Michael George Emack and Lehi Barlow Jeffs both entered a guilty plea avoiding trial in bigamy trials in San Antonio Texas. The men were members of a break away fundamentalist sect of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints which teaches that “plural marriages have glorification in Heaven.”
Says Aol News:
[The sect] teaches that plural marriage brings glorification in heaven. Members have been reluctant to talk publicly about such unions, in part because Texas’ bigamy statute makes it illegal to even purport to marry more than one person. Many of the FLDS unions are only church-sanctioned, not legally documented, marriages.
To avoid the crime of bigamy, it is necessary to divorce the first spouse before getting a second or third or fourth. These men failed to do that, obviously and so they are now facing 7 and 8 year jail sentences. But what is fascinating about the Texas statute is that it is a crime even to “purport to marry more than one person.” Emphasis on the work “purport.”
That is problematic, don’t you think? Is Texas a common law marriage jurisdiction?….hang on. Let’s check this out for a second….Yes. Texas recognizes common law marriages….okay. So…my next question is, why is it constitutional to tell someone they can only have one spouse? Obviously I am not a polygamist and I am not even endorsing polygamy. But I live in a world, in 2010 where I am starting to recognize that it really isn’t anyone’s business if consenting adults feel they want to be legally bound to each other by “marriage.” For those proponents of gay marriage, for example, why is gay marriage okay but then polygamy is not? Of course, Texas bans both polygamy and gay marriage just like most other states. Unlike most other states, however, Texas allows “common law marriage” and one of the requirements is that you live together, you hold each other out to be your spouse and you agree to be husband and wife.
I guess I am not seeing what the big deal is if more than two people fit this criteria. Why can’t they be legal common law spouses? For that matter, why couldn’t people of the same gender? In the case at bar why convict someone to 7 or 8 years in prison just because he “purported” to be married to more than one person? Marriage is a fundamental right. The word “purported” lends are certain arbitrariness to the law that seems constitutionally infirm. It seems to violate their first and fourteenth amendment rights. Religion. Right to assemble. Due Process. Equal protection.
But then again, if the marriage definition changes to allow people to marry whomever they want is that necessarily good for families and society? Or would that be slightly chaotic? For example, in the case of polygamy, how would a woman with multiple husbands figure out who the father of her child is? Or are we only going to allow men to marry as many women as they want just for the sake of genetic markers and certain paternity? Is polygamy void by necessity? What do you think?