POLYGAMY AND CIVIL RIGHTS
The right to practice polygamy is considered to be the next civil rights battle and many individuals and groups are working to have anti-polygamy laws struck down as unconstitutional.
In the U.S., pro-polygamy forces have many supporters — legally, academically and culturally:
Polygamy is supported in principle by the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Libertarian Party.
In a 2004 commentary in USA Today, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said anti-polygamy laws are hypocritical and that Green’s 2001 bigamy conviction was “simply a matter of unequal treatment under the law.”
Georgia State University professor Patricia Dixon interviewed numerous polygamous families who live in three black (U.S.) communities: African Hebrew Israelite, Ausar Auset Society and African American Muslim. In her book, We Want for Our Sisters What We Want for Ourselves (2002), Ms. Dixon concluded that polygyny, in which one man co-partners with many women, can be quite advantageous for women when it’s practiced openly and with consent, The women in these communities would “really appreciate” having polygamy rights, “Not having a legal license [as a second or third wife] causes a lot of anxiety.”
“Polygamy rights is the next civil rights battle” has become the motto of a Christian group that believes in “freely consenting, adult, non-abusive, marriage-committed polygamy”. Mark Henkel, founder of http://www.TruthBearer.org website, has said: “There’s no doubt about it, we are next. Liberals and feminists have to be pro-polygamy because of their tolerance doctrine and belief in a woman’s right to choose, which certainly includes ‘the right to choose polygamy’. The goal… is to convince conservatives, especially Christians, that ‘consenting adult’ polygamy is biblical and valuable, both to society and to individual men and women. Opposition to polygamy will come crashing down … like a house of cards.”
“We’ve got some judicial activists all over the country, especially on the 9th Circuit [Court of Appeals], who would probably be ready, willing and able to include polygamy as a constitutional right,” says Jan LaRue, legal specialist at Concerned Women for America.
An estimated 30,000 to 80,000 families are living polygamously in the United States, including hundreds of Laotian Hmongs in Minnesota and thousands of fundamentalist Mormons in Arizona and Utah.
Individual citizens, who are starting to wonder why polygamy is a crime, ask the following kinds of questions?
o If consenting adults who prefer polygamy can do everything else a husband and wife can do—have sex, live together, buy property, and bring up children jointly — why should they be prohibited from legally committing themselves to the solemn duties that attach to marriage? How is society worse off if these informal relationships are formalized and pushed toward permanence?
o Why is it a crime for an upstanding, tax-paying legal U.S. citizen who chooses to legally marry one wife and they solemnize, in a religious ceremony only, a relationship with another consenting adult? All parties are adults capable of making this decision and willing to live with each other in this scenario freely. I thought the protection of religious choices and the privacy of intimate, personal relationships between consenting adults were upheld by the U.S. Constitution?
o Isn’t it funny that a married man can legally have a mistress, children out of wedlock and that, without the knowledge or consent of his legal wife, sleep with other women – or men for that matter – and the legal system looks the other way? Yet, a spiritual man who believes it’s wrong to have marital relations outside the sanctity of God’s holy ordinance, and without the permission or knowledge of his legal wife, is a criminal if he lives a polygamous lifestyle.
Polygamy was outlawed in the U.S. during Colonial days, when Mormon pioneers in Utah wished for Utah to become a state. When Mormon pioneers moved to areas of western Canada, the Government of Canada also created anti-polygamy legislation.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected polygamy in its 1879 decision in Reynolds v. United States, which said government can enforce anti-polygamy laws even if they run counter to people’s religious beliefs.
Utah’s Constitution outlaws polygamy “forever” and, in 2001, the state’s anti-polygamy laws were upheld when Thomas Green, a fundamentalist Mormon man with five wives, was sent to prison for bigamy and related crimes.
In recent years, the U.S. federal government and 40 states have passed Defense of Marriage Acts and/or constitutional amendments that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
“Why is this a crime?” by Janie Miller The Salt Lake Tribune May 23, 2006
“The Marriage of Many” by Cheryl Wetzstein The Washington Times December 11, 2005
“Polygamy Is ‘Next Civil Rights Battle,’ Activists Say” by Randy Hall Staff Writer/Editor, CNSNews.com, March 16, 2006 http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewCulture.asp?Page=%5CCulture%5Carchive%5C200603%5CCUL20060316a.html