Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Love and Marriage

A reader sent in an AI suggestion inspired by the recent news that the polygamous family featured on the reality show Sister Wives is suing the state of Utah over its anti-bigamy law:

By criminalizing religious-based plural families and intimate relationships under the criminal bigamy law, Utah officials prosecute private conduct between consenting adults,” the lawsuit says.

Frankly, this is a question I’ve been mulling over myself. I’m definitely a proponent of equality under the law, no matter what one’s orientation, and while polyamory is not my cup of tea, I know others make it work on a free, open and consensual basis. However, I’m concerned about lending legal credence to a religiously-based practice that may impact women negatively. It’s a complicated question.

So, what do you think? Should polygamy be legalized? What are the pros/cons of legalization when it comes to women’s rights?


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. To make certain forms of marriage illegal to protect women is demeaning to them. It’s the government saying “we don’t think you can make decisions in your own self-interest so we’re going to narrow your possibilities.” I can see the government limiting official marriage to two people just to keep current law as simple as possible, but I don’t think the government should care about which consenting adults live with each other.

    Actually if I were king I get government completely out of the marriage business. Make everyone an individual under the eyes of the law.

  2. Your premise from the outset is false; there are no such things as “women’s rights” only individual rights. 2 people should be free to enter into any sort of contract that they want to, including marriage, for any reason whatsoever. If one of those people is already married, the other person can choose to marry or not marry. It is no business of the state who people marry and for what reasons.

    1. Not true. The problem is that current marriage is designed for two people, this is why legally allowing gay marriage is so simple. Poly marriage has all kinds of legal issues around it. First off what structure of polygamy is being legalized? Is it one person can be in multiple marriages, or more than two people can be in one marriage or both for the most potentially complex situations.

      And think of all the fun divorce lawyers will have when they have to sort through multiple interconnected marriages.

      So until proponents have worked out all the legal complexities I can not support it. That is a distinction between polymarriage and gay marriage, gay marriage is just letting any two people get married, as we have removed the legal distinctions between husband and wife already there is nothing in marriage itself that needs to be reworked.

      And this reworking could impact what marriage is for everyone, so people who support some form of legal recognition for poly groups could be against that implementation of it.

      I also think it is kind of funny about how politics makes strange bedfellows, you have the broadly liberal polyamory crowd and the hard line religious(for Mormon and Muslim anyway)on the same side.

  3. Once the women are of a legal age to marry then it should be illegal, and of course if you want to take two husbands you should be allowed. The real problem comes in with the coercive nature of religion; should you be allowed to tell your children all through their childhood that when they turn 18 they have to marry, love, and take care of some 60yr old who already has two wives? But of course you can do the same thing with monogamous marriages, it’s just that the religious communities that want these changes are more susceptible to these abuses. The real solution is for the state to stop recognizing any marriage. All you need is a list of people who you want to be able to visit you in hospital, who can make decisions if you’re incapacitated, who get your things when you die, who are taking care of your children and have the right to continue to do so after you die. Let lawyers hash out the disputes.

  4. I’m of the opinion, as you are, that consenting adults should be able to do as they please as long as they’re not harming others. While I realize there’s a history of women not being treated as equals in these partnerships, that doesn’t strike me as a valid argument against allowing them. It’s like criminalizing car ownership because some people use cars to kill people. Car ownership itself isn’t the problem, the problem is people using them irresponsibly. Likewise, as you say, polyamorous arrangements can and do work though there is certainly the opportunity for abuse. But there’s also that possibility in traditional marriages. Certainly, “wives submit to your husbands” hasn’t stopped many very successful marriages from existing where both partners are equals. As with many things, it seems to be more a function of the personalities involved than of the institution itself. Abusive marriages are frowned upon and – sometimes – prosecuted. I think if polyamorous arrangements were allowed, legal protections would develop as would a shift in society’s views on them.

    There may be several legal hurdles to deal with: how do assets become divided in a “divorce”, etc. But those are practical challenges that I’m certain can be overcome and, again, not an argument against allowing a group of consenting adults to partner themselves in whatever way best suits them.

  5. It’s really easy to get tripped up over terminology in a question like this. The traditional “polygamy” that we associate with the Old Testament and the original/fundamentalist Mormonism is probably more accurately described as “polygynous enslavement” or maybe just “women as chattel.”

    Modern polyamory is arguably something different, and defending Old Testament-style polygamy on the grounds of religious liberty is not necessarily equivalent to defending modern polyamory on the basis of personal liberty, although it seems to me that there’s clearly overlap in the Venn diagram.

    As for the business of the state: if marriage is to be treated as a legal contract with obligations and privileges related to property, children, living wills, and so on, then the state has an interest in how marriage is defined and regulated. At least, it seems to me that if an individual hopes to have recourse to the state for the ability to seek a redress of grievances (i.e., the ability to sue) in the context of a marriage, then the state must have an operating legal definition of what a marriage is and how it works.

    It can be a wholly secular, very flexible definition, but there needs to be something, doesn’t there?

  6. We need to be clear that the case in question is not about legalizing polygamy, but decriminalizing it. This is from attorney Jonathan Turley’s website (he is the lead attorney on the suit):

    “We are not demanding the recognition of polygamous marriage. We are only challenging the right of the state to prosecute people for their private relations and demanding equal treatment with other citizens in living their lives according to their own beliefs. This action seeks to protect one of the defining principles of this country, what Justice Louis Brandeis called ‘the right to be left alone.’ In that sense, it is a challenge designed to benefit not just polygamists but all citizens who wish to live their lives according to their own values – even if those values run counter to those of the majority in the state.”

    1. I write not to dispute your contribution but the the content expressed in the quote. People should be allowed to live as they chose *so long as that choice does not cause harm to others.* Strictly based on the quote, if someone believes that oppression of others is part of their belief system, they should be allowed to live as they please (… and burn crosses on lawns, stomp gays, keep their girl children from being educated…).

      No, the effect on others has to be taken into account. If the practical effect of polyandrous (yeah, right– we are really only talking about polygamy at this point) relationships is demonstrably neutral, then fine. If it is related to a restriction on the rights of innocent third parties (say, for argument’s sake female children who might not be encouraged to reach their full potential and live satisfying individual lives or male children who are taught that they should be the masters over female kin) then a serious evaluation may be warranted.

  7. I wish to dispute the suggestion that polyamoury is a religious-based practise. It may be for some individuals but certainly not all of them. It is also not always one man with several women, it can be the other way around or simply a variety of different combinations.

    I have been involved in polyamourous relationships (or is the correct grammer a polyamourous relationship… not sure) for several years now and have two committed male partners, one of whom I live with. Non of us will marry as it would not be fair to the other partners and as such, we will not be able to get our relationships recognised by the government. I think it would be far better to increase the rights of those involved in civil unions to be similar to those of married couples, than to change the laws about marriage, which is in itself an arrangement with religious foundations.

    That said, I can see why there may be problems with legally recognising multiple partners. Medical information, inheritance etc and what to do about the possibility of marriage/civil unions being used to obtain citizenship. It certainly is a long way off from any form of recognition, especially when even gay marriage is still an issue for people to get their heads around. I don’t think a religious group suing the state of Utah is going to help.

  8. I believe that the government has no business in anyone’s bedroom as long as we’re talking about consenting adults. I see nothing wrong if multiple adults want to set up a household together.

  9. A lot of these relationships cannot be characterized as “consensual” at all. Many of these fundamentalist Mormons choose these wives of theirs before they are even teenagers. Even if polygamy were legal, the more extreme groups would still be molesting children and still be breaking the law.

