The Supreme Court’s rulings in favor of same-sex marriage Wednesday were greeted with excitement by polygamists across the country, who viewed the gay rights victory as a crucial step toward the country’s inevitable acceptance of plural marriage.
Anne Wilde, a vocal advocate for polygamist rights who practiced the lifestyle herself until her husband died in 2003, praised the court’s decision as a sign that society’s stringent attachment to traditional “family values” is evolving.
“I was very glad… The nuclear family, with a dad and a mom and two or three kids, is not the majority anymore,” said Wilde. “Now it’s grandparents taking care of kids, single parents, gay parents. I think people are more and more understanding that as consenting adults, we should be able to raise a family however we choose.”
“We’re very happy with it,” said Joe Darger, a Utah-based polygamist who has three wives. “I think [the court] has taken a step in correcting some inequality, and that’s certainly something that’s going to trickle down and impact us.”
Noting that the court found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional because the law denied marriage rights to a specific class of people, Darger said, “Our very existence has been classified as criminal… and I think the government needs to now recognize that we have a right to live free as much as anyone else.”
Gay rights advocates have long sought to distance themselves from polygamists in order to undermine social conservatives’ slippery-slope argument, as articulated on Twitter Wednesday by talk radio host Bryan Fischer: “The DOMA ruling has now made the normalization of polygamy, pedophilia, incest and bestiality inevitable. Matter of time.”
But polygamists in the United States, where bigamy is a crime, have taken cues from the marriage equality movement, and the few public champions of the lifestyle have deliberately positioned themselves as libertarian-minded gay rights advocates as well. Following gay rights activists’ lead, polygamist families — like the Browns, with their TLC reality show Sister Wives, and the Dargers, who came out with a book last year — have come forward to convince the American public that their lifestyle can be wholesome and normal.
The key difference in their missions, Wilde said, is that “gays want legal marriage and polygamists don’t” — they just want their lifestyle to be decriminalized.
“If you legalize plural marriage, that means the government is going to control certain aspects of it,” Wilde reasoned. “They might say, you have to make so much money, you can’t have any more than four like it says in the Koran.”
Still, she said the court’s decision would only help polygamists’ cause.
“I’m not a fortune-teller, but it seems like if more people are accepting of gay marriage, it would follow that polygamist marriage wouldn’t be criticized quite so much.”
But some polygamists were trying to temper their enthusiasm Wednesday.
“I do see this as a positive step toward recognizing the civil rights of the plural culture to make their lifestyle choices without being branded as criminals,” said Marlyne Hammon, a practicing polygamist. “We are still in the trenches facing the reality of stubborn, unjust laws, so we are cautious about breaking out the champagne just yet.”
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