And So It Begins: The Push for Polygamy

And So It Begins: The Push for Polygamy February 24, 2014

Newt polygamy

This is a random round-up of opinion pieces pushing polygamy.

It is by no means exhaustive or even representative. It reflects what I’ve seen in casual internet browsing. One article goes back to the time of the last presidential election. The others were written after the DOMA decision.

Events and behaviors form patterns. The pattern for quite some time has been that opinion makers in high-profile media begin what quickly becomes a coordinated political movement with trial balloon pieces such as these. The normalization of polygamy is fully launched with such television shows as Big Love and Sister Wives.

The piece that irks me the most is the one by the so-called feminist who’s calling for polygamy. If she’s a feminist, then George Wallace was a Freedom Rider.

Is this the beginning of a push to redefine marriage to allow polygamy? What do you think?

From CNN:

It’s time to reconsider polygamy

by Mark Goldfeder,

December 16th 2013

(CNN) — Polygamy is back in the headlines.Last week, a federal judge in Utah struck down part of the state’s anti-polygamy law as unconstitutional, although he kept the ban on possessing more than one marriage license at a time. Fans of the “Sister Wives” reality TV stars, who filed the suit, are rejoicing in the news.At the other end of the spectrum, TLC debuted its newest docuseries, “Breaking the Faith,” which tells the dark story of women and children trying to escape from the practice.

Another lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice alleges that polygamous clans are secretly running the show in Utah and Arizona townships, manipulating the political process from behind the scenes. And in Texas, the Attorney General’s Office is inchingcloser to seizing a massive polygamous ranch.Across the country, angry citizens are calling for the government to follow its own laws and crack down on polygamy.

Meanwhile, celebrities like Akon and various news outlets encourage people of all ages to reconsider plural marriage.What competing narratives about polygamy in America reveal is that whether or not a white-washed, clean-cut version of plural marriage could in theory legally exist, in practice it does not, and what states like Utah, Arizona and Texas actually have is an unregulated, dangerous and harmful situation, where the strong prey upon the weak and helpless.The time has come to address this discrepancy. When the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in U.S. v. Windsor in June, opening the door to federal recognition of same-sex marriage, it also set the stage for a discussion of plural marriage.DOMA defined marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.”

While DOMA obviously prohibited same-sex marriage (by requiring that a marital unit consist of a man and a woman), it also enshrined the prohibition against polygamy, by requiring that such a union be between only one man and one woman. Even before Windsor the Supreme Court had declared morals-based legislation invalid, renewing interest in polygamy. But in calling DOMA definitions unconstitutionally restrictive, the court, perhaps unwittingly, also struck down the federal numerical limitation in a marriage, immediately re-opening the possibility of plural marriage at the state level. Activists have taken note, and are only getting louder.

From Psychology Today:

The Three Reasons for Polygamy

by Nigel Barber,

October 23rd 2012

Both candidates for the presidency owe their very existence to polygamy (1). President Obama’s father belonged to the polygamous Luo tribe. Mitt Romney’s paternal great grandfathers moved to Mexico to continue the Mormon practice of polygamy then outlawed in the U.S. So the time is ripe to ask what advantages polygamy has over monogamy.

Although plural marriage is banned in developed countries, it is surprisingly common, and popular, elsewhere with 55 percent of women sharing their husbands in Benin and an average of 16 percent of women doing so in less developed nations (2). Polygamy may be detested in developed countries but it is practiced to some degree in most societies studied by anthropologists. What did polygamy do for the Obamas and the Romneys that they could not accomplish with monogamy?

Studies in animal behavior show that polygynous mating systems (i.e., one male mating with several females) have at least three possible advantages.

From Salon:

Legalize Polygamy!

No. I am not kidding.

By Jillian Keenan

Sister-wives Valerie, left, and Vicki serve breakfast to their children in their polygamous house in Herriman, Utah, in this file photo from May 30, 2007. Polygamy, once hidden in the shadows of Utah and Arizona, is breaking into the open as fundamentalist Mormons push to decriminalize it on religious grounds, while at the same time stamping out abuses such as forced marriages of underage brides.

