Polygamy: The Next Marriage Fight


The push to legalize “gay marriage” is about far more than equality. It’s about dismantling the institution of marriage altogether.

Marriage only makes sense as a societal construct when it is defined as the union of one man and one woman. Marriage is valuable to society insofar as it creates familial stability and brings about the conception and education of new citizens. It behooves the state to incentivize the continuation of the population, and thus, the flourishing of the nation.

This is why those pushing to redefine marriage really just want put an end to it. As it stands, the institution of marriage excludes those relationships that do not provide a demonstrable benefit to society. Those in unconventional relationships seek not only inclusion, but legitimacy. They want the same rights, the same incentives, as are currently provided to those in traditional marriages. And they know the only way to make that happen is to take the existing system apart. Taken further, they want to ensure that anyone opposing the push to legitimize and sanction non-traditional sexual behavior under the misnomer of marriage is ostracized and treated as a bigot.

It is my belief that the fight to resist gay marriage in America has already been lost. I know there are many who disagree. But even now, as I write this, I just received a notification that a federal judge in Norfolk struck down the gay marriage ban here in Virginia today, saying that it violates the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

The states are falling like dominoes. Even the ones that formerly held fast.

We know that the push for universal acceptance of gay marriage will lead to the inclusion of other relationships formerly considered deviant. We’ve even seen efforts to de-stigmatize criminal sexual behavior like pedophilia.

But the next fight is already here, and it’s about something else. It’s the push to legitimize and decriminalize polygamy. And it’s happening now. Why? Jillian Keenan made the case last April at Slate:

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.

If you’re like me, you may be thinking, “Surely, a female writer at Slate doesn’t think that a polygamous marriage — which almost always involves a multiple-wife, not a multiple-husband arrangement — fits the standards of post-modern feminism.”

Evidently, that’s not a problem for Keenan.

[P]rohibiting polygamy on “feminist” grounds—that these marriages are inherently degrading to the women involved—is misguided. The case for polygamy is, in fact, a feminist one and shows women the respect we deserve. Here’s the thing: As women, we really can make our own choices. We just might choose things people don’t like. If a woman wants to marry a man, that’s great. If she wants to marry another woman, that’s great too. If she wants to marry a hipster, well—I suppose that’s the price of freedom.

And if she wants to marry a man with three other wives, that’s her damn choice.

We have a tendency to dismiss or marginalize people we don’t understand. We see women in polygamous marriages and assume they are victims. “They grew up in an unhealthy environment,” we say. “They didn’t really choose polygamy; they were just born into it.” Without question, that is sometimes true. But it’s also true of many (too many) monogamous marriages. Plenty of women, polygamous or otherwise, are born into unhealthy environments that they repeat later in life. There’s no difference. All marriages deserve access to the support and resources they need to build happy, healthy lives, regardless of how many partners are involved. Arguments about whether a woman’s consensual sexual and romantic choices are “healthy” should have no bearing on the legal process. And while polygamy remains illegal, women who choose this lifestyle don’t have access to the protections and benefits that legal marriage provides.

Keenan’s observations, however, seem odd when contrasted against those of women who have actually been through it. At LifeSiteNews this week, Kirsten Anderson relates a different perspective on polygamy:

A woman who lived in a polygamous ‘marriage’ in Utah for 18 years has spoken out to the U.K.’s Daily Mail, telling the paper that despite practitioners’ increasing push for public acceptance and legal recognition, all is not well behind closed doors.

“The only way that I can explain it is like living with adultery on a daily basis, and having the woman come home,” said Marion Munn, who spoke to the Daily Mail after a federal judge struck down Utah’s anti-cohabitation law, which the state had previously used to prosecute polygamists.

Munn says that although she despised the idea of polygamy, she was convinced by her religious superiors that she risked God’s wrath if she failed to submit to the lifestyle.

“Certainly within Mormon-based polygamy, it’s not really much of a choice, because Mormon scriptures teach a woman that if she doesn’t consent to living in polygamy, God’s going to destroy her,” Munn told the Daily Mail. “So for me going into it, I didn’t personally want to live it, but I felt compelled to as a matter of faith.”

The experience that Munn relates is hardly shocking. It’s pretty obvious common sense. In their respective articles, both Keenan and Anderson refer to the TLC reality series Sister Wives, which features the Brown family, who live in an openly polygamous relationship. But the experience of real sister wives certainly seems less polished and presentable. And these opinions aren’t new. Some of them have been in print for well over a century.

‘Better off dead’ is a concept revisited again and again in the gripping 1882 treatise The Women of Mormonism: The Story of Polygamy as Told by the Victims Themselves, which is filled with firsthand accounts of suffering by ‘sister wives’ in polygamous households.

“The house was a perfect hell, and every polygamous household is,” wrote one woman. “I defy any man or woman in [Utah] Territory to cite one instance of a polygamous household where there is anything approaching harmony – where there is not bickering, constant jealousy and heart-aches, even where the semblance of good relations is most rigidly observed.”

“[Polygamy] renders man coarse, tyrannical, brutal, and heartless,” wrote another woman.  “It deals death to all sentiments of true womanhood. It enslaves and ruins woman. It crucifies every God-given feeling of her nature. She is taught that to love her husband as her heart prompts her to do, and to feel the natural jealousy that comes from seeing her husband marry another woman, is wicked, and springs from her innate depravity; that she must crush out and annihilate all such feelings.”

Yet another wrote, “How can a wife have those holy and tender feelings which should always be associated with the marriage tie, and which are inseparable from a true union, when she can speak, and to all appearances calmly, of her husband’s having ‘gone to stay with some other woman?’ What ideas of home love and home associations can children have who talk about ‘father’s week at the other house,’ and who discuss freely which woman is his favorite, and why she is so, and which woman’s children he is most indulgent to, and provides for the best?”

We’ve been hearing a steady (if surreptitious) drumbeat in the media about those misunderstood “polyamorous” relationships for years now. And here we are: the push for polygamy as an accepted societal institution is upon us, following close on the heels of the successful campaign to legitimize and legalize gay marriage.

To my mind, only God, and His Church, can define what marriage truly is. Despite my belief that the state has a legitimate role in incentivizing marriage and the procreation of children as a societal good, my inclination to find a way to get their grabby hands out of the marriage business remains strong. I worry that the power they wield over the institution of marriage is the very reason it is being so aggressively redefined. Perhaps if the government had less to do with telling people who can married and who can not, its recognition of marriage would be less of a prize to be sought after, campaigned for, and used as an ideological cudgel to destroy the true institution. Then again, perhaps not.

As for now, the barriers are about to get pushed even further. Brace yourselves.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org


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