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Doctrinal Matters: Marriage and Family

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The Next Domino: Polygamy

by  Dave Miller, Ph.D.

In the 1960s, as the storm clouds of social and political liberalism were gathering, and leftist activists were beginning their half-century assault on traditional American (i.e., biblical) values, cries for “tolerance” and “diversity” began to be heard. As the “New Morality” asserted itself with its insistence on “free love” and “sexual freedom,” the divorce rate in the United States suddenly exploded in 1965 (see Whitehead, 1993). Lax attitudes toward sex resulted in co-ed dormitories on university campuses and “shacking up” (unmarried couples cohabitating without marriage) became common place. The sinister conspiracy to desensitize the American public’s commitment to Christian mores was underway. In addition to extramarital sex and divorce, premarital sex, unwed motherhood, and a corresponding clamor for abortion rights quickly followed.

Those who resisted this undermining of the marriage institution argued that these steps would inevitably lead to additional distortions of God’s laws for human sexuality. It was not uncommon for preachers to argue against unscriptural divorce and remarriage by insisting that repentance necessitated the termination of such illicit marriages. One proof for this contention was the fact that if two men “married” each other, they would be living in a state or condition of ongoing sin (cf. Romans 6:2; Colossians 3:7). If they desired to please God, their only recourse would be to cease their sexual relationship. Many religious people found this line of reasoning difficult to accept. “After all,” they said, “Two men cannot marry each other.” But here we are, over forty years later. We can now see that the comparison between heterosexual marriage and homosexual marriage was correct.

The gradual softening of attitudes toward homosexuality among large numbers of Americans has led the morally upright to articulate the next logical comparison. In keeping with the domino theory, if homosexuality is now to be accepted as normal, moral behavior—in direct conflict with the Christian moral framework—then no grounds exists for opposing additional forms of sexual perversion: polygamy, incest, bestiality/zoophilia, pedophilia, etc. Americans, for the most part, have not become so morally depraved as to countenance incest, bestiality, and pedophilia—though these actions are increasingly asserting themselves in a quest for social acceptance (e.g., Hari, 2002; “Peter...,” n.d.; Singer, 2001; Moore, 2002; “NAMBLA...,” 2003). However, the next logical step that one would expect to follow on the heels of increasing acceptance of homosexuality would be the promotion of polygamy.

Sadly, tragically, the next step has been taken. The fact that it was predictable and inevitable in no way reduces the shock and repugnance that must surely be felt by those Americans who still retain some semblance of moral sensibility and ethical decency. After all, we saw it coming. When the highest court in the land issued its historically and constitutionally unprecedented ruling against all state sodomy laws (Lawrence..., 2003), almost instantly, a convicted Utah polygamist commenced the appeals process to have his bigamy convictions overturned (“Convicted Utah...,” 2003). Even Utah politicians are fuzzy on whether the Constitution permits polygamy as freedom of religious expression (Fahys, 1998; Helprin, 1998). But, hey, that’s the backwoods of Utah—right? Not any more. Tom Hanks has produced a new television series for HBO, “Big Love,” that explores the lives of a husband, his three wives, and seven children (“Polygamy Comes...,” 2006; Peyser, 2006; Krauthammer, 2006).

Is there no end to the incessant parade of depravity and moral degeneracy to which the American public must be subjected? “Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed, nor did they know how to blush” (Jeremiah 6:15; 8:12).

Believe it or not, in the days when American civilization’s moral sanity was still intact, the reprehensible nature of polygamy by the vast majority of Americans was unquestioned. In the late 1800s, Mormons fled to Utah seeking respite from the widespread opposition to their cultic practices. As America extended its “manifest destiny” westward and more U.S. territories sought statehood, the admission of Utah and Idaho into the union came to the forefront of national concern. After all, their predominantly Mormon populations were practicing polygamy. But the judicial authorities did not shrink from their appointed responsibility, as is evident from the following three United States Supreme Court cases that addressed the matter.