Recently, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council reintroduced a tired refrain: Legalized gay marriage could lead to other legal forms of marriage disaster, such as polygamy. Rick Santorum, Bill O’Reilly, and other social conservatives have made similar claims. It’s hardly a new prediction—we’ve been hearing it for years. Gay marriage is a slippery slope! A gateway drug! If we legalize it, then what’s next? Legalized polygamy?

We can only hope.

Yes, really. While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too. Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice. More importantly, it would actually help protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families.

For decades, the prevailing logic has been that polygamy hurts women and children. That makes sense, since in contemporary American practice that is often the case. In many Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints   polygamous communities, for example, women and underage girls are forced into polygamous unions against their will. Some boys, who represent the surplus of males, are brutally thrown out of their homes and driven into homelessness and poverty at very young ages. All of these stories are tragic, and the criminals involved should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. (That goes without saying, I hope.)

But legalizing consensual adult polygamy wouldn’t legalize rape or child abuse. In fact, it would make those crimes easier to combat.



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47 responses to “And So It Begins: The Push for Polygamy”

    • Absolutely. Where polygamy is practiced openly in America, it is all about pubescent girls and middle-aged men. Sickening.

      Of course, where polygamy is practiced outside of America, there is no hand-waving talk about consent; there is no concept of consent.

  1. Anyone else see the parallel narrative here of the back alley abortion? If we would only make it legal we’d have no further problem – all we have to do is ignore the fundamental wrong of the thing and focus on making the practice ‘better’.
    This is how the morally relative and consequentialist race to the bottom is run…

    From the CNN article
    “What competing narratives about polygamy in America reveal is that
    whether or not a white-washed, clean-cut version of plural marriage
    could in theory legally exist, in practice it does not, and what states
    like Utah, Arizona and Texas actually have is an unregulated, dangerous
    and harmful situation, where the strong prey upon the weak and helpless. The time has come to address this discrepancy. “

  2. Back in the Clinton era, homosexuals just wanted legal rights for partners … hospital visitation, that sort of thing … no no no no no it was never going to be about marriage, why that would be absurd! Now, 20 years later, gay marriage is a moot point; we will be assimilated. It’s all over except the carving of the carcass of the church.

    Polygamy is just the next move in the dance. I’m surprised that this surprises anyone.

    • I hear this theme a lot, that gays somehow pulled a bait and switch. I haven’t been in the gay rights movement since Stonewall, but I’ve been in it or aware of it since the Reagan years, and I don’t ever remember gay folk swearing a blood oath that they would never press for marriage.

      They played the political game the same way everyone else ever has. They pressed their demands incrementally and within the margins of political reality at any given time. Like every other minority group, they also learned that securing one’s rights is an all-or-nothing proposition.

      Their enemies never held out any realistic compromise. Before they fought to block gay marriage, they fought to block civil unions. Before that, they fought to keep DADT. Before that, they fought for the power to discriminate against gays in employment and housing. Before that, they fought to preserve laws that imprisoned them for their orientation. Settling for partial justice at any one of these points would have been unconditional surrender. They fought the culture war on the terms it was brought to them, and those terms made it clear that gays and lesbians were going to go all the way with their shields or on them.

      • So there was no swindle, no lie, no bait and switch. These things just grew out of the ground like grass. I have a suggestion: don’t treat your opponents as though they were mentally defective. I could see “gay marriage” coming twenty-five years ago, and those who discussed it with me at college can confirm that.

      • I did not use that term — bait and switch — you did.

        “They pressed their demands incrementally and within the margins of political reality at any given time.”

        I agree. And they’re not alone in that; it’s an ordinary political approach.

        My point was that back at that time, there were voices raised pointing out the slippery slope and where it leads to those who were not involved in the politics, but they were dismissed as hate-filled fanatics who could not possibly have any non-hateful motive in their hating hate-hearts, etc. Now we see those voices were actually from the clearest-eyed people in the room.

        After reading the other commenters here, I’ll add that today’s clear-eyed seers are now pointing out that, once this polygamy things gets going, pederasty is going to be the next slide down the slope. Personally, I don’t know which will slide first, they both seem to be tipping on the edge to me. Maybe pederasty will take longer because there is so much hatred of the church for all the sex offenders of recent scandal. I guess it will end up being a question of which is greater: love of pederasty or hatred of the church.

