Civil Liberties

Marriage Without Benefits


Some polygamists are glad the U.S. Supreme Court this week declined to hear fundamentalist Mormon Rodney Holm's challenge of his bigamy conviction as a violation of his religious freedom. Holm, who married Ruth Stubbs, his legal wife's 16-year-old sister, in a religious ceremony, is something of an embarassment to polygamists who believe in plural marriage only among consenting adults. An essay at notes  an interesting wrinkle in the case: In Utah a girl may marry at 16 with parental consent, which Ruth had, and marriage makes sex with her husband perfectly legal, even if he is considerably older. Yet Holm was convicted of "unlawful sexual conduct with a minor" in addition to bigamy. Why? Because he never really married Ruth. If so, how could he be convicted of bigamy? State law makes you guilty of bigamy if you "purport to marry" a second wife. Holm argued that he did not "purport to marry" in a legal sense because everyone involved understood that the marriage would not be recognized by the state. But in upholding Holm's convictions, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that marry in this context includes a religious union with no legal standing.