Now that same sex marriage is here to stay, a new front in the marriage wars seems ready to open. A George W. Bush-appointed judge in Utah has struck down important parts of the state’s anti-polygamy law, though for now at least it is still illegal to have more than one valid marriage license at the same time. The New York Times reports:
Judge Clark Waddoups of United States District Court in Utah ruled late Friday that part of the state’s law prohibiting “cohabitation” — the language used in the law to restrict polygamous relationships — violates the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion, as well as constitutional due process. He left standing the state’s ability to prohibit multiple marriages “in the literal sense” of having two or more valid marriage licenses. […]“To state the obvious,” Judge Waddoups wrote, “the intervening years have witnessed a significant strengthening of numerous provisions of the Bill of Rights.” They include, he wrote, enhancements of the right to privacy and a shift in the Supreme Court’s posture “that is less inclined to allow majoritarian coercion of unpopular or disliked minority groups,” especially when “religious prejudice,” racism or “some other constitutionally suspect motivation can be discovered behind such legislation.”
During the controversy over gay marriage, activists pooh-poohed the idea that the same arguments that would allow gay marriage would open the door to other redefinitions of the institution. That position seems a little less tenable today. If the state doesn’t have the right to regulate the gender of the partners in a marital relationship, what gives it the right to regulate the number of freely consenting partners (or their genders) in such a relationship? And doesn’t limiting legal sanction to only one marriage discriminate against religions which regard plural marriage as a sacred bond?We don’t know where this is going to come out, and it appears to us that American society is launching into unknown waters. Marriage is the foundation of any society; it will be interesting, and perhaps from time to time alarming, to see how America changes as we tinker with the basic framework of our social life.Frankly, we’d feel much better about the whole thing if old fashioned marriage and the traditional family were in good shape. They are not, at least for increasing numbers of the people in the socio-economic zone where stable family life makes the biggest difference between poverty and insecurity on the one hand and a shot at a better life for mothers and their kids in particular on the other.As a society we seem to suffer from what CS Lewis called the “horror and neglect of the obvious,” rushing around frantically to paint the trim on our ship while ignoring the tedious iceberg looming straight ahead.