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Breaking: Federal Judge Strikes Down Utah’s Anti-Polygamy Law

by Eric Ethington on December 13, 2013

in Eric Ethington,Legal Issues,Marriage,News

Post image for Breaking: Federal Judge Strikes Down Utah’s Anti-Polygamy Law

There could not be a stranger moment in time. Amidst the excitement and celebration of the fifteenth and sixteenth states to pass marriage equality, and the historic passing of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) through the U.S. Senate, in the remote Western state of Utah, a federal District Court judge has just ruled part of that state’s ban on polygamy is unconstitutional.

The 91 page ruling from Judge Clark Waddoups marks the first time ever a United States judge has sided on the side of polygamy.

Jonathan Turley, lead counsel in the case brought forward by the stars of the TLC show “Sister Wives,” announced the ruling Friday in a blog post, calling it a victory equivalent to Brown v. Board of Education, and Lawrence v. Texas.

And here I am, left wondering if the comparisons between polygamy and the hard-fought freedoms the LGBT community has recently achieved are actually comparable.

We’ve heard the comparisons for years, “Gay Marriage leads to polygamy, bestiality and pedophilia!” How many times have those words dripped from the mouths of people like Brian Brown, Tony Perkins, Peter LaBarbera, and Rick Warren?

The potential legalization of polygamy calls into question everything we know and think of in marriage. The very thought of polygamy is rank with images of 55-year old men marrying 12-year old girls, of trapped teenagers beaten and killed for trying to escape polygamist compounds in the deserts of Utah and Texas.

So what are the implications of this ruling? Is it going to become the latest sideshow for those culture warriors against equality to hold up as supposed proof that they were right?

To put it plainly, yes it is.

What’s important to remember are the simple and fundamental truths. The struggle for same-sex marriage has only been, and will continue to only be about one thing: equality—that joyful little word that fills our hearts and keeps us pushing. It’s about leveling the playing field and being able to say without any doubt that no other human being in our country has rights that we do not. We were born Gay, or Lesbian, or Bisexual, or Trans*, and we will always be so. We have every bit the same right to marry the person we fall in love with that our neighbors have.

Polygamy? It’s not an innate characteristic, it’s a choice. The struggle for polygamy is not about equality, but about privacy. It’s a fight to keep government away from the choices of consenting adults. It’s an important distinction to make.

Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about polygamy. On one hand I’ve always felt that the government shouldn’t be in the business of legitimizing or sanctifying any marriages. On the other hand, polygamy actually is a redefinition of marriage, and frequently used as an excuse for abuse and persecution of women and children.

But however you feel about it, as the nation no-doubt erupts in Utah/Mormon/Polygamy jokes over the next few days, it’s important to speak out about the differences between equality and privacy.

We only want what everyone else already has. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

Image via Sister Wives on Facebook

Follow author Eric Ethington on Twitter @EricEthington

Eric Headshot with brickEric Ethington has been specializing in political messaging, communications strategy, and public relations for more than a decade. Originally hailing from Salt Lake City, he now works in Boston for a social justice think tank. Eric’s writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Telegraph, and The Public Eye magazine. He’s worked as a radio host, pundit, blogger, activist and electoral campaign strategist. He also writes

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mjsimmons December 14, 2013 at 12:00 am

It will be interesting to see how this breaks down over time. I am inclined to go the route that this is not so much Marriage equality, as it is the choice of adults who are making a conscience choice of who they love and choose to live with, with out any stigma attached.

peterblaise December 14, 2013 at 3:31 am

… and respect from we-the-people's self-governance for whatever "contract" the married people come up with …

Mykelbarber December 14, 2013 at 12:02 am

Polygamy is definitively bible based marriage. I don't know how well it works but I do know that in other parts of the world where it is legal, all spouses must be treated equally in economic terms. How well that will turn out in the US is a matter for time to determine. I see couples with 4 jobs between them that can barely make ends meet.

1snafu2 December 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

Yes, this should make those "Biblical definition" people happy, as it follows the Biblical model, While marriage pre-dates Christianity, and is by no means the "property" of no religion or social group, and while the Bible doesn't "define" marriage, this certainly is what is described in the Bible.

D.Henderson-Rinehart December 14, 2013 at 3:05 am

According to the decision, the polygamy ban was explicitly upheld as valid. The part that was struck down, as far as I can tell, was the part that also prohibited a legally married person from "purporting" to marry another person, e.g. having a marriage ceremony, holding yourself out to the community as also being married to the other person, or co-habiting with both spouses at the same time (the legal and the not).

