A Ruling For Polygamy – and Freedom

The next step in expelling police and legislators from the bedrooms of consenting adults


In modern America, sex is increasingly where it should be: outside the reach of government. Anti-sodomy statutes have been tossed by the Supreme Court. Contraception is widely accessible. Anyone with a computer can gorge on pornography without fear of prosecution.

Same-sex marriage has been legalized in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Now another step has been taken to expel police and legislators from the bedrooms of consenting adults: a federal court decision striking down a key element of Utah's ban on polygamy.

Last month, District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled that the law infringes not only on constitutionally protected sexual privacy but on the free exercise of religion. Utah, he concluded, doesn't have to issue multiple marriage licenses to Kody Brown and his consorts, who appear in the reality TV show "Sister Wives." But it can't dictate their living arrangements.

The group belongs to a renegade Mormon sect that regards polygamy as sanctioned by God. Brown is legally married to one of the women and "spiritually married" to the other three. Together, at last count, they have 17 children.

If a man and a woman want to live together and call themselves partners, buddies, teammates, friends with benefits or Bonnie and Clyde, the government will leave them alone. Ditto if a guy can entice several fertile females to shack up with him and spawn a noisy horde of offspring.

But in Utah, it matters what the man calls the women living with him. If he refers to them as wives, he can go to prison. The law covers not only formal polygamous marriage but any relationships in which a married person "purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person." That was the provision ruled unconstitutional.

Laws against bigamy make sense as a safeguard against fraud. The classic case involves a cad who maintains two wives and households, each tragically unaware of the other. But no one is being fooled in the Brown home.

That makes no difference in Utah. After the TV show triggered a police investigation, state officials chose not to indict the Browns but declined to rule out future prosecution. When Kody Brown initiated a court challenge, though, the state had to acknowledge the true nature of the ban.

During the litigation, the judge addressed Assistant Utah Attorney General Jerrold Jensen: "Let's assume that a man chooses to have intimate relationships with three different women, each of whom resided in different residences, and he has children with all of them. Would that be violative of (the law)?" Answer: "I don't think that would be termed polygamy, because there's no marriage."

Suppose, said the judge, he is "married to one woman and then he has intimate sexual relationships continuing with two other women but he doesn't make any professions of commitment to these women." Probably OK, indicated Jensen. "So it's the expression of the fact that a person is a wife that makes it illegal," surmised the judge. "Yes," Jensen replied.

This strange policy is indefensible for a host of reasons. First, it criminalizes the mere claim to be married. Second, it doesn't actually prevent men from having sex and children with multiple women. Third, it has been enforced almost exclusively against people who are motivated by religious faith.

The latter policy reflects the origin of the law: the federal demand that Utah outlaw polygamy before it could be admitted as a state. Interfering with religion was exactly the point.

In 1860, approving a law to ban plural marriage in U.S. territories, a House committee labeled Mormonism an "odious and execrable heresy." The Supreme Court later pronounced polygamy "contrary to the spirit of Christianity." They evaded the issue of religious liberty by invoking their own—supposedly superior—religious convictions.

The policy certainly can't be justified as a neutral attempt to uphold the interests of women and children. "Encouraging adulterous cohabitation over religious cohabitation that resembles marriage in all but State recognition," concluded Judge Waddoups, "seems counterproductive to the goal of strengthening or protecting the institution of marriage."

There may be crimes that in practice are sometimes associated with polygamy, but the way to address those is by prosecuting the crimes—as is the custom with non-polygamists. In any case, the judge noted, "there has been no allegation of child or spousal abuse by members of the Brown family."

Sexual freedom does not always produce results that are universally admired. But if we can tolerate Hugh Hefner's proclivities, we can tolerate Kody Brown's.

NEXT: Brickbat: Too Close for Comfort

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  1. Sounds like some serious business dude.


  2. Same-sex marriage has been legalized in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

    RECOGNIZED. The fact that people can actually be jailed for polygamy should throw that distinction into sharp relief.

