Thursday, July 21, 2011

Brown's Lawyer Makes His Case in the NYT

Jonathan Turley, lead counsel for the Browns, wrote an opinion for today’s New York Times arguing effectively for freedom. He begins by writing about the importance of Lawrence v. Texas (2003). Of the lawsuit by the polygnist television-starring Brown family…

They are not asking for the state to recognize their marriages. They are simply asking for the state to leave them alone.

While they should be allowed cohabitation without discrimination or oppression, they should also be able to get legally married as they want to: in a polyginist structure.

Utah and eight other states make polygamy a crime, while 49 states have bigamy statutes that can be used to prosecute plural families. And they’re not a small population: the number of fundamentalist Mormon or Christian polygamists alone has been estimated to be as high as 50,000. When Muslim as well as nonreligious plural families are considered, the real number is likely many times greater.

People hear “polygamy” in terms of in America or Canada and they think of an isolated, religion-based patriarchal community. However, there are polyamorous families everywhere, whether one man with two women, one woman with two men, three women, three men, two women and two men, or whatever. They are your coworkers and neighbors. They may be in your family and you don’t even know it becaue they haven’t come out. They may be presented as a “family friends” or roommates or “renters.”

While widely disliked, if not despised, polygamy is just one form among the many types of plural relationships in our society. It is widely accepted that a person can have multiple partners and have children with such partners. But the minute that person expresses a spiritual commitment and “cohabits” with those partners, it is considered a crime.

It is outrageous and, if we’re trying to foster stability and what’s best for children in our marriage laws, then it is backward to make criminals of poly people.

One might expect the civil liberties community to defend those cases as a natural extension of its campaign for greater privacy and personal choice. But too many have either been silent or outright hostile to demands from polygamists for the same protections provided to other groups under Lawrence.

In other words, he’s calling on people to show some solidarity. Good for him.

The reason might be strategic: some view the effort to decriminalize polygamy as a threat to the recognition of same-sex marriages or gay rights generally. After all, many who opposed the decriminalization of homosexual relations used polygamy as the culmination of a parade of horribles. In his dissent in Lawrence, Justice Antonin Scalia said the case would mean the legalization of “bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity.”

We can only hope that Scalia’s right that consenting adults will be able to enjoy each other and their own bodies without criminalization, discrimination, or bullying.

Others have opposed polygamy on the grounds that, while the Browns believe in the right of women to divorce or leave such unions, some polygamous families involve the abuse or domination of women. Of course, the government should prosecute abuse wherever it is found. But there is nothing uniquely abusive about consenting polygamous relationships. It is no more fair to prosecute the Browns because of abuse in other polygamous families than it would be to hold a conventional family liable for the hundreds of thousands of domestic violence cases each year in monogamous families.

The nail has been hit squarely on the head. Punish abusers for abuse. Don’t criminalize love and marriage.

Thank you, sir. May you win your case!
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