4:06 PM CST, December 18, 2013
A federal court's decision to strike down part of a Utah law banning polygamy may not surprise social conservatives who predicted that legalization of same-sex marriage would soon legitimize multiple-partner ones. But that's a misreading of an opinion that is really about personal freedom from state intrusion.
Kody Brown is a "fundamentalist Mormon," who unlike members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, supports and practices "plural marriage." He is legally married to one woman but also lives with three others whom he considers his wives. Under the Utah law, he could be prosecuted for polygamy.
The court said the law is unconstitutional as applied to someone who has only one marriage license. If Brown merely lived with his wife and three mistresses, he would face no legal threat. Likewise if he lived with four single women. What puts Brown in violation of the law is that he and these women regard themselves as spiritually married.
But the constitutional right to privacy bars the government from dictating such arrangements.
When the Supreme Court struck down sodomy laws, it said that when "two adults who, with full and mutual consent from each other," engage in homosexual acts, they "are entitled to respect for their private lives." The government may not "demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime."
The same holds for heterosexuals who choose unconventional sexual and living arrangements. Brown may not insist that the state of Utah validate his choices by granting him multiple marriage licenses. But he may insist that the state stay out of his relationships with other consenting adults.
So Brown can be married to one woman and live with others who agree to live with him. And what he calls them is nobody's business but theirs.
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