    1. It’s my favorite example showing that progressive SSM proponents are anything but civil libertarians, they just have a different set of equally irrational and dogmatic sexual mores (usually based on who the party in question is likely to vote for) that they want to force down everybody’s throats. The bullshit rationales they come up with to defend prohibitions on polygamy are just a dumb as the ones socons come up with to justify prohibitions on SSM.

      1. The bullshit rationales they come up with to defend prohibitions on polygamy are just a dumb as the ones socons come up with to justify prohibitions on SSM.

        For the most part, they are identical.

  3. Hey Reason, your website is practically unreadable on iPhone. Bye bye.

    1. Get a real phone. Bye bye.

      1. I still read the internet on my avocado, rotary phone, like God intended.

        1. I have an iPhone too, I was just being mean.

  4. If you really want marriage equality, you get rid of the licenses.

    It is quite funny, frankly, that the so-called marriage equality crowd thinks equality means people they approve of get to apply for a license.

    1. A government license that the government determines who can get one and how and if it can be revoked plus the government can change the rules at any time without the licensee having any say in it.

      There should be marriage contracts where the individuals can agree on the rules to be followed, not marriage licenses where the government determines what the rules are.

      1. Contracts are for property, even labor property, but not people.

        1. Licenses are contracts for services between a couple (or maybe someday more) and the state. Those services? Force.

          1. They are not contracts between a couple. They are agreements between each person in the marriage and the State, where the State dictates all terms and determines capability of the licensee, even after the fact.

            For example, a couple can waltz into any Tennessee courthouse and slap down over $100 for a license. The clerk fills it out, registers it, the whole deal. Then later the State can discover that they were an incapable couple for marriage. No refund, and possible fines ensue.

        2. What a load of (anti-Austrian, anti-anarchic) crap: I’ve been employed in a management position for four years on 60k on a handshake. Our contract was agreed verbally, nothing in writing, because of our mutual trust. Legally, contracts can only exist between people (and by dictionary definition, since the creation of the concept 400+ years ago, a corporation is a legal person). If a corporation is not a person, then it cannot agree to a contract, cannot use bankruptcy law, cannot enter into debt, nor have that debt enforced. Contracts have no legal existence, without a “person” on both sides of it. Provided there is an object, and consideration, any two or more “people” may contract over them.

          1. So what. You have an agreed labor relationship.

            Learn to read, I said FOR property, not “between pieces of property.” It is BETWEEN people FOR PROPERTY, Einstein.

    2. Well, getting rid of the licenses would be great if a whole host of benefits was not attached to a license (public and private). Simply taking the “what gender are you” box off the license application is substantially easier than getting rid of the license.

      1. This is sad, dogmatic pro-SSM (only!) “progressivism”. “We can change the form, just not all of it.” is as bad as an excuse as “We made the license for heterosexuals, we can’t just *change* it.” Its all posited on the false idea that you’re correct to have the license in place and that the license does anything wholly beneficial in the first place.

        Saying, “Simply taking the “what gender are you” box off the license application is substantially easier than getting rid of the license.” is like saying the it’s substantially easier to remove the band-aid one millimeter at a time than to pull it off all at once.

        From a fundamental complexity standpoint; the fewer elements there are in a system, the easier it is to deal with. A system with no licenses is substantially easier to handle than one with arbitrary gender regulations on it.

        Moreover, corporate law does tons of mergers and acquisitions of large collections of employees every day (asexually even). To say that it’s easy to handle property rights among two people but three is absurdly difficult means you’re either being facetious or you’re laughably inept.

    3. The marriage license is a 3 party contract, and just because husband and wife divorce each other, that does not at all mean that they are divorced from the State of Whatever. Any children arising out of that contract are still subject to the whims of the State. This is settled law.

    4. It’s not just the license, it’s also the laws on taxes, benefits, divorce, adoption, child support, social security, pensions, inheritance, welfare….

      It gets complicated when n2, and it’s complex enough already.