    However, even straight, monogamous marriages have been used as a tool to subjugate women, yet there is no campaign against that kind of marriage, and nor should there be.

    In principle I think polygamy or any kind of plural marriage should be legalized. As long as it is a consensual relationship between adults of sound mind and poses no measurable threat to society at large, I have no problem with it.

  10. Yes as long as childrens rights are mandated I can’t see any reason why creative personal arrangmentys can’t be legalised. Polygany, Umcle sperm donor dads to Saphic women. Love comes in many forms.

  11. I’m not convinced that a workable solution to formal recognition of a plural marriage exists. I’m not opposed to the concept, I’m just not sure the details have been worked out enough for it to work in practice.

    But in the meantime… If they are not forcing people into it, and they are not claiming benefits for any additional spouses, just what is the Governments interest in intervening? I can’t see one. It should come under personal freedom at this point.

  12. I will assume that Jen’s ‘polyamory’ comment is just an aside and that she is not confusing it with polygamy because the two are not very related. Or, at least, they’re related like love and marriage are.

    My view is that there should be no governmental laws either for or against polygamy or any other form of relationship between consenting adults.

    The government should allow “rights” sharing agreements between any consenting adults for the purposes of hospital visits, etc.

    I would, however, also be open to a civil law that allows citizens to challenge whether an adult is actually consenting in a relationship when it comes to the protection of children or property. I think…

  13. The only valid issue, ISTM, is the question of what is best for the children (if any) resulting from such a union. There is a case to be made for 1 Man + 1 Woman + progeny as being biologically normal.

    I would be at ease with any arrangement between (among?) consenting adults. But I am less at ease with non-traditional arrangements when children are the issue. (Pun intended)

    To what extent should our laws take into account evolutionary and biological science? In the animal world, almost every conceivable arrangement of Male/Female/Neuter has successful examples. Should we constrain ourselves to what we believe our species mandates? I dunno.


    1. Our species history has been varied from harems to Chinese Mosuo matriachal households wherre husbands can only visit at night. I agree that what happens to children is the priority in a break up if one member leaves a gruop marraige taking their child with them. Does the child wanna go, should the parent be required to live neaer where access to the main family is possible. I each tpye of situation could have it’s own carefully thought out solutions before the state offers the marrage contract. But lots of different kinds of marrage would be nice.

      1. Yeah what I mean is we could have lots of different tyopes of marraige each with it’s own carefully thoughtout solution in case of break up.

  14. As Moralnihilist said above, “However, even straight, monogamous marriages have been used as a tool to subjugate women, yet there is no campaign against that kind of marriage, and nor should there be.”

    I think this is an important point here. The fact that X can be used as a tool for bad result Y doesn’t mean we should ban X. We don’t ban one-man-one-woman marriages because they can be used to subjugate women, we don’t ban hammers because they can be used to smash people’s heads in, etc. Polygamy certainly can be used to oppress women, but that’s not all it does. It is certainly possible for a polygamous relationship to be built on an equal, consensual basis.

    However, I do believe there could be a need to be a bit more careful with polygamy, given its track record as a tool of oppression. We have to be careful not to limit it too much, so as to not risk being unfair to this involved. I can think of two limitations that seem reasonable here:

    1. No participant can be under the age of 18, even with parental consent. There’s just too much risk of coercion.

    2. A cursory investigation into the marriage to confirm that it’s truly consensual might be warranted before a marriage license is issued.

    In the end, I think it should definitely be legal, although actually writing the laws to allow it will be a ridiculous headache.

    1. “2. A cursory investigation into the marriage to confirm that it’s truly consensual might be warranted before a marriage license is issued.”

      Would you want to have to submit to an investigation to conform that your marriage is consensual?

  15. I’d be interested in a study showing how long such relationships, entered and maintained voluntarily, last. The question I have isn’t, Should it be legal? My question is, Is it a good idea?

  16. Let me preface my comment by saying in an ideal world, or at least an ideal United States, I 100% agree with all the comments posted here. There should be no laws restricting “marriage” to any single definition, and there should be a simple but effective framework for dealing with grievances between people in any kind of marriage, dual or plural. The problem is that our society isn’t ready to deal with that, and to society on a whole it’s not a priority either.

    Traditional polygamy was outlawed because it violated precepts of traditional biblical law, but traditional polygamy also had the secondary effect of overwhelmingly subjugating women and often led to spousal abuse, so no women’s organization or progressive movement would dare support it. For it to succeed it needs to have a strong foundation on feminist principles so as not to fall into this trap. As it stands, very very very few people in this country are enlightened or mature enough to deal with any kind of marriage involving more than two people. Hell, 50% of all US marriages end in divorce, so that’s not saying much for how well we handle it at all. Most average men and women will have an “anti-gay” reaction to anything with brother husbands or sister wives. And even still if they don’t have this reaction, they then have to learn to share amicably and find roles within each family unit.

    The government could make it simple, but in a litigious society as ours, how would hospitals work it out? Okay husband 1 can see his sick wife, but what about husband 2? And can Husband 2’s Wife 2 come in to see her? What about Wife’s 2 Husband 3? And so on? How do you determine who can see this person if they haven’t signed some kind of paper ahead of time and this person is unconscious? There are other examples of places in our society that would have difficulty with a switch over without some kind of guidelines.

    Our entire society, culture, and economics is centered around the idea of two people living together and being the head of their family unit. Gay marriage fits easily into this equation. Polygamy does not yet. Houses are built most for one family, maybe two if your grown up children or grandparents move in for economic reasons. Jobs are designed around one or both partners getting jobs, but what happens in a communal marriage, how does the group earn money and take care of children and earn enough to survive?

    I’m not saying “these problems are too hard, so let’s not bother.” But boy did Jen open a can of worms. Communal marriage has a host of problems we have to addresss if it’s allowed. Perhaps all arguments at the moment should be framed in an economic manner to show if and how they might solve some of our problems.

  17. I’ve seen a number of polyamorous relationships come and go. I believe they CAN work, but I’ve never seen it so, and it’s usually because one person breaks the rules of the relationship, which exacerbates any stresses that are already present.

    Relationships are a PITA… might be worth it, but a PITA. They’re enough work when you’ve got two people, but they become exponentially more when you add three a third, then another exponent when you add a fourth. Quite frankly, they’re more work than I want to do, but if others do, more power to them.

    Now, as I understand it, polygamy is and is not illegal. As with gay marriage, nothing prevents Steve and Sandy and Tony and Rhonda from going to the religious authority and getting religiously hitched. What’s difficult is when they all try to pile onto Sandy’s health insurance as her spouse, or when Steve tries to claim three spouses and their sixteen children on his taxes. Religiously married =/= legally married, and so long as you do not try to claim to be legally married, you’re kosher.

  18. “Let anyone get married for any reason whatsoever”.
    -People getting married: 30 year old and 5 year old
    -Reason for marriage: 5 year old was too drunk to say no

    1. It is pretty clear to me that people are talking about consenting adults here.

      Do try to keep up.

  19. I watched that show. At no point did anyone actually get charged with anything, they only heard they were being investigated and fled the state. It appeared on the show that all participants were adults when “wed” and very little was mentioned about religion at all.

    Personally when all participants are consenting adults I see no problem with it. There were a bunch of children, some were his and some came into the family from previous relationships, but the kids all seemed happy and not brainwashed.

    The problem comes with other religious families where the women or barely women are pretty much sold into marriages with other cult men. The boys are either indoctrinated or are run off when they come of age. Many of those families rely heavily on government aid, food stamps, or whatever. This particular family appeared to be supporting themselves.

