Have you noticed all the editorial commentary on polygamy lately? It seems like I couldn’t pick up a newspaper last week without finding an essay about polygamy. There was John Tierney’s column in the New York Times on March 11; Katherine Kersten’s column in the March 15 Minneapolis Star Tribune and Charles Krauthammer’s March 17 column in the Washington Post.
HBO got the discussion going because of the new television show it debuted on March 12 called “Big Love,” about a man in Utah married simultaneously to three women. I haven’t seen the show, but from what I read, the show is unique because it portrays polygamy as normal. The main character goes through the same trials as most other middle-age men in America, the only difference is he moves between three wives and three sets of kids. The HBO web site notes there are 20,000 to 40,000 people practicing polygamy in the country, although it is, of course, illegal.
In Minnesota, I have to wonder what all this attention on polygamy will mean for the prospects of gay rights advocates. Minnesota has a law defining marriage as an institution that can only happen between one man and one woman, but many people (including me) would like to see that definition written in the state’s constitution. The legislature is in session now and many people are hoping lawmakers put the question of a constitutional amendment on the definition of marriage to voters in the form of a referendum this fall. There will be a rally at the Capitol on Tuesday organized by supporters of the amendment.
The vast majority of Minnesotans want marriage limited to one man/one woman, and the state House of Representatives would gladly put the question on the ballot. Senate majority leader Dean Johnson, however, opposes an amendment, although he says he opposes gay marriage. His thinking is that the law is sufficient and that the matter is not serious enough to warrant a constitutional amendment. Laws, however, can be struck down by judges, as happened on the national level with abortion. Those of us who believe traditional marriage is the foundation of our culture would like to see the institution of marriage protected by the constitution.
I am struck by all the talk on polygamy lately because I have long thought that the arguments in favor of gay marriage are the exact same as arguments for polygamy. Gay rights advocates generally talk about marriage in terms of commitment, natural yearnings, and rights to self-determination, which is exactly the same way polygamists talk about marriage. If you talk about broadening the definition of marriage beyond one man/one woman, it seems to me the leap to one man/two women is much smaller than the leap to one man/one man. At least polygamists retain the function of procreation within marriage.
Gay rights activists say the current definition of marriage discriminates, and they are right. If you change the meaning of marriage to include gays, it will still discriminate –- against polygamists, against people who want to marry their siblings, against people who want to marry minors, against people who want to marry animals. When ever you “define” anything, you discriminate against the things not included in the definition. The question is not “are you going to discriminate?” but “where are you going to draw the line?”
Minnesota and the United States are not theocracies, but they are absolutely Judeo-Christian cultures. And law follows culture. The definition of marriage in our law should reflect the meaning of marriage given to us by our Judeo-Christian heritage. It will be interesting to observe what impact, if any, the focus on polygamy brings to the debate over a constitutional amendment on the definition of marriage.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
Saturday, March 18, 2006
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