Polygamy loves company

Polygamy activists attempt to attach to the gay marriage movement to promote decriminalizing the practice.

Published March 21, 2006 4:12PM (EST)

Polygamy activists recently hit the mother lode. Not only is a federal lawsuit challenging polygamy discrimination in the courts, but now they have a big fat HBO show on their side. "Big Love," which is about a polygamous family in suburban Salt Lake City, debuted this month. In it, a polygamist's three wives live in adjacent households and take turns sharing their husband at night.

According to an article published yesterday in Newsweek, a new wave of polygamy activists is emerging to leverage the new interest and decriminalize the lifestyle, which is now practiced by an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 Americans. "Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle," Mark Henkel, founder of the Christian evangelical polygamy organization TruthBearer.org, told the magazine. The Newsweek article includes the story of Marlyne Hammon, who's in a polygamous relationship and founded a lobbying group. As a child in the 1950s, she was forced to live apart from her father for six years after he was arrested and jailed on charges of polygamy and her family was exiled from their community.

What is particularly troubling is the fact that supporters are trying to glom onto the gay marriage movement to promote their agenda. "If Heather can have two mommies, she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy," argues Henkel. That's just the kind of logic that makes gay marriage champions cringe. Remember Sen. Rick Santorum's famous comment that legalizing gay sex would open the door to legalized bigamy, polygamy and incest? "I frankly would not love to see an article [about polygamy advocacy] in Newsweek because this is the connection that our opponents make, and we feel it's a specious one," Carisa Cunningham, director of public affairs for Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, tells the magazine.

But last we checked, Christian fundamentalists weren't exactly holding joint fundraisers with gay rights groups. Reporter Elise Soukup carefully writes, "Though [polygamy activists] closely watch the gay-marriage battle, they are generally religious and conservative -- and, like Henkel and Hammon, believe that homosexual behavior is a sin."

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards

Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist based in New York. She can be reached at sarah@saraherichards.com.

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