    As with anything else, my ignorance was changed while watching. I’m not automatically against such arrangements anymore, but if you make or change a law it covers everyone in that situation, not just the “good” ones.

  20. I think the question breaks down into:

    What’s the best way to protect vulnerable women in these communities? Are we justified in criminalising all polygamous marriages in order to protect these women? In other words are we justified in banning something that there can be no argument against in order to provide comprehensive protection against something abhorrent.

    I think first for that argument to be made out you need to show that criminalising all poly-amorous is the best way to protect vulnerable women in fundamentalist communities and I don’t think that has been shown or even been attempted to be determined.

  21. I’m in the middle of a fascinating essay of some relevance here, “Monogamy’s Law” by Elizabeth Emens. The final section appears to be a hypothetical legal structure for multipartner marriage. I understand that there’s a little pool of recent and upcoming legal discussions of polygamy (gender-independent term).

    A response that must often be made is that success in relationships should not be gauged solely by duration, and any skeptic should be wary of assessing the success rate of alternative relationship structures by anecdotes alone, especially given that so many are going to be closeted. So far as i know, we have no reliable data about the success or stability or suitability for children of such relationships, which gives us little basis for placing restrictions on them.

    By the way, it does also seem to be a more efficient model.

  22. The biggest misconception surrounding polygamy is that it affects nobody else but the people involved. However, the supply of sexual partners is not unlimited. Every additional wife a man takes results in another man having no wife at all.

    For example, in Islamic societies it is acceptable for a man to marry up to 4 wives. The wealthiest 25% of (usually older) men end up having 4 wives, and the poorest 75% of (usually younger) men end up having no access to any women at all (obviously this is an oversimplification for the sake of argument). This results in extreme sexual frustration on the part of the younger men which results in an increase in rape and violent crimes in general. It also makes it easier to recruit such men as suicide bombers with the promise of 72 sexual partners in the afterlife. The increased sexual violence caused by the poorer men causes an increase of sexual jealousy and paranoia on the part of the wealthy men who worry about protecting their harem. They exert their power and influence to control their wives: confine them to the home, de-sexualize them when they leave the house by forcing them to wear a burka, and so on. The end result is a crap-sack society where the poor men are sexually frustrated and violent, the rich men are sexually paranoid and controlling, and the women are oppressed.

    From a utilitarian perspective, polygamy should be illegal because of the negative impact it has on society and on the happiness of the people within that society.

    From a rights perspective, polygamy should be illegal because taking additional partners infringes on the rights of others by depriving them of the opportunity to court a sex partner of their own.

    1. Not necessarily. Let us suppose that we are dealing with a situation where both men and women (and whatever other genders we decide to recognize; I doubt anyone here wants to open that can of worms while we’ve got this one open) are free to have multiple partners. In other words, let us suppose simultaneous polygyny and polyandry, rather than pure polygyny or pure polyandry. While it is true in such a situation that a given member of gender X can have reduce the population of unmarried gender Y by more than one, the same is true in reverse. In fact, such a situation would make each individual more likely to find a partner (or multiple partners) than pure monogamy, since the constraint that a potential partner must not already be married is removed.

      1. Unfortunately, that’s a fairy-tale scenario with little relation to our reality. For evolutionary reasons, men and women are wired up to prefer certain relationships over others. That’s why for the human animal, only monogamous or polygynous long-term relationships are viable for the vast majority of the population.

          1. I can give you an example of how humans aren’t hardwired but plastic .

            The Mosou tribe in China is Matriarchal. The grandmother is the head of the household and her sons live in her house and can only visit their wives at night. Her daughters live in the house and they receive their lovers at night only too. They can change lovers when ever they like so can the men.

          2. (relevant data on the bottom of page 4)

            The sexual dimorphism in humans where males are larger than females (though not extremely so) also indicates that we as a species tend toward occasional polygyny.

            When you say that a large proportion of women seek out poly relationships, what do you mean by that? What kind of poly relationship do they seek out – polygynous, polyandrous, or a mix of both? Are all of the members of the relationship aware of all of the others or are some being cuckolded? Is the poly relationship a long-term, stable commitment or is it a one-night fling? To provide evidence against my claim that the human animal is generally monogamous with occasional polygyny you need to show that a significant percentage of women/societies seek out long-term, stable relationships involving more than one man where the men are aware of each other’s involvement. The only such arrangements I’m aware of is brothers sharing a wife (which is an evolutionarily viable reproductive strategy).

          3. @curby:
            As has already been mentioned, polyandrous societies exist. And I read somewhere that up until the British showed up, India had a system almost exactly like the one I described. And on top of that, not all extramarital affairs are on the man’s side. And, as CTTC put it, there are a significant number of women who express a preference for poly relationships. All of that is pretty strong evidence that non-polyandry is not a human universal, and therefore is outside the domain of evopsych; the explanation for why polygyny is more common is a question for the anthropologists rather than the evolutionary psychologists.

    2. “The biggest misconception surrounding polygamy is that it affects nobody else but the people involved. However, the supply of sexual partners is not unlimited. Every additional wife a man takes results in another man having no wife at all.”

      I don’t think think the Government should be in the business of helping to level the playing field in regards to access to sexual partners. I’m all for social assistance when it comes to food and healthcare, but when it comes to getting some, not so much.

      1. Minimum wage laws were set up to help level the playing field between powerful employers and relatively powerless employees. Without such laws, situations could arise where the employee would willingly work (because all other jobs paid the same low rates) 12 hour days for 14 cents an hour.
        The minimum wage laws were set up to give poor workers a humane standard of living, and to prevent the rich from exerting their power at the expense of their workers.

        Being able to have children and raise a family constitutes one of the most fundamental aspects of leading a happy life. I would argue that depriving the poor and powerless from having the opportunity to raise a family lowers their quality of life more than forcing them to work 12 hour days for little money.

        If it’s permissible for the government to force employers to pay a minimum wage (even though both employers and employees would consent to a lower wage), then it should be permissible
        for the government to prevent the rich from monopolizing the available sex partners (even though all of the members of the polygamous relationships would consent to it).

  23. Mark Hall said: polygamy is and is not illegal. As with gay marriage, nothing prevents Steve and Sandy and Tony and Rhonda from going to the religious authority and getting religiously hitched. What’s difficult is when they all try to pile onto Sandy’s health insurance as her spouse, or when Steve tries to claim three spouses and their sixteen children on his taxes

    Actually, no. And that’s the problem here. In Utah the US demanded a state constitution that outlawed polygamy before the territory could become a state. The laws that enforce that (state) constitutional principle outlaw the act of getting religiously married to a second spouse EVEN IF you make no legal assertions based on that act. If you never list your non-legally married spouse as a spouse/partner on any document with legal implications (emergency contact & the like are another matter b/c they enable no benefits to accrue) you can still violate Utah laws against bigamy.

    This is what is being challenged in Utah…and for what it’s worth, it actually bans any form of polyamory, even modern forms, if you simply exercise what would otherwise be a free speech right to say aloud that your partner is a “spouse” “wife” or “husband”.

    Utah’s legal regime which allows imprisonment for participation in a religious rite and/or for describing more than one person using what amounts to legally regulated words is the criminalization of religion and/or speech. It should not be allowed.

    I personally see mormon polygyny as pretty hateful stuff. If you read the book of mormon there are chillingly awful parts of it and the overall tone is one of repeatedly asserting the illegitimacy of questioning authority. Then there’s the racism! I don’t want a single person being brought up to believe in either the racist ideology that dark skin is the mark of sin and that “we are all white in heaven” nor that questioning authority is wrong.

