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The Atlantic Wire has a solid roundup of post-Perry polygamy posts. What troubles me is less an inevitable creep toward a whole new legal regime officializing exotic new marriages-so-called — although, yes, that’s troubling — than the other legal regime which that creep will inevitably produce.
We’ve already seen it with the dramatic explosion of family law-so-called. Family law today is virtually the opposite of what it sounds like. It’s a complex body of rules, regulations, and litigation concerning not the legal creation but the legal breakup of marriages and families. Family law is how the state manages familial disintegration. The real post-Perry slippery slope, from this standpoint, leads toward the codification of a vast new set of intimate relationships, all right — not between (or among!) individuals but between government and individuals.
The debate over marriage too often obscures the problem lurking beneath the general weakening of the marital institution: the growing vacuum in cultural authority fills with the legal power of the state. Already we probably lack the cultural confidence to articulate at a national level a convincing account of why at least some kinds of polygamous relationships should be deprived of the honor bestowed by the title of marriage. But that kind of confidence has crumbled apace with an insistence that somebody be around to pick up the pieces when relationships we feel disentitled not to honor also crumble. And only one somebody can claim to be there to play that ironically fatherly role for everyone — the government, whose laws can penetrate everywhere, if only we let them.