I Wed Thee . . . and Thee . . . and Thee
October 18, 2004
by Kay S. Hymowitz
Same-sex marriage advocates tend to jeer at the argument that allowing such unions will open a smorgasbord of marital practices. They insist that what interests them is not to transform the institution radically but only to welcome their homosexual friends, neighbors and relatives to its benefits. A few recent developments suggest that they're dead wrong.
Consider a recent USA Today op-ed by Jonathan Turley, making the case that the time has come for polygamous marriage to receive constitutional protection. However misguided, Mr. Turley is no bomb thrower. He is a professor at Georgetown University, a prolific scholar, and appears frequently on television as a legal expert. Here, he simply underscores two points that homosexual advocates play down.
First, that the Supreme Court's 2003 Lawrence decision, striking down anti-sodomy laws, "recognized the constitutional right to engage in any form of consensual sexual relation," presumably including multiple partners. And second -- and somewhat more plausibly given that Lawrence is about private sexual practices and says nothing about marriage -- that Reynolds v. U.S., the 1878 Supreme Court decision that upheld a ban on polygamy in the United States territories, is so filled with racist innuendo and cavalier attitudes about religious freedom that it would be unlikely to pass muster today.
Mr. Turley isn't just playing an intellectual parlor game. Polygamy advocacy groups -- and yes, Virginia, they do exist -- have been following the progress of the homosexual marriage debate as closely as the Iranian mullahs are following our presidential election. "Polygamy is the next civil rights battle," is the motto on the Pro-polygamy.com Web site, a "Christian polygamy" group. (Christian polygamists are conservative evangelicals who base their beliefs on the Old and New Testaments; by contrast, Mormons cite extra-biblical revelations of their founding prophet Joseph Smith.) A Mormon group, "Principle Voices of Polygamy," is "encouraging empowerment of individuals and families from the polygamous culture to secure for themselves equal representation and civil rights."
More disturbing still, several legal cases pleading the cause of polygamy are already in motion. In Bronson v. Swensen, a Utah threesome has filed suit against the Salt Lake County Clerk's office for denying them a marriage license. Their attorney, who, like Mr. Turley, specializes in civil rights cases, argues that if Texas cannot criminalize sodomy, Utah should not be able to criminalize polygamy -- though again, why the right to commit sodomy implies anything about marriage, let alone marriage with multiple or same-sex partners, is unclear. In another case, Tom Green, facing a prison sentence because he was "married" to four women (though he never sought a license with any of them), is appealing to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the state has violated his religious freedom.
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Same-sex marriage supporters often make a powerful case by pointing, say, to the man denied the chance to say goodbye to his dying lover or to the faces of beaming gay "newlyweds" in Massachusetts. Opponents, on the other hand, fretting about "undermining society's bedrock institution," have had to labor in the realm of abstract argument. That may be about to change.
Ms. Hymowitz, author of "Liberation's Children: Parents and Kids in a Postmodern Age " (published last month by Ivan R. Dee), is a contributing editor at City Journal, from whose forthcoming issue this is adapted.
Corrections & Amplifications:
Jonathan Turley is a professor at George Washington University. This commentary by Kay S. Hymowitz misstated his university affiliation.
©2004 The Wall Street Journal
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