Leave the Polygamists Alone?

What Women Really Think
July 22 2011 2:51 PM

Leave the Polygamists Alone?

sister wives
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Law professor Jonathan Turley wrote an op ed in the New York Times yesterday asking for the right to privacy for polygamist families. He represents one, the Browns, consisting of a husband, four wives, 16 children, and the production crew of TLC who films them for the reality series Sister Wives. Turley, smartly, is not seeking to get all four “marriages” recognized; he is arguing that consenting adults have a right to form the family structure they like and that as long as there is no coercion or child abuse, being polygamists is none of the state’s business. After all, John Edwards, who made a multiple family on the sly, may be morally repugnant, but he is not in legal trouble for impregnating a woman who wasn’t his wife. Turley makes a persuasive argument, and he notes that civil liberty organizations have been reluctant to back him, probably because his cause seems to undermine the case for gay marriage. As Turley writes: “The reason might be strategic: some view the effort to decriminalize polygamy as a threat to the recognition of same-sex marriages or gay rights generally.”

Opponents of gay marriage have used the specter of legalizing polygamists and polyamorists. But with more and more states recognizing gay unions as equal to heterosexual ones, the question of why society draws the line at couples is going to have to be answered. I am in favor of gay marriage, but it’s going to be seen as increasingly arbitrary to say that people who have a moral and religious belief in multiple unions hold unacceptable views. (I do find polygamy inherently oppressive to women and distasteful. But if the participants don’t, so what if many of us are appalled.)  Polygamists can cite the ancient history of multiple marriages (we’re talking about you, King Solomon) and the fact that it is a custom widely practiced in the world today.  If gay marriage eventually becomes completely legal in America, there surely will be test cases of people in multiple unions demanding their rights to the sanctity and protection of marriage. XXers, what are the arguments about why polygramy, et al., shouldn’t be next?

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

The Government Is Giving Millions of Dollars in Electric-Car Subsidies to the Wrong Drivers

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Photos of the Crowds That Took Over NYC for the People’s Climate March

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059

Medical Examiner

Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?  

A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.

I Wrote a Novel Envisioning a Nigerian Space Program. Then I Learned Nigeria Actually Has One.

A Futurama Writer on How the Vietnam War Shaped the Series

  News & Politics
Photography
Sept. 21 2014 11:34 PM People’s Climate March in Photos Hundreds of thousands of marchers took to the streets of NYC in the largest climate rally in history.
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 22 2014 9:39 AM Adrian Peterson Has a Terrible Contract, and Cutting Him Would Save the Vikings a Lot of Money
  Life
The Eye
Sept. 22 2014 9:12 AM What Is This Singaporean Road Sign Trying to Tell Us?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Science
Sept. 22 2014 8:08 AM Slate Voice: “Why Is So Much Honey Clover Honey?” Mike Vuolo shares the story of your honey.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 21 2014 9:00 PM Attractive People Being Funny While Doing Amusing and Sometimes Romantic Things Don’t dismiss it. Friends was a truly great show.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 7:47 AM Predicting the Future for the U.S. Government The strange but satisfying work of creating the National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends report.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 22 2014 5:30 AM MAVEN Arrives at Mars
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.