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Polygamy Is 'Next Civil Rights Battle,' Activists Say

Randy Hall | Staff Writer/Editor | Thursday, March 16, 2006

Polygamy Is 'Next Civil Rights Battle,' Activists Say

(CNSNews.com) - Nearly three years after U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) argued that a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a Texas ban on sodomy would be used to legitimize other sexual practices outside traditional marriage, Santorum's prediction may be coming to pass.

Since the high court issued its 6-3 ruling in June 2003 in the Lawrence v. Texas case, national attention has focused on the issue of same-sex marriage. However, a Christian group claims the ruling guarantees that polygamy -- the union of one man with more than one woman -- is "the next civil rights battle."

Six months after the Lawrence decision, three Mormons sought a marriage license at the clerk's office in Salt Lake County, Utah. G. Lee Cook wrote on his application that he was already married but wanted to legally wed a second wife.

As a result, the clerks refused to issue the license and refunded the fee. The trio then sued, claiming that their constitutional rights to religious expression, privacy and intimate expression had been violated.

Brian Barnard, an attorney representing Cook, his wife and his would-be second wife, told Cybercast News Service that the basis of his legal argument to overturn Utah's anti-polygamy statute was the Lawrence v. Texas decision.

The state law prohibits a man from marrying a second wife, then states that "if a married man chooses to live with a woman to whom he's not married, he's guilty of a crime," the lawyer said.

"That's comparable to Lawrence v. Texas, where the U.S. Supreme Court said you can't outlaw a sexual relationship between consenting homosexual adults," Barnard stated.

The case, Bronson v. Swensen, is slated to be argued before the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this year.

While there are presently only a handful of challenges to anti-polygamy laws, that number could increase dramatically. A number of sources estimate that about 50,000 families in the United States practice polygamy, including hundreds of Laotian Hmongs in Minnesota and thousands of fundamentalist Mormons in Arizona and Utah.

Polygamy is also supported in principle by a wide variety of organizations, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the TruthBearer.org website, which represents a Christian group that claims "freely consenting, adult, non-abusive, marriage-committed polygamy is the next civil rights battle."

Founder Mark Henkel told Cybercast News Service that polygamy is found in the Bible and throughout history. The present concept of marriage, which Henkel called "marital Marxism," was produced in the Middle Ages by the Catholic Church, he said.

While Henkel opposes same-sex marriage, he readily acknowledges that Lawrence v. Texas and other recent Supreme Court decisions have established that individuals have "the full right to engage in private conduct without government intervention."

In fact, he claims that many social conservatives are actually relying on liberal tactics by using the government to define marriage instead of relying on "the true institution created by God."

Polygamy was also on Santorum's mind during an interview with the Associated Press in April 2003, two months before the Lawrence ruling was issued.

"If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual gay sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery," Santorum said. "You have the right to anything," the A.P. quoted Santorum as saying.

"It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn't exist, in my opinion, in the United States Constitution," he added.

The Lawrence v. Texas decision stated that the two men arrested for having sex "are entitled to respect for their private lives."

"The state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime," a majority of the Supreme Court justices stated.

Since then, advocates of same-sex marriage have dismissed Santorum's "slippery slope" argument regarding polygamy as a "red herring" from right-wing opponents.

Barnard added that he has a different view of that argument.

"If you start at one end of the spectrum, with one man and one woman creating children, the furthest away from that is two people of the same gender who cannot procreate," he said. "A polygamist situation is closer to the 'traditional family' because it's two parties of the opposite gender for the purpose of, with the capability of, procreation of children."

However, Rena Lindevaldsen, senior litigation counsel for the conservative Liberty Counsel told Cybercast News Service that the current battles in court and in Congress could lead to what she called "marital anarchy."

"I've been involved in marriage litigation around the country," Lindevaldsen said, and it's common for people to declare, "'OK, we're drawing the line here,' but it's a fair assessment to say that at this point, we're arbitrarily drawing lines.

"If the right of privacy is expanded so broadly that it's two people or three people who make that private decision and consent to live together, there is no rational way to draw the line at two people. It could be three or four," she said.

Lindevaldsen also noted many people fear that long-standing social traditions could be overturned by one client, one lawyer and one judge.

"One judge out in San Francisco has declared California's marriage laws unconstitutional," she said. "It was one judge who threw into question all of New York's marriage laws, even though four others were saying, 'No, no, they're constitutional.'

"Hopefully, you have appellate courts who are willing to stay the true course, but it's difficult to buck what seems like equal rights, fair rights, and to apply the law strictly as it should be applied," Lindevaldsen added.

Calls to Santorum's office seeking comment for this article were not returned by press time. However, his re-election campaign website refers to Santorum as "a leader on the issue of traditional marriage," adding that the senator "supports a constitutional amendment protecting marriage as that of a union between a man and woman."

See Earlier Stories:
'Gay' Activists Target Santorum for Alleged Discrimination (April 23, 2003)
Court Uses 'Flimsy Principle' to Strike Down Texas Sodomy Law (June 26, 2003)
Homosexuals Push for Same-Sex Marriage After Sodomy Ruling (June 27, 2003)

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