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… Out of 1170 societies recorded in Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas, polygyny (the practice of men having more than one wife) is prevalent in 850. Even our own culture, which has an astoundingly high divorce and remarriage rate, practices a form of “serial polygamy.”

Advocates for same-sex marriage often refer to polls showing the social acceptance of homosexual relationships as a justification for expanding the definition of marriage. From this we can adduce, a fortiori, that since polygamy has an even stronger claim to historical and cultural acceptance, it should be included in the new expansion of marriage “rights.” …

The social acceptance of polygamy is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed throughout society. At least, not yet.

Joe Carter
On the Square
Joe Carter is Web Editor of First Things and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator.

Matt Barber [of Liberty Counsel] says this:

There’s actually a stronger historical and biblical case to be made for polygamy than there is for same-sex marriage.

While the Liberty Counsel personality intends this to be condemnatory of gay equality and its supposed “slippery slope,” I actually welcome his words. Because what Matt is really doing here is making our side’s case. … Matt is helping us connect those dots, showing that polygamy’s possibility predates anything having to do with the civil same-sex marriage conversation.

Matt also highlights the fact that polygamy has biblical roots. So again: Matt is bearing us out on the “slippery slope” thing. If there is a slick slope in terms of polygamy, then the Bible is a very big reason why that hill is damp!

Jeremy Hooper
Good As You

Foes of marriage equality use the slogan “one man, one woman,” often citing this type of marriage as biblical.

But as a viewer of Pat Robertson’s “Bring It On” program on the Christian Broadcasting Network pointed out, the Bible is full of examples of polygamy which God apparently approved. “Throughout the Bible, we see many figures who had several wives. When did it become one man, one woman?” asked “Rambo.”

Robertson was hard-pressed to come up with an answer that would satisfy today’s moral outcry against polygamy.

I don’t know … polygamy was certainly accepted among the wealthier people, certainly the kings. Maybe that was a sign of the fact that they were kings. They made alliances and marriage was less of a romantic thing.

It was — I was reading about Solomon. It said he married the daughter of Pharaoh. Well, that was an alliance between Israel and Pharaoh.

Robertson said that Noah had only one wife, but David the king had a number of wives and children.

Robertson asked his co-host what she thought.  “I don’t know. I only have jokes in my head,” she responded.

God Discussion Reporter

When it comes to sexual relationships and cohabitation among consenting adults, Utah takes a permissive approach. If a guy wants to shack up with a lady, that’s fine. If he wants to shack up with several, no problem. He can father children by different roommates, with no fear of the law.

But if he marries one woman and represents three others as his “spiritual wives,” like Kody Brown? Then he’s committed a felony. Not because of the stuff that goes on behind closed doors. It’s the public act of claiming to be part of a lifelong “plural marriage” that raises the specter of jail.

This came as a surprise to Brown, a “fundamentalist Mormon” whose sect, unlike the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, practices polygamy. Despite the legal ban, prosecutions for polygamy are extremely rare.

Before appearing in a TV reality show called “Sister Wives,” Brown was told by authorities he was in no danger of prosecution as long as he wasn’t doing anything else illegal, such as consorting with underage girls. But when the show hit the air, prosecutors opened a criminal investigation.

So Brown went to court claiming that his constitutional rights have been violated in various ways. Though it may come as a surprise to hear, he’s got a perfectly reasonable argument.

Brown and his lawyer, George Washington University professor Jonathan Turley, don’t say the state must sanction such arrangements in law. Nor did Brown try to get multiple marriage licenses, in defiance of the state ban on polygamy.

His case is about freedom, not state recognition. Unlike gay couples who say they should be allowed to legally wed, Brown isn’t asking the state to officially accommodate his chosen form of matrimony. He’s just asking to be let the hell alone.

Other people, after all, are exempt from such control. Turley says Brown and his women “would not be prosecuted if they claimed no religious obligation and merely had casual or purely sexual associations.”

He notes, “Monogamists are allowed an infinite number of sexual partners, and consequently have the right to bear children with multiple partners, so long as they do not claim to be committed to such partners in a union or family.”

The law doesn’t prevent any man from living with several women, having sex with them and siring their offspring. This behavior is a problem only when a man claims to be permanently wedded to the women – only, that is, when he behaves more responsibly than a tomcat.

Utah may limit legal marriage to one man and one woman (or, if it chose, two people of the same sex). It also has the right to punish the abuses that may accompany polygamy, such as rape, incest and welfare fraud. But it’s hard to see where it gets the authority to dictate what words individuals may use for their relationships.

If Fred and I want to say we’re cousins – assuming we’re not trying to defraud someone – no prosecutor will bother us. If I refer to Sally as my aunt, despite the lack of family ties, the law is majestically indifferent. When Brown and his boos present themselves as husband and wives, though, he’s applying for a prison cell.

In challenging the law, they can cite implicit support from the Supreme Court. In a 2003 decision striking down a Texas ban on homosexual sodomy, Justice Anthony Kennedy granted a wide berth to intimate relationships.

Anti-sodomy laws are unconstitutional, Kennedy said, because they interfere with “the most private human conduct, sexual behavior, and in the most private of places, the home,” in order “to control a personal relationship that, whether or not entitled to formal recognition in the law, is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished as criminals.”

The same logic applies perfectly to Brown’s plural “marriage.” The state presumes to dictate how he represents his relations with consenting adult women, imposing harsh penalties if he does not comply.

