EDITORIAL: Marriage by reality TV

Looking to the ‘stars’ for answers to momentous questions

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Those who warned that legalizing same-sex marriage would put us on a slippery slope toward bigamy, polygamy, polyandry and worse got it exactly right. A federal court on Friday decreed that everyone has the right to live like they do on reality television. A man can have four wives, four husbands, or four wives and four husbands or another combination if he can figure out one.

U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups concluded this in siding with the polygamous Brown household of the reality-TV show “Sister Wives,” invalidating key parts of Utah’s anti-polygamy law as unconstitutional. The Brown household comprises Kody Brown and his four “wives,” Christine, Meri, Robyn and Janelle.

The Browns are members of a breakaway Mormon sect that embraces polygamy as a core belief. It’s not part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which does not embrace polygamy.

Judge Waddoups, appointed by President George W. Bush, declared that sections of Utah’s bigamy law violates the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. He found that the law is used to prosecute a married man who engages in “religious cohabitation,” but similar conduct is unpunished when a married man cohabits with someone other than his wife. The judge found the law gives prosecutors too much power “to decide whether and when (and against whom) to enforce the cohabitation prong of the statute.”

This is a sensitive issue for Utah; the state was required to include a ban on polygamy in its state constitution as a condition of admission to the union in 1896. Judge Waddoups‘ 91-page ruling does not actually legalize polygamy, but it applies more grease to a very slippery slope.

The decision drew on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling in Lawrence v. Texas, striking down a Texas law banning sodomy. As Rick Santorum, then a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, warned at the time, “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [homosexual] 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. You have the right to anything.” Lawyers for the Browns cited Lawrence v. Texas in arguing that Utah’s law violates their right to privacy, a curious argument for five people who live out their lives in the “privacy” of reality TV.

The real question is whether this is where Americans want to go as a society. If the traditional definition of marriage, as between one man and one woman, serving as the nurturing foundation of a family for raising children, fails, marriage becomes an arbitrary and meaningless concept.

Fundamental public policy decisions such as defining of marriage must be made by the people, who still generally support traditional marriage, and not by unelected judges, who may be writing protections for their own sexual proclivities. We should not look to reality-TV celebrities for answers to such momentous questions.

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