In the 1885 Utah Territory case of Murphy v. Ramsey, the Court declared:

For certainly no legislation can be supposed more wholesome and necessary in the founding of a free, self-governing commonwealth, fit to take rank as one of the coordinate States of the Union, than that which seeks to establish it on the basis of the idea of the family, as consisting in and springing from the union for life of one man and one woman in the holy estate of matrimony; the sure foundation of all that is stable and noble in our civilization; the best guaranty of that reverent morality which is the source of all beneficent progress in social and political improvement (1885, emp. added).

Did you catch that? The only “sure foundation” of civilization and the best security for morality (which, in turn, initiates progress toward social and political improvement) is the family defined as one man for one woman for life. But the foundation is crumbling and the guaranty is failing. Hence, as our morals continue to unravel, we ought fully to expect to see the erosion of all that is stable and noble in our civilization and the undermining of beneficent progress in social and political improvement. That is precisely what we are seeing.

In another U.S. Supreme Court case involving polygamy in the Territory of Utah, the defendant insisted that his bigamy was simply in keeping with his constitutional right to the free exercise of his religious beliefs as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He insisted that

the practice of polygamy was directly enjoined upon the male members thereof by the Almighty God, in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of said church; that the failing or refusing to practice polygamy by such male members of said church, when circumstances would admit, would be punished, and that the penalty for such failure and refusal would be damnation in the life to come (Reynolds v. United States, 1879).

The high court vehemently disagreed and issued a sweeping repudiation of polygamy:

Polygamy has always been odious among the northern and western nations of Europe, and, until the establishment of the Mormon Church, was almost exclusively a feature of the life of Asiatic and of African people. At common law, the second marriage was always void (2 Kent, Com. 79), and from the earliest history of England polygamy has been treated as an offence against society.... From that day to this we think it may safely be said there never has been a time in any State of the Union when polygamy has not been an offence against society, cognizable by the civil courts and punishable with more or less severity. In the face of all this evidence, it is impossible to believe that the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom was intended to prohibit legislation in respect to this most important feature of social life. Marriage, while from its very nature a sacred obligation, is nevertheless, in most civilized nations, a civil contract, and usually regulated by law. Upon it society may be said to be built, and out of its fruits spring social relations and social obligations and duties, with which government is necessarily required to deal. In fact, according as monogamous or polygamous marriages are allowed, do we find the principles on which the government of the people, to a greater or less extent, rests (Reynolds..., emp. added).

Such legal declarations reflected the views of the vast majority of Americans for the first 180+ years of our national existence. Indeed, for most of American history, courts have had no trouble recognizing and reaffirming the idea of the family and the historic definition of marriage: one man for one woman for life. After all, this foundational premise was drawn directly from the Bible (Genesis 2:24).

In still another case, several men who wished to register to vote in the Territory of Idaho took the preparatory oath that required them to swear that they neither practiced polygamy nor belonged to any organization that encouraged its practice. Yet, when the men were discovered to be members of the Mormon Church, they were brought to trial and found guilty of procuring voting rights unlawfully—though the defense attorney argued that the oath constituted a “law respecting an establishment of religion” in violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Neither the District Court nor the Supreme Court accepted such thinking. Instead, they reaffirmed the essentiality of the Christian moral framework as the basis of civil society:

Bigamy and polygamy are crimes by the laws of all civilized and Christian countries. They are crimes by the laws of the United States, and they are crimes by the laws of Idaho. They tend to destroy the purity of the marriage relation, to disturb the peace of families, to degrade woman and to debase man. Few crimes are more pernicious to the best interests of society and receive more general or more deserved punishment. To extend exemption from punishment for such crimes would be to shock the moral judgment of the community. To call their advocacy a tenet of religion is to offend the common sense of mankind (Davis v. Beason, 1890, emp. added).

For the courts today, and Americans at large, to tolerate the airing all across the land of a television program that dignifies the practice of polygamy, is to demonstrate not only the loss of common sense, it manifests the extent to which moral bankruptcy has become commonplace. The destruction of marriage and the family, the degrading of women and the debasing of men, are the order of the day.

