Polygamy Ruling Has the Right Crying “Told You So”

Fox TV commentator Bill O'Reilly. | WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Fox TV commentator Bill O'Reilly. | WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A December 13 federal court ruling that invalidated a portion of Utah’s anti-polygamy statute has some on the right crowing that this is what they have been predicting all along about the implications of the marriage equality movement and of the demise of sodomy laws.

The ruling from Judge Clark Waddoups of the US District Court in Utah says nothing about the state’s right to restrict multiple legal marriages, a power upheld by the Supreme Court in 1879. Instead, it strikes down the ban on cohabitation by multiple partners living in what they view as a polygamous family.

Referring to that portion of the 1973 Utah law, Waddoups termed such a household arrangement “religious cohabitation” and said the ban violated the religious freedom and due process rights of the plaintiff, Kody Brown, the star of the TLC reality TV show “Sister Wives,” which features him and his four “wives” and 17 children.

Waddoups’ decision cited Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in the 2003 Texas sodomy case that found the government could not interfere in the private, consensual behavior of adults.

The right wasted little time in conflating the district court judge’s findings on Brown’s privacy rights with the effort to win marriage equality for same-sex couples.

“Some times I hate it when what I predict comes true,” tweeted Rick Santorum, a former US senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 presidential candidate who, in 2003 warned that if the “Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery.” In the wake of the Texas sodomy ruling, Santorum also famously talked about sodomy in the same breath as “man on dog” sex.

CNN’s Jake Tapper quoted Santorum’s recent tweet and asked Tony Perkins, president of the stridently anti-gay Family Research Council, if Santorum “was right.” Not surprisingly, Perkins said he was.

“Well, it is the same progression that we saw with same-sex marriage,” he said. “And Judge Waddoups in this case made a lot of reference to Lawrence V. Texas, which is what Rick Santorum was talking about. In fact, Justice [Antonin] Scalia himself predicted this would occur over a decade ago. So, there may not, you know, there may be some who don’t want to equate sister wives with same-sex marriage. But it is the deconstruction of natural marriage. If the judge can arbitrarily change the qualities of marriage, i.e., a man and woman, the quantities are easy to change. And that’s what we see happening right here. And so there is a legal connection.”

Bill O’Reilly, on Fox, saw the narrow polygamy ruling in much the same dire terms, lumping it in with everything from “chaos in the home” to “the disintegration of the African-American family.” He said, “Marriage equality, and that is the euphemism, marriage equality. And what it is going to lead to is a fundamental dissolution of marriage in this country.”