Now comes the equal rights battle for people who want to be married to many people.
Just five days after the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a right, a Montana polygamist who has appeared on reality TV is threatening to file a lawsuit to strike down a state marriage law that limits marriage to two people, so he can marry a second woman.
“It’s about marriage equality,” Nathan Collier told reporters in Montana on Wednesday, using the term supporters of same-sex marriage prefer to advocate for their cause. “You can’t have this without polygamy.”
Mr. Collier, 46, has appeared on TLC’s reality TV show “Sister Wives” with Victoria, whom he married in 2000, and Christine, with whom he joined in a 2007 religious ceremony. They have seven children of their own and from previous relationships.
Montana and other states outlaw bigamy and consider any such marriage invalid.
Mr. Collier and Christine went to Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings, Montana, on Wednesday to fill out applications to marry each other.
“We just want to add legal legitimacy to an already happy, functional, strong, loving family,” Mr. Collier told Montana TV station KAJ-18.
“We’re a plural family,” he told the courthouse clerks on camera. “I am a polygamist. I have two wives.”
Christine noted that the marriage application had a place to indicate when a previous marriage ended in divorce. “We put n/a” for not applicable, she said.
County officials refused to grant the marriage license but said they would check with local legal authorities. Mr. Collier said he would sue if the county officials didn’t reverse their decision.
Yellowstone County chief civil litigator Kevin Gillen told reporters that he is reviewing Montana’s bigamy laws and expects to send a formal response to Mr. Collier by next week.
“I think he deserves an answer,” Mr. Gillen said, but added that his review is finding that “the law simply doesn’t provide for that yet.”
Mr. Collier told the Montana TV station that he was inspired to legally marry Christine because of the Supreme Court’s ruling Friday in Obergefell v. Hodges, which declared that the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is unconstitutional because it doesn’t allow two people of the same sex to marry.
“We’re not even asking for acceptance. We’re just asking for tolerance. Let us live our lives together without fear,” he said.
“For us to come together and create a family — what is wrong with that? I don’t understand why it’s looked and frowned upon as being obscene,” Christine told the Montana news station.
Traditional values groups have long warned that striking gender from the definition of marriage will permit striking the number of people in marriage. Moreover, polygamy — unlike same-sex marriage, which is a historical novelty — has ancient roots and is practiced by millions of Muslims and Africans, about 30,000 fundamentalist Mormon groups in the U.S., and an unknown number of Christians around the world.
“The next court cases coming will push for polygamy, as Chief Justice John Roberts acknowledged in his dissent,” Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, wrote after the Obergefell ruling.
The chief justice said “the argument for polygamy is actually stronger than that for ‘gay marriage.’ It’s only a matter of time,” Mrs. Nance said.
John-Henry Westen, editor-in-chief of LifeSiteNews and co-founder of Voice of the Family, said the push for polygamy is “just the next step in unraveling how Americans view marriage.”
He, too, quoted Chief Justice Roberts, who warned that changing the legal definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples will have to apply with “equal force to the claim of a fundamental right to plural marriage.”
In contrast, same-sex marriage advocates have long deflected warnings about polygamy, saying in legal documents and in public forums that they seek only unions of two men or two women, not multiples.
When courts considered ending bans on interracial marriage, the “specter” of polygamy was raised and it didn’t happen, Lambda Legal attorney David Buckel argued in 2004 to judges in New Jersey.
A Gallup poll shows support for polygamy is still relatively small but it has more than doubled in 14 years.
Anne Wilde, a co-founder of the polygamy advocacy organization Principle Voices, located in Utah, told The Associated Press that Mr. Collier’s application was the first she had heard about, but she believed most polygamous families in Utah are not seeking the right to have multiple marriage licenses.
“Ninety percent or more of the fundamentalist Mormons don’t want it legalized; they want it decriminalized,” said Ms. Wilde, drawing the distinction between bigamy being an illegal, punishable crime and having the state agree to recognize plural marriages as marriages under the law. In the former sense, same-sex marriage was never illegal, but simply not recognized.
An estimated 38,000 fundamentalist Mormons practice or support polygamy in the United States, primarily in Utah and other Western states.
In 2013, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups struck down part of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, saying it violated religious freedom by prohibiting cohabitation. He left the bigamy prohibition intact.
“Sister Wives” reality stars Kody Brown, his legal wife, Meri Brown, and “sister wives” Janelle Brown, Christine Brown and Robyn Sullivan brought that case with help from lawyer Jonathan Turley. The Brown family had 16 children at that time.
Utah officials have appealed the Brown v. Herbert ruling, and the case is pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Mr. Collier, who owns a refrigeration business in Billings, told The Associated Press that he is a former Mormon who was excommunicated for polygamy and now belongs to no religious organization. He said he and his wives hid their relationship for years but decided to go public by appearing on the reality cable television show “Sister Wives.”
“My second wife, Christine, who I’m not legally married to, she’s put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy,” Mr. Collier said.