Carson Holloway

Justice Sotomayor and the path to polygamy

Carson Holloway
By Carson Holloway
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April 22, 2013 (PublicDiscourse) - Opponents of same-sex marriage resist it because it amounts to redefining marriage, but also because it will invite future redefinitions. If we embrace same-sex marriage, they argue, society will have surrendered any reasonable grounds on which to continue forbidding polygamy, for example.

In truth, proponents of same-sex marriage have never offered a very good response to this concern. This problem was highlighted at the Supreme Court last month in oral argument over California’s Proposition 8, the state constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Surprisingly, the polygamy problem that same-sex marriage presents was raised by an Obama appointee, the liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor interrupted the presentation of anti-Prop 8 litigator Theodore Olson to pose the following question: If marriage is a fundamental right in the way proponents of same-sex marriage contend, “what state restrictions could ever exist,” for example, “with respect to the number of people . . . that could get married?”

In response, Olson tried to set up a clear distinction between same-sex marriage and polygamy, suggesting that the kinds of governmental interests that justify a prohibition of polygamy are irrelevant in the case of same-sex marriage.

The Court has said, he contended, that polygamy raises “questions about exploitation, abuse, patriarchy, issues with respect to taxes, inheritance, child custody” and therefore “is an entirely different thing” than same-sex marriage. Moreover, Olson argued, when a “state prohibits polygamy, it’s prohibiting conduct,” but if “it prohibits gay and lesbian citizens from getting married, it is prohibiting their exercise of a right based upon their status.”

Justice Sotomayor’s concerns about the possibility of a path from same-sex marriage to polygamy may arise from the fact that there is already a case in federal court challenging Utah’s anti-bigamy law as unconstitutional.  In any event, she should be just as concerned about this question after oral argument as she was before it, because none of Olson’s distinctions can reasonably justify a prohibition on polygamy if the Court finds a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. To see why, it’s first useful to note a crucial distinction that Olson overlooked, as well as the most famous Supreme Court case regarding polygamy, which he failed to mention.

Olson’s words to the Court suggest that the state somehow “forbids” same-sex marriage today just as it “forbids” polygamy. This is not true, as Adam MacLeod noted on Public Discourse earlier this week. Under current law and Supreme Court precedent, no state has constitutional authority to punish anyone for entering into a same-sex relationship. No state in fact “prohibits” same-sex marriage. If any persons wish to enter into such a relationship and call it a marriage, they are perfectly free to do so.

The real issue, the real complaint in the case that Olson represents, is that the state simply refuses to bestow on same-sex unions the same recognition that it gives to heterosexual marriages. In stark contrast, the law in many American jurisdictions not only refuses to recognize polygamous marriages; it actively punishes them. Enter into a same-sex marriage and the government will simply ignore you. Enter into a polygamous marriage and the law permits the government to prosecute you for a crime.

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Unlike the distinctions Olson raised, this one is real, and it positively undermines his assurance that we can have same-sex marriage while still banning polygamy. Common sense makes it hard to see how this could be done. In Olson’s view, the state may not officially prefer heterosexual marriage by a policy so mild that it does nothing other than to leave same-sex couples alone while declining to formally recognize their unions. By what reasoning, then, could it have a right to prefer some definition of marriage by actually punishing those who choose to disregard it?

Moreover, in his summary of what the Supreme Court has “said” about polygamy, Olson omitted to mention the single most famous case dealing with this question, Reynolds v. United States (1879). In that case the Court upheld the federal law forbidding polygamy in the territories of the United States, and declined to find that the free exercise clause immunizes those who practice it for religious reasons.

Most of the Court’s argument is dedicated to the original meaning of the Constitution’s religion clauses, but also noteworthy is its passing comment on the basis of the law in question, a basis that the Court at that time apparently found unquestionably legitimate: “Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe . . . and from the earliest history of England polygamy has been treated as an offense against society.”

Reynolds has never been overturned and indeed has been cited as an authority by the modern Supreme Court. In it the Court tells us straightforwardly the basis of laws prohibiting polygamy: moral disapproval of the practice. This raises a serious problem for the defenders of same-sex marriage.

A number of the Court’s precedents defending a “right of privacy” have already strongly undermined the idea that the majority’s moral convictions are a sufficient basis for law. If the Court finds a right to same-sex marriage, it will practically dismantle the whole concept of morals legislation. But if moral preference for heterosexual marriage cannot be a reasonable basis on which to afford it a formal recognition denied to other unions, then how can moral disapproval be a reasonable ground on which to forbid and punish polygamy?