  5. Legalized polygamy does have a practical benefit: The pluralized household income will make them illegible for welfare.

    It’s like cauterizing a bullet wound by shooting it again at close range, but at least the bleeding has stopped.


    1. “The pluralized household income will make them illegible for welfare.”

      *scratches head*

      This sentence is ineligible. Uninlegible. Something.

      1. If polygamous marriage were legal, then instead of having one legal wife and a bunch of “spirit” wives on welfare, there would be a large household with a larger blended income.

        I’m sure they could still loophole onto welfare, but that’s a fine argument to get rid of healthcare.

        1. Reason reported on a guy in jail over this in Utah about five years ago. I find it another reason to abolish AFDC.

        2. This is how the “Yearning for Zion” wack jobs fund themselves. They openly admit that they are using the govt (“Satan”) to finance its downfall.

  6. I keep asking why it is “hate” and “bigotry” to say that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, but not “hate” to say that marriage is the union of any two, but only two individuals. I have never gotten a response more convincing than “That’s DIFFERENT!”

    Remember, when Senator Santorum said “If you accept this, you have to accept polygamy”, the whole “liberal” apparat went into a chorus of “How DARE he equate SSM with polygamy!”

    1. What about same-sex polygamy/polyandry?

    2. A better answer:

      “If we don’t defend traditional, Biblical marriage, we’ll end up with polygamy.”

      “Do you know what tradition and the Bible say about polygamy?”

      It’s fun to see how many people are willing to lie about the supposed sources of their values system.

      1. If you were able to provide a quote from the bible which endorses polygamy, rather than simply noting its existence, I might accept that you have a point.

        1. Jacob might fit that category, though if so he could also be used to justify lying.

        2. [2Sa 12:7-8 KJV] 7 And Nathan said to David, Thou [art] the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; 8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if [that had been] too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.

          Do you agree with me that taking the credit for something is a way of endorsing it, or at least a weak way of condemning it?

          1. Very good, except any reading of Kings 1 & 2 would make it quite clear that David and Saul (“thy master”) were hardly examples to look up to.

            1. Then why do we read the Psalms and Proverbs?

              If David and Saul are not examples to look up to?

  7. “Any man in modern London may have a hundred wives if he does
    not call them wives; or rather, if he does not go through certain
    more or less mystical ceremonies in order to assert that they
    are wives. He might create a certain social coolness round
    his household, a certain fading of his general popularity.
    But that is not created by law, and could not be prevented by law.
    As the late Lord Salisbury very sensibly observed about boycotting
    in Ireland, “How can you make a law to prevent people going
    out of the room when somebody they don’t like comes into it?”
    We cannot be forcibly introduced to a polygamist by a policeman.”


  8. There is no slippery slope. That’s just a myth.

    1. It’s not slippery; it just has a very low viscosity.

    2. Once they legalize polygamous marriage, the next thing that will happen is that everyone will be forced to work for a year in Warty’s Fun Palace.

  9. The “you have to accept polygamy if you accept homosexuality” argument is absolutely the worst. It’s basically saying, “But progressives, you have to accept that there is a logical flaw in your reasoning. You guys are usually so intellectually rigorous and consistent. You’ll definitely want to take note of this incongruity!”

    1. I have been involved several discussions on this; If the argument that the gender limiting of whom you marry is an arbitrary line, is the numeric of how many you marry also one?

      If not then you agree there is a “line” you draw in defining marriage (as between two and only two people). So I would argue that those who think SSM is ok but would argue against Plural Marriage are the same vein as those against SSM in that they both agree that the government has the right to “draw the line” on what is a valid interpersonal relationship — they just disagree on where the “line” should be drawn.

      Personal opinion; Remove a marriage based taxes, benefits, etc.. from the law, then get the government out of the marriage business.

    2. I agree with the statement. As I do not see any way to argue that you should accept SSM and reject polygamous marriage.

      The question isn’t whether the statement is inconsistent. Rather, it’s really whether both should in fact be accepted.