In this case, there is only one marriage license, between the man and one of the women. The other women do not have any legal relationship with anybody else. So this court said that they weren't breaking the law by living together and claiming to be the wives of the man, but it also said that they couldn't be his legal wives.

peterblaise December 14, 2013 at 3:33 am

… I look forward to a 5-way divorce with dozens of kids and visitation rights and property and inheritance decisions — that will be way more than 91 page$, eh?

colonelkira December 14, 2013 at 6:25 am

You would think someone this attached to the campaign would know better than to call it same sex marraige!

lmburris December 14, 2013 at 7:35 am

Sorry but your arguments against and opinions of polygamy sound exactly like every other person against same sex marriages.

BJLincoln December 14, 2013 at 7:58 am

It's all our fault. We, LGBT people, want to be treated equally because of our innate natural born orientation. That has opened the door as told to us from the extremist, for all kinds of other arrangements. Because the other arrangements are all about choice and not innate qualities, I don't see where they connect but it is still our fault.

1snafu2 December 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

No, it isn't the same. While "marriage" in the Bible is with multiple wives, it's within the power of the Federal Government to restrict the benefits to one partner, which the ruling seems to allow. 20 people can go through a "religious" ceremony, but that isn't recognition by governments. Not the same thing at all really.

JohnW6 December 14, 2013 at 9:18 am

The judge did not "Strike Down Utah's Anti-Polygamy Law", as the article's headline misleading states. The judge found that the portion of the law that prohibits cohabitation with other individuals outside of the one legal marriage was vague, overbroad, and interfered with freedom of association. Utah's prohibition of polygamy stands. The cause of marriage equality is only harmed by reporting that fails to accurately report the limited scope of the finding.

PSzymeczek December 17, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Utah's polygamy law was put into place by their legislature as a condition of Utah's being awarded statehood.

HeatherADK December 14, 2013 at 10:25 am

I believe that, although there is definitely a difference between sexual identity and polygamy, it ALL boils down to one very key, common element: the freedom to choose whom we love and wish to spend our life with. Period. It doesn't matter whether I choose to marry someone of the same sex or to marry two men should be MY decision and MINE alone. Both situations, however, need to follow obvious guidelines; everyone involved must be a consenting adult. I think the assumption that polygamy automatically equates child brides forced into marriage is every bit as offensive as the ignorant belief that homosexuality automatically equates to child molestation. As with the homosexuals who actually are child molesters (just as there are straight ones) give the rest of us a bad name, so do the cults that perpetrate taking child brides, molestation, etc.

A few years ago, I would have painted all polygamists with a picture of worst-case scenario as the norm. One day, however, my fiance was watching the family you picture above on Sister Wives. I sat down, fully expectation to dislike and belittle these folks (yeah, I'm NOT proud of myself), but what I found was a family. A nonconventional family, but a family nonetheless. They are respectful, intelligent, loving people. Are they perfect? Nope. Is their relationship perfect? No, is yours? But they are a family that I would be proud to know. The more I watched the show, the more I realized that these real, normal people were living a life surprisingly parallel to mine; they strive to be the best people they can be, yet they face unfounded discrimination on a daily basis. They don't request or force others to confirm to their beliefs, they only ask that we don't persecute them for their life (they don't even force their children follow their example.) They try to go about living and enjoying their lives, never knowing when hate is going to strike. I truly don't understand how we, as a community fighting for the right to live our lives as we wish, can possibly not embrace their right to be happy -because doing so does NOT mean that we have a choice as to our orientation; it simply said that we all, as intelligent, consenting adults should have the right to a life that we desire.

drwhofan001 December 14, 2013 at 11:39 am

So as a woman if I want 5 husbands it okay now?

peterblaise December 14, 2013 at 12:59 pm

If you are a man, none of those marriages would be recognized in many states.

If you are a woman … wait, are you Elizabeth Taylor?

I know, I know, you mean "… 5 husbands at the same time …" — go ahead, but don't expect the IRS to respect a married tax filing with 6 signatures yet.

My point is that our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness should not be crimped for the convenience of keeping bureaucratic paperwork simple for GS5 government employees as if they had superior rights over the self determination of we the people.

I do wonder when Sun Myung Moon married 500 couples all at once in a stadium, if they translated his Korean accurately — maybe he married them all to each other in one big happy family!

soulaar December 25, 2013 at 1:51 pm

In polyamory its perfectly okay.

confectionink December 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I have to just chime in and say… Polygamy shouldn't be compared to bestiality or underage marriage anymore than same sex marriage should. If all parties are willing, consenting ADULTS it is vastly different than say a dog or a child that can not comprehend marriage let alone give consent and agree to it.
Also, I understand that a lot of polyamy is religion based, but their are many polygamist and poly amorous families everywhere that choose not to live monogamy for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

peterblaise December 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm

there, not their

confectionink December 14, 2013 at 1:07 pm

haha… true story!

lorimakes December 14, 2013 at 12:57 pm

While this report isn't alone in stating "judge strikes down anti-polygamy law" it still isn't correct. Only the portion referring to cohabitation has been struck down and that is an obvious failure of the intent since it could apply to many situations that have nothing to do with marriage. No doubt anti-marriage equality folks will go to town with this but there's really nothing there.