Polygamy is simply one more indication of our country’s half-century long venture into decadence and paganism, moving us ever closer to a complete moral, spiritual, and religious breakdown—and the inevitable collapse of civilization. In still another court case, the State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania declared the attitude of the Founders and the nation as a whole in its utter rejection of pagan morality:

They never thought of tolerating paganism...on the ground of liberty of conscience. They could not admit this, as a civil justification of human sacrifices, or parricide, or infanticide, or thuggism, or of such modes of worship as the disgusting and corrupting rites of the Dionysia, and Aphrodisia, and Eleusinia, and other festivals of Greece and Rome. They did not mean that the pure, moral customs which Christianity has introduced, should be without legal protection, because some pagan, or other religionist, or anti-religionist, should advocate, as matter of conscience, concubinage, polygamy, incest, free love, and free divorce, or any of them. They did not mean, that phallic processions and satyric dances, and obscene songs, and indecent statues, and paintings of ancient or of modern paganism, might be introduced, under the profession of religion, or pleasure, or conscience, to seduce the young and the ignorant into a Corinthian degradation; to offend the moral sentiment of a refined Christian people; and to compel Christian modesty to associate with the nudity and impurity of Polynesian, or of Spartan women. No Christian people could possibly allow such things.... Every Christian man is sure, that it is his religion that has suppressed the pagan customs just alluded to, and that to it is due the large advance in justice, benevolence, truth, and purity that belongs to modern civilization; that it has purified and elevated the family relations; that it has so elevated the moral standards of society, that the indecencies, and cruelties, and cheats, of paganism are now condemned by custom and by law, as crimes (Commonwealth v. Nesbit, 1859, emp. added).

Little could a mid-nineteenth century state Supreme Court have realized that their vivid description of paganism would someday serve as an accurate depiction of the present moral condition of America! “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).


Commonwealth v. Nesbit (1859), Pa. 398; 1859 Pa. LEXIS 240.

“Convicted Utah Polygamist’s Appeal Invokes Gay Sex Ruling” (2003), Associated Press, December 12, [On-line], URL:

Davis v. Beason (1889), 133 U.S. 333; 10 S. Ct. 299; 33 L. Ed. 637; 1890 U.S. LEXIS 1915.

Fahys, Judy (1998), “Leavitt Says Polygamy Might Be Constitutional,” The Salt Lake Tribune, July 24, [On-line], URL:

Hari, Johann (2002), “Forbidden Love,” Guardian Unlimited, January 9, [On-line], URL:,4273,4331603,00.html.

Helprin, John (1998), “Polygamy Issue Has Politicians in Verbal Tangles,” Salt Lake Tribune, August 29, [On-line], URL:

Krauthammer, Charles (2006), “Should We Alter the State of Our Unions?,” New York Daily News, March 17, [On-line], URL:

Lawrence v. Texas (2003), [On-line], URL: 000&invol=02-102.

Moore, Art (2002), “‘Nothing New’ in Book Condoning Child Sex,” World Net Daily, April 5, [On-line], URL:

Murphy v. Ramsey (1885), 114 U.S. 15; 5 S. Ct. 747; 29 L. Ed. 47; 1885 U.S. LEXIS 1732.

NAMBLA: Who We Are” (2003), [On-line], URL:

“Peter Singer” (no date), [On-line], URL:

Peyser, Mark (2006), “Television: The Spouses of ‘Big Love,’” Newsweek, [On-line], URL:

“Polygamy Comes to TV” (2006), ET Online, March 6, [On-line], URL:

Reynolds v. United States (1879), 98 U.S. 145; 25 L. Ed. 244; 1878 U.S. LEXIS 1374; 8 Otto 145.

“Singer, Peter (2001), “Review of Dearest Pet: On Bestiality by Midas Dekkers,” [On-line], URL:

Whitehead, Barbara (1993), “Dan Quayle Was Right,” The Atlantic Monthly, [On-line], URL:

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