      • There was enough of a bait and switch to make me aware of the violence inherent in the movement since the Stonewall years- a violence they kept very quiet as long as it was being overshadowed by heterosexual violence against gays.

        Sometimes, unconditional surrender is better than fighting.

  3. As an unabashed SSM advocate, I will be the first to acknowledge that the evolving debate within our society has indeed opened the door to consideration of polygamy. I don’t have a problem with that. These arrangements are happening already in large numbers and have been for a long time. I’ve met a lot of them in the pagan community and in secular circles.

    They are not, by a long shot, the stereotypes we have come to associate with polygamy: the abusive middle aged patriarch who browbeats six barely legal young women into a personal harem. Most are very ordinary suburban folk. Most of the ones I’ve known are triads, or at most, four people, and a majority of them have women as the head of the family. Most of you reading this have some of them in your neighborhood, or are not more than a couple of degrees removed from one of them. I learned there is a small but substantial segment of family and marital counselors who specialize in this, and I’m talking Chicago, not the wilds of Utah!

    So these situations exist. We’re not realistically going to stop them. You can’t really prosecute cohabitation in this day and age, but at the same time, we don’t have a family law to truly ensure the rights of children and partners in these situations. I see no upside to a disconnect like that. I would rather see a thoughtful and careful debate around how to acknowledge these situations and to protect those involved in them. I don’t thing polygamy/polyamory has the social acceptability or understanding that LGBT has, but at the same time, Christians and social conservatives don’t have nearly as strong a theological/natural law argument against polygamy. Yes, contemporary Christianity, in most of its branches condemns the practice, but they certainly can’t claim it to be a modern aberration, nor one that is inherently barren to producing children!

      • I think I either didn’t make my point or your’re ignoring it. The women I’ve known in these arrangements – admittedly not a scientific cross section – would take exception to your assumption that they are victims of anyone, let alone men. They are not only the head of households and matriarchs of these families, they, and not the men, are the architects and initiators of the arrangements. To my mind, it’s demeaning to adult women to presume they arent’ competent to know what they want with their own lives.

        I agree that women have been disadvantaged in many contemporary forms of polygamy, but how are they served by outlawing their families? Until very recently at least, the threat of aggressive prosecution and harassment gave abusive men the perfect cover they needed to isolate their practices and wives from the protections of law and community visibility.

        You will agree, I think that women in abusive “regular” relationships have a tough road. They don’t however, face the prospect of having their families broken up and having their kids taken away for the simple act of reporting their abuse to the authorities. I don’t see how maintaining that threat against polygamous families is in any sense of the word feminist or pro-woman.

      • Rebecca, imo bringing women’s rights into this will not help. The feminists will get their right to have multiple husbands. In fact, I’m sure reality TV producers are out there now concocting such a group – one man, many wives is soooo last season! Our objections have got to remain focused on marriage is one man, one woman.

          • Of course there is – the definition is not limited to one man, many wives. How can you limit the discussion and definition of polygamy to what it has always been till now when ssm supporters refuse to allow marriage to be defined only by what it has always been till now? There are fewer rational arguments against polygamy than against ssm. That’s why unless we roll marriage back to 1m1w all the other variations are going to gain legal acceptance very quickly. SSM was a jumping of the shark that opens up any combination anyone has a mind to endorse.

          • radiofree: i guess we’re all showing you how smart we are. I’ll play that game. 😉 The Romans enslaved many natives of the British isles, including St. Patrick. They were all white Europeans.

            That said, I agree with you that I also don’t know how to have a serious, informed discussion about polygamy without factoring in appropriately the role of misogyny in that institution.

            • The selective moralizing of the morally relative is pretty amusing except when it’s really sad – which is pretty much all the time. Completely ignore the underlying objective wrong (polygamy) and why it’s wrong and focus instead on a selective ‘bad’ outcome (misogyny). Even if the selective bad outcomes are dealt with you’re still potentially left with an objective wrong that is legally ingrained in society and causing other, perhaps new and unforeseen problems. If you want to get rid of a weed you don’t pull off the leaves, you remove the roots or it just keeps popping up and causing problems.