  10. Any male who has seen pictures of the Mormon harems should feel fortunate some Mormon grand poopah decided to take so many barf-gagging, supposedly genetically female, humanoid organisms out of circulation.

  11. In modern America, sex is increasingly where it should be: outside the reach of government.

    We’ll just leave all those state “hostile environment” regulation, all those state university kangaroo courts, all those state-mandated contraception and other benefits out of the conversation, shall we?

  12. May a brother marry his father? How about two sisters marry their grandmother?

    If not, please explain, explicitly, why not.

    1. As long as the union would not result in progeny at high risk of serious genetic defects — like a brother-sister union — in which case the state has a legitimate interest in protecting the health of the child (who does not have any say in who his/her parents are), then I don’t really see an inherent problem with any sort of union that the state needs to step in and provide an unambiguous “no”. The “ick” factor simply isn’t good enough.

      However, in the intra-family cases you describe, there would be a rather high likelihood of an abusive/coercive relationship by the older members towards the younger members which should be investigated fully before the application is allowed to proceed.

      1. If genetic risk factor is a line then you’ll need to add mandatory genetic testing to the requirements for any marriage license. Any union between carriers can result in severe defects.

      2. Just a note: the health problems spread to children of brother/sister type unions does not happen right away. It often takes multiple generations before the effects show.

        This argument is not a sound one. I do not personally endorse these types of relationships, but we have to acknowledge up to date facts.

  13. The state should only get involved in cases where there is coercion or abuse. Other than that, the state has zero right to judge who should get married to whom.

  14. The author of this article is a professional journalist for a major U.S. Newspaper. I’m disappointed that he failed to do some basic historical research regarding the practice of polygamy in Utah. Had he done, so the article might read differently.

    First of all, Utah is a special case regarding the practice of polygamy. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were allowed to engage in “plural marriage” because it was part of their religious beliefs during most of the 19th Century.

    However, in 1890, the then President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, issued a Manifesto prohibiting the practice of plural marriage, and anyone who is a member of the Church today who does this can be excommunicated. There is a Fundamentalist LDS Church whose members still believe they can practice plural marriage. However, the Fundamentalist “Mormons” do not belong to the mainline church.

    The ideas of sexual relations between consenting adults and the practice of polygamy does not have the same meaning in Utah as it does in the minds of libertarians or anyone else. Utah is not a theocracy as such, but the majority of the population in Utah belong to the mainline LDS Church.

    Those who believe that sex should be outside the government probably have a point. However, sex is not outside the law in any state. And in Utah the meaning of polygamy does not have the same meaning as it may have elsewhere, because the meaning there has religious implications.

    1. I am disappointed in your reading comprehension and historical knowledge.

      However, in 1890, the then President of the Church, Wilford Woodruff, issued a Manifesto prohibiting the practice of plural marriage…

      Yes, under duress of the United States Congress which had legally dissolved the church, appropriated it’s funds, and was tossing polygamists in federal jail thanks to the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act of 1862. This was followed by the Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882 which made polygamy a federal felony and upon conviction stripped them of the right to vote. This is wholly consistent with the authors assertion that “Interfering with religion was exactly the point.”

      The ideas of sexual relations between consenting adults and the practice of polygamy does not have the same meaning in Utah as it does in the minds of libertarians or anyone else.

      Uhh, polygamy = multiple spouses. In the FLDS that may be driven by religious belief more than some hippie commune but the definition is the same.

      1. Kwix,

        Your attempt to refute the content of my comment failed miserably. Try again. Also, read my comment again and then ask yourself if you did not have reading comprehension problems the first time you read it.

        In any event, polygamy and adultery are wrong to begin with. Try reading the Bible sometime. Try God’s word instead of the immoral desires of humankind. You might learn something. Also, ask a Mormon about my comments.

        1. In any event, polygamy and adultery are wrong to begin with. Try reading the Bible sometime.

          You might try reading your Old Testament cover to cover before spouting off nonsense about how the Bible condemns polygamy.