If Brown wants to live with five women and call them his girlfriends, his shorties, his harem, the Seattle Storm or the 101st Airborne, it is of no earthly concern to the rest of us. And if he wants to call them his wives, the state of Utah should say, “Knock yourself out, dude.” That, or nothing.

Steve Chapman
Columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune

As reported by The New York Times and National Public Radio, I will be traveling to Salt Lake City today [July 12, 2011] to file (on Wednesday) a challenge to the Utah statute criminalizing bigamy and cohabitation. The lawsuit will be filed on behalf of my clients, the Brown family. The Browns are featured in the TLC program Sister Wives as an openly polygamous family.

The lawsuit will be filed in federal court in Salt Lake City on Wednesday and we will be available for questions at 1 p.m. outside of the courthouse.

The Plaintiffs are Kody Brown, Christine Brown, Janelle Brown, Meri Brown, and Robyn Sullivan. As in past cases, I will have to be circumspect in what I say after the filing of this action. However, we are honored to represent the Brown family in this historic challenge. We believe that this case represents the strongest factual and legal basis for a challenge to the criminalization of polygamy ever filed in the federal courts. We are not demanding the recognition of polygamous marriage. We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs. This action seeks to protect one of the defining principles of this country, what Justice Louis Brandeis called “the right to be left alone.” In that sense it is a challenge designed to benefit not just polygamists, but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values – even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state.

The following is the statement from Kody Brown, which will be the only statement at this time on the filing.

Statement of Kody Brown:

There are tens of thousands of plural families in Utah and other states. We are one of those families. We only wish to live our private lives according to our beliefs. While we understand that this may be a long struggle in court, it has already been a long struggle for my family and other plural families to end the stereotypes and unfair treatment given consensual polygamy. We are indebted to Professor Turley and his team for their work and dedication. Together we hope to secure equal treatment with other families in the United States.

We will post the complaint as soon as it is docketed by the Clerk of Court.

Dr. Jonathan Turley
Professor, George Washington Law School

The husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.

Men and women attempt to conduct relationships in many different ways; but marriage remains God’s design. Society – even Christian society – may seek to simulate this relationship according to their own vain ideas, but this does not change or sway the divine purpose and plan of marriage in the slightest. In marriage husbands are the head. This is an inescapable headship. Whether one is a good head, or a bad one, they are nonetheless a head, and thus responsible for their headship to their Creator.

Modern, contemporary Christendom is quite embarrassed by this design. As a result it has embracemed the “advanced” worldly wisdom in its attempt to abandon the “out-of-date” headship role of the husband. This humanistic approach has attempted to reduce marriage to a mere human partnership. This is to no avail, however, because whether one honors God’s design or not, the design still remains.

Doug Wilson, in his foundational work, Reforming Marriage, addresses this paramount truth.

The Bible says the “husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church.” Paul most emphatically does not say that husbands ought to be the heads of their wives. He says that they are. In this verse, the apostle is not telling us how marriage ought to function (that comes in the verses following). Rather, he is telling us what the marriage relationship between husband and wife is. Marriage is defined in part as the headship of a husband over a wife. In other words, without this headship, there is no marriage.

This does not mean that God gives no imperatives to the husband. In the verses following we find a very basic imperative indeed – husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loved the church. But nowhere is the husband commanded to be a head to his wife. This is because he already is the head of his wife, by the very nature of marriage. If he does not love her, he is a poor head, but a head nonetheless.

Meditating on this is a very valuable thing for husbands to do. Because the husband is the head of the wife, he finds himself in a position of inescapable leadership. He cannot successfully refuse to lead. If he attempts to abdicate in some way, he may, through his rebellion, lead poorly, but no matter what he does, or where he goes, he does so as the head of his wife. This is how God designed marriage … If the husband is godly, then that dominance will not be harsh; it will be characterized by the same self-sacrificial love demonstrated by our Lord – Dominus – at the cross. If the husband tries to run away from his headship, that abdication will dominate the home. If he catches a plane to the other side of the country, and stays there, he will dominate in and by his absence. How many children have grown up in a home dominated by the empty chair at the table? If the marriage is one in which the wife “wears the pants,” the wimpiness of the husband is the most obvious thing about the marriage, creating a miserable marriage and home. His abdication dominates.1

The Husband’s Responsibility Illustrated

When a couple comes for marriage counseling, my operating assumption is always that the man is completely responsible for all the problems. Some may be inclined to react to this, but it is important to note that responsibility is not the same as guilt. If the woman has been unfaithful to her husband, of course she bears the guilt of her adultery. But, at the same time, he is responsible for it.

To illustrate, suppose a young sailor disobeys his orders and runs a ship aground in the middle of the night. The captain and the navigator were both asleep and had nothing to do with his irresponsible actions. Who is finally responsible? The captain and the navigator are responsible for the incident. They are career officers, and their careers are ruined. The young sailor was getting out of the Navy in six months anyway. It may strike many as being unfair, but it is indisputably the way God made the world. The sailor is guilty; the captain is responsible.”2

Clyde L. Pilkington, Jr.
© Daily Email Goodies

1 Douglas J. Wilson, Reforming Marriage, pp. 23-24.
2 Douglas J. Wilson, Reforming Marriage, pp. 32-33.

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July 2011
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