Q. Do you think that polygamy should be recognized as legal marriage in the United States?
I asked an American lawyer this question on a marriage bulletin board recently and this was his answer to me:
I wonder how few people there are who understand that, at least in the U.S., this entire question comes down to simple semantics.
First, we should note that virtually everyone who speaks on this subject is talking about legal marriage. In fact, if one simply uses the word 'marriage', then it is presumed that one is referring to a union that is based upon having met a few requirements of state law. Even you took pains to distinguish polygamy from polyamory.
As a legal transaction, in every state of the U.S. 'marriage' has precious few requirements, which is also to say that the definition of what constitutes a 'marriage' is simple and universal in our American society. The entrants must be of a certain minimum age, they must not be too closely related, they must be of opposite gender, AND - THEY MUST NOT BE MARRIED TO ANYONE ELSE. Indeed, if a married person attempts to get married to another then that second 'marriage' is considered to be null and void, ab initio.
My point is that to speak of allowing polygamy, i.e., multiple partner marriage, is to speak of changing the fundamental definition of the word 'marriage'. And, yes, we could do that if we wished. We could also decide that the word 'ice' could also be used to represent the substance water. And then, after that, we would be able to say that we were going to ice our house plants, or that we were going to have a glass of ice to drink. But why? How about if we just call ice ice and water water?
My suggestion would be for those in societies, like that of the U.S., in which 'multiple partner marriage' is a contradction in terms, and who want to have more than one life partner, just call it by a new name instead of toying with the English language in order to claim that they have something that they don't.
The substance of my reply to him was to question the right of the STATE (a ficticious legal entity), with the consent of the people for whom such definitions are only a matter of CONSENSUS, to define what marriage is, especially when we have a much more ancient precedent - the biblical one (on which the original state concept was supposedly founded) which defines it as the union between one man and one or more women with the consent of the parties and in the presence of two or more witnesses. To this were added a number of codicils, including not marrying next of kin, which our lawyer friend pointed out.
I have always been of the opinion that the State has no right to legislate for marriage, no matter how it may be defined, and the only reason I am interested in the state's meddling is because certain economic advantages and/or disadvantages sometimes attach to legal registration of marriage. And the polygamists who are advocating a legal change to include polygamy are, I think for the most part, interested in the legal aspects. I can empathise with that to some extent. In my own family we are penalised heavily because we get no state benefits, the law being so structured as to help those who are married monogamously or who live in a common law relationship. Since polygamy is illegal I am not able to claim assistance (which I pay for through taxation) as either being married or living common law marriage. And since crushing taxation, used to raise money to 'help' those who are married with economic problems, is a reality, then it follows that polygamists ought to perhaps seek some sort of remedy in their favour. I doubt they'll get it, but who knows.
For me, allowing the state any say whatsoever in my marriage is a form of idolatry, because it is recognising that the state has a sovereignty which only Yahweh has. It is Yahweh who makes marriage, and it is Yahweh who protects it, not that ficticious entity composed of monogamy-only marriage proponents and perverts called 'the state' who staff the state's institutions. To acknowledge the state any rights over dictating how your marriage shall be is, in my view, to acknowledge the men and women paper-pushers who run welfare programs to act as Elohim (God).
If polygyny is ever made legal in the USA or European nations - which I doubt (because of all the legal headaches and the financing of the expanded administration needed to make it work), but who knows - then there will be pressure to accommodate polyandry and polyamory too (see my article on Polygamists Answer the Secular Swedish State) which would be a nightmare. The only possible positive throwback of such a scenario is if, as a result of the legal quagmire such would create, the state pulled out of the marriage issue altogether. But before it did this, it would need to create a whole new set of laws protecting the vunerable who who have protection from abuse under the current system. It would mean a complete upheaval that would cost the state a lot of time and money. My guess is that this would be the main reason for the state NOT doing anything and of just leaving things the way they are. About the best that polygamists can hope for, I think, is for any ANTI-polygamy laws to be revoked (such as the US Edmunds-Tucker Act) and making multiple cohabitation legal in some way. (Polygamy has since been decriminalised in the state of Utah where it has a high incidence of practice owing to the Mormon fundamentalist presence).
The state is far too down the road to making any U-turns on this issue. The main obstacle will be indifference. Only if polygamists become a major pressure group and thus of political interest to the powermongers will anything likely change, as with homosexuals. But I wonder if devoting such efforts to getting the state to change isn't diverting our valuable resources of time and money away from more important usages, such as evangelism and building up our existing families. Polygamists will likely disagree of this issue. As far as Europe is concerned, it is likely to be the Moslems, who are a considerable minority, who apply political pressure for change and even now British Moslems are decrying existing monogamy-only laws as contrary to human rights. Such laws that might come into existence in the EU might, however, be coupled to religious belief only. Whether polygamist Christians/Messianics would be 'allowed in' to the legislation is another question since they are such a tiny minority. If the Moslems define the agenda, then the number of wives might be limited to four, or perhaps to only two (as the Muslims are claiming as their precident to take a second wife the situation where the first wife is infertile). Time will tell. For those of us who already have more than two wives, or who are planning for considerably more than four, such legislation may not only be useless but actually positively harmful. Imagine being prosecuted by POLYGAMY laws for having five wives! I can forsee all kinds of nightmares.
Far better that the state pulls out of marriage affairs altogether and let consenting polygamist-minded adults get on with what they believe is best. Not until we have a true Christian/Messianic state should we even start thinking about laws - and that must await the Millennium.