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America's Debate > Archive > Assorted Issues Archive > [A] Big Trials and Legal Cases
Jonathan Turley wrote an excellent piece here on a case before the Supreme Court regarding a polygamist, Tom Green.

Even though I am against gay marriage/civil unions (another topic for another day), I can't find a good reason for criminalizing polygamy. 78% of the world practices it. That doesn't make it "right" just in itself, but why is ok to marry 5 women consecutively and have children, but not marry any of them at the same time? It's a fairly powerful argument in my opinion.

In my opinion, the Supremes will punt on this one and not rule on it - much like some other significant cases (US v. Emerson, etc).

So, the questions for debate are:

Should polygamy be legalized?

How do you feel the Supreme Court will rule on this issue?
Absolutely should be legalized- there should be no regulations regarding how legal consenting adults should combine thier finances and protect themselves during divorce-

I don't know- we have basically, an american christian coalition majority in the Supreme court right now- these are the same kind of folks that would have found in favor of slavery back in the day- I really don't trust them to uphold the constitution- just uphold whatever Rush and Jerry Falwell tell them LOL mad.gif
I would have no special objection to polygamy, provided it was not restricted to polygyny - i.e. as long as both men and women could have more than one legal spouse. If only men are allowed multiple simultaneous partners, I don't think that would be fair.

I think anyone ought to be able to "marry" anyone they like, provided both parties are consenting adults. There should still be laws regarding incest and so on, but these should solely concern themselves with avoiding inbreeding as far as possible, not with marriage.

However, I think marriage laws should be defined in such a way so that it is not possible to marry someone solely to take advantage of the special tax status that often comes with marriage (e.g. an exemption from any estate taxes that may apply; putting assets into a spouse's name to income or other taxes, etc.). Now it may be that some or all of the relevant taxes or special tax privileges of marriage should be withdrawn as the price of such liberalisation, but I'd have no real issue with that, either.
I think it depends on whether:

i) you believe that a Western society without polygamy is a better one (I personally do), and

ii) whether it is the job of the state to enforce that (I'm in two minds about that).

I don't consider myself to be particularly right-wing, and I'm certainly not a Christian, but it isn't controversial at all to say that the law does and should impose limits on our liberty in order to insure society's better function. What happens in practice with polygamy is that men won't share women unless in exceptional circumstances (e.g. the Sherpas of Nepal, where the men will often be absent from home for weeks, and so sharing is more tolerable), and men of higher status/wealth end up with a bunch of wives doing all their housework while men of low status/wealth live alone. I'd love to believe that the freedom to act as you please automatically makes everything more wonderful, but I don't, and in this particular case I think that society would be the worse for polygamy.

As for the argument about finances, I think that tax avoidance is a very poor reason to legalise bigamy. Bigamy is a social issue that needs to be decided on social and ethical grounds.

As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, it is obliged to rule on the basis of the law. Of course, because your constitution is frequently so vague, it can in practice rule however the hell it wants. It depends how they're feeling on the day. They could go for religious freedom and have sufficient support from the constitution, or equally decide that it isn't a religious issue.

I don't actually know where the law against bigamy comes from. Legally speaking, if the law against polygamy is in a statute then it believe I'm right in saying that, if they were to use the first Amendment, it couldn't be overruled by them except for those practicing it for religious reasons. If the law is common law (i.e. based on the precedent of Reynolds vs. United States (1878)) then they do have the power to overrule the case completely, but would find it hard to justify anything other than a religious exception through the 1st Amendment.

I can't see anything in the Constitution, after a very brief glance, other than the 1st Amendment, which could be used to strike down a statute.
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