    But, I also believe that the gov’t simply should not have the power to criminalize participation in a religious rite nor speech/communication that hurts no one. In fact, when images of young folk depicting perfectly legal behavior (a child eating an ice cream cone w/ no shirt on) are categorized as child pornography merely because they are found on a computer’s hard drive in a folder with actual child pornography, I question that as well.* But you don’t need to follow me that far to believe that this criminalization is an abuse of state power.

    *It shouldn’t need to be said, but I will say it: I am perfectly content with the criminalization of child pornography. However, I don’t think that you can call a picture child pornography merely because some person got turned on by it, or (as is usually all we know) that some person collected it. There has to be a more reasonable and objective definition of child pornography. Otherwise photos I take of my (currently hypothetical) children become porn or not-porn depending on which person looks at them. This is the criminalization of people and thoughts and I do not support it. While I don’t have a specific reference for you at the moment, it’s not at all unusual for cops who arrest collectors of child porn to include non-porn images (even fully clothed school photos, which one would assume are appropriate) in the total of pornographic images that they say they have found on a hard drive. They’ll say things like, “We found over 5k pornographic images of children on the hard drive.” Later at trial it will turn out that less than half are anything like pornographic. It’s hard to know what role such images play in the legal process, but they are unlikely to be used by prosecutors in guilt phase procedures and yet could be very useful in penalty phase procedures. It’s also true that most criminal charges don’t go to trial, blah, blah, but even if it affects a minority of cases, I think that it’s irresponsible to call those images pornographic simply because of the hard drive folder in which they are found.

  24. I have traveled out of country where Islamic people practice polygamy. I worked closely with the these people and had asked about having multiple wives and how that worked. It sounded like there were a bunch of rules involved. Just some info that I thought might be interesting to share from Wikipedia’s article on polygamy…According to the Ethnographic Atlas Codebook, of 1231 societies noted, 186 were monogamous. 453 had occasional polygyny, 588 had more frequent polygyny, and 4 had polyandry.[3] At the same time, even within societies which allow polygyny, the actual practice of polygyny occurs relatively rarely. There are exceptions: in Senegal, for example, nearly 47 percent of marriages are multiple.[6] To take on more than one wife often requires considerable resources: this may put polygamy beyond the means of the vast majority of people within those societies. Such appears the case in many traditional Islamic societies, and in Imperial China. Within polygynous societies, multiple wives often become a status symbol denoting wealth, power, and fame. I have no idea how that would work in the US? I would certainly have to educate myself more before a vote!

  25. I certainly don’t like the patriarchal attitudes that a lot of polygamists have, and there’s potential for abuse there, but that can be just as true of 2-person marriage as well. Having seen both Sister Wives and 19 Kids and Counting, I find the Browns much less objectionable (from a feminist perspective) than the Duggars, even though the Duggars have a monogamous marriage, because the Browns’ marriage seems more equitable (though not as equal as I’d like).

    I’m not sure how I feel about legal recognition for polygamy, but at least it should be decriminalized so they don’t have to worry about getting arrested or forcibly separated, if it’s consensual and there’s no abuse.

  26. Among other confounding factors is that there is “marriage”, “marriage”, and “marriage” (and possibly more interpretations).

    Nations/States have laws governing marriage, which in the USA currently means a contractual-type agreement between two people (or two people of officially recognized different genders). These contractual-type agreements affect the relationship of the parties involved to the state/nation.

    There is the religious tome-thumping idea of marriage. This gets complicated as to whether the “scriptures” or other religious teachings *clearly show* that marriage means one man and one woman (even though there is plenty of shenanigans in some scriptures that readers might be familiar with), or that it means one man and up to four women, or one man and lots of women, or that all men should cut their junk off and wear hair shirts and wait for end times, whatever.

    Then there is the Heinlein concept of marriage in which any number and gender of folks can be involved, everyone loves everyone else (but not in a gay way), all are equal and love their mother(s).

    Couldn’t possibly be complicated.

  27. … “the Heinlein concept of marriage in which any number and gender of folks can be involved, everyone loves everyone else (but not in a gay way)”…

    Sorry, I meant, “…unless the people involved were female. Then they could be as gay as they wanted.”

    Still, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is in my top 5 SF novels.

  28. Arrrgghh, heinlein!

    I really wanted to like him. So many of my guy friends liked him. But even without any significantly thought out analysis of sexism, I just couldn’t get past the way that all of his prominent women characters were sexualized, repeatedly. ALL of them. No exceptions. While throw-away characters existed that were ostensibly women, there place in his books was minor in effect, ephemeral in duration unless they served to sex up the boys.

    I hate him with the flame of a million suns. He’s exactly what makes so many women think I’m weird for liking science fiction.

    1. Classic sci-fi is quite the cultural time capsule. These are two examples that recently stuck out for me:

      Season 1 Doctor Who (1963-4): The Doctor: “The savage redman with his primitive mind cannot comprehend the steam engine.”

      Planet of the Damned by Harry Harrison (1962): “The women competed in their own tournament of chess, the female mind being less able to grasp the finer points of tactical thought and foresight.”

    2. Depends on which era Heinlein you read. I do not recall any sex in Starship Troopers. Of course there are few women in that novel as well. I wonder what it would have been like if there were women in the MI?

  29. “Consenting adults should be able to enter any contract they want”.

    Marriage is a primarily a property contract. The fact that a lot of us choose to make our partner more than that doesn’t change the contract. Like any property contract, by holding it, you are asking the government to enforce your legal right of monopoly over the the other person’s crotch. This is why you can end the contract because of infidelity. Your right of exclusion was violated, making the contract void.

    In a gross, ad hom attack on Mormon polygamist husbands, I think, what you are talking about is removing right of wife 2-X to divorce on grounds of infidelity, one of there few protections against abusive psychotic men. Since the focus is decriminalization and not legalization, I think that very strongly makes the case that that isn’t about a fair deal for the women.

    A fairer deal would set up the legal system that required written consent from the other wives before the husband to marry another.

    1. But marriage is not just a contract, it is also a status. Contracts can not prevent you from testifying against someone in court, give you legal standing to sue for wrongful death, give you immigration status and so on.

      Marriage is a very complicated and multifaceted thing, and can not be treated as being like anything else in the legal environment.

  30. Frankly, I think making these unions illegal actually hurts women. It gives some high control groups (FLDS types) an excuse to isolate their members. It does not provide the women with the protections divorce can provide- my mother never married my father, and when she left him after 16 years she left with almost nothing to show for it while he had thousands in savings and a house in his name.

    And, to be frank, I also think it hurts society. These women are often on significant public assistance, which they likely would not qualify for (or at least, not qualify for as much) if they were married.

    I have two friends who are or have been in group relationships- strangely enough, both are lesbians and seem pretty happy.

  31. I think we can all agree (well mostly) that as a matter of civil liberties, the idea of polygamy is okay. However, as a society we have agreed that we need to protect those in need of protection. Again, we can all probably agree that this definitely covers children. The problem becomes when the child becomes of legal age.

    All beliefs whether they be healthy, inclusive, positive beliefs or devaluing human beings based on gender or clan or something else are a part of this child come adult. This is true regardless of gender, since there are problems for both genders in the current (seemingly) dominant form of polygamy.

    My question isn’t ‘should we legalize polygamy?
    it is ‘how do we protect those who may have never been afforded respect or shown that respect for others is part of our society and is something to be perpetuated?’

    1. Again, it’s not LEGALIZE… It’s DECRIMINALIZE.

      It was said above (not by you, tinylion, but it derives from the same inability to separate legalization from decriminalization) that this will injure the rights of women to divorce for reasons of infidelity.

