I brought up to both Russell and Nate the question of whether the Church’s efforts on Prop-8 were related to fears about the reinstitution of polygamy. Neither thought that was a valid worry so maybe I’m simply being silly on this. It seemed (and seems) to me that if gay marriage becomes normative that within 10 years so too will the legalization and recognition of polygamy. And I think the Church is right to fear this.
Now I know that many gay marriage proponents have seen the legalization of polygamy as unlikely. Some even see it as offensive to bring up. (Which always struck me as a double standard with regards to tolerance) I think though that if we take as a fundamental right to marry whom we will then it’s difficult to say people don’t really have that right. That is limiting the number of husbands a woman has seems just as much an infringement as limiting the gender of whom that woman can marry.
Yes folks can make Utilitarian arguments for a difference. I confess I have a hard time seeing them as valid. If marriage provides stability and faithfulness for gays, surely getting polygamous marriages out of hiding and into the light is a positive matter. The main reason polygamist sects are so secretive is because of polygamy. Remove that and you mainstream them which can only be a benefit for the children. Further you stop a lot of welfare abuse.
I’m no lawyer so I won’t make any legal arguments. I’m not sure they are necessary anyway. It seems law tends to follow social trends. Once you liberalize marriage it’s pretty hard to keep limits on it. Eventually someone will find an argument for legalizing polygamy persuasive. (I tend to think that what is seen as persuasive functions a more primordial level than what is strongly reasoned so law tends to follow social change)
Which gets me to my final point. The Church has a compelling interest to stop polygamy. For one the Church doesn’t want to be confused with polygamists. Everyone remember the FLDS confusions last year? Yeah.
But it’s worse than that. If polygamy is legalized you’ll have more people trying to both associate with the polygamist groups and mainstream Mormonism. Yes the Church will, to the degree they find out, excommunicate any polygamist. But when polygamy is out of hiding and it becomes normative it simply will be more attractive to many. Most of the arguments about normalizing gay marriage apply much more to polygamy than gay marriage. Especially if you, like me, agree that homosexual attraction is for most gays not really a matter of a simple choice. Polygamy is in a way gay relations simply aren’t.
So I think the Church is right to worry about the social effects of polygamy.