Saddam Hussein is a trussed duck awaiting trial for crimes against humanity. In her newly proposed state budget, Gov. Olene Walker has found the courage to nudge state monies away from water projects and toward education. So why write an editorial about a topic as timeworn as polygamy? Because it’s the perennial Utah topic, a rubbernecker’s delight, and always in the news.
This time, avowed polygamists Rodney Holm and Tom Green want their attorneys to ride coattails on the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling Lawrence v. Texas, which made mincemeat of the Lone Star state’s anti-sodomy laws in the name of privacy rights for consenting adults everywhere. Notice that key word, adults. It’s a term Green, who married a 13-year-old, and Holm, who took the hand of a 16-year-old, might want to consider.
The notion that the rights of individuals reign supreme, especially when it comes to religious liberty, dies hard. So if polygamy is essentially a religious issue, briefly consider its biblical roots. The authorization for more than one wife is clearly spelled out in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 21:17), but Jesus’ remarks on the institution of marriage seem clearly to favor monogamy. Take a quick tour of Mark 10. If God created Adam and Eve, you’d think the Man Upstairs would have taken the trouble to give Adam more than one wife if polygamy is, in fact, divinely inspired. The Old Testament as a whole reveals far more convincing evidence that polygamy, even in the darkest hours of ancient patriarchal oppression, never worked. “Are there any happy polygamous marriages described in the Bible? No.” That’s according to Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in his book Biblical Literacy.
But that’s the Bible, a book people pick from as they choose. Civil libertarians trot out phrases such as “liberty right,” and note that, like interracial marriage and homosexuality, abhorrence of polygamy seems built on the flimsy ground of simple “moral disapproval.” No one wants law enforcement taking flashlights into private bedrooms. But marriage, whether gay or straight, is built on the far firmer ground of a partnership between two people. Notice that key word, partnership. Hopefully, it’s an equal endeavor as well. By all available evidence, there seems little that’s equal about a marriage between one man and several women.
That’s no argument against making polygamy legal. One of the greatest freedoms we have in this country is the freedom to try, fail and even make fools of ourselves. Legalizing polygamy might once and for all take the practice out of the shadows of hidden abuse and abolish the vicious cycle of child brides. But then Utah will have to suffer the embarrassment and ridicule of the rest of the world; while thousands of formerly clandestine polygamists get that golden chance to prove, once and for all, that plural marriage is as just and functional an institution as they’ve always claimed. Funny, it seems like we’ve been through this without any change in the law.