      This is ridiculous, for 2 reasons: First, Utah, like all 50 states, has no-fault divorce. You can divorce for any reason or no reason at all. This is not 1980. If you wanna divorce, you can have it. Pressing for divorce-for-cause isn’t often done anymore, and when it is it’s entirely because getting a divorce for cause means that you will ultimately get more of the communal property.

      Secondly, there is no LEGALIZATION – men can’t be LEGALLY married to more than one person, so there is no need for wife #s 2-X to ever get a divorce. You don’t divorce your housemate, get it? There’s a major difference between saying, “We’re not going to throw you in jail just because you stood b4 a preacher & said, ‘I take you also,’ ” and saying, “When you stood in front of a preacher to take a second spouse, the gov’t recognizes that as a merging of all property interests and a binding legal contract with rights & responsibilities identical to the rights and responsibilities you acquired during your first marriage, but reciprocal between you & wife # (previous +1).

      It seems like most people in this discussion truly can’t wrap their head around what’s going on.

      Queer people want their currently meaningless (in most states and with respect to the federal gov’t in any state) marriages declared meaningful, and the equivalent of straight legal marriage.

      This suit is to get the government to declare subsequent religious marriages MEANINGLESS. Currently they have great meaning – they are reason to throw at least one person in prison.

      Everybody got it now?

  32. I’m a little confused as to how this is even a question to anyone that believes in equality.

    Consenting adults should be able to do whatever they damn well please, as long as everybody in the relationship is on board with it, and if you’re giving equality to one group, you need to give it to all of them. There’s the practical issue of figuring out how the taxation bits would work, but I just can’t understand any argument against it on the basis of principle.

    1. One consideration along this line, though, is that while both (all) parties might be “on board” going into a relationship, rarely are they so in agreement getting out of it. That’s why I earlier brought up the question about how long polyamorous relationships last. For an intimate relationship to break up usually involves a painful rupture of some kind for at least one of the parties. Sure, we know that about half the monogamous marriages don’t last either. Do polyamorous relationships do anywhere nearly so well? If they don’t, is it because polyamory is an inherently less stable arrangement? (Negative societal pressure would have an effect there that it wouldn’t on two-partner relationships.) There’s a bewildering web of considerations here that make coming to a good opinion difficult.

      1. Well, in regards to that… a marriage between two 18-year-olds is incredibly unlikely to work out, but nobody questions that they should have the right to it.

        Difficulty in getting out of the marriage is a fault in the divorce process, not a fault in people getting married. If you can’t get a divorce on the grounds of nothing more than “I don’t want to be married to this person anymore”, that’s a problem, whether monogamous or poly. It shouldn’t have to be a mutual agreement.

        Despite that, though: Those are practical considerations in the implementation, not principle reasons against the idea itself.

        1. I think I’d find myself in agreement with most of that. But I really wasn’t talking about the difficulty of getting out of a marriage. I was talking about the injury the unwilling partner incurs. Just pointing out that it happens in monogamous marriages, too, doesn’t seem like very good reasoning to me. The problem is that one of the parties to the marriage is not honoring the commitment and the other is being harmed by that. (Of course, it’s not always that cut and dried, I know.) It seems to me that each additional partner to the marriage would add a new level of complication to a relationship that’s already, by its very nature, difficult to maintain. That’s why I doubt that intimate relationships between multiple partners (legal marriage or not) will ordinarily last as long on average as monogamous ones.

          1. I meant to say “non-coercive relationships” in that last line.

          2. Where do you get “not honoring the commitment” from? You don’t write the wedding vows for people across the country. You certainly didn’t write mine. When my wife & I decided to get married it had nothing to do with changing our polyamorous relationship structure. We both wanted to be in each other’s lives on a permanent basis & we wanted our families to celebrate our relationship equally with our siblings het marriages. I know lots & lots of people who marry legally and are polyamorous.

            In fact, this seems a good time to mention LoveTribe. If you are in any of quite a number of places in the US, there is a LoveTribe chapter near you. LoveTribe’s goal is to destigmatize and foster positive, loving touch. They throw parties that encourage snuggling (the party might be any kind of party, but it is announced beforehand that snuggling is encouraged and most of the people at the party end up snuggling with someone – that they came with or that they didn’t – over the course of the evening).
            They throw parties that encourage smooching. They throw parties that encourage making out & petting where toplessness is okay. They throw parties where nudity is okay but only snuggling is encouraged or allowed. They throw parties where nudity is okay but only snuggling & kissing are encouraged/allowed. They throw parties centered around one particular type of activity being encouraged (although snuggling is always also okay). This is often but not always something thought of as part of BDSM. So some of these parties might be impact play events where people can be whipped/flogged/caned if they so choose. Others might be all about mouths & flavors – this is done once a year as a dinner where people feed each other different foods (often, though not always while the eater is blindfolded). Then they also throw parties where any type of consensual sex activities are permitted.

            The vast majorities of these events are “Snuggle-level” events. Only once or twice a year is an “all consensual sex allowed” event held. There are women only events & men only events. There are Sadie Hawkins type events where any woman or trans person can come but men can only come if they are asked by a woman to come as a date. EVERY event includes an intro where we practice asking for what we want, giving and declining consent, negotiating creatively when parties want to interact but don’t want the same thing (at least at first), and getting to know each other. In the most recent event that I went to the theme was “Beautiful Bellies” where part of what we did was talk about what we liked & didn’t like about our bellies with other people in the room. Those people would then say nice things about our bellies. It’s an attempt to counter all the awful messages we get about our bodies all the time in this beauty-obsessed culture.

            Anyway, although I wanted to introduce you to LoveTribe (feel free to go to yourself), the point is that most of the people who come to lovetribe events are either dating seriously, partnered, or married. In almost all those cases the parties involved have made promises to each other, but those promises do not include snuggle-monogamy, often don’t include romping/playing/making-out monogamy, and many of them don’t even include full-on boinking monogamy.

            What’s interesting is that the people who are legally married & coming to love tribe events are actually less likely to be sexually monogamous than the people that are dating seriously and coming to LT events.

            Having a long-term relationship allows trust to develop. It also allows communication to develop. With those two things in place, people in the LT community generally find it unnecessary & undesirable to pledge sexual monogamy.

            TL;DR? When you say that someone is breaking a pledge, promise or commitment b/c they have more than one sexual partner while married, you’re just making things up. It’s the monogamy community that cheats and breaks sexual promises. In the polyamory community we may promise less, but we talk very seriously about what we need & why so that those needs can actually get met – all those needs. In monogamous marriages “cheating” (meaning having another sexual partner and lying about it and/or concealing it) rates approach or exceed 80%.

            As for the polygyny of Mormonism, I don’t know if they are likely to break their promises around sexual expression, but I don’t even know what those sexual promises are and how they are phrased. I think it’s flying off without data to assert otherwise without a very good source of information. Since you’re not linking to any sources or claiming a history of research & expertise, I think you’re just making assumptions here, assumptions which hurt our ability to talk about this productively.

          3. “Where do you get “not honoring the commitment” from?”

            I think you’re reading things into my comment that I didn’t intend to be there. By “not honoring the commitment” I didn’t mean breaking vows by marrying (or otherwise coming into relationship with) yet another party when all current parties assent. (If the commitment was to monogamy, it would be different, of course.) I have been dwelling on the break-up of relationships. When an intimate relationship ends it usually ends painfully for at least one of the parties, because someone didn’t keep their promise. I’m not convinced that polyamorous relationships, as a rule, last very long, because, as I said, with each new member the level of complexity rises, and probably in a non-linear fashion. (How long have you been married? How long have you been involved with polyamory? Your answer would be anecdotal, of course–one case–but it might shed some light.) Marriage is a tough enough proposition when it just involves two people.

