People For the American Way

Judicial Nominee Stephen Clark Claimed Same-Sex Marriage Leads to Polygamy

News and Analysis
Judicial Nominee Stephen Clark Claimed Same-Sex Marriage Leads to Polygamy
Stephen Clark

The Senate is planning to vote on Stephen Clark’s nomination to be a federal judge in the Eastern District of Missouri. Those who vote to confirm Clark might as well be putting a “kick me” sign on the United States Senate.

Considering judicial nominations is among the most important functions of the Senate. It is serious business. So when a nominee treats the Senate as a joke and gets confirmed anyway, the integrity of the institution suffers.

Clark is a case in point, with regard to his anti-LGBTQ+ record. In a 2016 presentation at Duke University, he made the irrational claim that “one of the next evolutions of same-sex marriage is polygamy.” This has long been a standard talking point for equality opponents, but someone being considered for the federal bench should immediately recognize how irrational it is. In order to make it appear a cogent legal argument, Clark stated at his confirmation hearing that there were multiple cases working their way through the court system that seek to establish a right to polygamy. In written follow-up questions, Sen. Coons asked the nominee to provide a list of those cases.

Clark responded as follows:

The following are pending cases that, inter alia, seek to establish a right to polygamy:

Kohl, et al. v. Hutchinson, et al., Case. No. 4:17-cv-00598-KGB (E.D. Ark.),

Gunter, et al. v. Bryant, et al., Case No. 3:17-cv-00177-NBB-RP (N.D. Miss.), and

Penkoski, et al. v. Justice, et al., Case No. 1:18-cv-00010-IMK-MJA (N.D.W.Va.).

These appear to be three unrelated cases, since the names are all different and they are in three different parts of the country. But appearances are deceiving: All three cases involve the same four parties—Chris Sevier, John Gunter Jr, Whitney Kohl, and Joan Grace Harley—and a fifth party (Richard Penkoski) included in West Virginia. They have also had filings in Alabama and Utah. Each of their cases is a long invective against Obergefell intended to make a political point, and apparently not to assert any right they actually want to exercise. (Sevier is a “self-identified machinist” or “objectophile.”) For instance, they pleaded:

This is an “if not this, then that” lawsuit. If the Establishment Clause does not enjoin the state from legally recognizing non-secular parody marriages, then the Plaintiffs warrant the same rights to marry under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and visa versa [sic]. Either way, the current definition of marriage and the State’s decision to only legally recognize one form of non-secular parody marriage is wildly unconstitutional from every angle. The reason why the shallow liberal media will only focus on the parody marriage request is because legally recognized gay marriage is their convention, and they are willing to defend it at all cost.

For better or worse, the Plaintiffs simply ask that they be afforded the same benefits and treatment under the law based on their self-asserted sex-based identity narratives that self-identified homosexuals are permitted to enjoy or, otherwise, the Court must hold that legally recognized gay marriage is a sham and enjoin under the Establishment Clause.

As Stephen Clark has presented these cases to the Judiciary Committee, they appear to be separate, independent, and legitimate federal litigation where parties genuinely seek the right to marry multiple partners. The cases are, in fact, none of that.

The Senate should not degrade itself by confirming a nominee who treats it with such disrespect.