Talk about strange bedfellows. A conservative Christian values group says polygamists are piggybacking on recent court victories for gay rights in an attempt to decriminalize plural marriage.

Carrie Gordon Earll, director of Issues Analysis for the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, puts it this way: "You can't change the definition of marriage to allow one exception and not allow other exceptions."

Earll said limited court victories by same-sex couples are "paving the way" for polygamists and polyandrists, who are also eying the court systems as venues for their agendas.

"It's really getting to where I think we need to take it a little more seriously because it's possible they will follow the same path taken by the same-sex marriage advocates," Earll said. "It's the same argument that will be put forth."

Pro-polygamy activists deny riding anybody's coattails.

"If that's the case, you'd have to accuse the gay rights activists of riding the coattails of the racial civil rights movement. It's a human rights effort," said Mary Batchelor with the pro-polygamy group Principle Voices. "We are going to use civil rights as an issue that's valuable to us."

At the same time, Michael Marriott of the board of governors of the national gay-rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, stressed that the gay and lesbian community isn't advocating for plural marriage.

"I cannot believe that there is a comparison," Marriott said. "We're fighting for the same rights as same-sex couples, so that one couple has the same rights as taxpaying citizens as every other couple enjoys."

Bill Duncan, director of the Provo-based Marriage Law Foundation, which supports traditional marriage, acknowledged that the same argument for redefining marriage to include same-sex couples could also be used to legalize plural marriage.

"I think that both are a troubling development, because they both create very significant changes in the way we understand marriage," he said.

However, Duncan said as a practical matter, "I don't think you can predict that one is going to occur as a result of the other."

Members of the anti-polygamy group Tapestry Against Polygamy agreed.

"I don't think they're ever going to decriminalize polygamy," said Rowenna Erickson, a former plural wife. "They've been trying to lump polygamy with gays and lesbians forever. They're totally different. Polygamy is not going to be tolerated by the state of Utah, the people themselves (or) the United States."

Erickson said polygamists will not be making any alliance with gay rights groups anytime soon.

"They're so opposite on their moral grounds," she said. Many polygamist groups are opposed to homosexuality. Batchelor said Principle Voices has reached out to gay rights groups in the past, but she said they were not interested in an alliance.

Asked about the apparent similarities between pro-polygamy's struggles for decriminalization and the gay rights movement, Batchelor said she is somewhat sympathetic.

"We don't have to agree religiously. We don't have to agree personally in order to tolerate another person's life and practice," she said. "In order for me to truly enjoy personal freedom, I need to respect the freedoms of others when they do not harm others."

A lawsuit filed by three people seeking to legally marry as husband and wife and wife is working its way through federal appeals courts.


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