            And, by the way, I thought we were talking about marriages or intimate, live-in relationships with multiple “permanent” partners, not “swinging.” My comments have been meant to address that issue. (Although I have been using the term “polyamory,” which to some people may be indistinguishable from swinging. By it, I’ve meant a committed, voluntary, intimate relationship–marriage or not–involving multiple partners, more in line with the thrust of this thread. That may not even be correct.)

  33. Yes – you should be able to marry as many people as you want – because people will do it anyway – and they are not considered married or having rights if they are a 2nd or 3rd partner sharing children – they should be allowed equal rights as a married partner. That way if it does need to go to court – then at least it is clear who is married and who is responsible for what – rather than people not being able to be honest about their relationships without fearing punishment. It could be set up like birth certificates where other siblings are mentioned, where all your previous and / or current marriages are listed – so as to be clear and open about who is married to the person you are marrying.

  34. Remember that episode of Futurama Where that veteran defended Zoidberg for flag desecration? It was “freedom day” where anything goes. Anything but things we don’t like. Like flag desecration and polygamy and satanism and gay marriage.

    I don’t agree with Mormon brainwashing and marrying children to old men, but there are so many examples where countries like the US are not free countries despite their claims of “freedom” Jury duty? Imminent domain? Forcing people to stand for the flag? Neighborhood associations?

  35. I think Marriage coercion is the real problem not the number of people you are married to.

  36. As Jen said its not my cup of tea, but I can’t see an inherent reason for it to be illegal between consenting adults. It basically comes down to trying to legislate sexual morality and in Utah religious practice.

    I’m not saying that the state shouldn’t act to put safeguards for things that are clearly harmful to society. I don’t want my neighbor having a nuke or a fully automatic weapon. Nor do I think it should be legal to use drugs like heroine or crack (and before the flames start, I’m not saying jail is the best way to handle crack addicts). But I’m not sure that saying plural marriage is harmful is really all that different from saying gay, interracial, mixed religious, or any other type of marriage between consenting adults is harmful. Yes as many people having pointed out, the key word is consenting i.e. no children, no coercion; but that should apply to all marriages.

    1. The damage done to children involved from infancy is almost impossible to quantify. While there are more sane groups in the major metro area, the way that most fundamentalists practice plural marriage is highly damaging to children and the girls/women in the marriages. There is no freedom of choice when you have no escape.

      This is not the free exercise of religion but the forced exercise of religion. I find it abhorrent.

      1. Standing in front of a priest (or whatever they are called in mormon rites) and going through a ritual of bonding to another person as a spouse IS free exercise of religion. The gov’t should have no power to jail someone for taking part in such a ritual.

        As for what you are saying about abhorrent practices during the course of the marriage and raising of children, I’m right there with you, but some of these practices are hard to outlaw without giving the government way too much power — imagine if the government began regulating which ideologies are too damaging to children to embrace as adult parents. We might start by carting people to the slammer for a fundamentalist ideology that devalues girls in ways that truly injures them psychologically, but which ideology would be next? What if I raise my children to believe that 40 acres & a mule was a promise of reparation unfulfilled and that we should be fighting for every descendant of slaves to get a free house & lot of reasonable size? If my children fully believe it, it might seriously cause them problems in creating healthy friendships b/c so many folks will see my kids as extremists and thus shy away from them. This will isolate them socially which causes real psychological harm. Is the gov’t justified in taking my kids away?

        I don’t trust the government with that power. And so I fight the racist speech & sexist speech in society (coming from mormons or from anyone else) through more speech.

        Its an imperfect solution. It limits my ability to intervene against what I believe are real and serious harms that can occur within some families. But it’s the best solution that I can think of.

        Of course, I’m always happy to hear a better. Anyone got one?

  37. I don’t have anything directly against polygamy. It’s not for me, but I wouldn’t care if others wanted to do that. However, the polygamy practiced by fundamentalist Mormons is anything but freedom. Girls are spiritually married to men at supremely young ages, raised to believe that their life’s duty is to work with the sister wives to perfectly meet the needs of the patriarch, usually an older and creepy man, and that their own needs and desires are meaningless.

    I would rather they fully legalized polygamy so that they could have some shred of control on the ages of the marital parties (I’m thinking of the young women here, not the creepy old men or the distance between the two).

    I agree that marriage shouldn’t be the business of government, but abuse and indoctrination should be. Granting fundies the right to live Joseph Smith’s twisted dream won’t make life better or worse for the wives of the pedophiles. That’s a whole ‘nother and much more important issue.

  38. Yeah, this one’s tricky.

    Easy bit first: the lawsuit should be a slam-dunk. If I were to win the lottery, move to Utah and hook up with a quintet of lingerie models whom I started calling Freemage’s Fox Force Five, and who would get kicked out and replaced for a younger model the moment they started showing signs of aging, that would be legal. If, OTOH, I had two women in my household and referred to them both as my wives, that would be illegal. It’s a First Amendment issue, and an easy call.

    Legal recognition, OTOH, is a lot trickier. The biggest issue is dissolution–how to handle the different possible structures, and determine fair distribution of goods.

    And then, yes, there’s the fact that traditional polygamy is usually a horrible institution for the female participants. It might be that legal recognition (and thus, public awareness) might work in favor of undermining that, though, so I can’t be sure where to lean.

    1. It is not just dissolution. If you had your say Russian Lingerie models should all 4 of them qualify for marriage visa’s? And if this is legal you know that some ideologically driven group with make very large group marriages, if only one is a US citizen are all of them entitled to visa’s?

      Remember that when immigration status is involved the US government can and does challenge the reality of the marriage.

  39. I’m glad you’ve raised some of the sticky points at work here. As a Salt Lake City resident, I find myself facepalming when I see people discussing polygyny, polygamy and polyandry with serious misconceptions about how it’s actually practiced here in Utah.

    The historical significance of the 1862 Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act is problematic at best because it can outlaw polyamory in non-abusive forms along with the coercive, damaging and isolationist splinter mormon sects who practice polygyny. My spouse is descended from one of the more flagrant and wealthy polygamists who actually fled the country with his 11th wife rather than face prosecution following anti-bigamy legislation. The legislation is poorly constructed but was an absolute condition required by the federal government for statehood.

    The nice, abstract conversations that people want to have about “consenting adults” simply fails to get to heart of what the current rationale behind anti-bigamy legal enforcement here. Cases against practicing polygynists always involve cases of fraud or abuse; enforcement is inconsistent. We are not talking about anything so free or high minded and it makes me want to tear out my hair when people fail to recognize the inherently coercive nature of the current practice of polygyny in Utah. There are a number of families in the most populous areas, but these families are more or less ignored by law enforcement because they simply don’t use the same kind of isolation and coercion to enforce crazy religious ideas on women and children. The real offenders are the ones who are so isolating (very often literally; I have driven by walled/fenced compounds and clusters of houses in the south of the state where I couldn’t describe the children and women there as anything but prisoners) that there is no opportunity for freedom of choice, and that is what I will always oppose. It is evil and borders on slavery.

    The problem here is that the law is very poorly constructed; I don’t doubt that we’ll be seeing all manner of new ideas introduced by our legislature to shore up the regulation.

    1. Hm. That was supposed to be a reply to @cripdyke up above, but it didn’t actually put it in that way.

      1. I’ve been replying to you because you have interesting posts and because I think that the way things were stated in them, sometimes disagree. But I think that we’re probably actually largely on the same page. Let me just try to clarify –

        You agree that mere participation in a religious rite of marriage – no matter how many times you’ve done so and no matter whether or not any or all of the previous religious marriages have been undone – should not be reason for incarceration….

