Back in the bad old days before the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, many opponents of same-sex marriage warned us that if it became legal, polygamy would be next. They were — some no doubt for the the first time in their lives — right. Polygamy is, as it should be, next.
In 2013, a federal judge struck down part of Utah’s ban on marriages of more than two in a case involving the Brown family from the reality TV show “Sister Wives.” The ruling didn’t require the state to issue “marriage licenses” to more than two partners, but it did invalidate the rule against cohabitation of those partners.
On March 2, Utah’s House of Representatives attempted to resuscitate the ban, passing a bill that, if it makes it through the Senate and past the governor’s desk and over the inevitable court challenge hurdles, would punish cohabiting parties of more than two who SAY they are married.
Yes, you read that right. No, it’s never going to pass constitutional muster.
If you get in a car and take off down the road without a driver’s license, you’re still driving. If you get married without a marriage license, you’re still married. A law forbidding you to mention that you’re driving, or that you’re married, belongs on the list of dumbest ideas ever.
What does it mean to be married? For many, marriage has religious features, but those vary. At bottom marriage is a contractual arrangement that has evolved, just like every other kind of contractual arrangement, in many directions over the millennia. Government control of the possible permutations of such arrangements is neither necessary, nor desirable, nor morally defensible.
In fact, marriage licensing appeared in the mid-19th century in the US for the specific purpose of enabling states to ban interracial marriage. It’s one of the last and most stubborn remnants of Jim Crow. It’s time to bring an end to that era of darkness. The developing fight over polygamy is custom-made to hasten that outcome. The more complex marriage becomes, the less workable one-size-fits-all licensing schemes become.
Libertarian science fiction author Robert Heinlein envisioned a future in which various forms of marriage flourish, allowing families to conserve capital over centuries instead of mere decades and create perpetual rather than temporary legacies to support their descendants. We’re standing in the doorway of that future. Time to step through.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org). He lives and works in north central Florida.
- “Marriage Freedom: Yes, Polygamy is Next,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Ventura County, California Citizens Journal, 03/03/16
- “Marriage Freedom: Yes, Polygamy is Next,” by Thomas L. Knapp, OpEdNews, 03/05/16
- “Marriage Freedom: Yes, Polygamy is Next,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Uintah Basin, Utah Standard, 03/08/16
- “Polygamy Law Dumbest Idea Ever,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Salt Lake City Weekly [Utah], 03/10/16
- “Marriage Freedom: yes, polygamy is next,” by Thomas L. Knapp, Kanab, Utah Southern Utah News, p.4 [print edition], 03/10/16