Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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The Family

It's Bigamy Too!

As Groucho would say.

Ann Althouse points us to a lawsuit in Utah challenging the state's ban on polygamy.  The suit is not asking to legalize polygamy, per say, but only saying that the state has no right to prosecute someone who is legally married to only one person, but, in fact, considers himself married to several women, "Mr. Brown has a civil marriage with only one of his wives; the rest are "sister wives," not formally wedded."

Professor Althouse comments:

I think the Lawrence-based argument for decriminalizing polygamy is much stronger than the Lawrence-based argument for requiring the government to give legal recognition to same-sex marriage. One is an argument demanding only that the government leave them alone as they pursue their "own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." The other is a demand that the government alter its treatment of its citizens, giving them access to to the benefits of having the official status as a married couple.

If each of us has the right to purshue his "own concept of existence," then we are free to choose to be slaves, no?  On what grounds, other than an underlying idea of what it is to be human, can one justify the right of an individual to choose how he will live?

I am also reminded of the bit in Natural Right and History were Strauss discusses Max Weber: "Weber's own formulation of his categoric imperative was 'Follow thy demon' or 'Follow thy god or demon.'  It would be unfair to complain that Weber forgot the possibility of evil demons."  Basically the same idea as Bill Cosby's comments on cocaine. (at 3:50 or so).

Categories > The Family

Discussions - 5 Comments

Strange new respect for cocaine....

"per say"?

Yersinia. If adultery is not actionable, it is an interesting question what marriage is. Is it anything more than two people signing the marriage contract. If they choose to include others in their house, that's their right. Why is an open marriage legal, but a plural commitment, in the absense of more than one legal marriage, illegal?

Similarly, why is it illegal to marry someone for health care benefits, or a green card, if it's not the job of government to go into our bedrooms in any case whatsoever.

It was only a matter of time. Once you open up marriage to homosexuals, then you have a hard time holding the line on other behaviors. After all, if marriage is a private act based solely on the pursuit of private welfare, then why shouldn't people engage in all kinds of marriage forms?

My understanding (based on reading John Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven") is that Mormon polygamy has long had this form: one legal marriage plus X number of "spiritual wives," or in other words, as the state sees it, marriage plus cohabitation.

Utah, IIRC, has stricter-than-average cohabitation laws, for the historic reason that the mainstream LDS Church turned against polygamy (via a "prophetic revelation") as a condition of entering the Union as a state back in the late 19th century. Those laws probably explain why most of the breakaway LDS groups that practice polygamy tend to have their compounds or communities in places other than Utah (e.g., Texas, Canada, and Colorado City, AZ, in the remote part of the state cut off by the Grand Canyon).

Classical liberalism has traditionally opposed plural marriage (which almost always means polygyny rather than polyandry, i.e., one man with several women rather than the other way 'round) because polygamy is a token of patriarchal absolutism, with women treated as chattel or quasi-chattel and locked into lower status (see Locke's First Treatise).

What's supremely odd--but I suspect revealing--is to see contemporary "lifestyle liberalism" (as typified by Justice Kennedy's notorious "sweet mystery of life" passage from Lawrence v. Texas) being led, precisely by its own relativism and permissiveness, to open up the door wider for deeply illiberal patriarchal/polygamous subcultures such as those represented by the breakaway LDS groups and also, let us not forget, by elements within Islam (where Mormons lead in gaining greater legal space for polygamy, can we doubt that Muslim fundamentalists will follow?).

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