So I commented on Duck Dynasty below in a feverish fog and apparently in inexcusable ignorance. Mr. Robertson’s comments included not only his views on homosexuality and sexual ethics but what seem to be incredibly stereotypically unenlightened white Southern views on the Civil Rights movement. As far he could tell as part of the agrarian white trash, blacks working the field were happy because they were godly and always singing. They didn’t become more happy, at least, with the end of segregation and the coming of entitlements. So, unfortunately for those who look to the Duck guys for countercultural inspiration, his comments as a whole play into the “sophisticated narrative” that rural Southerners say they love family, God, and guns (and fishing holes), but the big news is that they’re enemies of every form of progress in the direction of individual freedom and flourishing. They’re redneck, racist, homophobic, hopelessly ignorant bigots. So it appears Mr. Robertson went authentically rogue. I have to admit I still have my suspicions: I’ve never heard any Southerner in the last twenty years buy into that repulsively selectively nostalgic and self-indulgently romantic “narrative” of old times that deserve to be forgotten. The future of the Duck Dynasty may not be secure.
Meanwhile, as I forgot to mention, the countercultural narrative of another popular reality show—SISTER WIVES—is enjoying judicial vindication. A federal judge has said that it’s unconstitutional to outlaw multi-partner cohabitation, even with lots of children. The judge, it’s important to note, didn’t say that there’s a constitutional right to polygamous marriage. And someone might say that only in Utah would the law bother a man who thought of himself as having lots of wives and kids, as long as only one of the wives is recognized by law and all the “wives” are above the age of consent. The judge just followed the precedent set in LAWRENCE (and reaffirmed in WINDSOR), which falls short of establishing a constitutional right to same-sex (and almost certainly by implication polygamous marriage). Apparently, even Utah isn’t usually about bothering people who violated their anti-polygamy law, but the limit to tolerance is displaying the principle on a popular reality show. The actual right to polygamous marriage, when it comes, will have formidable consequences for our legal system, beginning with our entitlement system. It arguably could also make polygamy less pathological, without it becoming much more popular (the mainstream Mormons, everyone knows, won’t return to it).
What makes contemporary American polygamy both interesting and repulsive is the religious baggage. Some liberals actually are about defending the free exercise of religion of the sister wives, but others, of course, begin by condemning the repressive content—patriarchy, homophobia, etc.—of the actual religion. And orthodox believers who worry about the effect on religious freedom of various mandates aren’t thinking outside the traditional Judeo-Christian box (where polygamy, of course, can’t be found). The traditional family of the Christians is about the equality of men and women under God established in the stable, faithful, two-parent family.