Friday, September 14, 2007

Should polygamy be illegal?

Left: The cast of BIG LOVE, photo from HBO

Yes, yes, you are thinking Daisy has lost her mind, or at least misplaced her feminism. Nope, actually, I am watching the trial of sleazy Warren Jeffs, and considering his defense that this is a case of religious persecution. Is it? Well, duh, I'd say so, if polygamy is a tenet of his faith, and he is regarded as The Prophet. Polygamy is an undeniable, integral article of faith for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. However, this is also about a minor girl marrying her cousin, under Jeffs' direction, without her consent. That is to say, this case is about rape.

If there were no abuses of minors, no coercion (and it's unclear how we might enforce this, of course), what exactly would be the problem? I would be rabid about the government NOT supporting all of these children, as in the case of Tom Green, who should have gone to jail for welfare fraud, in addition to his crime of marrying children.

But say the guy could afford it? Many can, particularly if the women start working also, as some apparently do. And let's say that everyone is of consenting age? What is the harm, exactly?

If we believe in separation of church and state, why are we legislating rules out of the Bible?

Let me make it clear that I think Jeffs is a scumbag, and no charmer like Bill Paxton on the popular HBO series about a polygamous family, BIG LOVE. However, polyamory in general has always interested me. What about a woman who wants several husbands? It could happen!

What about group marriages of several men and women (or gay/lesbian group marriage), as the legendary Kerista Commune attempted in the 70s and 80s? When we make equality of women a prerequisite, as the Keristans attempted to do (whether they were completely successful in this endeavor is another matter), polyamory (Keristans preferred the term polyfidelity, which I like better) might actually be an equalizer of men and women.

In the end, I just don't think the government should be telling people what to do in their personal lives, period. If they want 80 wives, not my call. If one of them is 14, well then, it is.

What do you think?

18 comments:

Daisy said...

I just got a nasty email from Europe about this post! I guess this BIG LOVE stuff out of Utah is considered more crazy wild-west Americans running amok, huh?

Kind of fun to think about! :P

Bryce said...

i don't care what people do either, but its weird, like i know guys with lots of lovers & girlfriends. but if they called themselves 'polygamist' i'd feel different. so its the 'official' part of it that is strange to people, not 'the fact' of it happening,.

Dw3t-Hthr said...

It could happen? I'm pretty sure I have more than theoretical existence, man. ;) (My social awareness is much more nebulous than it used to be on this, but back when the numbers were small enough to fit in my head I knew more women who were actively interested in multiple relationships of whtaever sort than men. It makes me snort at the people who assume that any sort of open or multiple relationship is all about teh menz.)


I tend towards the opinion that a lot of the abuses of patriarchal polygyny have to do with prohibition, much like a lot of the issues with drug use have to do with prohibition there.

Because people can't marry within the system, and in fact have to conceal their relationships in these situations, there's no ability to keep them from raping barely post-pubescent girls and calling it matrimony. The fact that only men in that system have the right to marry multiply and exogamy getting them in big-ass trouble because they can only pull this shit in insular little communities is part of what drives them to raping young adolescents, though.

And, of course, because the marriages aren't noted by public agencies, these guys also get away with having zillions of kids without taking care of them, because their secondary wives just go on the dole. If they were actually held responsible as fathers, somehow I suspect that the problem would be a lot less severe, because suddenly they'd be actually dealing with child support at all.


One of the things that has always weirded me, honestly, is the sort of horror that a lot of people have about polygamy. Back when there was debate here in MA about same-sex marriage rights, I went to a public hearing (didn't get to speak, though I put my name on the list) and one guy got up there, waved his Bible around, and screamed about how if they let the gay people marry, it would lead inevitably to ... polygamy. No explanation of why this is so horrible as to need to not be explained.

And I know a lot of it is because people think "polygamy" means "patriarchal polygyny", but, y'know, I'm enough of a pedant that I mutter, "Different goddamn words."


I'm hoping after my liege is done getting legally married to his partner of nine years, we can get our relationship to a point when I can propose to him. And maybe nobody official will recognise it -- pretty damn sure his mother won't -- but like I posted on Marking, the ritual observation damn well matters.

Trinity said...

Ideally? Sure. Practically I'm not sure the legal system is ready for more than 2-person unions, or ever will be. The IRS will just shake its head and... nix that. :)

erin said...

Trinity: actually I bet that the IRS would love it. They've never shied away from making paperwork more complex before. The courts might have a more interesting time with it, but again they are designed to handle complex matters.

Societies acceptance of the idea and ability to form a reaction other than "ZMG POLGAMIST EVL!" is another thing entirely. Given the fact that polygamy is one of those demons that is toted out to say why gay marriage is evil and shouldn't be allowed, I doubt if you will see a serious push to allow for legal poly-marriages.

