Civil Liberties

Montana Trio Applying for Marriage License

It's happening!

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Nathan Collier

That government recognition of polygamy might follow government recognition of gay marriage was an argument usually deployed by opponents of same-sex marriage. Troublingly, those opponents usually lumped in plural marriage, at its heart an arrangement between consenting adults, and activities that aren't about consenting adults, like pedophilia and bestiality. With the Supreme Court finding a fundamental right to government recognition of gay marriage, the fight against polygamy continues. It often relies on arguments about the character of 19th century polygamy—a very different beast from polyamory in 21st century America. Of course fundamentalist polygamous relationships exist today—they are not, however, non-violent relations between consenting adults, and such fundamentalist groups usually find themselves running afoul of many laws, the laws against polygamy the least serious of them.

Now that the Supreme Court has found a fundamental right to government recognition of gay marriage, in a way even Chief Justice John Roberts believes could lead to government recognition of plural marriage, the case for polygamy is increasingly being made out in the open—without the worry that such an argument will be perceived as a stealth argument against gay marriage.

One trio in Montana has taken the observations in Roberts' dissent to heart. The Associated Press reports:

Nathan Collier and his wives Victoria and Christine applied at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings on Tuesday in an attempt to legitimize their polygamous marriage. Montana, like all 50 states, outlaws bigamy — holding multiple marriage licenses — but Collier said he plans to sue if the application is denied.

"It's about marriage equality," Collier told The Associated Press Wednesday. "You can't have this without polygamy."

County clerk officials initially denied Collier's application, then said they would consult with the county attorney's office before giving him a final answer, Collier said.

Yellowstone County chief civil litigator Kevin Gillen said he is reviewing Montana's bigamy laws and expected to send a formal response to Collier by next week.

"I think he deserves an answer," Gillen said, but added his review is finding that "the law simply doesn't provide for that yet."

Collier says he asked the ACLU of Montana for help—the ACLU says it hasn't received that request yet. While the ACLU has not done all that much in support of polygamy in the last decade, in 2005 its president called polygamy a "freedom of choice" issue the ACLU has and would continue to defend.

Via the Twitter feed of National Review's Charles Cooke, who has an excellent response to Jonathan Rauch's, and others', case against polygamy.