          1. You might try reading your New Testament cover to cover before spouting off nonsense about how the Bible DOESN’T condemn polygamy.

        2. “In any event, polygamy and adultery are wrong to begin with. Try reading the Bible sometime.”
          I did, it gave me nightmares about a vicious evil god who cheers genocide and then has people praise him as virtuous.

  15. While I am not positive, I seem to remember that the idea of a marriage license being issued by a state was to increase revenue. I think that Illinois was the first state to do so and that was in response to Joseph Smith and the Mormon movement. This could be wrong of course.

    My main point is that a marriage of any type should be between the individuals entering into the contract voluntarily without state involvement. That would require that all participants be of legal age to enter into a contract and would exclude underage individuals.

    Poly marriages could be of any number of willing participants’ sanctioned by their religious or other group. Of course the state may have a say in the dissolution of that relationship and that would be great for all the divorce lawyers out there.

    Just thinkin’….

  16. One of the root reasons that polygamy is outlawed in most cultures is to prevent the wealthy men from having many wives and the poor men from have too few. That circumstance can lead to war pretty damn quick. To prevent war/uncivil disobedience, they outlawed polygamy. Moral reasoning for polygamy came later.

    1. “moral reasoning” for polygamy is an oxymoron; more like clever subterfuge excuses to fool the gullible legions.

  17. Steve Chapman’s lunacy has already been tried often in history, like in the French Revolution our Founders abhorred, and it’s been no less devastation now than then. Only a fool both historically and especially Biblically illiterate would even suggest such deranged deviancy our Founders promised was certain suicide in so rejecting the God of our Founders on Whom alone they based their hopes for their nation, but hey, as the German & Russian & now Dem/0bamacare lawless fascists degenerates proved, all you need to do is repeat a lie and you can get fools to buy anything.

  18. Once again Libertarians miss the larger picture. What happens in the bedroom (or in the street) DOES end up creating social problems for the rest of us. The sexual revolution has been a disaster for the lower class and it is costing us trillions. Feral children terrorizing the cities has been the result.

    1. But KRoyall, you’re expecting reason from Libertarians, a rarity, for for them, as with sexual deviants, it’s usually about how one feels, not about responsible adult behavior, especially on the level of historical and especially Biblical literacy of the kind on which our vastly more intelligent and coherent Founders built this nation.

      1. Russ,

        Responsible adult behavior first and foremost entails not forcing others to do your bidding of what your idea of an ideal society should be. The same for me.

        All other considerations are moot. Abstaining from forcing your neighbor to follow your ideals is responsible adult behavior 101.

        To the contrary: those who believe as you do also do so out of feelings – feelings of FEAR of what society might be like if their ideals and beliefs are not followed.

        Your attitude is essentially: “If I don’t like how other people are running their lives, to hell with freedom and liberty.”

        Its all about feelings on your end.

    2. Kroyall,

      What you attribute towards the sexual revolution – the “created social problems” – came not from the revolution itself, but from the iron fist of the government (neighbors telling neighbors what to do) socializing all aspects of life.

      You are blaming the WRONG factor.

    3. Once again a social conservative misses the larger picture. How do you propose regulating what happens in the bedroom without voiding pretty much all of the BOR?

      “The sexual revolution has been a disaster for the lower class and it is costing us trillions.” This is a layers-deep non-sequitur. People (esp. immigrants) were reproducing excessively long before the sexual revolution (see Comstock Law) and even in countries where the sexual revolution entirely didn’t occur poverty and overpopulation still occur. And, the overpopulation ‘issue’ is better now than it was a century or even a decade ago.

      Excessive reproduction only costs “us” trillions because of “good-faith” efforts to “redistribute” the wealth from those who have helped themselves to those who can’t help themselves.

  19. Polygamists do not take away from our freedoms so it is wrong for us to advocate using force against them. How I feel about someone’s choice of lifestyle shouldn’t determine whether or not they can live in the way they see fit.

