What is surprising is how quickly the logic of things is unfolding. I've seen three significant statements in support of polygamy in the last week or so.
The first comes from Australia's High Court. Although the High Court overruled the same sex marriage legislation passed in the Australian Capital Territory, it did so using arguments that deny the validity of traditional marriage.
The High Court began by noting the definition of marriage that held in the nineteenth century:
marriage, as understood in Christendom, may for this purpose be defined as the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others
The High Court believes, however, that this definition of marriage can no longer hold. Why? Because the courts have upheld a number of polygamous marriages (contracted overseas):
Once it is accepted that “marriage” can include polygamous marriages, it becomes evident that the juristic concept of “marriage” cannot be confined to a union having the characteristics described in Hyde v Hyde and other nineteenth century cases.
And here's the really interesting thing. The High Court has redefined marriage as follows:
Rather, “marriage” is to be understood in s 51(xxi) of the Constitution as referring to a consensual union formed between natural persons in accordance with legally prescribed requirements which is not only a union the law recognises as intended to endure and be terminable only in accordance with law but also a union to which the law accords a status affecting and defining mutual rights and obligations.
The Australian High Court has decided that marriage must be consensual and legal; it can only be dissolved legally; and it comes with rights and obligations decided by the law.
In other words, marriage can be anything that lawmakers decide it to be (as long as it is consensual). Parliament, or the courts, can declare anything to be marriage. It is not an institution grounded in natural law (i.e. that has a character reflecting the nature of man or of a moral order); it is a social construct and the only question then is who gets to determine what it is to be (the High Court has determined it is a matter for Federal Parliament).
The second development paving the way for polygamy was a decision by an American judge to soften Utah's anti-polygamy laws. The decision does not allow the state to formally recognise more than one spouse, so it did not legalise polygamy. However, it permits what might be called unofficial polygamy, in which a man marries only one woman but forms a family with several.
The third "softening up" toward an acceptance of polygamy was a CNN column by a female Episcopalian priest, Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio. She writes that,
When I heard a federal judge struck down part of Utah’s polygamy law last week, I gave a little squeal of delight.
She believes that polygamy fits in well with Christianity. She describes polygamists as "empowered people of faith." She also believes that the theological arguments she has made for supporting same sex marriage also commit her to supporting polygamy:
I also believe there are theoretical reasons why, as a Christian, it makes sense to support healthy polygamous practices. It’s a natural extension for those Christians who support same-sex marriage on theological grounds. But even for those opposed to same-sex marriage, polygamy is documented in the Bible, thereby giving its existence warrant.
Danielle Tumminio describes herself as a liberal feminist priestess. She admits in another column that she finds the idea of being in a polygamous family tempting because it would mean that other wives could support her (presumably she thinks that one of the other wives could look after the house whilst she pursued career).
Unless the culture changes we are very likely, I think, to see the legalisation of polygamy within our own lifetimes.