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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Lisa Bourne

‘You can’t have’ marriage equality ‘without polygamy’

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Motivated by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing homosexual “marriage,” a Montana polygamist has filed for a second marriage license, so he can be legally wed to two women at once.

"It's about marriage equality," said Nathan Collier, using homosexual advocates’ term to support marriage redefinition. "You can't have this without polygamy."

Collier, who has has appeared on the TLC reality show Sister Wives with his legal wife Victoria, and his second wife Christine, said he was inspired by the dissent in the Supreme Court decision.

The minority Supreme Court justices said in Friday’s ruling it would open the door to both polygamy and religious persecution.

“It is striking how much of the majority’s reasoning would apply with equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts.

Collier and his wives applied for a second marriage license earlier this week at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, a report from the Salt Lake Tribune said.

Collier, who was excommunicated from the Mormon Church for polygamy, married Victoria in 2000 and had a religious wedding ceremony with Christine in 2007. The three have seven children between them and from previous relationships.

"My second wife Christine, who I'm not legally married to, she's put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy," Collier said.

Yellowstone County officials initially denied the application before saying they would consult with the County Attorney and get him a final answer.

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Bigamy, the holding of multiple marriage licenses, is illegal all 50 states, but Collier plans to sue if his application is denied. Officials expect to have an answer for him next week.

While homosexual “marriage” supporters have long insisted legalization of same-sex unions would not lead to polygamy, pro-life and family advocates have warned all along it would be inevitable with the redefinition of marriage.

“The next court cases coming will push for polygamy, as Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his dissent,” said Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, after the Supreme Court ruling. “The chief justice said “the argument for polygamy is actually stronger than that for ‘gay marriage.’ It’s only a matter of time.”

In a piece from the Washington Times, LifeSiteNews Editor-in-Chief and the co-founder of Voice of the Family John-Henry Westen stated the move toward legal polygamy is “just the next step in unraveling how Americans view marriage.”

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Chris Christie: Clerks must perform same-sex ‘marriages’ regardless of their religious beliefs

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By Ben Johnson

TRENTON, NJ, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Chris Christie is not known for nuance. This time, he has turned his fiery personality loose on county clerks and other officials who have religious objections to performing same-sex “marriages.”

In a tone usually reserved for busting teachers' unions, Christie told clerks who hold traditional values, “You took the job, and you took the oath.” He would offer no exemption for an individual whose conscience would not allow him to participate in a union the vast majority of the world's religions deem sinful.

“When you go back and re-read the oath it doesn’t give you an out. You have to do it,” he said.

He told a reporter that there “might” be “individual circumstances” that “merit some examination, but none that come immediately to mind for me.”

“I think for folks who are in the government world, they kind of have to do their job, whether you agree with the law or you don’t,” the pugnacious governor said.

Since the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to legalize homosexual “marriage” last Friday, elected officials have grappled with how to safeguard the rights of those who have deeply held religious beliefs that would not allow them to participate in such a ceremony.

Christie's response differs markedly from other GOP hopefuls' responses to the Supreme Court ruling. Mike Huckabee, for instance, has specifically said that clerks should have conscience rights. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal signed an executive order granting such rights and ordered clerks to wait until a pending court case was fully adjudicated before any clerk issues a marriage license to a homosexual couple.

Christie gave up a legal appeal after a superior court judge struck down his state's voter-approved constitutional marriage protection amendment. New Jersey is the only state where such a low court overturned the will of the voters.

The decision to ignore conscience rights adds to the growing number of Christie's positions that give conservatives pause.

The natural locus of support for a Christie 2016 presidential run is the Republican's socially liberal donor class, for personal as well as political reasons. His wife works on Wall Street, and some of the GOP's high-dollar donors – including Paul Singer – have courted Christie for years.

However, this year Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser degree Scott Walker have eclipsed Christie as the preferred candidates of the boardroom donors – who sometimes prefer Democrats to Republicans.

Christie also used language during a speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, which concerned some major GOP donors.

Christie is reportedly spending this weekend with Mitt Romney and his family at Romney's New Hampshire home. Romney declined to enter the 2016 race himself and may be able to open his donor list to Christie's struggling campaign.

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After having a girl with Down syndrome, this couple adopted two more

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By Ben Johnson

LINO LAKE, MN, July 3, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – For most people, having five biological children would have been enough. In fact, for many Americans, large families are treated as a scandal or a burden.

But one family made the decision, not just to have a large family, but to give a home to some of the most vulnerable children in the world: Girls born overseas with Down syndrome.

Lee and Karen Shervheim love all seven of their children, biological or otherwise. Undeterred by having twin boys – Daniel and Andrew, 18 – they had Sam four years later.

They now have three daughters who are all 11 years old. All three have Down syndrome.

And two of them are adopted.

About the time their eight-year-old son, David, was born, Lee and Karen decided to adopt a child with Down syndrome to be a companion to their daughter, Annie.

They made the further unexpected choice to adopt a child from Eastern Europe with the help of Reece's Rainbow, which helps parents adopt children with Down syndrome.

“Between my wife and I, we couldn’t get it out of our heads,” Lee told the Quad City Press. “So many children need families and we knew we could potentially do something about it.”

After originally deciding to adopt Katie, they spent six weeks in Kiev, visiting an orphanage in nearby Kharkov. While there, they decided they may have room in their heart, and their home, for another child.

When they saw a picture of Emie striking the same pose as their biological daughter in one of their photographs, they knew they would come home with two children.

Both girls were the same age as their Annie. She would not lack for companionship, as they worried.

Lee said after the Ukrainian government – finally – completed the paperwork, they returned to the United States, when the real challenges began.

“The unvarnished truth,” Lee told the Press, is that adopting the Russian-speaking special needs children “was really disruptive to our family. They came with so many issues that we had not anticipated.”

After teaching them sign language and appropriate behavior, they moved to Lino Lake, Minnesota and found a new support group in Eagle Brook Church. There they found personal assistance and spiritual solace.

Every year in the past seven years has been better and better, they say.

“I think my girls can do almost anything they want to do,” he said, “and that’s what I want to help them become.”

The family's devotion is fueled by their faith, and it informs the sense of humor Lee showed in a tweet during the 2014 midterm elections:

It takes a special person to believe in the potential of the “mentally retarded,” as they were once labeled. Today, 90 percent of all babies diagnosed with Down syndrome in the womb will be aborted. The percentage is higher in some countries. Some have even spoken of "a world without people with Down syndrome."

Their God, and their experience, tell them that every child has infinite worth and potential, Lee told local media, and he would encourage anyone to follow his footsteps and adopt a Down syndrome child – or two.

“The message is that it really doesn’t matter where you started or where you came from,” Lee said. “There are endless opportunities for everyone, whether they have disabilities or not. They deserve a shot.”

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