120 years ago Americans considered the practice of polygamy in far-off, isolated Utah such a threat to American society that all three branches of the government colluded in an unprecedented fashion to quash the practice. In fact, as documented by Gregory Smith (here), the practice was so egregious that in an effort to stop it, the government had no trouble trampling on basic human rights and supporting constitutional misinterpretations that impact our laws and lives today.
The Mormon practitioners of polygamy at the time could not understand why Americans refused to take a libertarian view of the practice and why the practice was considered fundamentally immoral. They could not understand how Christians that accepted Biblical polygamous prophets could not accept the idea of modern-day polygamous Christians.
Maybe Mormons were just a century and half early. Fast-forward to an America where many cannot find anything inherently immoral about any kind of sexual partnering practice, and you’ll find that we’re on the road to legalized polygamy. But as Stanley Kurtz notes here, today polygamy is only being employed as a convenient tool in a larger social battle. It’s a whistle stop on the road that runs though gay marriage and ultimately arrives at “an infinitely flexible partnership system.”
Kurtz sounds alarmist on this issue, but if you follow the links (and associated linkage chains) in his article, he leads you through a long process to show quite clearly where this train is headed. Although some that are urging the train to speed up stubbornly refuse to admit its destination, it’s clear that the goal is the complete dissolution of marriage as we know it.
That begs the question, so what? What if traditional marriage goes by the wayside? We’ve actually been on this road for a long time: feminism, the sexual revolution, birth control, legalized abortion, you know the routine. It’s just that now the pace is hastening.
Kurtz argues elsewhere (see here and here) that there are very real costs to the destruction of traditional marriage. The biggest cost comes to our children. Adults have more freedom than before, but we are destroying our children. He also frequently applies the slippery slope argument. We cannot see the full impact of our choices today, but we will in a couple of generations. Of course, you can only destroy so many generations of children before the system breaks.
Marriage dissolution advocates will have none of this. While they do not argue that there are no consequences to our course, they do argue that the end result will be acceptable or even better than anything we’ve had in the past. Conservatives, by nature, are duty bound to try to hold the line. They have had some success with amending state constitutions to protect traditional marriage. But can they stop the train?
When the train finally pulls into the station at Legal Polygamy Gulch, don’t be looking for the LDS Church to climb on board. Following the 1904 Second Manifesto renouncing the practice of polygamy, the church became increasingly anti-polygamy (in practice, not in doctrine), even supporting legal raids on polygamist communities in the 1940s (after most practicing LDS polygamists had passed away).
This hard line stance has helped bolster the church’s public image. The church is not about to squander its hard-earned image, which is one of the keys to the success of its missionary program. Although there may be some public sympathy for polygamists, right now the public views the practice of polygamy as too weird. However, give the legalized practice a generation or two to germinate in the public mind, and who knows?
I’m not advocating that the LDS Church return to the practice of polygamy. (I’ve got my hands full with one wife and five kids. You know—a wife, a wife, I have a wife, and I need no more wives.) I’m simply postulating one scenario of what might be coming down the road.