Polygamy is in the news once again. CNN reports that an excommunicated member was banned from discussing his ideas about polygamy with his daughter in a child-custody case, and is now suing for the right to teach her about polygamy.
I am of mixed opinion as I read this article. I don’t think the lower court’s decision (banning him from discussing polygamy) is a bad outcome in this particular case, but I am concerned about the implications.
First, I recognize that courts should apply a “best interests of the child” standard in custody disputes. Teaching your daughter about polygamy, and advocating it as a way of life (though it’s not clear from the article how much he was advocating it), could reasonably be seen as going against the child’s best interests.
On the other hand, there are potential negative applications of this idea, both within the polygamy context, and within the larger church doctrine context.
As to polygamy, while the church does expel polygamists now, we have not disavowed the Doctrine and Covenents sections discussing it. It is downplayed, but the church history of polygamy is still there. Does this decision open the door for a court order prohibiting a parent from teaching a child church history, or from reading the Doctrine and Covenants? (Or, if Dave is right about “closet polygamists” in the church, from being a member at all?)
In addition, there are other church practices which might be said to be against the child’s best interests. Is telling your child to save money for a mission against their best interests? How about paying tithing? I am troubled by the idea that church participation and obedience to commandments may be constrained under a best interests analysis.
Finally, I can’t help but note that recent discussions on this site and elsewhere have focused on whether gay marriage is similar to polygamy. If gay marriage is similar to polygamy, could this decision’s logic be used in states where gay marriage is not legal, to prevent parents from advocating gay marriage to their children?