I couldn't care less if someone engages in any kind of alternative marriage form. However, I do think a long-term marriage contract shouldn't be entered into before one is capable of making such a long-term, wide effect decision, like at about age 25 when the brain is finished developing. Enh, as ever, too much religion involved to come up with a sensible way to establish next-of-kin and joint assets.

Katharine Bressler December 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

What about polyandry? Is that legal, too? What's good for the gander is good for the goose!

thnidu December 15, 2013 at 12:14 am

If the report is accurate, that's already in there, since polygamy is one person having more than one SPOUSE. The converse of polyandry is polygyny ("pol-IJ-in-ee"), which is specifically a man's having multiple wives. ( "the state or practice of having more than one wife or female mate at a time — compare polyandry, polygamy")

RevDrJEBateau December 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Though you may not have reported accurately the potions of the Utah law regarding polygamy that the judge found fault with (and it was the portions having to do with cohabitation, not with polygamy itself, the marriage of multiple partners, and the prohibitions against marrying more than one person will continue to stand), you did make a perfectly valid and outstanding explanation that people should always remember when distinguishing what the issue at hand for the LGBT community is all about, and that is equality. To be on equal footing in all ways with every one else in society, with our siblings, our neighbors, the kids we attend school with, etc. For all of our lives we have not been equal, and we have known this, and whether or not we acknowledge it, it has hurt us. I don't like to admit it, but it hurt. I had the student council fight our school administration for my right to bring my boyfriend to the senior prom. Why should they have to do that? Though I appreciated the support, even though the bum refused to go with me because he felt "uncomfortable", they should not have had to fight them over this. It should have been a given that I could bring anyone that I wanted to. Why indeed should it have been different? I did not enjoy all of the same activities that all of the others were enjoying – their first date, the senior prom, or double dating, any of those things that you can think of that are typical and standard growth experiences for that period in a teenagers life. Because I was Gay, I was left out of all of that. We have to change, the od way of hiding one's sexuality, instead of normalizing the experiences and helping a young person to adjust to those differences, frequently lead to suicide attempts or completed suicide. We have got to change. If we legalize marriage rights, we go a long way towards normalizing the lives of LGBT people throughout the country. But the right to marry a single individual of your choice is a long way, a great huge giant step away from trying to marry a busload of them. Never let the two issues get confused. It is a real far cry from trying to have sex with animals, who cannot consent to sex, by virtue of not being a sentient species. And it surely has nothing at all to do with pedophelia, the criminal act of forcing sex on children, who are not sexual beings at all, I don't care how hard someone tries to argue it. Children cannot consent to sex because they have no conception of sex. They are not sexual beings. They are innocent of any ideas or concepts of what that is all about. Any thoughts or ideas that are put onto them are mere projections from the mind of an adult, and not coming from a child at all. And it should remain in the criminal class, as should bestiality. So you have argued well for equality, and I want to thank you.

4simpleliving December 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm

This was on the horizon with marriage equality. Frankly, I don't necessarily think it's on a par with LGBT equality, there one huge parallel. These folks live not only in the closet from their community but from the law as well. One marriage will be recognized while the many other numerous pairings are not. That denies many of what same sex partners are looking for, legal decisions. If a man has 5 wives but only one can visit him as he's dying in the ICU… there's a problem. Many times these other family members are living on welfare and food stamps. Legal marriage give legal entitlement but also legal accountability – no more living off the system, no more child brides. If this is how you choose to live and all partners are agreeable (and of age) go for it. Making it legal takes it out of the shadows.

labman57 December 14, 2013 at 9:09 pm

How do the sister wives (and spouse) feel about gay marriage?
"Marriage freedom for me, yet none for thee"

LOrion December 14, 2013 at 9:34 pm

PLEASE EVERYONE TAKE A DEEP BREATH… This was NOT a Polygamy law… even in UTAH bigamy is ILLEGAL and prosecuted…So they wrote the law to allow ‘COHABITATION’ of more than two people. Which the Federal Judge said was clearly LEGAL! SEE NY TIMES piece

thomascwaters December 14, 2013 at 10:19 pm

I find this post very disappointing. I've written a more thorough commentary on my own blog:

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