This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Seven years ago, a historian friend predicted that within 10 years polygamy would be legal in the United States. At the time, I had some doubts. However, the likelihood seems much greater in light of the recent court rulings. Journalist Austin Ruse seems to agree, writing on Aug. 28, 2014: "Professor Robert George of Princeton, along with Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, have argued that once the state eliminates the two gender rule for marriage, based upon the procreative nature of such couplings, there would be no remaining underlying principle to prevent any kind of marital arrangement, including polygamy."
While the legal machinery seeking to legitimize polygamy has moved comparatively slowly in the past few years, during that time we have witnessed a remarkable drive by the federal judiciary to legalize same-sex marriage. Overturning Utah's Amendment 3 defining marriage as monogamous and heterosexual is a classic example.
Now that same-sex marriage is legal in many states and the courts seem steeled against any possibility that it will not overtake the entire nation, if polygamy is also permitted, one undeniable consequence is the possibility of a man marrying two men or a woman marrying two women. But the potential number of participating "spouses" in these new "marriages" does not end there. Eliminating gender considerations would allow any group of men and women to marry each other in any number of complex networks, so long as participants would speak the marriage "vows." The unavoidable result is "omnigamy," or "group marriage," where everyone is married to everyone, or at least some of the people in the network.
While it may sound a little far-fetched, legalized polygamy and same-sex marriage would undeniably allow a person to be married to a limitless number of spouses. Perhaps legislators and judges would seek to place limits, but what would they be? No more than 10 spouses in a network? Twenty? Fifty? Perhaps even "marriage clubs" could be formed membership requiring only a brief ceremony where the individual "vows" to a member (or all members) of a group.
Is there anything inherently problematic with this scenario? Well, there would be interesting consequences for the U.S. governmental agencies. For example, as marriage has helped non-Americans receive U.S. citizenship in the past, omnigamy would complicate that process. Also, filing a "joint" income tax could make for much larger tax returns.
Equally concerning is that by changing the definition of "marriage" we automatically change the definition of "family." The children that might be born to heterosexual couplings within the networks seem to be non-issues to the proponents. (Plus who gets to deduct them on their income taxes?)
The recent efforts to expand individual rights to allow more diverse forms of "marriage" connections generate important questions. Have the forces promoting these changes sufficiently anticipated the consequences? It appears logistical repercussions have not been adequately studied. Even more potentially disturbing is the impact these changes might have upon the children who would be raised under this new "family" standard.
Big changes are happening fast and it seems unlikely that the current legal momentum will be slowed or stopped. Yet maybe it should be, in order to seek a longer view of the probable consequences. More likely, the upcoming generations will learn by experience whether these choices were truly desirable.
Brian C. Hales is an anesthesiologist in Layton and author of six books on Mormon polygamy.