Personally I'm not against the idea, but I am concerned that especially with it's history it will lead to spousal abuse and emotional damage. Co-dependency isn't fun with the family from one pair, much less multiple people. This isn't MY choice to make for people however, simply something I would take into consideration before entering something like that myself.

drakyn said...

I also don't see anything inherently wrong with marriages of more than two people or being married to more than one person at a time (as long as everyone knows and is okay with it). I know that it can sometimes be hard to negotiate (legally, emotionally, logistically, etc), but I don't think that means such relationships shouldn't be legal and/or recognized.
Of course, I've seen some of Big Love and it, imoh, doesn't really show healthy relationships in general (and certainly some of the poly relationships shown are really bad).

Dw3t-Hthr said...

Of course, I've seen some of Big Love and it, imoh, doesn't really show healthy relationships in general (and certainly some of the poly relationships shown are really bad).

Pop culture has unhealthy relationships?! Say it ain't so!



(*cough*)

antiprincess said...

re: FLDS (specifically) and polygamy -

Today, on one level, it seems to be about dirty old men getting as much sex as possible from as many underage girls as they can get their wrinkled arthritic dirty old hands on. and there's lots about that paradigm that makes us (solid citizens that we all are) wince.

on the other hand, back when Joseph Smith was doing his thing in the 1830s and 1840s, looking into his hat, hallucinating his golden plates, etc - sex (the act of intercourse) was viewed much differently than it is today. it is entirely possible that in the early part of the 19th century, most folks considered the act of intercourse was not about pleasure (perverted or not) but about procreation exclusively - at least as far as anyone was willing to admit in public.

and so the lord said "be fruitful and multiply" - by any means necessary, so to speak.

so, this whole polygamy/plural marriage/ lots-o-wives-for-men-thing: as far as my (extremely limited internet-expert) "research" tells me - it didn't start out as a luridly deviant quest for nubile young virgins to lustfully devour. (things like lust were considered to be character flaws to be purged, back then, as far as I know.) it was, I think, back in the day, really truly seen as the attempt to recreate God's kingdom on earth.

which, if you're into it, if that's how you see things - how could that be a bad thing? if I were raised in that millieu, back in 1840-whatever, I think it's at least plausible that I'd want to recreate God's kingdom on earth too, even if it meant being married off at fourteen to someone I didn't even know.

but, that was then, this is now. things have changed in 150-some years.

The Red Queen said...

My problem with multiple marriages is practicality. What would happen in a case like Terry Schiavo- which spouse would have authority to make medical decisions? Who would inherit marital assets? What happens when your spouse wants to marry someone you don't like? Do you all have to be married to each other? What about divorce? How do you divide up assets and debts? Could you be liable for the debts of your spouse's other spouses?

Elaine Vigneault said...

Red Queen,
The Big Love show actually addresses that and explains that each partner is set up with certain assets and freedoms specified by contracts, much the same way that many other couples set up their lives without official marriages.

I have mixed feelings about polygamy. I think consenting adults should be able to do what they want. But that's rarely what polygamy is really about.

OK, here's really my take. I think we should get rid of marriage altogether, we should institute civil unions that bestow marital-like rights, and those unions can be between all kinds of consenting adult relationships. That's what I think.

OH, and I enjoy the show. I don't think Bill is a charmer, I think he's slimy. But he's an interesting character, as they all are. And the show makes for incredible, weird drama. That said, television is evil. Hahaha. Seriously, it is.

lynngnews said...

I'm against legalizing polygamy in the sense of taking the existing marriage law, striking out the two people requirement, and leaving the courts to sort out the resulting mess - all kinds of bad news in how that could mess up legal expectations in people's existing marriages. I don't see any way the good would outdo the harm, there.

I'm in favor of decriminalizing consenting adult, non-coercive polygamy - whether we find Bill Paxton charming or slimy, I hope we'd agree that, were he a non-fictional polygamist, we wouldn't actually want the police coming down on his case solely for the multiple wives thing, that that kind of thing should be reserved for stuff like Jeffs with the coerced marriages of underage girls.

antiprincess said...

But that's rarely what polygamy is really about.

what's it really about?

Dw3t-Hthr said...

*grumble*

The word for "civil union" in English is "marriage".

No need to invent a new phrase to recapitulate an extant concept. Marriage is marriage, we don't need any bloody newspeak. Newspeak is doubleplusungood.

Fuck euphemisms.

baby221 said...

Well, I count myself polyamorous so I'm pretty much of the opinion that it's possible -- if not exactly easy. :p You know all those problems that come with one relationship? They multiply exponentially when you get multiple ones.

'Course, the joy and love and fun multiplies exponentially too :) So that makes it worth it.

