January 24, 2014

Editorial

Now polygamy seems acceptable

The sacred institution of marriage continues to take a beating in our modern secular society. We all know that, for various reasons, more and more young people are rejecting marriage and are simply cohabitating. “Same-sex marriage” continues to be more and more accepted as 18 states now permit it. And now it’s apparently polygamy.

Perhaps you missed the news but, back on Dec. 13, a federal judge in Utah, Clark Waddoups, struck down part of that state’s law that banned a man from having more than one wife. Technically, he didn’t make bigamy legal, but he struck down a provision that said a person is guilty of bigamy if he or she “purports to marry another or cohabits with another person.”

The case revolved around Kody Brown, who has four “wives” and 17 children. We haven’t seen it, but the Brown family is on a reality show on TLC. They are members of the Apostolic United Brethren Church, which believes in plural marriage. The church is one of several that split from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) after its leaders condemned polygamy in 1890.

During the 19th century, some members of the Mormon Church practiced polygamy and fought with the U.S. government over the issue. President James Buchanan was accused of being weak in his opposition to polygamy and slavery.

In 1862, the U.S. Congress passed the Morrill Act, which prohibited plural marriages. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law, but Mormons continued the practice until 1890. Today Mormons who practice polygamy are subject to excommunication.

Considering modern society’s acceptance of just about anything, it’s easy to understand Judge Waddoups’ ruling in the case. He ruled that the Browns did nothing illegal since there was only one recorded marriage license. Therefore, Kody Brown was simply cohabiting with the other three women. It would have been illegal and a case of bigamy if the Browns had tried to take out more than one marriage license.

Waddoups said that the case was one of “religious cohabitation” or “a personal relationship that resembles marriage in its intimacy, but claims no legal sanction” between consenting adults.

A story on this subject by Michelle Martin in the Jan. 12 issue of the Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor quotes Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who showed how this decision ties in with the demand for same-sex marriage: “While liberals insist that same-sex ‘marriage’ is the ultimate goal, their demands only lay the groundwork for other relationships to demand the same entitlements. Once the courts and policymakers depart from the natural definition of marriage, the Left has a legal foundation for any arrangement between consenting adults.”

That seems to be where we are in our secular society. Those who are intent on changing the definition of marriage are accomplishing their objectives. The Catholic Church, though, will continue to insist that marriage must be between one man and one woman. Indiana’s bishops recently voiced their support of a proposed state constitutional amendment that would define marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults says, “While the Church clearly teaches that discrimination against any group of people is wrong, efforts to make cohabitation, domestic partnerships, same-sex unions, and polygamous unions equal to marriage are misguided and also wrong. The Church and her members need to continue to be a strong and clear voice in protecting an understanding of marriage, which is rooted in natural law and revealed in God’s law” (page 280).

But, some people might ask, didn’t the Old Testament patriarchs and kings practice polygamy? Yes, they did. About this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says only, “In the Old Testament, the polygamy of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected” (#1610). It was the practice in those days when reproduction was emphasized, and when there were more women than men because many men were killed in battle.

Today, though, the Catholic Church insists that polygamy is morally wrong: “Conjugal communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive” (CCC, #2387).

—John F. Fink

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