        Is that correct?

        You believe that the vast majority of mormon polygynous households are psychologically abusive to the women and girl children involved….

        Is that correct?
        I don’t know enough to guess what percentage of such households include psychological abuse, but my study of the book of mormon leads me to the conclusion that it was written in such a way as to justify power of priesthood and husbands/fathers **even when used abusively**. I believe that there is a subset of mormon households that are polygynous and horrifically psychologically abusive. I just don’t know how to enumerate them.

        You believe that most criminal penalties faced by such households are for crimes such as fraud and not for bigamy directly. Also you believe that many such households are not investigated and may even be protected despite breaking the laws as written, both the bigamy statute and other statutes (such as fraud) which are often broken in the attempt to live as married while concealing a marriage.

        Is that correct?
        Again, I am aware of this happening, but I don’t know how to enumerate it. You’re local, so I would tend to defer to your impressions tho’ it would be better to have a study of some kind.

        Finally – You raise the points which I have avoided, and that’s about forced marriage, child marriage and child rape. I’ve generally wanted to keep the topic simple to be able to discuss decriminalization. The main reason I did that is because people were already demonstrating a remarkable inability to make the distinction between decriminalization and legal recognition. HOWEVER, at least the last two are crimes in Utah. The first (forced marriage of adults) may or may not be illegal depending on the nature of the coercion and on Utah’s statutes. I’m not sure what you were attempting to do other than give people information about how these marriages certainly can be and often are (typically are? again, it’s hard to know percentages) very different from modern polyamory when Mormon polygyny lacks the level of negotiation and consent that is honored (and hopefully generally present) within modern polyamorous relationships.

        I think it’s important to know this information so that we can fight these (horrific!!) wrongs, but the existence of these wrongs doesn’t make me wish to change my mind on the decriminalization of non-legally recognized Mormon religious polygynous marriages.

        Do I have you right on this last part, too?

        I’m curious to know if you think that the prevalence of child rape, forced marriage and other serious crimes makes you want to keep the criminalization of marriage in name/church only? Many statutes are written very broadly to give prosecutors broad discretion over cases. If it’s hard to prove exactly when a girl was religiously married to a guy but prosecutors are pretty sure it was while the girl was under 18, having the statute as written means it would be possible to lock him up for religious bigamy. This wouldn’t get this hypothetical guy for what I would say is the real crimes – child rape and forced child marriage – but with the guy locked up the girl-now-woman would at least have time to deal with the reality of what has happened and make some difficult decisions free of the perp’s coercion (though not the coercion of sister-wives, etc.).

        I get why that’s tempting, but ultimately I’m not for it. What about you? You seem to know more about this topic than me.

        anyway, thanks for engaging well on a difficult & fraught topic.

        1. You have most of my positions summarized nicely and it’s a complicated topic.

          I definitely agree there are thorny complicated issues of free thought and concerns for governmental abuse of power. It certainly doesn’t help that the poorly constructed legislation we’re operating under was arguably an unconstitutional imposition by the federal government (in the sense of limiting free exercise of religion).

          The problem of balancing individuals’ rights to free exercise of religion and ensuring individuals have opportunities to learn and grow and (I would hope)leave inherently devaluing roles in life is one I hope can be solved through education. I have relatives that are atheists and I have relatives that believe in super-conservative should have the same rights to believe/not believe. The question really comes down to limiting voices and education because the flow of information, learning and expression is often actively stifled.

          The fundamentalist communities in Utah that practice polygyny are almost exclusively endogamous. (It’s a somewhat touchy subject, but it is one that is addressed in sociology and anthropology courses I’ve taken because of local interest. I don’t have easy access to studies I can link to, and a decent part of my knowledge is based on a system of personal anecdote and regional reporting, but I try to be fair.) You do not see women converting to this faith and leaping at the chance to be a husband’s breeder now and for all eternity, from accounts of those women who have managed to leave communities/marriages as well as the “lost boys” ejected from FLDS communities to maintain the necessary demographic balance. These people follow this controlling lifestyle and follow orders on who to marry because they were raised to conform to very narrow expectations, and that conformity is maintained through some nasty intimidation tactics (property control, marriages reassigned to others, etc.) It’s a destructive status quo that is maintained by preventing any outside influences/knowledge and by suppressing individual voices. (Which is largely what I meant by forced exercise of religion; when you have no other options without abandoning everything and everyone you know and sometimes even knowledge of those options, what freedom is there?)

          Even ordinary mormons in Salt Lake have a very strong cultural emphasis on conformity. Sources for religious talking points and sermons for believers themselves have increasingly come directly from church hierarchy in the last few years. Public schools here in Salt Lake and the surrounding very often have religiously inspired social dynamics and tones. (Switching from public school to a private one partway through my grade school not only led to my having a full education in sciences, etc. but also to escape all-encompassing religious discrimination and shunning.) If the urban areas have a noticeable sense of religious culture controlling information by controlling education, it is no surprise that more rural areas see more extreme versions.

          Last year a defense team in Southern Utah tried to guilt a jury into disregarding very strong forensic DNA evidence because DNA was untrustworthy on religious grounds. (DNA can’t be true since genetic tests have shown that native tribes in the Americas are not closely related to ethnic Jews and are not a lost tribe of Israel, as mormon dogma has dictated. The implication being that if they were devout in their LDS faith, they had to throw out evidence of the defendant’s guilt.) A recent attempt to create access to knowledge and learning into FLDS communities led a literal book burning of books that were to found a library in the border town of Colorado City in April.

          The prosecutions against polygamists aren’t always covered by national news organizations because they are often just not very interesting or high profile. They’re not always even prosecuted under our bigamy laws, although they’re always reported as polygamists regardless of what the news actually is. (e.g. 16 June, Salt Lake Tribune: “Polygamous sect leader’s daughter admits guilt in killings”) Every year or two we have some massive scandal when someone dares to suggest our students would be better off (and become healthier happier adults) if we, you know, taught them something about their own sexual reproductive systems. And it gets shut down in the name of freedom of religion and religious morals. There are times that this state really does feel like a theocracy, from the blatant to the very subtle.

          The fraud I describe is backed largely by anecdote, I confess (based on what I hear and read in local media as well as others’ experiences). For example, my husband works for in a government program that includes help with certain child care expenses. It’s hard not to feel jaded about fraud when you hear him come home with stories of how there are seven or eight different names and recipients of funds have the same last name and the same address for the exact same dates. You start to wonder how many times they’re counting the same children for relative care. (This is another problem I have with the current practice of polygyny in the state, honestly. Even if there wasn’t the specter of coercion, abuse and control involved, your free expression of religion doesn’t deserve special financial subsidy because you have many, many more mouths than you can afford. Nor does it mean that you can abuse, twist and lie to get even more assistance than others. The lack of conscience at placing so many children in poverty with the modern polygamist sects makes me furious. At least during territory days, the polygynists were almost always very wealthy, as my husband’s ancestor Archibald Gardner was.) It’s reported fairly often that FLDS families and leaders use strange loopholes in building codes to avoid paying any property taxes; a home under construction is exempt from property tax, so FLDS members are moved into an “incomplete” house that’s missing front steps, etc. to avoid paying their share into government funds they take advantage of. These cases are known, but it’s difficult to prove. So while you read about the occasional fraud case being pursued against polygamists, there are a number of instances where dodgy things like this are simply ignored.

