Now that President Obama has “evolved” into a public supporter of gay marriage, the former constitutional law professor should turn his attention to another minority persecuted because of their marital preferences: polygamists.
If Obama is intellectually honest, he should also support “marriage equality” for “plural families” that choose to follow the example of Old Testament polygamists Abraham, David, Jacob and Solomon.
I am, of course, speaking only of plural marriages for consenting adults, just as in the case of same-gender marriages.
The president should articulate what the difference is – if he sees any – between marriages formed between one man and another man, or one woman and another woman, and a marriage made up of some numerical combination of men and women. The same constitutional protections of freedom of speech, association, religion, privacy, due process and equal protection are at stake.
Deep into his first term, Obama has surprisingly rejected the majority view expressed by Mitt Romney, whose great-grandfather had multiple wives, that marriage is “a relationship between a man and a woman.” The president cannot now logically disapprove of plural marriage. He has crossed the marital Rubicon.
Since the 1880s, the practice of polygamy has remained illegal throughout the United States as a variation of the crime of bigamy, including in Florida. Over the last two centuries, the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to declare such laws unconstitutional.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) stopped endorsing the practice of polygamy in 1890, largely so that the Utah Territory could become a state. However, tens of thousands of Mormon dissidents and American Muslims still engage in the practice as a matter of religious, social, political or private personal preference.
American polygamists live daily with the fear of being criminally prosecuted, just like blacks married to whites, and men having private sexual relations with other men, used to before the Supreme Court ruled those laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia (1967) and Lawrence v. Texas (2003.)
In Utah, a criminal statute makes bigamy a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
Last July, Kody Brown and his four “spiritual wives” filed a lawsuit challenging Utah’s provisions, alleging they violated their federal civil rights. The quintet are the polygamist participants in the reality television show “Sister Wives.”
Just like the same-gender marriage lawsuits now winding their way through the lower courts, the Utah polygamy case may well end up before the Supreme Court. While that may take years, Obama may actually have to “evolve” a position regarding polygamists soon.
In a Feb. 3 order, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups of Salt Lake City invited the Justice Department to intervene as a party in the “Sister Wives” lawsuit. So far no RSVP has been received from the White House.
Angel Castillo, Jr., a former reporter and editor for the New York Times and The Miami Herald, practices employment law in Miami. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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