With the general lack of any logical reasons why same-sex civil marriage can't be permitted, the social conservatives often fall back on the slippery slope argument: "If we allow the moral depravity of gay marriage to be sanctioned, what's to stop other moral depravities such as polygamy or bestiality to be sanctioned by the state?" With HBO's "Big Love" dramatizing the challenges of living a polygamist life in modern-day Utah, the polygamy argument often steps to the fore, as witnessed by Bill Bennett's appearance on "The Daily Show" earlier this week. (See previous post.) In addition to the points I made in that post about polygamy creating a generally inequitable arrangement relative to civil marriage, the following also occurred to me.
Marriage in this country has two aspects -- civil and religious. The civil aspect is all the contract law stuff -- shared debts, inheritance, hospital visitation, child custody, etc. But it seems to me that most polygamists, certainly most in the USA, enter into plural marriages not for civil reasons, but for religious ones. They feel they are living a higher principle, one ordained by God. Since they have established their own religious institutions which permit/encourage plural marriage, there is no need for those who choose to practice polygamy to seek recognition for those unions; if they believe God sanctions these relationships, and they have their own churches in which to bless the unions, they already have all the recognition they need or desire.
What's more, since polygamy (or rather polygyny, since there are no multiple-husband marriages among the Utah/Arizona fundamental LDS crowd) is entirely heterosexual, polygamists can enter into civil unions in order to guarantee the benefits those unions offer, as least for the husband and his first wife. Therefore, there is no motivation for polygamists to seek legal recognition of their unions -- and any attempt to do so would run afoul of the 14th Amendment, as it creates a system of inequity, which same-sex marriage would not.