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A few years ago, when I was rushing my daughter to pre-school one morning, a similarly tardy and exasperated-looking mom passed us on the stairs. My daughter took this as an opportunity to announce, “I have two moms.” The exasperated mom picked up her hunched shoulders to turn to Willa and, after a sigh, say, “You don’t know how lucky you are.”  

This has happened to us a lot. On more occasions than I can count, overwhelmed straight parents have proclaimed how much they wish their family had two moms and, thus, extra help. This conversation often bleeds easily into a “the more the merrier” logic followed by some joke about polygamy. Like, “I’d sleep with 10 wives and husbands as long as it meant I could actually sleep in once in a while!” 

And if most parents are being honest, the idea of more hands on deck is mighty appealing, even if we may not understand the emotional arrangements of open marriages and might legitimately be skeptical about the gender imbalances often found in polygamy.

Back in the early days of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender movement’s push for marriage equality, this slippery slope to polygamy was pragmatically taboo. After all, arguments about gay marriage leading to polygamy were lobbed almost entirely with the purpose of derailing the gay rights agenda. And there was also something inherently offensive about making the connection, along the same lines of suggesting that gay marriage would lead to people marrying goats. Never mind the fact that opposite-sex goat-human marriage had been looming as a dangerous temptation all along…

Still, people often mention polygamy and gay marriage in the same sentence (not to mention the same essay). Recently—in, surprise, Utah—a judge struck down a part of that state’s anti-polygamy law. Mind you, the Utah law makes it a felony punishable by up to five years in prison when someone “cohabits with another person” to whom they aren’t legally married. This makes me wonder whether Utah also outlaws the combustion engine, the Internet and other realities of modern life, but anyway there you have it.  

The legal challenge came after the state sued the stars of Sister Wives, a TV show that follows the real life of one husband, his four wives, and their 17 children. Now here’s the thing: Sister Wives premiered in September 2010, but Kody and Meri married in 1990, Kody and Janelle married in 1993, and Kody and Christine married in 1994. In other words, all those marriages predate even the earliest adoption of gay marriage in America, which was in Massachusetts in 2004. And second, in the Sister Wives family, Kody married each of the women, but the women didn’t marry each other.  

In other words, polygamy, as it generally is practiced in the United States, is a predominantly heterosexual enterprise—like heterosexuality (or the male ideal of heterosexuality) on steroids. After all, while the percentage of married women who have affairs has risen in recent decades, married men still do most of the cheating. Conservatives concerned about the high rate of divorce in America should stop blaming gay marriage but instead heterosexual infidelity—a prime culprit in 55 percent of divorces.

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