HELENA, Mont. – A Montana man said Wednesday that he was inspired by last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage to apply for a marriage license so that he can legally wed his second wife.
Nathan Collier and his wives Victoria and Christine applied at the Yellowstone County Courthouse in Billings on Tuesday in an attempt to legitimize their polygamous marriage. Montana, like all 50 states, outlaws bigamy — holding multiple marriage licenses — but Collier said he plans to sue if the application is denied.
“It’s about marriage equality,” Collier told The Associated Press Wednesday. “You can’t have this without polygamy.”
County clerk officials initially denied Collier’s application, then said they would consult with the county attorney’s office before giving him a final answer, Collier said.
Yellowstone County chief civil litigator Kevin Gillen said he is reviewing Montana’s bigamy laws and expected to send a formal response to Collier by next week.
“I think he deserves an answer,” Gillen said, but added his review is finding that “the law simply doesn’t provide for that yet.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling on Friday made gay marriages legal nationwide. Chief Justice John Roberts said in his dissent that people in polygamous relationships could make the same legal argument that not having the opportunity to marry disrespects and subordinates them.
Collier, 46, said that dissent inspired him. He owns a refrigeration business in Billings and married Victoria, 40, in 2000. He and his second wife, Christine, had a religious wedding ceremony in 2007 but did not sign a marriage license to avoid bigamy charges, he said.
Collier said he is a former Mormon who was excommunicated for polygamy and now belongs to no religious organization. He said he and his wives hid their relationship for years, but became tired of hiding and went public by appearing on the reality cable television show “Sister Wives.”
The three have seven children of their own and from previous relationships.
“My second wife Christine, who I’m not legally married to, she’s put up with my crap for a lot of years. She deserves legitimacy,” he said.
Collier said he sent an email asking the ACLU of Montana to represent him in a possible lawsuit. ACLU legal director Jim Taylor said he has not seen the request.
Taylor said he has no opinion on Collier’s claims, though the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage “is about something very different.”
Anne Wilde, a co-founder of the polygamy advocacy organization Principle Voices located in Utah, said Collier’s application is the first she’s heard of in the nation, and that most polygamous families in Utah are not seeking the right to have multiple marriage licenses.
“Ninety percent or more of the fundamentalist Mormons don’t want it legalized, they want it decriminalized,” Wilde said.
A federal judge struck down parts of Utah’s anti-polygamy law two years ago, saying the law violated religious freedom by prohibiting cohabitation. Bigamy is still illegal.
The state has appealed the ruling, and the case is pending in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Wilde said most polygamous families are satisfied with the judge’s ruling and believe taking it further to include multiple marriage licenses would bring them under the unwanted jurisdiction of the government.
But she said the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage should strengthen their chance of winning the appeal.
“We hope the Supreme Court decision will show the direction the nation is going,” she said. “It’s more liberal, it’s more understanding about people forming the families the way they want.”