Sister Wives? Oh, Brother!

by Edwin Faust
August 15, 2011

Reality TV has become increasingly, well, unreal. The array of programming that documents the lives of a menagerie of people in “interesting” situations is incontrovertible proof of Catholic novelist Evelyn Waugh’s statement that one cannot write satire in the modern world because the modern world will always trump satire with reality.

“Sister Wives” has marked its second successful season and the Nielsen ratings indicate that it has resonated with a significant portion of the TV viewing public. The show features Kody Brown and his family — a kind of Mormon morphing of the Brady Bunch. Kody, of Lehi, Utah, has four wives and 16 children, all living in what appears to be relative harmony under one roof.

On the one hand, one might dismiss Kody and his brood as just another float in the endless parade of freaks that provide what passes for entertainment among the idle and voyeuristic whose hands are forever glued to their remote controls and whose couches bear the deep imprint of their commitment to colored images.

But Kody may well become a pivotal figure in the now raging battle over what legally constitutes marriage and, ultimately, what is judicially accepted as natural law. The polygamous Browns are challenging Utah’s criminal statute against multiple simultaneous marriages even as the authorities are investigating the Browns for potential bigamy charges.

One wonders about the investigation. It would seem that Kody and his wives have opened the book on their lives by broadcasting the intimate details of their household arrangements to a few hundred million people over the course of the past two years. But I guess the state of Utah wants to be sure of its case.

Or else the state is hesitant to begin a legal process that could snowball all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and end in the abolition of laws against polygamy. What is feared, it seems, is the total unraveling of a social structure based on the traditional family: a husband (male), a wife (female) and children born to them and raised under their authority.

The Supreme Court has already struck down all state laws against sodomy. In a 2003 decision, Lawrence versus the State of Texas, the high court ruled 6 to 3 that state laws criminalizing sodomy were unconstitutional.

The “reasoning” was that such laws violated the due process clause of the 14th Amendment that states no one may be deprived of his liberty if the exercise of that liberty is consistent with the exercise of his constitutional rights.

The court concluded that homosexual acts performed in private constitute an exercise in liberty which the state can neither prohibit nor prosecute. The decision effectively struck down laws against sodomy in Texas and in all states where they are still on the books.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy made it clear that the decision was more in accordance with liberal principles than legal precedent: “The state cannot demean their (homosexuals’) existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”

Homosexual “rights” activists rejoiced. And the campaign for the legalization of “gay marriage” went into high gear. One by one the states are passing laws granting homosexual “marriages” legal parity with heterosexual marriages. The juggernaut appears unstoppable.

And now Kody Brown has stepped into the arena where marriage rights are being fought out, claiming that polygamy should be granted the same 14th Amendment protections accorded to homosexual sodomy. From a positivist legal standpoint, his argument is strong.

Brown is legally married to only one of his wives, Meri. The rest are his spouses by religious ceremony and free choice. If the law must remain on the other side of the threshold in homosexual households, why should it be allowed entry into the Brown domicile? And how long can the law against bigamy stand, when it rests on a cultural consensus whose mores cannot be enforced under the current reading of the U.S. Constitution?

And where are the U.S. Catholic bishops in all of this? They issue statements supporting traditional marriage, but take no action against “Catholic” politicians, such as Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York, to name one of many, who have made the legalization of “gay marriage” a high priority.

Of course, in the light of the priestly sex-abuse and cover-up scandals, the bishops have a diminished moral authority in the eyes of the public. “Clean up your own house”, is the likely retort to any chastisement they are likely to give others. Perhaps this is why they speak with a muted voice.

Somewhat overlooked in the Lawrence versus Texas decision is the observation that the prohibition against sodomy arose not from any concern about homosexual activity, but from a religious prejudice among the founders of the U.S. that any activity that was not “procreative” was immoral. Sodomy laws were initially intended to discourage married couples from engaging in non-procreative relations.

This intention later manifested in state laws against contraception, which have also been abolished. What should be apparent in this judicial history is that once sexuality is severed from procreation, all objection to consensual acts of any kind among people of the same or opposite sexes must be abandoned. The pleasure principle — if such it can be called — rules, and pleasures are deemed by the courts as private exercises in liberty that cannot be interfered with.

The Supreme Court majority in the Lawrence case saw this clearly. Kody Brown and his lawyers may make use of this earlier decision as a precedent in pressing their case to the judicial limit. What arguments can be raised against it?

Brown has 16 children and counting, so his relations with his four wives are procreative. But that is irrelevant in the current culture of the courts, which is concerned with protecting the privacy of sexual conduct of all kinds, regardless of its intent. The only argument against Brown’s situation is that posed by women’s rights advocates, who argue that polygamy subjugates women.

But many women are subjugated in monogamy and in co-habitation, as are many men. What sort of calculus for socially approved relationships can be devised and how can it be legally enforced? The absurdities we have brought ourselves to are manifest.

Once we abandon the principle that marriage is instituted by God between a man and woman for the sake of begetting and raising children to know, love and serve God, we have no ground to stand on. All things become permissible.

The diabolic disorientation Sister Lucy of Fatima warned of is happening both within the Church and in secular society. Each year that the Consecration of Russia is delayed brings us closer to the abyss of moral chaos into which we are ready to plunge headlong.

The only way to correct a disorientation is by turning in the right direction. We must face Our Lady and do as She asks, or face the terrible consequences.

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