      • Rebecca, your brave new world excludes gay minors from even getting an education. I say this because the bishops of your church in my home state of Louisiana endorsed the “right” of publicly financed, privately run charter schools to exclude students on the basis of sexual orientation. (See )

        You may claim that charter schools aren’t public schools, but they have replaced as much as 71% of public schools in Orleans parish. The Louisiana Council of Catholic bishops supported a bill allowing gay minors to be banned from an education for which their parents have already paid. The bishops did this to “protect marriage”.

        I HATE polygamy because I HATE the unequal treatment of women and girls from the time I was in kindergarten. Because of that, I’ve had to deal with relatives speculating that I was gay since I was 5.

      • I’ve encountered probably about two dozen such families over the years. I’d say I got to know six or eight of them reasonably well. I’ve spent some time in their social and support groups because I was curious to learn what I could about them firsthand. I don’t expect anyone here to be convinced of anything, but I would stand by the point that the reality of polygamy/polyamory in this country is more complex than the stereotypes of it, which I find is true of virtually any group or subculture. I would just make the point that none of us on either side of the issue will be able to engage it very effectively if we don’t understand it or blind ourselves to the aspects of it that don’t fit our pre-conceived models. I try to hold myself to that standard when it comes to Christians and others whose world view I don’t share. I don’t always succeed, but I do try.

        • ” I would just make the point that none of us on either side of the issue will be able to engage it very effectively if we don’t understand it or blind ourselves to the aspects of it that don’t fit our pre-conceived models. ”

          I wish everyone would look at issues in this way. It doesn’t mean you have to compromise your beliefs. It just means you are open to learning.

    • Nobody can argue with this kind of thing – there is no argument in it except “it’s going on”. Of course, that means nothing – murder, rape, theft and embezzlement “have always gone on” as well, but that is no reason to find “some arrangement” to make any of them acceptable. But this gentleman is not arguing; He is simply describing the parallel world in which he lives and which he and his likes intend to impose on reality, no matter what.

  4. Liberals associate polygamy with Mormons and Muslims,whom they don’t like. That’s why I thought the push for pederasty and incest would come first. I guess I hope I’ve been wrong about that, since I still think the “consenting adults” thing is still somewhat significant.

    • Can you give me a concrete, always trustworthy, definition for either the term “consent” or the term “adult”?

      My problem with both terms is that they are culturally derived; with vastly different definitions depending on ethnicity. I know of cultures where a six year old is considered an adult, I know of cultures where a 35 year old MIGHT be able to gain that status if the proper rituals are performed. I know of cultures that consider kidnapping enough consent for marriage, I know of cultures that require three witnesses and continuing renewal to be necessary for consent.

      Both terms are so imprecise as to be worthless.

      • I’ll put it this way: as bad as it is that they are pushing for polygamy (between adults), it would be worse if they were pushing for incestual marriage or “marriage” between adult men and 13-year-old boys which is what I feared the next push would be.

        The possibility that I may be using imprecise terms doesn’t make me think I should change my mind.

        • The use of the imprecise term, leads to the slippery slope for me. Of course, I myself have past sins in this arena, it took me until I was 26 to understand the why behind the rather arbitrary adult/child cutoff, though I followed it scrupulously, I had plenty of temptation in that arena to work through.

          I have no doubt that using such an imprecise, and ultimately untestable and unprovable idea, will lead to chaos. Incest, pederasty, and beastiality are sure to follow.

          • Really? If the culture insists on making the imprecise distinction between adults and 13-year-olds, “gay marriage” will certainly send us on a slippery slope to pederastic marriage, whereas if the culture refuses to distinguish between adults and 13-year-olds, the slippery slope will be prevented?

            What a peculiar way to think! I don’t know what to make of it.

            • More along the lines of, the more concrete you make your rules, the more likely they are to be followed.

              This consent-which-has-no-definition based marriage stuff, attached to adult-which-could-be-anything-from-age-6-up stuff, does not fill me with confidence that any given arbitrary rule will be followed in the future.

  5. Yep. Not a surprise. It’s been bubbling about. Say what you will, it’s the logical consequence of gay marriage. If it makes sense to allow gay marriage, it makes sense to allow polygamy. Actually it makes more sense to allow polygamy since at least the sexual organs involved are complementary and there is historical precedent for it. SSM can’t make either claim.

