Polygamous irony

The irony of the US federal courts overturning Utah legislation on polygamous marriage is rich and thick.  The Mormons who had settled Utah and at the time were practicing polygamous  marriage claimed the freedom to so as a religious belief. US public opinion was decidedly against it in the 19th century, so much so that federal laws prohibiting its practice in the territories were passed as an expression of moral outrage. Utah was denied statehood for over thirty years after it would have qualified on the basis of self-government and population, because as a state it would have had the right to determine its own marriage laws without Congressional interference. The laws passed by Congress became increasingly punitive, draconian, and began to strip the Mormons of their constitutional civil rights on the basis of their religious belief. They took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, and were defeated, in a case which still serves as a precedent on religious liberty rulings, and finally determined that the provisions on plural marriage were non essential and yielded to the law of the land. Utah was required as a condition of admission for statehood to include a provision in its state constitution to forever prohibit polygamous marriages.

Now, a century and a quarter later, we have the spectacle of the Federal courts overruling state law on marriage and forcing Utah to recognize marital arrangements that the Federal government once took great care to prohibit. It is another layer of irony that the advocates of those arrangements are chiefly the libertines that the 19th century Mormons were falsely accused of being. If current trends continue, it will not be long before the heavy hand of the federal government again comes down on the Mormons for defying the morality of the civic authorities. But if it does, there is plenty of reason to expect a different outcome.

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