Thursday, May 29, 2008

rant about polygamy

I don't know why, but I am fascinated by polygamy. Not in a "I want to be a sister-wife" myself kind of fascination, but sociologically interested. Maybe because I grew up in S. Idaho where non-Mormons were the minority.

I read "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer and found it well-written and fascinating. I also read "Leaving the Saints" by Martha Beck. And then I read several books about polygamy by women who had lived it and escaped. The past two days, NPR has been airing a two part-series on polygamy among Muslims in the US. I didn't realize polygamy is part of that religion. Again and again, they interviewed women who had been married and then abandoned when their husband took on additional wives and/or left the country. Because of their religious beliefs, these women can't divorce; they are not legally recognized as married anyway. So they have to hope that the man will send them money to support their children. It's very sad.

The thing is, I think polygamy should be legal. I do. I can understand a woman's interest in being a sister-wife: there is a strong sense of community AND if the women work together and respect one another, they can be a strong and powerful family unit, raising all the children together. I mean, what mother hasn't wished for another female in the house to take over when you needed a break or to help with the laundry and cooking?! And frankly, I suspect many women wouldn't even mind their husband going for conjugal visits with another woman. The problems arise when the women realize that, because polygamy is not recognized as a legal union in this country, they have NO rights to being treated with respect, to ask for money, to get jobs.

Keeping it illegal gives WAY too much power to men. Only the first wife is legally married to the man; subsequent marriages are ceremonial/religious unions only. If polygamy were legal, each wife would have equal rights. But of course the men wouldn't like that at all.

Furthermore, making polygamy legal would bring it out of the shadows and the secrets of multiple marriages and marrying off young girls would be out in the open. By making it illegal, we've forced them in to hiding where they can do whatever they want in the name of religion, including allowing girls as young as 11 to marry men old enough to be their grandfathers. Legalizing it and bringing it out in the open would make it possible for girls and women to come forward and have legal recourse when they are abused.

Furthermore, as it stands, polygamists are a huge drain on our social services (such as welfare) because the women are legally single mothers. This allows the men to have as many children as he can produce without have to take financial resposibility for them.

This seems like a no-brainer to me. What do you think?


Linda, aka "Lala" said...

I completely agree, it's like legalizing marijuana, it makes sense on so many levels, the largest being that the illegal aspect of it is what makes it dangerous. If it were legal, it would be harmless. But it will never happen because of the damn moral majority. (old farts in positions of power)

Blank Girl said...

I completely disagree. These men are marrying and marrying again for, more often than not, reasons of wielding power over others, especially those who are weaker, underage, or easily influenced.

I was engaged to a muslim man for 3 years and was quite appalled when he casually mentioned taking on more than one wife. To me, it represented barbarism -- something that was meant as a last resort for women during the dark ages.

If you want multiple partners, I couldn't care less. I consider myself socially liberal. And if everyone involved wishes they could marry everyone else, well, then why not?

HOWEVER, that's not what normally happens. Especially not for FLDS members. Polygamy is a tenant of their faith -- they cannot see heaven without it is wrong to be forced into any kind of marriage contract, multiple spouses or not.

Robyn said...

Interesting argument. I get what you're saying - it certainly would be good to ensure these women had legal rights. But is it really taking into account those who are forced into polygamy? I don't know what percentage of women in these situations are in it by choice - I'm sure there are some, but I have a feeling many are not. And even if it's only 10% who aren't, those 10% still deserve protection. How would you ensure consent? And I hear you about bringing it out of hiding - for some that might be good, but the forcing would still happen, and it would remain hidden. It's naive to think it wouldn't. Girls who grew up knowing no other way - emotional abuse and family pressure. Gee, all they have to do is wait till she's 18? No problem. It will still happen. And then what would be the legal recourse for those girls? They entered into a legal union. They signed the paper. Have a nice life.

Also, I always bristle at the "making something legal will make it safer" argument. I don't like it used with abortion (regardless of your views on abortion, or mine, and I'm not meaning to get into that here)and it doesn't sit right for me here, either. Plenty of things would be safer if we made them legal. Like carjacking, or bank robbery.

For what it's worth, I'm in total agreement on legalizing marijuana, but hardly because of the "safe" argument. It should be totally legal to cause yourself harm, if you so wish. (And I'm NOT saying marijuana is harmful - I've smoked plenty, and I function fine most days.) You should be able to do whatever you want to yourself. You should absolutely NOT be able to cause harm to others.

You know, golden rule, and all that. I wish that were the only law we really needed.

Thanks for the interesting topic, Kate! Hope you don't mind my well-intentioned debate!

Robyn said...

Just to clarify my position above - I am not meaning to strongly argue that polygamy should be (or remain) strictly illegal. I just don't think it's a no-brainer. I think that a lot of braining needs to go on about it!

Dee said...

After reading a few books written by girls who escaped, I think it is wrong and feel huge sympathy for the girls duped (in some cases the old men charm the girls) into a terrible lifestyle. The girls are ostrisized by the older wives, are terrified and lonely. It is not a chummy group, usually. Girls' education stops at 8th grade or less leaving them completely dependant on the cult driven men.
Of course I'm talking about cult communities, not separate homes in Salt Lake , etc.

Anonymous said...

I agree in legalizing marijuana..but I really don't know enough about polygamy to comment..

As a casual observer; I would say that no I wouldn't support legalizing it.
Polygamy to me is more of a religous thing that in time has been phased out..except for areas of Texas, Utah..the underground.
I think legalizing it would lead to the abuse of it..

I don't know, can't debate it properly..that's what is going around in my head.

kate said...

Mom, the reason those women in Salt Lake are able to have their own homes (as opposed to the compounds in Utah and TX) is because it's out in the open. This forces the men to provide for each wife, a home, a car, money for clothes and groceries. These women (as seen on Oprah etc.) shop at Nordstroms, get manicures and live in lovely homes.

I just think it's shameful that in this day and age, in this country, most of the women in polygamous marriages are being treated as second-class citizens. Once we shine the light on it (like slavery), it becomes obvious that it is WRONG to treat anyone as personal property.

MP, it already IS being abused. The abuse comes from it being underground. Yes, it was "phased out" legally, but that certainly hasn't stopped the practice; anything but.

I dunno...I just think it's an interesting topic...