As I understand it, the primary legal argument for same sex marriage (and mind you I am no lawyer) is that the powers and benefits empowered by the state to individuals by marriage are in fact civil rights. All individuals in a committed relationship should have access to these civil rights regardless of sexual preference. I for one have no problem with this line of reasoning.
While the California voters’ rejection of same sex marriage (upheld by the courts) is a huge setback for gay marriage proponents, the movement is scoring regular victories in other states and nations (especially western Europe). One senses that it is only a matter of time before same sex marriage is legal in the Golden State.
Given the above line of reasoning that marriage is a civil right, it begs the question: Will polygamy become the next legal battleground for marriage in America?
Polygamy received attention during last May’s inauguration of President Zuma in Pretoria, South Africa. Plural marriage is legal in South Africa, and all three of Zuma’s wives (and most of his 19 children) were in attendance. According to at least one newspaper article, the big buzz in South Africa was which one of the three wives would be named “First Lady.” (Which in turn raises the question of what to call the other two wives?) The Zuma affair points out that polygamy is not only legal, but widely practiced and socially accepted in other cultures around the globe.
Spurred in part by the HBO series Big Love, the issue of plural marriage in America usually conjures the image of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) in Utah. In fact, polygamy has been illegal in the Mormon Church for a century, and banned by the Church’s home state of Utah since 1910 as well. To the ongoing embarrassment of the Mormon Church, some break off sects still practice plural marriage. They do so outside the sanction of church and state, some times resulting in high profile busts.
When it comes to plural marriage in America in the new millennium, I suggest forgetting the Mormon fringe sects; the real sleeper (no pun intended) is Islam. With a 1,300 year history and over a billion practitioners worldwide, Islam is one of the world’s major religions. According to the tenets of Islam, under certain conditions, Muslim husbands are allowed up to four wives. Indeed, in most of the Islamic world polygamy is legal. (For example, 21 of 22 Arab League nations allow polygamy, the exception being Tunisia.)
According to a number of sources, Islam is the fastest growing religion in America, expanding through both immigration and conversion. Nobody seems to know how many Muslims there are in America — estimates start at over two million and range upwards to as many as seven million.
Already, England recognizes polygamous marriages among its immigrant population provided the marriage occurred in the country-of-origin. One cannot help but wonder at what point here in America the second, third and/or fourth wife in a Muslim marriage will sue the state for recognition of her marriage “civil rights.” And who is the state to deny those rights when the marriage is sanctioned by one of the world’s major religions, and could have occurred in scores of other countries.
“Honey, Honey, Honey, Honey I’m home!”