Last summer the US Supreme Court undercut state amendments that prohibited same-gender marriage (see Windsor vs. US). Not surprisingly, a handful of state marriage amendments have been struck down by federal courts since last summer’s decree. Meanwhile, proponents of government-endorsed heterosexual marriage have warned that state-recognized polygamy is the next step. Their conclusion is unwarranted.
Throughout American history, marriage has been the union of two opposite sex individuals. Hence same-sex marriage activists have essentially argued that every loving, adult couple should be treated as if they are behind a curtain, as if the gender of each participant is invisible. Equality of couples is the marriage equality cry. Is this argument a redefinition of marriage and a revolutionary step in US jurisprudence? Absolutely! Does it herald a new era of polygamy? No. Three sets of feet behind the curtain is a bridge too far.
Social perception is the key to understanding polygamy’s legal future. Many Americans see polygamy as a patriarchal institution at best, and an arraignment designed to satiate the basest desires of the heterosexual male at worst. For other Americans the answer is simpler: polygamous marriage is comically unappealing, and arguably insane. Therefore, absent a sudden revolution in public perception, a legal revolution is quite unlikely.
Someday perhaps real marriage equality will exist, perhaps the government will stop meddling in the marital realm altogether. Then each marriage will be a private affair, and the government will no longer feel compelled to assign a label to every adult. Extraordinary exceptions aside, a well-lived, peaceable life ought not be the government’s business.