Editor’s Note: This article is the second in a series.
Americans interested in the same-sex marriage debate saw June 2013 as a significant month with the U.S. Supreme Court dismissal of the appeal for California’s same-sex marriage ban. When President Barack Obama visited Africa that same month, he praised the decision, but leaders, newspapers and other citizens in Senegal were having none of it – their laws and social customs criminalize homosexuality, and the Senegalese president and press proudly defied Obama’s urging to soften their stance. (See their Twitter reactions below.)
The global response to same-sex marriage remains mixed, but foreign nations and American advocates for non-traditional marriages alike are using the controversy to make their own bids for acceptance.
BYU family law professor Lynn Wardle said the impact of same-sex marriage “outside of this little cocoon of America” has not been universal.
Wardle said of the 193 nations in the United Nations, 16, or less than 10 percent, recognize same-sex marriage. Of the seven regions of the world, only three include nations that recognize same-sex marriage.
Although it seems as though the whole world is changing the institution of marriage, only some nations in Europe, the Americas and former European colonies like South Africa have taken that step. Wardle predicts another dozen nations might adopt same-sex marriage, meaning it would still exist in a minority of nations.
Polygamists in Utah, on the other hand, have been making a bid to change the U.S. marriage law in other ways.
Kody Brown, a practicing polygamist and the star of the TLC show “Sister Wives,” challenged Utah’s anti-polygamy law. No attorney general has prosecuted the case, which has already gone on for years, said Clifford Rosky of the University of Utah law school. Unless the Utah courts enforce the polygamy law, which is not happening now, the U.S. Supreme Court will not have a chance to strike down any anti-polygamy laws.
“The position of the government of Utah is that it doesn’t prosecute polygamy by itself,” Rosky said.
He said this is partly a recognition that finite resources can be better spent pursuing criminals rather than behavior among consenting adults who are not harming others. The government will not prosecute polygamists unless they are involved with child abuse, statutory rape or welfare fraud.
“My prediction, frankly, is that the case will just disappear,” Rosky said. “My prediction is that (polygamy) will be illegal for a very long time, but it won’t be prosecuted.”
Wardle said the legalization of same-sex marriage has come primarily through court decisions, whereas most state legislatures have banned it. Although many media comparisons have connected the same-sex marriage movement with racial civil rights, Wardle said it had legal parallels with the Supreme Court’s abortion decision in Roe v. Wade 40 years ago.
“Someone described it as Roe v. Wade in slow motion,” Wardle said.
The “slow-motion” part is deliberate on the part of same-sex marriage advocates, Wardle said. Justice Ruth Bader Ginnsburg now calls the hastiness of Roe v. Wade a tactical mistake because it has given pro-life advocates both a rallying point and a target, as seen by the annual “March for Life,” in which hundreds of thousands of people have protested at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.
Sherif Girgis, a legal scholar and traditional marriage advocate, said during a lecture at BYU that the movement for civil unions in America has ended. Civil unions would allow a homosexual or heterosexual couple to have the legal benefits of a marriage without the name.
“As a practical reality it’s always a stepping stone,” Girgis said. “What people are really interested in is not the practical benefits but the social approval.”