Stories of genies often involve a poor sap coming across a genie’s lantern, being granted three wishes, and receiving exactly what they wished for. The twist is that their wishes are usually poorly thought out and therefore the fulfillment of their wishes brings despair instead of joy. This is why when somebody expresses a poorly thought out desire I often tell them that I hope that they get everything wish for and that they get it good and hard.
At one point in time the United States government had virtually no involvement in marriage. The lack of government involvement meant practices such as polygamy were legal. This didn’t sit well with many Christians of the time. Relying on the fact that most of the people in the government were also Christians, they made a wish for the government to get involved in the institute of marriage and that wish was granted:
The idea that the Constitution protects only what happens between a person’s ears isn’t novel. It has roots in a series of laws, and the Supreme Court decisions that upheld them, from 1862 through 1890. The goal at the time was to rein in a new and dangerous-seeming religious movement called Mormonism by criminalizing its most eccentric practice: polygamy. But by claiming the right to regulate the behavior of people of faith, mainstream believers set the stage for the modern political left to step in and regulate them—and to have 150 years’ worth of precedents on their side when they did it.
In 1852, the LDS Church began openly defending plural marriage. This is what elevated the “Mormon problem” to the national stage. Beginning in the 1850s, Eastern newspapers were rife with references to polygamy as “evil,” “licentious,” a “brutalizing practice,” “repugnant to our sentiments of morality and social order,” and “shocking to the moral sense of the world.” The New York Times editorialized repeatedly for taking direct action against the Latter-day Saints. “The fact, if it be a fact, that the women are willing to live in polygamy, is no reason for our allowing them to do so,” the editors of the paper wrote in March 1860. What had begun as rival groups skirmishing over frontier resources came to be seen as an existential conflict: The soul of the whole country seemed to be at stake if the federal government allowed such behavior to continue.
In December 1881, Sen. George F. Edmunds of Vermont introduced a law to make anyone who accepted the Church’s teachings on polygamy ineligible to vote, hold public office, or serve on a jury. Again, the editors of the Times endorsed the act’s passage: “It must be admitted that the Edmunds bill is a harsh remedy for polygamy. But then the disease in Utah has gone beyond remedies that are not more or less heroic.”
It passed, as did another law five years later disincorporating the Church and declaring that all Church property and assets above $50,000 would be confiscated by the government.
The Christians of the day got what they wanted but they didn’t think their wish through very well. When you grant government power over something that power is almost always permanent. What happens when your group is no longer the primary influencer of the government? You suddenly find those powers you granted it being used against your wishes.
Today hardcore Christians find themselves at odds with the government when it comes to marriage. The government has become more liberal and has begun allowing same-sex marriages. This hasn’t sat well with many Christians who not only believe that marriage can only be between one man and one woman but also believe the governments should enforce their belief.
Marriage isn’t unique in this regard. Whenever a government gets involved in something the advocates of it doing so cheer… until that government no longer sides with their beliefs. Suddenly they find the power they granted to the government being used against their beliefs but are powerless to do anything about it.
Always keep in mind that granting government more power will turn out poorly in the long run.