Let us turn now from the distinctions Olson overlooked to the ones he emphasized. In the first place, Olson contended that polygamy raises serious concerns about “exploitation,” “abuse,” and “patriarchy” that aren’t relevant to same-sex marriage. Presumably he was referring to the “abuse” and “exploitation” of the children and perhaps wives of plural marriages. Yet, under the constitutional theory of marriage Olson has tried to sell, none of these considerations would be sufficient to forbid polygamy. Olson insists that marriage is a fundamental right. Standard Supreme Court doctrine holds that fundamental rights can only be infringed to defend a “compelling state interest” and that the regulations made to protect that interest must be drawn as narrowly as possible.

Everyone would concede that prevention of abuse and exploitation of children and wives is a compelling state interest. On the other hand, nobody would contend that such abuse and exploitation is the very essence of polygamy. After all, abuse and exploitation can be found in monogamous marriages, too. The most one could say is that these problems are dangers to which polygamous unions are more or less prone. In any case, under the “fundamental rights” doctrine on which Olson relies, the least restrictive means to remedy such dangers would be to recur to already existing laws punishing such abuse and exploitation, rather than going so far as to ban polygamy altogether.

Olson may also have been hinting that the state could reasonably fear that abuse and exploitation of children is more likely to arise in families where the children are not related by blood to all of their parents. This is a reasonable concern, but it could be raised just as easily in relation to same-sex marriages, where at best, only one parent can be biologically related to each child.

Similar problems arise if we consider Olson’s invocation of “patriarchy” as a justification for forbidding polygamy. We might ask: What’s wrong with patriarchy?

The most straightforward answer to this question that Olson could muster is that patriarchy is morally offensive in a liberal, egalitarian society. But, as we have seen, the case for a right to same-sex marriage depends on the Court’s willingness to expel moral sentiments as a basis for law. Or is the Court to hold that the things that offend traditional moral sensibilities are impermissible as bases for law while the things that offend progressive moral sensibilities are fine? This would be to reduce constitutional jurisprudence to naked partisanship and ideology.

Be that as it may, there is no necessary connection between patriarchy and polygamy, at least under the constitutional and legal regime now prevailing. Under the modern interpretation of the equal protection clause, any “right” to enter plural marriages would be held equally by men and women. It would not be a patriarchal right of some men to have multiple wives, but a right of both men and women to have multiple spouses of their own choosing.

Moreover, given the ease of access to divorce, there would be no serious reason to fear that women who entered plural marriages would be unable to escape from them if they found them unsatisfactory. And again, if the creation of a “right” to polygamy opened a social space in which some patriarchal subordination of women could develop, this problem could be corrected by legal remedies falling far short of banning polygamy entirely.

Olson also suggested that a ban on polygamy is made reasonable by certain technical and legal challenges that it raises, challenges involving “taxes,” “inheritance,” and “child custody.” Again, the distinction here between same-sex marriage and polygamy is underwhelming. Because same-sex marriages are prone, like polygamous marriages, to have children who are not biologically related to all of their parents, they are also prone to complications involving inheritance and child custody.

Perhaps by referring to “taxes” Olson meant to suggest that polygamous unions have a potential to produce enormous families and thus to drain federal revenues by entitling single families to hitherto unheard of numbers of tax deductions and credits. This fear, however, assumes that the standard polygamous union will feature one husband with many wives. This may not turn out to be the case. At any rate, as noted before, if marriage is a fundamental right in the way Olson’s words suggest, such problems would have to be remedied by the least-restrictive means, and mere reform of the tax provisions is far less restrictive than an outright ban on such marriages. (For example, dividing spousal benefits by the number of spouses.)

Finally, Olson argues that laws forbidding polygamy target behavior, while laws refusing to recognize same-sex marriage prohibit the exercise of a right based on people’s status. This distinction is entirely spurious. If laws against polygamy can be understood as targeting behavior, the same can just as easily be said about laws defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman.

Such laws refuse to bestow official recognition on a certain behavior—entering into a same-sex relationship—in which the state believes it has no vital interest. Conversely, if laws defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman can be viewed as singling out a specific class of people—gays—then anti-polygamy laws can equally be presented in the same sinister light: They refuse the right to marry to people of a certain status—polys—those who desire to marry multiple people.

As these reflections suggest, there is very good reason indeed to believe that the declaration of a “right” to same-sex marriage will set us on the path to polygamy. To allay these concerns, the proponents of same-sex marriage sometimes respond that they are only seeking what married heterosexuals already have: access to marriage understood as a union of two people. But this reassurance utterly misses the point: All the arguments by which they seek that end can easily be turned to the purposes of those who might next seek polygamy.

