The following comes from a July 10 Washington Post article by Sarah Pulliam Bailey:
The Supreme Court’s decision in June that legalized same-sex marriage across the country has unleashed a renewed debate over polygamy, leaving some to wonder why marriage should be considered between just two persons.
The first legal challenge involving polygamy came last week after a man from Montana said the Supreme Court’s decision inspired him to apply for a marriage license so he can legally marry a second woman. Nathan Collier, who was featured on the reality television show “Sister Wives,” said he will sue the state if it denies him the right to enter into a plural marriage.
“It’s about marriage equality,” Collier told the Associated Press. “You can’t have this without polygamy.” A county civil litigator Kevin Gillen said he was reviewing Montana’s bigamy laws and expected to send a formal response to Collier by this week.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts’s dissenting opinion raised the question of whether the court’s rationale could be used to legalize plural marriage down the road.
“Although the majority randomly inserts the adjective ‘two’ in various places, it offers no reason at all why the two-person element of the core definition of marriage may be preserved while the man-woman element may not,” Roberts wrote. “Indeed, from the standpoint of history and tradition, a leap from opposite-sex marriage to same-sex marriage is much greater than one from a two-person union to plural unions, which have deep roots in some cultures around the world.”
Six Supreme Court decisions have upheld bans on polygamy and public support for polygamy remains low, so it’s unlikely the courts will change the laws anytime soon, said John Witte Jr. a law professor at Emory University who recently published “The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy.”
Opposition to polygamy has focused on the potential harm directed toward women and children, because studies have found correlations to abuse and other problems. But proponents historically saw plural marriage as a social welfare system, a defense against sexual abuse and possibly a means of increasing the opportunity for women to marry in times of war, Witte said. Today, arguments in favor of polygamy focus more on sexual autonomy and individual choice.
“Because the definition of marriage or the form of marriage has changed and we’re open to constitutional change, it’s inevitable for this to be contested,” Witte said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the issue of polygamy gains momentum, but I would be surprised if the court’s opinion changes in my lifetime.”