    1. They take away from our freedoms when they receive welfare and other goodies. This is largely the case both for our FLDS polygamists here in the US, and for the Muslim polygamists who are flooding into Europe.
      Could you afford to support 4 wives and 20 children? They can’t either. They support their large families by taking tax money out of your pocket.

  20. “Laws against bigamy make sense as a safeguard against fraud. The classic case involves a cad who maintains two wives and households, each tragically unaware of the other.”

    How is this “fraud”, exactly? Emotionally devastating to the women, certainly, if they find out. But fraud? I don’t think so.

    People who are for SSM but against polygamy are just drawing the line in a different, but still completely arbitrary place. Let whoever wants to marry whoever do it.

    1. As marriage should simply be a voluntary contract between consenting adults, this could only rise to the level of breach of contract. Resolution of such breach should be spelled out in the contract and can be adjudicated or arbitrated if necessary.

    2. How is this “fraud”, exactly? Emotionally devastating to the women, certainly, if they find out. But fraud? I don’t think so.

      The fraud is assumed rather than explicit and that is what is at the heart of the issue.

      However, I generally agree with the sentiment; the crime is fraud or just a breach of contract, bigamy is just the circumstances.

  21. up to I saw the check of $8495, I did not believe …that…my best friend actualy earning money part time from their computer.. there friend brother started doing this 4 only fourteen months and as of now cleared the dept on there appartment and got a top of the range Ariel Atom. website here

  22. Our entitlement programs are over-burdened already. Polygamy is the last thing we need! Consider – our social security program allows a working husband’s contributions to magically increase (like loaves and fishes) to provide social security income for a stay-at-home wife who has never worked or paid into the system. Do we really want to be paying social security to 4 wives who have never worked or paid into the system?
    Consider that a divorced woman can get social security based on her ex-husband’s income if she was married to him for at least 10 years, and has never re-married. She can get social security even if she has never worked. She can get social security based on her ex-husband’s high salary even if she herself earned only a low salary. The ten year requirement limits the number of ex-wives in a monogamous society. But a Muslim man might have 4 eligible ex-wives in addtion to 4 eligible current wives.
    We can’t afford polygamy.

  23. Our current FLDS polygamists have their extra wives and kids on welfare. Britain now pays welfare and housing allowances to the extra wives of polygamist Muslims. Britain even pays them welfare checks for their children who live out of the country! Let’s avoid this idiocy here in America.

    Also, polygamy promotes inequality. Now I am not one to make a fetish of equality. I believe in meritocracy. But polygamy necessitates that resources be distributed contrary to merit. A rich Muslim man can give his son money to pay the “bride price” for four brides. Thereafter, regardless of his merit, the son “must” have a job (or welfare) sufficient to support his wives and many children. Meanwhile, for every man with 4 wives, there will be 3 men with no wives. Those men (in third world countries) have to take low-paying jobs regardless of their merit. Or, even worse, in first world countries the fortunate polygamist can live off his wives’ welfare payments, while the unfortunate unmarried men will be taxed to death no matter what their merits or what they earn! Once you have a large enough population of polygamists, the non-polygamists become the tax-slaves of the polygamist population. It becomes a genocide of the monogamists – responsible hard-working monogamists can’t afford to have children because all their taxes are going to support welfare-dependent families with 4 wives and 20 children.

  24. Polygamy promotes warfare. For every man with 4 wives, there are 3 men with no wives. Not such a great arrangement if you want low rates of crime or low rates of political unrest. (Ever wonder why the world is always worried about “the Arab street?” All those unmarried men with nothing to do.) – But polygamy is very convenient for war-mongering governments! Those 3 unmarried men are highly expendable and can be sent off to war (or suicide bombings) without burdening the state with orphans or widows. Those 3 unmarried men can be motivated by the hopes of making sex slaves out of any women captured in war, (a practice explicitly authorized in the Koran.)
    Polygamy is a very bad idea.

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