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). This article reprinted with permission from The Public Discourse.


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Medical staff arrested in India after accidentally aborting baby at 8 months

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By Thaddeus Baklinski

A doctor and a nurse at a prominent private hospital in India have been arrested after they allegedly administered abortion drugs to a eight-months pregnant accidentally, resulting in the death of her unborn child.

"We have immediately registered a case and arrested the doctor, whose negligent act has caused this," said South Jammu Superintendent of Police Rahul Malik, according to the Hindustan Times.

The woman's husband, Rakesh Sharma, told the paper that the doctor mistook Shruti Sharma for another patient who was scheduled for an abortion at the JK Medicity Hospital in Jammu on Friday afternoon.

Shruti had gone to the hospital after her gynecologist advised a routine medical examination to safeguard her and her baby's health.

Rakesh alleged that the doctor gave his wife the abortion pills without consulting her medical records. “Doctors and paramedical staff instead of administering glucose, gave her abortion medicine, which was actually meant for another patient,” he said.

"It is the worst case of negligence. I feel strongly that such hospitals should be closed. If this has happened to me today, tomorrow it can happen to any body else," Rakesh said.

While the JK Medicity's administration said it has launched an inquiry into the incident, a report from the Jagran Post stated that the district government has revoked the hospital's license.

"Jammu and Kashmir Government has ordered sealing of the private clinic after suspension of its license to operate in the wake of the incident," said Minister for Health and Medical Education Taj Mohiuddin according to the report.

National media have reported that the incident has brought illegal abortion practices in India to the attention of both the public and government officials.

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According to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, abortion is legal in India up to 20 weeks. However, the opinion of a second doctor is required if the pregnancy is past its 12th week, and abortion-inducing drugs such as mifepristone and misoprostol are allowed only by prescription up until the seventh week of pregnancy.

Moreover, abortions can be performed only in government licensed medical institutions by registered abortionists.

Indian Express reported that the accused in the incident, Dr Amarjeet Singh, practices ayurvedic medicine (traditional Hindu medicine) and is "unsuitable for carrying out abortions."

A video posted by IndiaTV shows the parents surrounded by family members and relatives at a protest outside the JK Medicity hospital where the group is demanding punishment for those involved in the death of the child.


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News editor fired for criticizing ‘gay Bible’, files complaint

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By Kirsten Anderson

The former editor-in-chief of Iowa’s Newton Daily News has filed a religious discrimination complaint after he was fired over a post on his private blog criticizing the pro-gay Queen James Bible.

The Bible revision was produced by homosexual activists who claim to have edited the eight most commonly cited verses against homosexual behavior “in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible.”

On his private blog, which has since been deactivated, Bob Eschliman wrote in April that “the LGBTQXYZ crowd and the Gaystapo” are trying to reword the Bible “to make their sinful nature ‘right with God.’”

After public outcry from homosexual activists, Shaw Media, which owns the paper, fired him on May 6.

In a statement the day of his firing, Shaw Media President John Rung said Eschliman’s “airing of [his opinion] compromised the reputation of this newspaper and his ability to lead it.”

“There will be some who will criticize our action, and mistakenly cite Mr. Eschliman’s First Amendment rights as a reason he should continue on as editor of the Newton Daily News,” Rung said.  “As previously stated, he has a right to voice his opinion. And we have a right to select an editor who we believe best represents our company and best serves the interests of our readers.”

Rung said the company has a duty “to advocate for the communities we serve” and that “to be effective advocates, we must be able to represent the entire community fairly.”

Eschliman, who has been writing professionally since 1998 and became editor-in-chief of the Newton Daily News in 2012, says that the company was aware of his personal blog when he was hired and never indicated it would be a problem for him to continue sharing his personal political and religious views.

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In his religious discrimination complaint against the company, filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), he says that he believes he was singled out for termination because of his Christian views concerning homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.”

“As a lifelong writer, I have maintained a personal blog on the Internet with some personal thoughts and writings,” Eschliman wrote. “Newton Daily News, my employer, never had a policy prohibiting personal blogging, Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media. In fact, my employer encouraged us to engage in social media on a personal level and I am aware of several employees of Newton Daily News who continue to blog and are still employed with Shaw Media.”

“There is no question that I was fired for holding and talking about my sincerely held religious beliefs on my personal blog during my off-duty time from the comfort of my own home,” Eschliman wrote. “Shaw Media directly discriminated against me because of my religious beliefs and my identity as an evangelical Christian who believes in Holy Scripture and the Biblical view of marriage.

