With same-sex marriage now a reality in Massachusetts and a possibility elsewhere, should legalized polygamy be next? Yes, asserted George Washington University Law School’s Jonathan Turley in a recent article in USA Today.
He detests the practice but sees it as a matter of constitutional freedom, noting that even the Bible accepts polygamy. The issue arose when Utah’s Tom Green, who has five wives and 31 children, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn his imprisonment for polygamy on grounds of religious conscience.
Green observes the polygamy revelation from the prophet Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormon church. The church retains the teachings in its scriptures but halted the practice in 1890 and excommunicates “fundamentalists” like Green who obey Smith’s original words. (Smith secretly took at least 28 wives.)
Turley said the Supreme Court enforced religious bigotry when it upheld federal law barring polygamy (Abraham Lincoln signed the first such law). Turley thinks polygamists need stronger legal protection than homosexuals, who won legalization in a Supreme Court ruling last year.
Polygamy is “one of the common threads between Christians, Jews and Muslims,” Turley argued. However, the religious situation isn’t that simple.
In Islam, the Quran teaches, “If you fear that you cannot deal justly with the orphans, then marry such of the women as appeal to you, two, three or four; but if you fear that you cannot be equitable, then only one” (4:3).
Some Muslims consider polygamy an essential tenet and cite the example of the prophet Muhammad (who had 10 wives). But Quran translator Majid Fakhry says the verse does not require polygamy and “most commentators regard the permission as an exception and not a rule.”
Fakhry notes the context of this revelation: Seventy Muslim warriors had been killed in battle and the widows needed new husbands to provide for them. Most Muslims are, in fact, monogamous.
And the Bible? Turley cited Old Testament patriarchs and kings who took multiple wives. Biblical law in Deuteronomy assumes some men will have two wives (21:15) but says a monarch “shall not multiply wives for himself” (17:17) — an admonition ignored by the multi-married kings David and Solomon.
However, Jewish and Christian authorities agree that the Bible’s ideal is monogamy, established at the creation: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
The first biblical polygamist, Lamech, is portrayed as a vengeful murderer (Genesis 4:23-24). Numerous subsequent Bible passages treat monogamy as the norm and depict practical woes in plural marriages.
Judaism ended polygamy more than 1,000 years ago, except somewhat among Middle Eastern Sephardim, who were presumably influenced by surrounding Muslim culture. But the Sephardim are turning strictly monogamous as they leave Muslim countries to live in modern Israel.
Christianity follows Jesus, who repeated the Genesis monogamy teaching, and the Apostle Paul, who likewise assumed monogamy. It’s the faith’s virtually universal belief, except for some “African independent churches” that were not established by missionaries.
Turley provoked bombast from the Rev. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Mohler wrote that the article proves toleration of gay marriage “will open the floodgates to the normalization of any and all sexual relationships.”
Mohler quoted Stanley Kurtz, who contended in The Weekly Standard that homosexual marriage would inevitably produce legalization of polygamy and “polyamory” or group marriage, “linking two, three or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in every conceivable combination of male and female.”
Seem far-fetched? Religion scholars in “gay studies” are giving polyamory serious attention. And the “polyamory awareness” caucus in the Unitarian Universalist Association advocates the “practice of loving or relating intimately to more than one person at a time with honesty and integrity.”