I think the world of The New Civil Rights Movement, but Eric Ethington’s post today about the recent court ruling regarding polygamy in Utah was a glaring example of one of the problems with the Marriage Equality agenda. Please don’t misunderstand, I’m 150% in favor of marriage equality, but I’ve been irked by some of the wacky illogical thinking and reasoning used to promote this legal change.
First, some important background. Individuals associated with the television show “Sister Wives” filed a suit claiming that the Utah law that outlawed polygamy was wrong, and a Federal Court judge recently ruled, that yes, the basis of that law was unconstitutional. If you don’t know much about how or why polygamy became unconstitutional, here are some links: here and here.
The anti-LGBTQ folks have used a scare tactic all along claiming that granting gays and lesbians any rights at all was the start of a slippery slope which would end civilization as we know it and soon polygamy, bestiality and a host of other things would soon be legal. Ethington’s uses his column to try and distance Marriage Equality from this recent court ruling, because you and I both know it, some on the Far Right are going to have a field day with this one. Ethington is right to claim that same-sex marriage is not the slippery slope which will lead to polygamy. But he is dead wrong as he tries to paint one as a redefinition of marriage and the other not.
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.
But the legalization of polygamy is not connected to this ruling in any way. Rather, this ruling deals with Utah’s law regarding bigamy. Here is a more accurate description from the Utah Political Capitol:
In the decision, the court found that Utah’s bigamy law, which was the states primary polygamy law, was too broad when it included cohabitation. The law currently reads that “ A person is guilty of bigamy when, knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife, the person purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.”
By including cohabitation in its bigamy law, the court concluded, the state cast too wide a net—as a married person could, under Utah law, be guilty if bigamy if they lived with another individual for an extended period of time, even if the individual was still in a monogamous relationship with another individual. The law left no room for long-term stays or an estranged husband sleeping on a friend’s couch.
The court also noted that recently other courts have agreed that it is not the state’s place to criminalize relationships or the activities within those relations. Consenting adults, the court argues, are allowed to engage in whatever relationships they so choose and should not become criminals simply for engaging in those relationships. By preventing the Browns, or any other polygamous relationship, from taking place, the state is violating the Fourteenth Amendment right to liberty, free of intrusion from the government according to the court.
Kody Brown, who is only legally married to Meri, made no attempts to legally marry his other wives and made no attempts to defraud other individuals or the state in regards to this fact.
To this end, the court reemphasized the fact that the state has an important role in regulating marriage, but only in the legal sense. The state, the court says, can not justify setting down legal restrictions to those who stray away from a traditional structure so long as other harm is not being done. Cases of incest, rape, intercourse with a minor, and domestic or child abuse are outside of this general statement, and laws independent of Utah’s bigamy law address such crimes.
The judge’s ruling regarding the bigamy law surrounds the rights of individuals to form and participate in relationships. LGBTQ persons have been forming relationships for ever. Marriage Equality doesn’t provide us the right to form relationships, rather it allows for the legal recognition of a primary relationship between two persons in regards to legal rights and responsibilities.
Most obnoxious in Ethington’s rationale is this:
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.
Does that sound familiar- the attempted use of the notion of choice to draw a line between who should and shouldn’t b e allowed to marry, or who does and doesn’t deserve rights?
Ethington wants to separate the issue of polygamy and marriage equality by claiming that one is about privacy and the other is about equality, a truly fallacious argument. Privacy- remember how that is connected to LGBTQ Rights in terms of sodomy? Privacy and Equality are connected. Both are rights granted to us all.
Ethington is afraid. One understood path towards full marriage equality revolves around masses of straight people coming to believe that women and men who want to marry a same-sex partner are just like them. In other words that we queers buy into conventional monogamy. Ethington needs us to be as horrified of non-traditional relationships as the conservatives are. But a more prominent path to full equality revolves around the true basis of equality.
I don’t believe Ethington needs to worry. This judge’s ruling doesn’t allow polygamy and there is no truth to the myth that marriage equality will lead to polygamy. A tradition of polygamy is more connected to a past-era notion of a patriarchal domination where a woman becomes the property of a husband and he can have as many properties as he chooses. That notion of unbridled control over women has no basis in a constitutional right to marry. Most everyone knows that.