SARAH PULLIAM BAILEY ©2013 Religion News Service
Fueling debates over marriage and religious
freedom, a federal judge declared on December 13 Utah laws criminalizing
polygamy are unconstitutional, ruling on a case involving the Brown family from
TLC’s reality series “Sister Wives.”
Social conservatives who have argued for marriage
solely between one man and one woman have long warned that allowing gay
marriage would ultimately lead to allowing polygamy — an argument that’s both
feared and rejected by gay marriage proponents.
Perhaps not surprisingly, groups advocating for
legalizing gay marriage were quiet in response, saying that legalizing polygamy
is not part of their mandate.
At the same time, proponents of traditional
marriage did a victory lap of sorts, saying their worst fears are starting to
“Same-sex marriage advocates have told us that
people ought to be able to ‘marry who they love’ but have also always
downplayed the idea that this would lead to legalized polygamy, a practice that
very often victimizes women and children,” said Tony Perkins, president of
Family Research Council, in a statement on December 16.
“But if love and mutual consent become the
definition of what the boundaries of marriage are, can we as a society any
longer even define marriage coherently?”
The case involves the cast of “Sister Wives,”
which entered its fourth season earlier this year, featuring Kody Brown and his
four wives. The Browns are members of a fundamentalist Mormon
group, not part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,
which does not condone the practice of polygamy.
“While we know that many people do not approve of
plural families, it is our family and based on our beliefs,” Kody Brown said in
a statement. ”Just as we respect the personal and religious choices
of other families, we hope that in time all of our neighbors and fellow
citizens will come to respect our own choices.”
A 2012 Pew Research survey found little
acceptance of polygamy among Mormons with 86 percent of them saying it is
morally wrong. Wider American opinion on gay marriage, meanwhile, has evolved
over the past decade. In Pew Research polling in 2001, Americans
opposed gay marriage 57 percent to 35 percent. Two 2013 polls suggest 50
percent of Americans are in favor of gay marriage with 43 percent opposed.
U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups’
ruling attacked sections of Utah’s laws against cohabitation, saying in his
decision that the phrase “or cohabits with another person” is a violation of
both the First and 14th amendments.