A judge has struck down part of an 'anti polygamy' law that was used to prosecute polygamous or other communal families. They can still have only one legally married partner (and obviously they must be of legal age of consent), but the state cannot stop any number of consenting adults from forming a de-facto  marriage.

About time. Now that the gay marriage boulder has become unstuck, we might be heading toward real marriage equality for other family styles as well.

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Jay I saw this too and wondered what to think about it. Certainly now conservatives can say "I told you so" about the slippery slope argument. Which was that same sex marriage equality would lead to polygamy, and other marriages.

I can't see any humanistic argument for why people can't call "family" what they want to call "family". There is the sexual aspect - which means it has to be mutually consenting adults. True lifelong monogamy is by far not how most people naturally live their lives, even many of the conservative "marriage traditionals" who practice serial marriage and have affairs.

If people have decided to pool their emotional and sexual lives together and call it a family, who is anyone else to judge? Polyamory is difficult in practice, and probably wont work for most people, but why not for those who it does work for?

I suppose tax structures and work benefits could be complicated, but not insurmountable. An employer might not be willing to extend health benefits to additional adult family members who are not employed by the company, and I think I can see that.

But if people are a family, it's not up to anyone else to judge.

Some slippery slopes are good.

Probably polygamy is very much a 'traditional' marriage in much of human history, just a polygamous relationships are common in many other mammals and primates. Evolutionary pressure for monogamy probably developed when as human young were born more and more helpless and were resource intensive for such a long time.

The Right does seem to be all over this although they have no reason to be. As the OP points out, the ruling simply says that Utah can no longer enforce an archaic law that allows the state to tell people who they can live with and who they can't live with. The rules for marriage, however, remain unchanged.  

When it comes to polygamists, saying that they're married or behaving as if they're married does not make them married in the eyes of the state.  Maybe it makes them married in the eyes of their god, but I'm not sure that that will get them very far in a court of law. However, the fact that the ruling doesn't touch marriage  won't stop Conservatives from trying to use this as an I-told-you-so moment. 

I'm not a Mormon, but Joseph Smith got away with it. At one point I understand that one of his wives wanted equal treatment so that she could have more than one husband, but that didn't last long.

Society has come close to this in wife swapping, but they had to keep that one under wraps and not tell everyone. Some of the swappers just secretly developed favorites and maybe 6 or 8 people were involved.

This idea again has been tried openly in communal living with varying results. Maybe one couple is actually married, and the others are involved in a "token" marriage that puts them all together. Usually the courts system tries to break this all up when a child support issue comes along. This gives power to one of the "tokens" and starts the usual "baby fighting " that we all know very well in our one legal partner system.

Laws necessarily limit freedoms, yet we as a society agree to construct and abide by them, and to modify or eliminate them when we collectively deem it conducive to harmonious working of our societies.  Regardless of "religious freedoms" (isn't that an oxymoron?), polygamy in traditionally paternalistic societies has produced what most of us agree is undue harm to women and children.  And so we crafted laws to limit it.  In the US, the mandate is for lawmakers to carry out their duties in a secular manner, and while that mandate is far from perfectly realized, it remains the goal.  And so we are constitutionally prohibited from making law that favors one or several religious views.  We are not, however, constrained to and in fact are inhibited from allowing exceptions to those laws to accommodate dissenting views.

If we collectively via due process decide that observed or convincingly potential harm justifies abrogation of some freedom, we craft laws accordingly.  Examples are laws limiting alcohol consumption when driving, child labor, monopolistic business practices, and on and on.  All of these place limits on personal freedom, and we have determined that those limits are costs worth bearing for a society that functions well.  And, importantly, they are open to modification as we begin to figure out this newfangled civilization thing with which we so far have very little practice.

The recent marriage equality rulings represent an evolution of our thinking about what constitutes harm to society.  We are finally realizing that prohibition of same sex marriage was rooted in mistaken beliefs, and that our laws caused more harm than they prevented.  And so we are slowly modifying them.  It may be that our current (and quite recent) laws limiting polygamy also turn out to be undue inhibition of freedom, but we don't just ignore the demonstrated harm that the practice has produced.  Rather, we continue to evaluate and balance the likely harm against costs to freedom.

On a much smaller scale, say the speed limit on a certain stretch of road is 35 MPH, and many see that as an undue constraint -- cost outweighs benefit.  Raising the limit to 55 (or whatever) will incur some cost and will provide some benefit, and that cost/benefit calculation will not affect commuters and those who have driveways on that road equally.  In other words there is no "absolute good", but rather a relative weighting with the intent to increase overall good while doing acceptable (not necessarily least) harm to individuals.  Some of us get hosed, and that is how it must be if we are to be a society.

And so, is polygamy still such a threat to individuals or classes that it should be legally constrained?  To make that determination we have to reject the "disgust factor" that arises as an emotional response to inculcated norms and address it rationally.  Does polygamy cause harm?  If so, to what percentage of the population does it cause harm and to what extent?  Are the harms so egregious as to be worth the cost to personal freedom that banning it entails?

Justice ain't simple or easy.  Among social critters like us human beans it is never absolute (and there's another oxymoron).

Ted, your discussion is very thoughtful.

Do we have an objective history that demonstrates harm to women and children, as a result of polygamy?  I ask that not as a challenge, but as information seeking.

In general, out thoughts about polygamy are about polygyny - men with multiple wives.  Which is how it most often seems to work out, but not always.

This slate article has some discussion on that topic - "Ethnographic surveys of 69 polygamous cultures “reveals no case where co-wife relations could be described as harmonious,”

The article also states "It’s possible that even in a large, deeply stratified society like ours, rare instances of polygamy wouldn’t foster gender inequity and roving bands of unhappy single men, provided those instances were spread out among a largely monogamous population. But it’s hard to imagine that, because it isn’t how it has played out here.


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