Polygamy - Why the Shrieking?

Monday, December 31, 2007
I don't understand why people get so wrapped around the axle with regards to plural marriage, or with polygamy in general.

To caveat, I'm not talking about those freeze-dried-whack-a-loons who force underage girls into marriage with dirty old men, like that whack-job Warren Jeffs. He's a disgrace, and I have serious concerns about Colorado City, Arizona, where his community lives.

What I don't understand is why people get up in arms about communities like Centennial Park, Arizona, where many plural families make their homes. These are not rabid fanatics, frothing at the mouth and forcing their children into unwanted, illegal sexual relationships. For the most part, these families have the same hopes, dreams and aspirations as any family has - they just choose to compose their families in a manner out of the mainstream. Sort of like...oh, I don't know...gay couples?

Seriously, these folks aren't hurting anyone, and there's no indication that children raised in these loving environments are damaged in any way, just as there's no indication children raised by loving gay couples are damaged. Why do people get so shrieky about it? I understand the historical reasons for outlawing polygamy, but I don't see the issue with just decriminalizing it. That's what many advocacy groups are asking for. I mean, really, why should consenting adults be considered guilty of a felony for choosing to live in a family unit that includes more than two adults? Yes, yes, I know that critics of plural marriage complain (loudly) that the FLDS church and plural marriage places men in a position of authority of women, and thus values men more than women. I find these arguments pretty specious - the main LDS church also values men more than women, but they don't have to justify their private lives to journalists and lawmakers. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, so to speak. These women are adults. Like all adults, they should be permitted to make their own decisions, whether their choices are the ones I would make or not. I don't find subjugating myself to a man because it's "God's Will" any more appealing than taking out my own eye with a fork, but it's not my decision to make for other people. And what about people who choose polygamy for reasons other than religious ones?

If avoiding hypocrisy is a goal, then I think allowing polygamous families to live openly and enjoy rights and privileges associated with traditional marriage is the least we can do, if we allow other non-traditional families the same rights. What's the difference between supporting gay equality and supporting polygamous equality? None. So stop shrieking.

17 comments:

Nathan said...

I'm coming down on the side of "No Opinion". What I will say is that it presents something of a paradox (for me, at least). There are religions that take "male superiority" as an article of faith. I can reject that for myself, but I can't force my beliefs on them. But if a woman has grown up in that environment and been indoctrinated into that belief, is she really making any kind of informed decision when she agrees to be wife #3?

I suppose there are situations where these families develop because that's what a group of men and women actually choose for themselves, but I'd be willing to bet its a small minority.

Its always possible that I'm wrong, but I'm not going to accept that possibility. My New Year's Resolution is to be as Sarge-like as possible. He's my hero. :-)

Janiece Murphy said...

Nathan, I think I understand what you're saying. But that kind of paternalism - the idea that we need to protect these women from themselves because they don't know any better - rubs me the wrong way. Mostly because it's the same argument that evangelicals use when they try to convert the masses. And evangelicals just plain piss me off.

As to your New Year's resolution...don't make me give you the hairy eyeball. I'm warning you, Nathan. Seriously. Don't test me.

Tom said...

I want so much to write something insiteful, or cute and funny, in response to this post, but I'm going to have to settle for pragmatic.

There are any number of ways for adults to live together in all kinds of combinations. Children can be cared for in many of those arrangements. It's only when people flaunt their difference from societal norms that other people start to notice. That's when the "state" (government of some form or other) wants to know if it's laws against bigamy have been abrogated.

It's when people try to be "married" in ways the state doesn't recognize, in order to get the benefits the state bestows upon marriage, that people get upset, whether about "gay marriage" or "official" polygamy in it's many forms.

I'm of the "less government is better" opinion. Do what you want, and don't involve the state. But if you want the benefits from the state, you have to follow it's rules.

I think we're already free to do what we want, as long as we don't flaunt it.

Janiece Murphy said...

Tom, I think I understand what you're trying to say, but for me personally, it's a question of hypocrisy.

My issue in this case isn't with people who believe that the benefits of marriage should only be bestowed upon those who meet the social norm, i.e., one man, one woman, and their progeny. I don't agree with them, but at least they're consistent in what I perceive to be their discrimination.

My issue is with those who say out of one side of their mouths, "we should legalize gay marriage so we don't discriminate against the gay community!" Then out of the other side of their mouths, they say, "Plural marriage is illegal, and subjugates women! They should be prosecuted!"

To me, a consistent position is one where everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy the rights and benefits of available social structures, whether you agree with them or not. I'm not a fan of the social norms in either the FLDS or the LDS establishment, but I can recognize that if I support equality for gay families, then I should support it for conservative, fundamentalist LDS families, too. It's not up to me to decide which is "right" and which is "wrong," but it is up to me to try and live by the values I claim as my own.

You're right about our freedom to live as we choose - the governments of Arizona and Utah have a policy of not prosecuting polygamous families as long as no other laws have been broken. But in our society, if we consider a law (or a "rule," to use your term) to be unfair or not in the spirit of the Constitution, we have the right to challenge it.

Jeri said...

I agree with you, but then, I cut my teeth on RAH and Vonda McIntyre and their alternate definitions of family and marriage.