“Moreover, Shaw Media announced that not only were they firing me based upon my religious beliefs, but that they would not hire or allow anyone to work at Shaw Media who holds religious beliefs similar to mine, which would include an automatic denial of any accommodation of those who share my sincerely held religious beliefs,” he added.

Neither Shaw Media nor the Newton Daily News have been willing to provide further comment to the press on the matter, citing pending litigation.

Matthew Whitaker, an attorney with Liberty Institute who is assisting Eschliman with his complaint, said the law is on his client’s side.

“No one should be fired for simply expressing his religious beliefs,” Whitaker said in a statement. “In America, it is against the law to fire an employee for expressing a religious belief in public.  This kind of religious intolerance by an employer has no place in today’s welcoming workforce.”

According to Whitaker, if the EEOC rules in Eschliman’s favor, Shaw Media could be forced to give him back pay, front pay, and a monetary settlement.


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If you find this filthy book in your home, burn it

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By Jonathon van Maren

I don’t believe in book-burnings, but for the 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy, I’ll make an exception. I prefer charred books to scarred people.

The 50 Shades of Grey Trilogy, for those of you living outside “civilization,” is a repulsive and poisonous stack of porn novels that celebrates the seduction and manipulation of an insecure girl by a powerful businessman who happens to like spending his recreational time engaging in what is now popularly known as “BDSM.” For those of you who are fortunate enough never to have heard of this glorification of sexual assault, the acronym stands for bondage, domination, sadism, and masochism. In 50 Shades of Grey, the man in question inflicts all sorts of pain on the girl, because he is a sadist, which used to be a bad thing. (How utterly confusing it is to see the “feminists” of Planned Parenthood and elsewhere celebrating this phenomenon—wasn’t domination something they sought to subvert? Didn’t bondage used to be something one wanted to be freed from? And sado-masochism—I could vomit.) And now this trash has been developed into a film, the trailer of which is all over Facebook.

50 Shades of Grey and the new “BDSM” phenomenon are nothing more than the celebration of pain, rape, and destruction.

A lot of people seem to be taken with these books, especially based on the number of people I’ve seen unashamedly reading it at airports. These porn novels are “hot,” many reviewers tell us confidently. Yes, hot as Hell and halfway there, I think.

Consider this, for just a moment: In a culture where broken families are often the norm, we have a generation of girls often growing up without fathers, never receiving the paternal love and affection that they need. Thus the famous “Daddy Issues” that so many comedy sitcoms repulsively mock, as if hurting girls seeking love and affection in all the wrong places is some sort of joke. Conversely, boys are also growing up without fathers, never having a positive male role model in the home to teach them how to treat women with love and respect. And what is teaching them how to treat girls? At an enormous rate, the answer is online pornography, which increasingly features vicious violence against girls and women. The average first exposure of boys to pornography is age eleven. It is an absolutely toxic mess—insecure and hurting girls seek love from boys who have been taught how to treat them by the most vicious of pornography.

Introduce into this situation a book, written by a woman, glorifying the idea that girls should expect or even enjoy pain and torture inside of a sexual relationship. How does a girl, insecure and unsure, know what to think? The culture around her now expects her not to need a safe relationship, but a “safe word” to employ in case her sadist partner gets a bit too carried away in the pain-making. Boys who might never have dreamed of asking a girl to subject herself to such pain and humiliation are now of course emboldened to request or even expect this fetishized sexual assault as a matter of course in a relationship. After all, much of pornography now features this degradation of girls and women, and a woman wrote a book celebrating such things. It might seem sadistic and rapey, but hey, sexual freedom has allowed us to celebrate “bondage” and sexual liberation has allowed us to liberate our darkest demons from the recesses of our skulls and allow them out to play in the bedroom. Boys used to get taught that they shouldn’t hit girls, but now the culture is telling them that it’s actually a turn-on.

I genuinely feel sorry for many teenage girls trying to navigate the new, pornified dating landscape. I genuinely feel sorry for the legions of fatherless boys, exposed to pornography before they even had a chance to realize what it was, enfolded by the tentacles of perverted sexual material before they even realize what, exactly, they are trifling with. It brings to mind something C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Wouldn't it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men start going wild inside, like the animals here, and still look like men, so that you'd never know which were which.”

50 Shades of Grey and the new “BDSM” phenomenon are nothing more than the celebration of pain, rape, and destruction. Find out if the “sex educators” in your area are pushing this garbage, and speak out. Join campaigns to make sure that promotion of this filth isn’t being funded by your tax dollars. And if you find these books in your home, burn them.


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