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Anti-gay conservatives pin blame for Utah religious cohabitation decision on marriage equality

Marriage equality

Utah state sealYou may have read recently that a federal judge in Utah last week struck down a state law prohibiting a married individual from cohabitation with somebody who is not that individual’s spouse.  And you may also have heard many commentators speculating on what that ruling means for the state’s ban on polygamy.

Not surprisingly, some conservatives are taking Judge Clark Waddoups decision–which in fact did not address polygamy at all and instead focused on what the judge termed “religious cohabitation”–and using it as supporting evidence for their claims that marriage equality will lead to the deconstruction of the American family.

“While liberals insist that same-sex ‘marriage’ is the ultimate goal,” Tony Perkins of the anti-gay Family Research Council wrote to supporters in a recent email, “their demands only lay the groundwork for other relationships to demand the same entitlements. Once the courts and policy makers depart from the natural definition of marriage, the Left has a legal foundation for any arrangement between consenting adults.”

Zack Ford of ThinkProgress has a simple message for Perkins and others like Rick Santorum who have recently been making similar claims: you’re wrong.  From his article titled “No, The Court Victory For Polygamy Has Nothing To Do With Marriage Equality”:

Utah’s laws go far beyond limiting an individual to only one marriage license. As Waddoups recounted in his decision, the statute also prohibits “cohabitation,” referring to any situation in which a married person “purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person.” Even though Kody Brown only has a marriage license with one of his wives, the fact that he has a living arrangement that includes other individuals he refers to as wives — deemed “religious cohabitation” in the Mormon context of multiple marriages — was thus a violation of the law. Indeed, the law seems to punish those who claim multiple marriages even if those marriages exist only in a religious — not civil — context. This, Waddoups ruled, was not only an intrusion into their religious beliefs, but also a violation of their right to private consensual sexual behavior as guaranteed by the Supreme Court in the 2003 decision Lawrence v. Texas, which overturned the country’s so-called “sodomy laws” criminalizing same-sex relations.

In a sense, it’s true that a victory for gay rights led to this decision, but not because it was a victory for gay rights. The basic outcome of Lawrence is that the government cannot intrude on what happens in adults’ bedrooms so long as it’s consensual; it just so happens that the same principle can apply to the multiple marriages some Mormons have or that plenty of people from other faiths have practiced since the Old Testament.

More importantly, this case reinforces the distinction between legal marriage and religious marriage that is often lost in debates. The LGBT equality movement is not particularly interested in forcing any religious organization to bless same-sex marriages, but is focused on achieving equal protection under the law for same-sex families. Conversely, polygamists are not currently fighting for legal recognition, but for the right to freely practice their religious beliefs without facing criminal prosecution.

Though conservatives may try to continue demonizing the gay community by claiming polygamy is part of the slippery slope of same-sex marriage, polygamy is actually the result of the very “religious liberty” that they claim marriage equality infringes upon.

It would seem that to Tony Perkins and the like, just as not all marriages are created equal, not all religious liberties are either.


  • 1. Walter  |  December 17, 2013 at 8:42 am

    Evangelicals generally are the ones beating the drum about polygamy. They have no problem rejecting what the Bible says on issues with which they disagree. The Bible does tell us without criticism that people 2,000 years ago were polygamists (2 Samuel 5:12-13; Judges 8:28-32; 1 Chronicles 3:1-9; 2 Chronicles 11:18-23; 1 Kings 11:1-6). They were slave holders and took people as sex slaves (Exodus 21:1-11; Ephesians 6:5-9; Genesis 16; Judges 5:28-31; Zechariah 14:1-3). They practiced child sacrifice (Judges 11:30-40), executed children who cursed their parents (Leviticus 20:9), stoned non-virgins on their wedding night (Deuteronomy 22:20-21) as well as raped and enslaved women and children following battle victory (Deuteronomy 21:10-14; Numbers 31:7-18). The right wing religious need to explain a rational reason why they advocate discrimination against the gay community and why their hostility is based on more than irrational prejudice.

  • 2. Josh  |  December 19, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Very good response!! We've been their target for a long time. That's because their leaders see us as their cash cow. This really got rolling in the 70's with Anita Bryant and the political complex launched with her campaign against us. They've received billions in donations and think it's all for the greater good. They condemn us for who we are, but they are the ones guilty of bearing false witness and propagating lies against us. I think the following explains this precisely. I'm not sure about the first one, but the rest sound really bad for the anti-gay folks, and nothing about homosexuality.

    Proverbs 6:16-19
    …seven that are an abomination to him
    1 haughty eyes
    2 a lying tongue
    3 hands that shed innocent blood
    4 a heart that devises wicked plans
    5 feet that make haste to run to evil
    6 a false witness who breathes out lies
    7 one who sows discord among brothers

  • 3. erasure25  |  December 17, 2013 at 11:34 am

    They believe in religious freedom, except when it goes against their small-minded religious world view, then the government has every right to force its moralistic (amoralistic) view as law. Basically, do what I say, not what I do. Basically, they are hypocrites.

  • 4. Dr. Z  |  December 17, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    The distinction between civil and religious marriage continues to point the way to a resolution.

    Legally, a marriage is currently a contract between two people. Before that could change, there would have to be some legislative and judicial guidelines stipulating what rights and obligations exist between the parties. If A and B are married, then A also marries C – what is the relationship between B and C? Who inherits if A dies? What parental rights does B have towards C's children and vice versa? Can B be compelled to testify against C in court? Does a three-way contract exist, or is it two two-way contracts? These are all legal issues, not religious ones. You can be legally married without having a religious marriage.

    It's true the other way too – you can be married in a religion without having a legal marriage. In Orthodox Jewish communities you can't obtain a divorce without a "get" which is the consent of the other party. So a Mormon polygamous marriage poses no threat to same-sex marriage because the former is exclusively religious and the later is secular (but may still be solemnized in some religions if desired.)

    There is no contradiction.

  • 5. mnbob  |  December 17, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I'm an atheist and I have a problem with this co-habitation being struck down. Not because it's a "marriage issue", it's the fact that one guy can have 60+ children with just a few women.

  • 6. Lymis  |  December 17, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    Which someone can do without making any commitments to the women or the children. Whether or not someone should father that many kids, this case didn't have anything to do with limiting procreation, or indeed, anything to do with procreation at all.

  • 7. Eric  |  December 17, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Superstition aside, heterosexuals decriminalized irresponsible procreation a long time ago.

  • 8. Lynn E  |  December 18, 2013 at 5:37 pm

    Utah was a common law marriage state. Cohabiting may have created a marriage relationship without obtaining an actual marriage license. In fact, under current law, cohabitation still creates a marriage relationship in Utah, but the relationship needs to be recognized by the state since passage of Amendment 3 in 2004.

  • 9. Darrell  |  December 17, 2013 at 7:12 pm




  • 10. bythesea  |  December 17, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    Yep, but feel free to stop shouting about it.

  • 11. Good Polygamy?  |  December 18, 2013 at 7:17 am

    The judge rejected State claims of harm and abuse and need for anti-polgyamy legislation to help prevent and prosecute harm and abuse in closed FLDS like communities where so called harm and abuse is documented to be under-reported (how could something God wants folks to do be a crime?). Instead, these arguments were determined to be nothing more than vile animus, bigotry and prejudice directed at persecuting polygamists. In essence, the practice was determined to be good, wholesome, even delightsome, healthy, pleasing to the lord and unto man.

  • 12. Eric  |  December 18, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    The court made no determination about polygamy. The court determined that Mormons couldn't use the government to persecute FLDS for their beliefs.

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