I find the concept of gay marriage, plural marriage, line marriage, or one-man, one-woman marriage to be perfectly acceptable, and deserving the potential to be protected by law rather than prosecuted by it. My caveat is the same as yours - that the participants be willing.

It is a bit of a challenge to me to extend the same tolerance to the religious right and fundamentalists as I do to my own fairly libertarian, liberal views. I especially have a hard time with cultures and traditions that brainwash women into submission to a system of reduced freedoms and rights - as in Islamic shari'a law. I'm not so sure all participants there are consenting - they simply can conceive of no alternative.

Would I participate in a plural marriage myself? I sure don't need more than one Smug Husband to take care of - even if he is darn handy around the house. And while in theory I'd love to have a housewife, in reality I think the social dynamics of making three work would be an order of magnitude harder than two.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I would never want to deal with a plural marriage, either. I've only just recently learned how to make a traditional marriage work, let alone something more complex. I suspect it may be a family arrangement you have to be raised in. Other cultures do it successfully, though, so it’s not an American (or LDS) aberration.

And I, too, struggle with the tendency to support only those that share my liberalism - I had to do some mental housecleaning before I wrote this. Quite the revelation that not everyone wants what I want, and paternalism rubs me worse than "saving" other women from the fundamentalists. I value the right to self-determination so highly I just can't bring myself impose my will on other competent adults, even if it's "for their own good."

I'm reminded of the free and democratic elections for the Palestinians...where they elected Hamas. You can't really have it both ways, but people who make free choices also choose the logical consequences of their acts.

MWT said...

The term among people who practice it is "polyamory," I believe, and it isn't always one man with multiple women. My impression has always been that all of the adults involved are roughly equal. (Of course, my impression might be completely wrong, as I don't know any polyamorous people firsthand.)

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, I didn't know that. Thanks!

Jim Wright said...

My only opinion here is - Good Gravy! Have you lost your mind? I can't keep up with one wife, let alone more than one. It's a well known fact, a FACT, that nagging is logarithmically additive - i.e. the shrill harping of two wives is actually three times more caustic than just one wife, nagging from three wives is actually nine times more suicide inducing than just one wife alone, and etc. Who needs that? Really?

But other than that, I actually don't care. More power to 'em. But I'd increase funding for suicide prevention hot lines, just saying.

Jim Wright said...

Oh, and to be fair and non-sexist.

Would you really want more than one husband. Really? Think of the piles of dirty socks and underwear on the bathroom floor.

And talk about hogging the covers...

Janiece Murphy said...

Jim, I really wouldn't. One Smart Man is all I can handle, and one Hot Chick is all he can handle. It's not for me, but neither are a lot of other things.

Oh, and I'd watch your mouth on that whole "nagging is exponential" thing, or I'll be exponentially tempted to give you the hairy eyeball along with Nathan. Just sayin'.

Jim Wright said...

Well, see now I'll have to come up with a hairy eyeball equation. Besides, you know I'm right.

Happy New Year, Janiece. One year closer to end of the madness of king george. that's worth celebrating.

Nathan said...

Since I really like getting the hairy eyeball, I thought I'd start the new year by following through on my resolution. So....

Janiece,

I'm right on this subject (and any other you can think of). You're wrong. I won't go to the trouble of specifying where you were wrong; you just need to accept it. (If I was being true to the resolution, I might have said, "You need to except it.") I might be busy today, so any of you who respond are wrong too. In other words, I won't have time to do this, but please envision your post cut into tiny snippet quotes followed by my emphatic denial of each and every one. :D

Happy, Happy New Year to each and every one of you. (Even if you don't know anywhere near as much as I do).

Michelle K said...

No shrieking? Are you kidding?

I'm imagining being married to any one of the guys I dated before being married IN ADDITION TO my husband.

I'da killed someone by now.

Janiece Murphy said...

Nahtan, imagine the hairy eyeball slowly rotating towards Brookly, seeking you out in order to smite you with its awesome power. Sort of like the Eye of Sauron, only not so evil.

Jim, you too. And yes, you are right. I don't want that much laundry.

Michelle, I'm a chain-saw kind of gal, and I would of used it by now if I was in a polygamous marriage. Sweeney Toddette, that'd be me.

Tom said...

Janiece, you're right. People who want to legalize gay marriage because of discrimination, then want to ban other forms of non-traditional marriage because it doesn't fit their preconceptions are hypocrits. Period. But this world is full of hypocrits of many stripe and color.

I'm like Jeri. A long-time RAH fan, who doesn't have problems with any of the speculative forms of non-coercive extended family. And I also recognize that I'm not the authority on what's non-coercive or not, so I prefer to err on the side of freedom. I'd say your views and mine are pretty close in that area.

Joe Haldeman's "Worlds" has a number of interesting views of such line- or group-families, including the seamier sides. But how can we go from now to there?

I also didn't know about polyamory. Multi-loving, I like it. I have a number of close, intimate, non-sexual relationships with good friends, male and female, and I could consider us branches of a group family. One of the ways I'm lucky, indeed!

Janiece Murphy said...

Tom, I can almost always be counted upon to err on the side of freedom. I guess that makes me a small "l" libertarian.

I find I can live with that.