The Polygamists are Coming!

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Mormon Polygamist Family, 1888

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Mormon Polygamist Family, 1888

Mormon Polygamist Family, 1888

Mormon Polygamist Family, 1888

For years, religious conservatives argued against same-sex marriage by saying that it would put society on the slippery slope to (horrors!) polygamy. Now comes the New York Times‘ Ross Douthat, a day late and a dollar short.

In yesterday’s column, Douthat seizes upon a new Gallup study that shows a broad shift to the left in Americans’ social values during the present century. The exception, he says, is on abortion, but actually it’s not an exception; the pro-choice position has gained some ground. The exception is adultery — where the old-time disapproval is holding firm at over 90 percent.

You’d think Douthat would take some comfort in that, but instead he leaps at the polygamy approval number, which has jumped from seven percent in 2003 to a not-so-whopping 16 percent. He sees it as “bobbing forward in social liberalism’s wake,” even as he concedes that the only out-and-out polygamists are fundamentalist Mormons and traditionalist Muslims.

A couple of months ago, he had this to say about how a liberalizing American culture should go forward “on issues related to sex and marriage and abortion and homosexuality and more.”

One possibility, the one I favor and have argued for (for self-interested but hopefully principled reasons as well), is basically to allow a fairly wide latitude for these religious subcultures, with legal protections and a general tolerance that makes it relatively easy for the observant and traditionalist not only to worship and find fellowship but also to run businesses, schools, colleges, hospitals, etc. in accordance with their beliefs.

I’d have thought the principled position for Douthat would be to support a right to polygamy, along the religious freedom lines that he thinks are necessary to enable traditionalist believers to maintain their codes of conduct. Indeed, it would be interesting to know how many of those new supporters of polygamy are frequent churchgoers and how many not, or how many are Republicans and how many Democrats. Crosstabs, Gallup?

What’s certain is that the federal judge who threw out a hunk of Utah’s anti-polygamy law is a born-and-bred Mormon whose decision turned on the constitutional right of free exercise. If polygamy is to achieve legal recognition in 21st-century America, it won’t be because of what Douthat calls “the now-ascendant model of marriage as a gender-neutral and easily-dissolved romantic contract.” It will be because of the increasingly robust view of religious liberty now being embraced by him and his kind.

  • samuel johnston

    Hi Mark,
    One of my favorite PBS Sherlock Holmes episodes, has the famous London, inner city detective, riding a train through the beautiful English countryside, uncomfortably speculating about the criminal horrors which might be hidden in those placid appearing country estates.
    Here in Alabama, Tai Chi classes were banned from public parks, because it represented a “religion”. The instigators were, naturally, the evangelicals.

  • As we used to say in Georgia, “It’s a beautiful thang!”

  • Chaplain Martin

    Dang, Samuel another thing not to love about my new resident in Auburn, AL. In Columbus, GA. Tai Chi classes were often held in church facilities.
    Of course it doesn’t really matter much anyway about the parks. Alabama seems bent on closing State Parks anyway.
    Us southern boys pretty well agree that one magnolia southern bell is enough.

  • Larry

    “I’d have thought the principled position for Douthat would be…”

    Ross Douthat has made a career of never taking the principled position.

  • Apparently, if you take liberalism to its logical conclusion, you became a fundamentalist Mormon.

  • Diane

    I can’t wait until all religions decide to come out and demand the same rights that Catholics and evangelicals are demanding.
    They don’t seem to realize that religious freedom means for all, not just for them.

  • samuel johnston

    Hi Dianne,
    Christians are not taught to be “fair”. They are taught to serve God.
    In the old Platonic style argument “Is God good because he always acts virtuously, or is what he does virtuous by definition”, they take the latter view- as do the Muslims.
    Happily, in ordinary life, the extremes are rare, but the teachings are dangerous
    notions for the unbalanced mind. Remember, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son to God on an alter. Go yea and do likewise.

  • Larry

    Diane, you are absolutely correct!

    But it doesn’t work that way. 🙂
    Not to these cretins.

    They won’t be so intellectually honest as to claim that the special privileges they demand for themselves, apply to other faiths. They will hem and haw about “laws of general application”. They will complain why those faiths can’t follow the rules like everyone else.

    You have to bear in mind religious freedom is merely a means to an end in grabbing political and legal power for these nabobs. The same idiots who think discrimination in their private businesses is “free exercise”, also protest the existence of mosques, and constantly defame anyone of a less fundamentalist sect/faith than themselves.

  • Polygamy is traditional marriage. Monogamy is still new in human history. Polygamy is Biblically sanctioned. Mongamy is only God’s standard when men use polygamy to put their old wives away to chase after young women in lust, according to the Book of Mormon (Book of Jacob). In a tolerant world, people would be free to do as they not forced into monagamy by the government.

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