Ben Johnson

Opinion

Washington Post faith reporter asks, ‘Why is polygamy so problematic?’

Ben Johnson
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WASHINGTON, D.C., October 10, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – As three states face ballot questions on whether to uphold the traditional definition of marriage between two members of the opposite sex, some in the national intelligentsia are looking forward to the next victory of the sexual revolution: polygamy.

The faith writer at The Washington Post asked in a recent column, if one believes marriage should sanction any affectionate arrangement that makes its parties happy, “Why is polygamy so problematic?”

John Witte Jr., a law professor and religion scholar Atlanta’s Emory University, has written in a forthcoming book on plural marriages that the case for legalizing polygamy rests on the same ground as that of homosexual unions.

“American states today, viewed together, already offer several models of state-sanctioned domestic life for their citizens: straight and gay marriage, contract and covenant marriage, civil union and domestic partnership,” he writes in the first chapter of a forthcoming work on polygamy. “And the parties can further tailor these built-in rights and duties through private prenuptial contracts. With so much marital pluralism and private ordering already available, why not add a further option — that of polygamous marriage?”

Lisa Miller, who writes the Post‘s “On Faith” column, wrote that she knows defending the indefensible can make libertines uncomfortable. “But really. If the purpose of marriage is to preserve personal happiness, protect and raise children, and create social stability through shared property and mutual obligation, then why is polygamy so problematic if it occurs among consenting adults?”

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Although she acknowledged society views the nuclear family as the ideal, “real life is far messier than that. Children are raised all the time by groups of adults: there are exes and steps, adoptive parents and biological, mistresses and wives.”

Playing on Hillary Clinton’s famous book, she asked, “Didn’t someone say it takes a village?”

After saying society is “messy,” Miller assures readers “people are living nice, quiet lives with their multiple, simultaneous partners.”

The late Chuck Colson estimated there are between 30,000 and 50,000 polygamists in the United States today, most fundamentalist members of the Mormon faith. 

Explicitly undermining the religious foundation of marriage law, Miller wrote that adherents of non-Christian religions, including the nation’s increasing Muslim population and the Hmong people, sanction polygamy. “Are they not entitled to freely practice their religion?”
 
Witte demurs, saying his research has shown him multiple concurrent marriages breed in-fighting and disharmony that make the home a less stable environment for children.

However, Witte has written that he rejects amendments protecting traditional marriage, instead urging both sides against “constitutional brinkmanship to force change on a reluctant majority or to close doors to a resilient minority.” 

Others believe his failure to defend marriage in law will fuel the rise of polygamy, which Witte says he opposes.

“If the immemorial taboo of heterosexual marriage is overcome, who and what will then stop other taboos, much less ancient, much less universal, from being abolished in turn?” Francois Lebel, Mayor of Paris’s 8th Arrondisement, asked. “For example: tomorrow, how will one oppose polygamy in France, a principle that is only taboo in Western civilization?” 

The argument, once unthinkable, is making headway in the West.

Officials in Brazil registered a three-person “stable union” this summer. 

In Canada, the polygamist debate has followed the legalization of same-sex unions, as a protracted legal debate in British Columbia threatened to overturn laws prohibiting plural marriage. The judge ultimately upheld the law.

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