My buddy, Glenn Beck, has made a great contribution to the TEA party movement and to a renewal of popular interest in our Founding Fathers and their ideals. For all that he deserves praise.
But, I believe, he is making a serious error in abandoning the civil right of marriage. The Republican Party was founded in opposition to two historic wrongs. The party’s first platform in 1856 denounced “slavery and polygamy—the twin relics of barbarism.” Slavery was finally put down with a terrible toll—630,000 Americans dead in the Civil War. The new movie, Lincoln, tells the dramatic story of the Thirteenth Amendment to abolish slavery.
Polygamy was successfully fought with laws. Throughout the latter third of the nineteenth century, Republican presidents and Republican Congresses fought against this relic of barbarism. President Rutherford B. Hayes called upon Congress to make it a law for the western territories: an American must take an oath he is not a polygamist before he could vote for statehood, before he could even serve on a jury! That’s a pretty strong stance for marriage.
Faced with this unyielding opposition, the Mormon Church wisely reconsidered its position on polygamy. Mormons desperately wanted to be included in the American Union. They were willing to give up a sincerely held tenet of their new religion in order to gain acceptance.
This turnabout led to one of the funniest episodes in congressional history. When Church Elder Reed Smoot was elected by Utah to serve in the U.S. Senate, he was vigorously opposed. Critics said that even though Smoot was not a polygamist himself, he had strongly supported polygamy as one of the Mormon Council of Twelve. Idaho Sen. William E. Borah, a fellow Republican and also a Mormon with only one wife, rose to argue for seating Smoot. “I would rather serve in this august body with a polygamist who doesn’t polyg than with a monogamist who doesn’t monog.” Smoot was seated. Washington scuttlebutt had it that T.R.’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, was only with difficulty dissuaded from naming her newborn daughter Deborah (from Borah).
The LDS Church has since become a mainstay of support for traditional marriage. BYU Family Science Ph.D.s have provided some of the best scholarship supporting the tradition family. They clearly understand the difficulties that arise for the dignity and standing of women—and especially the hardships for children—that stem from plural marriage.