The headlines over the last few days have been screaming “Judge Declares Utah Polygamy Ban Unconstitutional!” The Christian right went ballistic immediately, saying, “See, we told you so! Gay marriage leads directly to the legalization of polygamy!” Like Mat Staver, the dumbest lawyer in America not named Larry Klayman or Orly Taitz:
On Friday, Utah Federal Judge Clark Waddoups declared that state’s law forbidding polygamy unconstitutional even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1879 that states can restrict polygamy – a man married to more than one wife. Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, expected the decision.
“Once you cross the precipice to deconstruct marriage so that it includes people of the same sex, there’s no logical or legal way to stop the avalanche of further deconstruction of marriage – which includes polygamy and even polyamory, group marriage,” says the Florida-based attorney.
Uh huh. Except the federal judge did not strike down the law banning polygamy. In fact, it didn’t say much of anything about it. Rob Boston explains what the ruling actually did:
If all you read was the headline, you might assume that polygamy was once again legal in Utah. It’s not. Instead, the state has been told not to interfere in religious ceremonies that, while they may have meaning for the people who take part in them, bestow no government recognition.
Nevertheless, conservative religious groups are distraught. See, they told us this would happen once same-sex marriage became legal in some states!
“This is what happens when marriage becomes about the emotional and sexual wants of adults, divorced from the needs of children for a mother and a father committed to each other for life,” Russell Moore, top lobbyist for the Southern Baptist Convention, told CNN. “Polygamy was outlawed in this country because it was demonstrated, again and again, to hurt women and children. Sadly, when marriage is elastic enough to mean anything, in due time it comes to mean nothing.”
The problem with Moore’s statement is that polygamy is not legal in Utah or anywhere else in the United States. The ruling makes that abundantly clear.
So what did happen? Utah had a law on the books banning two people from living together if one or both of them is already married to someone else. U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups struck down this part of the law. This in no way allows a person to have more than one legal spouse.
There are men living in Utah who insist, on a spiritual basis, that they can have more than one wife. They have a rather elastic definition of the term “wife,” using it to mean any woman who chooses to enter into a church ceremony with them. Legally, these men do not have more than one wife. A man is free to live with more than one woman, but only one of them can be his legal wife.
Some polygamist men in Utah are seeking legal recognition for all of their wives. This ruling does not give them that. The decision is just a reminder that the government has no business interfering in the types of personal and family relationships that people choose to form.
But panic, everyone, panic!
Like Dispatches on Facebook: