Well, that didn't take long. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 26 that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. A mere four days later, a nationally known bigamist applied for a marriage license for his second mate.
He's a familiar face, and so are his women. They were on the TLC cable show Sister Wives. Now Nathan and Victoria Collier want to make their relationship with Christine legal.
Their inspiration? Chief Justice John Roberts of the Supreme Court, who predicted this could happen.
The county clerks in Billings, Montana don’t quite know how to react. Media likewise are approaching this story tentatively, and that's good. Except, of course, when they take sides or leave holes in their reports.
The Supreme Court's ruling on Friday made gay marriages legal nationwide. Chief Justice John Roberts said in his dissent that people in polygamous relationships could make the same legal argument that not having the opportunity to marry disrespects and subordinates them.
Collier, 46, said that dissent inspired him. He owns a refrigeration business in Billings and married Victoria, 40, in 2000. He and his second wife, Christine, had a religious wedding ceremony in 2007 but did not sign a marriage license to avoid bigamy charges, he said.
Collier didn't shy away from liberal terms. "It's about marriage equality," he told AP. "You can't have this without polygamy." He's also asking Montana's ACLU chapter to step in.
The clerks first denied the application, then said they'd ask the county attorney's office. If the state doesn't budge, Collier says he'll sue.
AP is less definite. Twice it mentions Collier's "wives," and twice it calls Christine his second wife, as if everyone agrees with those labels.
The story has a few other soft spots. AP quotes Anne Wilde, a co-founder of a pro-polygamy group in Utah. It doesn't spell out why it asked her, although we could guess it's because Collier was excommunicated from the mainline Mormon Church for his two women.
Wilde tells AP that polygamous families in Utah don’t want multiple marriage licenses:
"Ninety percent or more of the fundamentalist Mormons don't want it legalized, they want it decriminalized," Wilde said.
A federal judge struck down parts of Utah's anti-polygamy law two years ago, saying the law violated religious freedom by prohibiting cohabitation. Bigamy is still illegal.
Those two short paragraphs cry out for explanation. Yes, "fundamentalist Mormons" was Wilde's term, but it should have been clarified. We also need to know the difference between legalization and criminalization. And how could an anti-polygamy law be struck down, but an anti-bigamy law still stands?
To my surprise, The New York Daily News offers up a pretty good account, getting to the point right in the headline: "Polygamist family applies for 2nd marriage license in Montana because of Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts' dissent."
The Daily News continues:
The Billings, Mont., man found promise in a hypothetical argument Roberts posed in his widely scrutinized dissent to the majority opinion in the Obergefell v. Hodges case, which said same-sex couples have a constitutional right to be married.
"Why wouldn’t the same ‘imposition of this ability’ ... serve to disrespect and subordinate people who find fulfillment in polyamorous relationships," Roberts pondered in the dissent.
It’s possible that the chief justice was merely making a rhetorical argument, but Collier is trying to use it as a catalyst to obtain a second marriage license — an accomplishment that would put him afoul of bigamy laws on the books in all 50 states.
That last paragraph, with its touch o' commentary, raised my eyebrow. But the article avoids calling them wives, except (oops) in the picture caption.
The story even adds the attitudes of church and state:
Collier had been excommunicated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for practicing polygamy. The practice was sanctioned by the church’s founder, Joseph Smith, and banned by then-church president Wilford Woodruff in 1890, who said "God had told him to do so" in order to end government intervention.
Montana state law prohibits people from knowingly contracting another marriage unless the prior spouse is believed dead or found so by court order. It’s punishable by a fine of $500 or a six-month jail sentence.
The aggregation site Heavy.com provides a mostly good reader service with its 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know feature. Those facts: He applied for a second marriage license on Tuesday; Montana’s chief civil litigator is reviewing the case; he’s already legally married to Victoria; They appeared on TLC’s ‘Sister Wives’; and Collier says the gay marriage ruling strengthened him.
Heavy.com goes the second mile with a few background facts as well. It links to the 103-page Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage. The site also recites the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which the Supreme Court says legitimizes gay marriage.
Why only mostly good? Because the 5 Fast Facts are silent on any of the four dissenting opinions by Supreme Court justices Roberts, Alito, Thomas and Scalia. And although the Scribd.com link, above, includes the dissent, it's hard to search keywords like "throuple" or "polyamorous" textwide -- both of them used in Roberts' opinion. And as you know by now, that opinion was the inspiration Collier to apply for plural marriage.
Time.com's report is a little more breezy, putting "wives" in quotes. It also finds more complexity in the case:
Collier and his two “wives” have a long and complicated history since meeting in 1999. In 2000, Collier legally married Victoria; he and Christine had a “religious ceremony” that year as well. After breaking up, Christine legally married another man; that marriage ended in divorce in 2006. In 2007, Collier and Christine again had a religious ceremony, and Christine joined Victoria and Collier in their home. Together, the family has five children.
If that doesn't make the media tentative, it should for the county officials in Montana.
Time.com also adds some emotion, quoting Collier's claim of feeling "violated" at the courthouse and frustrated that "everyday, we have to break the law to exist as a family." Sounds not unlike the emotional arguments for gay marriage that Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the Supreme Court decision.
The county's civil litigator now has the Collier case on his desk. He's supposed to announce a decision sometime this week. Stay tuned.