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.



  • Jason

    In light of the religious liberty arguments advocated on this site, I’m not sure why polygamy shouldn’t be legal. According to “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty,” government cannot restrict the religious or moral beliefs of anyone.

  • http://NA Matt N

    Yep, and you can thank Hollywood for part of this.

    30 years ago we began to see gay and lesbian characters on television and in movies, first as funny/silly people and then as serious professionals. And that is okay.

    Now it is becoming more and more the norm to expect the Sacrament of Marriage as a right for the Gay/Lesbian community.

    5 years ago we saw “Sister Wives” and the challenges they went through to live as a family with three, then four wives.

    They and other polygamists are waiting in the wings for Gays to get the right to marry, so they can take there place in line.

    And further back, NAMBLA is waiting for the right to petition marrying children, regardless of sex. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but think back to the 70’s and 80’s; would you ever think we would see Same Sex Marriage being debated at the Supreme Court?

  • Maggie

    Trust me ,I live in Utah and there are little pockets o Pligs everywhere. Women are NOT going to like this lifestyle. Takes us back 100 years. You can forget BC and learn to love your hubbys woman of the night.
    However,you are correct,they are watching the SCOTUS closely…they know they will be approved next. However ,I am less worried about the FLDS than I am the Muslims. They treat their women even worse. This will NOT be good for next generation women.

    • JackB

      Maggie, our soft belly is showing. None of us is even slightly aware how Muslims have treated their women for eons. Human rights is not a part of the Arab vocabulary. Yet we find painful ways to coexist with them. But they are not alone in the mistreatment of women. It runs deeply into religious history.

      When I was an altar boy many years ago women were not allowed in the sanctuary, except to clean the altar linen. They could not become deacons, altar boys, or lectors.

      We ask why women cannot become priests? The churches’ answer is that Christ had all men for disciples. True, but for one, Mary Magdeline. I feel after the current priest scandal that women would make very good priests.



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