A county clerk in Kentucky is making headlines this week with her quixotic stand against same-sex unions, refusing to issue marriage licenses to any couple, gay or not, under "God's authority." Much of the media attention has centered on how the clerk in question, Kim Davis, has herself been married four times to three different men. This has fueled charges of hypocrisy: how could you deny anyone marriage to one spouse when you yourself have had three of them?
As it turns out, serial marriage is a lot more common than you might think in the U.S. According to Census data from 2013, over 9 million Americans have been married three times or more. That works out to roughly 5.3 percent of the total married population. Or, put it this way: more than 1 in every 20 married Americans has taken three or more trips to the altar.
And there's considerable regional variation in these numbers too. In Davis' home state of Kentucky, 7.9 percent of married people are on spouse #3 or more -- that's roughly 1 in 12. But the state of Arkansas is the capital of American serial monogamy, with roughly 11 percent of married residents, or 1 in 9, having been married three or more times.
By contrast, states in the northeast and upper midwest have the lowest rates of serial marriage. New Jersey has the absolute lowest rate, with only 1.9 percent of ever-married residents having been married three times or more. I've put the numbers for all the states in a table below.
Now, Davis says she converted to Christianity four years ago, and most of her marital history happened in the period before then. Her defenders point out that it isn't exactly fair to ding Davis for failing to adhere to Christian values before she became a Christian.
This is a good point, and moreover it doesn't make sense to shame people for getting divorced. Monogamy isn't for everyone. People change throughout their lives, and the person who was right for you at 25 may not be right for you at 50. It's better to separate than to stay in a bad or even abusive relationship.
But it's worth pointing out that nobody cared about Davis' marital history until she started denying others the right of starting their own. Just today, Davis was ordered to jail on contempt of court charges for refusing to uphold the law in violation of multiple court orders.
As Americans we have the right to practice our religions freely, and to marry who we choose. But we don't have the right to any particular job. If you feel that the demands of one job violate your conscience, the sensible thing to do is to simply find another one.
Thrice-marriage rates, by state
|State||Percent of ever-married residents married three times or more|
|District of Columbia||2.6|