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Polygamy?

March 14th, 2006

Why not? I’m sorry, but I don’t get the “evil” side to this concept, except that it varies from our Judeo-Christian majority background. Please explain to me where the harm is. Some gay rights advocates don’t want polygamy brought into the debate because they see it as an argument against them–that critics say gay marriage will lead to bigamy and polygamy. But to me, that sounds an awful lot like black people saying that they don’t want Hispanic rights grouped in with theirs because it might drag them down.

To me, the yardstick here is consenting adults. If you’ve got consenting adults and no one is being harmed (I do not count an outsider’s concept of “moral” harm to be a valid measure), then I say they should be able to. Of course, the conservatives go farther–they say this will lead to incest, bestiality and child molestation. That people will be marrying sheep and small children. Which, of course, is like saying that if you give equal rights to blacks and Hispanics, then mosquitos and lawn furniture will be next. Incest can cause real harm in birth defects, and child or animal relations are by definition non-consenting. That’s not an arbitrary boundary, nor a social or traditional one, it is a functional boundary with very clear demarcation.

Maybe it’s just the subversive influence that sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein had on me; many of his books involve all kinds of marriage arrangements, exploring polyandry as well as the tradition many-wives flavor of polygamy, as well as line marriages and other varieties (read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress). He made it sound reasonable, even sensible, arguing about the strong economic benefits and the more stable caring for children. Of course, Heinlein also wrote favorably about incest and cannibalism, not to mention that he was in real life an unabashed no-holds-barred gun-rights advocate and a near-fanatical anti-communist, so maybe he’s not the best role model here. But that doesn’t mean that some of his explorations held merit.

Frankly, so long as all the people involved know what they’re doing, give their full and enthusiastic consent, always have an option to leave, and are made happy by the arrangement, I see no reason to limit the forms of marriage. Alas, in our society, we’re probably not mature enough to evolve beyond the one-husband-many-wives standard of polygamy; men are still far too territorial in all but a few cases. Nevertheless, until someone provides compelling evidence that such marriages cause any more risk for harm than “traditional” marriages (i.e., marriages we’re used to in the very recent past–marriages beyond the recent past vary significantly from what conservatives now term as “traditional,” and polygamy is probably more “traditional” than monogamy anyway), I’m all for letting people work out what works best for them, and not trying to impose my own narrow standards on them “for their own good.”

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  1. March 15th, 2006 at 00:55 | #1

    Luis, you are 100% correct, but as you said, the rule has to be “consenting adults”. I think the problem is that over the years, polygamy has been tainted by the communes in Utah that has men taking wives in their early teens and with no concern as to if they are related. But say that John is 25 and he marries Joan who is 24, a few years later he marries Susan who is 27, none of them related, so freakin’ what? If the three of them are happy, what harm is it causing to anyone else? None.

    Polygamy probably isn’t for me, but why should I care what John does? Everyone needs to stop worrying so much about what their neighbors are doing and get their own lives in order.

  2. Luis
    March 15th, 2006 at 02:11 | #2

    Amen.

  3. Lisa
    March 27th, 2006 at 22:14 | #3

    That is just the (perhaps unstated) point of polygamy opponents: ALL the adults are NOT consenting. Do you the think the first wife is truly and freely consenting? And how come this debate is always centered on a man and multiple wives and not a woman and multiple husbands? THAT would be more fair because a woman, due to her children, is much more vulnerable than a man to having to put up with an intolerable situation. Let’s ask the first wives in these polygamous marriages, “If your husband could truly be prevented from marrying other women, would you still prefer polygamy?”

  4. Luis
    March 27th, 2006 at 23:22 | #4

    Lisa:

    Read the post again–I do indeed mention a woman and multiple husbands, once in reference to Heinlein, and again in direct reference to polygamy itself, noting that men are usually too territorial and immature.

    As for the first wife’s choice, why do you presume she is powerless? That would be my question in contrast with yours about not mentioning polyandry (which I did)–why assume that women are powerless and choiceless?

    Specifically, how would children make her vulnerable? Financially? Certainly not in terms of custody–even if polygamy were legal, a judge would never deny a mother custody if her husband were trying to force polygamy on her unwillingly. As for a financial disadvantage, that assumes the woman cannot support herself, which millions of single mothers do. It’s not fun, but it’s possible. In a polyandry, how would a man be much less vulnerable in that regard?

    Beyond that, man-and-multiple-women polygamy is not just a marriage between a husband and each wife sepearate from the other, in order to be a true marriage and not just a harem, everyone would have to consent. Otherwise it is not, as you would suggest, consensual–but in that sense, it is also not a marriage.

    If everyone’s full consent is given–again, as I stated in the original post–then it should be allowed.

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