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At yesterday’s inaugural speech, President Obama strongly hinted that he may endorse marriage for gays and lesbians as an equal right under the Constitution:

“Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.” tweet

If more states agree to allow gays and lesbians to marry, we will have expanded the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. But what about people who would like to define marriage as a union among one man and several women or one woman and several men? No, that kind of marriage is not OK.  Big_Love

Why is polygamy illegal in America?

Honestly, I had never given polygamy too much thought — it always seemed as if the people practicing it were a bit, how shall I put it delicately, looney, with underage women forced into it, despite the somewhat-normal spin it was given on the HBO series “Big Love” (which I’ve never watched). But I’ve been reading “Marriage at the Crossroads: Law, Policy, and the Brave New World of Twenty-First-Century Families,” a compilation of intriguing essays authored by social scientists and family law experts and edited by Marsha Garrison and Elizabeth S. Scott (Cambridge University Press, 2012), and among the many issues discussed is polygamy. And so I find myself thinking about polygamy.

Although 92 percent of Americans say adultery is morally unacceptable, there are no legal sanctions against those who indulge anyway. But if two (or more) women are happily simultaneously married to a man or a man is happily simultaneously married to two (or more) women, not only will they likely be ostracized, but they also can face criminal charges in many places in the United States and Canada.

As University of Michigan sociology professor Arland Thornton writes in one of the book’s essays, “This clash between support for sexual freedom and the condemnation of polygamy is seldom acknowledged.”

For the record, I’m not interested in having more than one husband (or any, for that matter); one husband at a time was more than enough for me! Nor am I interested in being a second or third wife to a man. But I was curious why polygamy — which is legally practiced and accepted in some 850 societies across the globe, particularly in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands — is illegal here.

Well, that’s because the Supreme Court doesn’t much like it, determining more than 100 years ago that polygamy was “an offence against society” (Reynolds v. U.S.) and compared it to “murders sanctified by religious belief, such as human sacrifice or the burning of women on their husbands’ funeral pyres,” or so writes lawyer and social critic Wendy Kaminer.

Yet it seems somewhat hypocritical of us that although we seem to be OK with serial monogamy, we aren’t OK with people who seek alternative lifestyles to get their needs met while also being committed, loving and honest with their partners. We struggle with monogamy yet blast adultery (while at the same time suggesting infidelity can “be a path to a renewed, and even stronger, relationship“), but think people who seek consensual non-monogamy are deviant. But perhaps things are changing

A new study suggests that young adults’ attitudes toward polygamous marriage are neutral, although women (perhaps not surprisingly) are more opposed to polygamy (as well as marriage for gays and lesbians).

  • Do you oppose polygamy?
  • Why/why not?
  • Whether you oppose it or not, should it be illegal?
  • Why/why not?

 

5 Responses to “Why is polygamy illegal in America?”

  1. Jancis M. Andrews says:

    Some polygamists in Bountiful, BC, Canada, claimed that the law against polygamy– S. 293 CC — contravened their religious rights. Such was the uproar that eventually the case went to BC Supreme Court. Thirteen groups made their presentations to Chief Justice Robert Bauman, who took 4 months to examine all the Affidavits. On November 23, 2011, he brought down his decision that S. 293 CC IS constitutional because the evidence showed that polygamy is an anti-social act, contravening women’s equality rights, harming and impoverishing their children, and creating a dangerous social situation whereby rich men could afford to collect many concubines for their harems, thus robbing their poorer brothers of the chance to have a wife and family of their own. Nature has not even made two women for every one man, and in fact, owing to the low status of females, and to female infanticide, there are now more males in China, India and Pakistan than there are women, and their governments have expressed their alarm at the imbalance. Polygamy is not a religious matter. That’s the old-fashioned idea. It is clear that in the 21st century, polygamy is a matter of the equality of women. Canadians do not want concubines and harems in their country. The year is 2013 AD, not 2013 BC, and polygamy belongs to the dark ages when women were considered nothing but chattels. This case can be checked on the Internet.

  2. Keith Pullman
    Twitter: FullMEquality
    says:

    I support polygamy, in the sense that an adult, regardless of gender, should be free to marry ANY consenting adults. Why? Because I actually believe in the concepts of consenting adults, freedom of association, and “her body, her choice.” It should definitely NOT be illegal. Removing laws and stigmas against it will allow true victims of domestic violence, coercion, etc. to get help as they and their witnesses will be more forthcoming with law enforcement.

    It is illegal because of religious bigotry and sex-negative laws. We’ve had laws that criminalize sex with anyone other than your spouse, oral and anal sex, gay sex, sex with the lights on, sex toys, so on and so forth. And banning polygamy in North America was an attack on a religious minority, Mormons.

    Yes, there are patriarchal societies that have gender inequality and allow religion-based polygyny only, and people cite problems in those societies, but the problems are not caused by polygamy. They are caused by sexism and gender inequality under the law.

    An adult, REGARDLESS OF GENDER, sexual orientation, race, or religion, should be free to share the fundamental right to marry with ANY consenting ADULTS. It is ridiculous that in most of the US, it is perfectly legal for a woman to love with, have sex with, and have children with two men at the same time, but isn’t free to legally marry both at the same time even though they all agree. A woman, like a man,
    should be free to marry a woman, two women, two men, or men and women.

    All the paperwork issues can be resolved. And if paperwork issues could be an excuse to deny fundamental rights, we wouldn’t have the Americans With Disabilities Act.

    We need FULL marriage equality! Equality just for some is not equality.

  3. Rachel Gall says:

    I’m inclined to agree w/ Janice: “contravening womenโ€™s equality rights, harming and impoverishing their children, and creating a dangerous social situation whereby rich men could afford to collect many concubines for their harems” I think the sad fact is that rich men would be able to support more, eh, “wives”, and then you have a very ugly relationship between sex and money… like thinly veiled sex trade. Except, I suppose, in this country women are at least choosing. Janice much more hard evidence in her view.

    Keith on the other hand is much more idealistic. He emphasizes that people should be able to choose how many spouses they want, regardless of gender, and again REGARDLESS OF GENDER. But history shows that polygamy not only caters to males, but is a product of patriarchy.

    My thoughts are that until I am sure (as a women) that women’s rights are secure, I can’t support polygamy. This is an ongoing fight.

    Also, coincidence? that Keith says yes, Janice says no. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Hmm a small sampling for sure, but according to the comments on this post: 100% of men say yes, and 100% of women say no.

  4. Philip says:

    I lived with two women for over twenty years and I loved both of them dearly. No one ever planned for this to happen it just did and our children were grown when this arrangement began. It was comfortable and good for all of us. For everyone who is married, you have a comfortable arrangement with your spouse and this is what we had. All of us are educated meaning that all of us have at least a B.S. and all of us are retired teachers. Was everything perfect-of course not but we worked things out. Both of the women are in nursing homes now and I miss them terribly and visit both as I can. None of us are young and all of us are great grandparents. If I had it to do over again-I would do it with them because they were the best thing that ever happened to me.

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