Legalizing Polygamy?

As we have previously blogged, it is illegal in San Diego for any married person to marry anyone other than his or her current spouse. Polygamy describes a marriage between more than two people. TLC brought the spotlight to this mysterious form of marriage with its reality show Sister Wives. Sister Wives is a show about the Brown family in which one man is married to four different women. After the show aired, rumors spread that the authorities were investigating the Browns for polygamy. The thought of criminal prosecution for their lifestyle forced the Browns out of the State of Utah, where they were living, to Nevada where they believed they would be more easily accepted.

Although Utah authorities investigated the Browns, many people are speaking out against laws prohibiting polygamy. Polygamy is often linked to the Mormon faith, thus those who are speaking out against its prohibition cite laws protecting religious freedom. Those condemning anti-polygamy laws argue that the laws inhibit religious freedom in the same way that laws prohibiting contraception did.

Legally, polygamists argue that anti-polygamy laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the states from imposing restrictions on someone on the basis of the person’s religious beliefs. The state may only impose a restriction if that restriction is necessary to achieve a compelling state interest. However, a law of general applicability, which only incidentally burdens religious practices, will not be subject to invalidation. Any state which prohibits polygamy defends this law by arguing that a compelling interest (protection of women and children) exists and that anti-polygamy laws are necessary to achieve that compelling interest.

Not all those speaking out support the movement to overturn anti-polygamy laws. In fact, some academics argue that polygamy is dangerous and harmful to all participants. They allege that in polygamist communities women are forced to marry early, rivalry sparks as new wives are added to the family, children suffer with limited resources to be shared in extremely large families and men are ostracized as they rival other young males. The supporters of the anti-polygamy laws are afraid that this type of legal movement would result in religious communities that are permitted to make their own sets of laws to live by.

The strength of the movement to overturn anti-polygamist laws has yet to be seen. With all of the recent changes regarding same-sex marriage throughout the United States, polygamy could be the new frontier for legal marriage evolution.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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