  6. I no longer have the link but one ss”m” activist let slip in Australia that the goal was to do away with marriage. Marriage as we know it. That activist included “anything goes” basically. Civilly, I think this could be done and is being done. Naturally, it is impossible because the union of a man/woman is and always can be a marriage. They may not have the laws anymore protecting them and helping them but it can not go away. I noticed the QoE has made strides to define who could be considered a Queen and who couldn’t, namely a man.

  7. What a surprise. And of course the people who sniggered at the slippery slope argument will be sniggering still. Next one along, incest between consenting adults.

  8. Of course. The foundations of Western Civilization are crumbling. If sex is simply a matter of “consent” and “romance”, divorced from any connection with the existence and flourishing of children, then why would it matter how many one is consenting with?

    What worries me about the end game of all of this is that the concepts of “consent” and the value of each person are also more or less concepts of Western Civilization and Christianity too, and thus may also be discarded.

    The devil laughs as reason is replaced with rationalization. We debase ourselves and even consult the animals for justification of our actions. The devil laughs.

    It’s all in the last half of Romans 1 for anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see.

  9. With that picture, I will no longer be reading your blog. Have you read the most recent court ruling? It has nothing to do with the DOMA ruling, but it is very much rooted in Lawrence v. Texas. I did extensive research and writing on that case…but you are just a politician fighting the culture war. That is what you are good at and you should stick with it.

    • Chris, this article isn’t about members of the Church of Latter Day Saints. If the photo I used for this post is about them in some other context, I honestly am unaware of it. I know very little about that church and could easily fall into something I didn’t intend in that regard. I just thought it was a witty way of illustrating this post.

      I’ve been called a politician quite a bit lately. It seems that people think it’s the ultimate insult when they disagree with me. There’s nothing wrong with saying I’m a politician, since I am an elected official and have been for 18 years. As for fighting the culture wars, I am, truly doing my best to do just that. I don’t know if I am good at it or not. That remains to be seen. 🙂

      You are welcome to comment here, if you like. But if you’d rather leave, that is your choice. Feel free to come back another time.

      • I changed the photo to someone who is well-known as Catholic, not LDS. I still have no idea what was offensive about the first photo, but since it was never my intent to convey whatever message you saw there, I am happy to change it.

        • I am not offended as somebody who is LDS, but as somebody who has interviewed polygamists and followed how the government abuses them, I felt it portrayed a strawman of what polygamist are and what they are about. Sorry about the politicians jab, I am a former politician myself. Was also a pro-life Dem. Became a Green because of how much I personally dislike the Dems (though I love many still). I am no longer at Patheos, but I have enjoyed getting to know you. I apologize for overreacting.

          • Happens to all of us Chris. Thanks for answering and good luck with your new endeavor. Feel free to come by here anytime you want.

    • Lawrence vs. Texas is a bad joke of a decision, whose “sweet mystery of life” motivation would, if logically applied – but logic is the furthest thing from the intellectual corruption that spawned it – justify paedophilia and serial killing. If that is what you stand on, you are well rid of,

  10. Though this article isn’t about today’s LDS (Mormon) Church, the church deserves mention. The Mormon Church pretty much started the whole polygamy mess in the U.S. Today the church does its best to disown polygamy, but when backed into a corner has no choice but to defend it as commanded by God. Polygamy is, after all, in its history and official doctrine.

    With passage of the Morrill Anti Bigamy Act, the U.S. Government slapped liens on church holdings and threatened military action unless the church complied. About that time, the doctrine morphed from “polygamy is a commandment” to “polygamy is a no-no except when God says otherwise.” Conveniently and wisely, God quit saying otherwise when government turned up the heat.

    Mainstream Mormons like to believe that church founder Joseph Smith was loath to take additional wives and that God forced him to obey. Evidence to the contrary aside, it makes for an ironic defense, for if it lets Smith off the hook, it only makes a villain of God.

    The Mormon Church would trivialize its early polygamy by saying that participation was on “an exceptional basis” (historians place it at about 30 percent) and that “two-thirds of polygamist men had only two wives at a time.” If that doesn’t mollify critics, I don’t know what will.

    For an inside look at the absurdity of modern polygamy, I highly recommend the book “It’s Not About the Sex My A**” by ex-polygamist wife Joanne Hanks. Easy to find on Google. For the “revelation” that started it all, read Section 132 of the Mormon scripture book “Doctrine and Covenants.”

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