constitutional right to another.

CNA Supreme Court

In my article I try to show that Olson’s argument does not hold water.  I don’t know if same-sex marriage will lead to polygamy, although it is easy to see how the arguments for it could be adapted to that purpose.  But I am pretty sure that the distinctions Olson tried to make are not really workable.

It is worth trying to think through such questions, because changes in law commonly have consequences that are unintended by those arguing for them.  Moreover, it is becoming more clear that they are not idle dreamers who fear that the present battle in the culture war will not be the last.  Slate has just published an article openly arguing for a legalization of polygamy.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Carson Holloway is a political scientist and the author of The Way of Life: John Paul II and the Challenge of Liberal Modernity (Baylor University Press), The Right Darwin? Evolution, Religion, and the Future of Democracy (Spence Publishing), and All Shook Up: Music, Passion and Politics (Spence Publishing), and the editor of a collection of essays entitled Magnanimity and Statesmanship (Lexington Books). His articles have appeared in the Review of Politics, Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy, Perspectives on Political Science, and First Things. He is a regular contributor to the online journal The Public Discourse. Holloway was a 2005-06 William E. Simon Visiting Fellow in Religion and Public Life in the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He received his Ph.D. in political science from Northern Illinois University in 1998.

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