          Bottom line: Do I think that the laws as written are wrong? Yes. Do I think that the current practice of polygyny should be decriminalized? I don’t know. The current reality is very, very wrong and I feel like we should be able to do something to improve things. People in these groups, from the smaller-compounds I’ve seen around Zion Nat’l. Park to the town/communities that are more well known, should have the ability to learn about other options and that’s not the reality we have here. Voices and freedoms are being silenced, and I oppose that.

          1. Don’t know if you’ll find this or not, but thanks for engaging in such a productive & nuanced discussion. I’ll look for your opinions on future posts, for sure.

            Take care & best –


  40. I’ve seen a couple of episodes. The parents and kids seem to be happy. I think it should be legal for consenting adults.

    1. It’s a television show. It’s not evidence of their happiness or unhappiness. Its edited.

      And, as long as the multiple partners street runs two ways – that is, that women can take on more than one hubs if they wish, I’m all for it too. No adult should be told they can’t create a family with other fully informed, consenting adults, because someone else doesn’t like the idea of it.

  41. The problem, assuming that consenting adults are involved, seems to be a legal one. Should there be a limit on the number of spouses, for example, or how should decisions be made if one were in need of medical treatment and needed someone to consent on their behalf because they were incapacitated. How would inheritance work? Equal shares for all or based on the length of time in the relationship. Seems kind of messy, not that that is a reason it shouldn’t be legal.

  42. I would only object to polyamory if it caused people to suffer. That’s the only concern. If you can provide evidence that the men or women in these relationships are suffering as a result of the nature of the relationship, then I would object to it.

    But I also object to the notion of making decisions for other people and coercively controlling their lives against their will. Outlawing polygamy would fall under this category.

    If it can be shown that multiple partner relationships are an independent cause of suffering in some way, then I would recommend persuading those who support them to stop doing it. Persuasion is always better than coercion.

  43. I’m going to try to go back and read all the other comments before I post this, because I know that everyone here is articulate and that y’all articulate wonderful things that I might not necessarily think of.

    Also, one of you might have already said this. ;)

    Still, I’ve been talking this over with myself a lot these last few days, and haven’t gotten around to saying anything because I’ve been on the road. I first saw this post the morning after watching the finale of the Mormon tv show mentioned above and started articulating a reply. Then my brother and his family came home from Mass and I left the state of Massachusetts.

    Those facts are all loosely connected, but there’s no causative relationship. I promise. I include them because it amuses to me to do so.

    I want to distinguish between “polygamy” and “polyamory”. In the US, at least as I understand it, “polygamy” refers to the religious institution of a man with multiple wives. “Polyamory” refers to a number of different situations: polyandry (one woman, multiple husbands), polygyny (one man, multiple wives), polygynandrony (multiple husbands AND wives in one loving family), and any number of other complex relationships (open marriages, open relationships, free love communes… lots of things).

    To me, polygamy is a state wherein woman as wife is chattel property of her husband. If he happens to have several wives, he happens to own several cows. They make babies, they make milk, they’re valuable to him and he likes them, but they’re just property and are as replaceable as his cows. A brief reading of the Bible suggests that this misogynistic view of women as property is a little bit entirely held from end to end. The Muslim practice of “up to four wives” and the Mormon practice of “The Principle” are, not just in practice but in principle, the same bronze age barbaric practice of women-as-property as you find in the old testament.

    Which is why I think we need to make a distinction between misogynist polygamy and “free-thinking”? “humanist”? polyamory. The one treats women as property subject to the men in their lives, the other as moral actors engaging in their lives.

    On a simple level, I say “Yes”. All the poly should be legal and legally engaged in and the difficult property issues can and will be hashed out in court over the next century. It will be difficult but we’ll get a handle on it. That’s what we do. In the wise words of Admiral Percival FitzWallace, “The problem with that is that that’s what they were saying to me 50 years ago. Blacks shouldn’t serve with whites. It would disrupt the unit. You know what? It did disrupt the unit. The unit got over it. The unit changed. I’m an admiral in the U.S. Navy and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff… Beat that with a stick.”

    On a more complex level, I think it needs to be made not-illegal and brought into the open in the same way that pornography and prostitution need to be de-illegalized and brought into the open. The oldest profession has always been and will always be practiced. You cannot stop the river from flowing; you can put up dams and levees, but the river will flow. Our duty is to make sure that no one gets hurt. By criminalizing these things, you drive them underground and insure that victims are hurt and cannot free themselves, because you’ve made them not just victims, but criminals.

    Human sexuality is like a flood; it will find an outlet. We build levees along the Mississippi River and what happens? The flood gets higher because it can’t find a way out. It used to be a life-giving process, dangerous and powerful, but potent. Now it’s just a pent-up force that rages for a thousand miles and destroys whatever it comes in contact with. And that’s what we do when we criminalize and contain sex, when we try to narrowly constrain love and sexuality as *just one thing*.

    We try to live within the narrow confines of what we’ve built, but we constantly dig at the irrational walls we’ve built. And then it breaks, and the town of Joplin is torn apart.

    I think that analogy works because America is stupid about love and sex and marriage, but it doesn’t explain why I’m so negative about the Mormon and Muslim polygamous traditions.

    It’s because they treat women as property, but that’s only a small part. In America, the Mormon cult has been forced underground, and the worst villainies are allowed to flourish alongside the mildest villainies. Right now, hundreds of Linda Lovelaces are suffering alongside dozens of joyful Nina Hartleys.

    Freedom loves the light; only tyranny loves the shadow.

    I may have expressed myself poorly, or even made mistakes. Please correct or question me, and I’ll try to explain, clarify, or correct myself.

    1. Also, I fully admit to making up whole-cloth the term “polygynandrony”. I’m unaware of a term for a loving, committed, long-term relationship of 1+ men and 1+ women. Educate me. Educate the SHIT out of me.

      1. If you are fine with redefining words as you did with polygamy why does making them up bother you? It would be easy to make very good argument that marriage is fundamentally sexist, just ignore the data for the last 100 years, hell it was 1991 that the last state criminalized spousal rape.

        The literal meaning of the word is multiple marriage. It seems far stranger to be fine with polygyny and take issue with polygamy. The only association between the two is that people wouldn’t think of polyandryous societies and so polygamy and polygyny are synonyms in their view.

  44. Polygamy absolutely should be legal. Here’s why:

    1. It’s consenting adults, and they’re not harming others.

    2. At least the dude is living with them and supporting his kids. If he instead traveled all over the country getting people pregnant without marriage and having kids he couldn’t afford to support, that would be perfectly legal but worse.

    3. The criteria in the law which distinguish between the above cases are that he lives with them and calls them his wives. But the courts have held that people have the right to live with whatever consenting adults they please (e.g. would be legal if he was in the same situation but calling them “tenants” and charging one penny a month). And the first amendment protects his right to call them “wives”.

    4. They’re not even seeking state recognition for their marriage — just the right to be left alone. But I think the government should get the hell out of the business of being the arbiter of personal relationships and not recognize any marriage — though people could still choose to sign an explicit contract specifying the sharing of property and procedures for the dissolution of such an economic union.

  45. Considering I would like to do away with marriage completely, the polygamy question is moot for me, but I’ll give it a shot.

    Marriage is a religious institution. That is the ONLY reason it is looked upon today as “odd” if two people of the same sex or more than two people wish to use it. If it were just a legal issue, the subject of “gay marriage” would have been settled in the 70’s or 80’s. As a religious institution, it should be confined to religion. The rest are legal contracts, and as several here have said, there doesn’t seem to be any reason why one man and several women, one woman and several men, or even several men and several women shouldn’t be allowed to benefit from it. As long as all parties involved are fully appraised of their responsibilities and rights under the contract and are not forced to sign.

    I can’t understand why are still we hung up on multiple wives/husbands?

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