When I think about how it would work legally, the best I can come up with is that we'd need to break down the entire existing structure of marriage and set it up more along the lines of individual contracts. Maybe I want to be legally joined at the hip to A, but I know he doesn't share my views about some important medical issues so I'd give power of attorney to B, meanwhile C wants to share some tax benefits or somesuch with A so they do that, and B has kids with C so the children legally belong to them ... yeah. I don't really know how feasible that is (my friends shake their heads in amusement at me whenever I mention it), but at the very least it would be nice to have ... some kind of social recognition for multiple partners. I know being legal goes a long way toward establishing that, but even if our culture was just more accepting (without being all "well it's just cheating with a different name" about things), that'd be a step.

As far as whether it's "feminist" or not -- I think that really depends on the people. I mean you can have multiple partners and it can still be pretty male-dominated, but if you get a bunch of anti-oppression folk together it'd be more equal. It's all about the mix :)

apostate said...

The biggest issue I haven't been able to get around in thinking about this vis a vis the law is immigration.

Currently, American citizens have the right to import a foreign spouse. With no limit on the number of spouses/fiances one can bring in... um, can you imagine?

Besides, there is no legal restriction on having multiple partners.

My husband, by the way, was part of the Kerista commune!

DaisyDeadhead said...

Equal time for ex-FLDS member: Kathy Jo Nicholson, just interviewed on COURT TV.

She is considered an "official" apostate by Jeffs.

DaisyDeadhead said...

JEFFS GUILTY ON BOTH COUNTS

The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 09/25/2007 05:37:05 PM MDT

ST. GEORGE -- Polygamous sect leader Warren S. Jeffs has been found guilty of two counts of being an accomplice to rape.
Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, blinked when the verdicts were read, but showed no emotion. None of his followers in the courtroom reacted.
The 51-year-old was convicted of two counts of being an accomplice to rape related to a marriage he conducted in 2001 between Elissa Wall, who was 14, and Allen Steed, 19.
The first rape count occurred between April 23, 2001 -- the day Jeffs conducted Wall's marriage -- and May 12, 2001, when she and Steed took a trip to Canada to visit her sisters.
The second count occurred between May 13, 2001, and Sept. 30, 2003.
Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 20 at 1:30 p.m. Asked if he wanted a pre-sentencing report completed, Jeffs answered that he would do what his attorneys advised.
A pre-sentencing report gives the judge further information about a defendant. Jeffs' attorneys requested the report, and said they would also file a sentencing memorandum.
The three-member defense team walked out of the courtroom shortly after 2:30 p.m., and lead attorney Walter Bugden said only, "Of course we're disappointed."
A 5th District jury of five men and three women had deliberated about three hours today with a new member. One of the eight jurors was excused this morning for a reason that was not disclosed. She was replaced with a woman who was one of four alternates. The original jury had deliberated for about 13 hours.
University of Utah law associate professor Daniel Medwed said he was "mildly surprised" at the verdict. He said he thought the facts of the case were not a perfect fit for the charges, and that lesser charges - possibly solemnizing an illegal marriage - might have been more appropriate.
"Feeling he had done something wrong is a little bit of a stretch to saying he was an accomplice to rape," Medwed said.
He also said that even if Jeffs comes before the parole board, it will be a long time before he's released.
"I would be quite surprised if Jeffs ever got out," he said.
Medwed also said the defense might appeal on grounds of insufficient evidence, but that is historically a difficult appeal to win in Utah.
Sam Brower, Cedar City private investigator who has assisted state authorities in building cases against Jeffs, said after the verdict: "It's a good day. It's a good move. I think the jury did a great job of sifting through all the evidence. Jeffs can't say he didn't get a fair trial."
Elaine Tyler of the Hope Organization, a group that opposes forced marriages in polygamist communities, said she hopes the verdict will prevent young women from being told to marry against their wishes.
"It represents hopefully a change in that polygamist community," she said.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff reacted to the verdict in a telephone call from his hospital bed in Salt Lake City. "It sends a message to all the other victims of Warren Jeffs that there's justice," he said, referring to underage women who have been married to older men.
Shurtleff maintains some FLDS followers will stick by Jeffs, but others will move to replace him and move away from child-bride marriages.
He said some concerns remain about the FLDS, and that the biggest one is getting children an education, considering many are pulled out of school at an early age.
Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard, who has pending, similar cases against Jeffs, said the verdict made history.
"I commend the jury for carefully reviewing the facts and rendering a fair verdict," Goddard said in a written statement. He added that the case was not about
religious beliefs "but about protecting young women from being abused."
In Mohave County, Ariz., Jeffs is charged with eight counts related to two teen brides. One of the brides is Elissa Wall.
"It is too early to speculate on what will happen next," said Mahave County Attorney Matthew J. Smith. "The first thing we need to see is what type of sentence Warren Jeffs receives in Utah. That may determine what happens next. The second question then is whether or not he will go to Arizona or the federal authorities will get him, although it seems likely that he will probably go to Arizona first. The final question will be what are the desires of the victim, which may be somewhat determined by what happens to Mr. Jeffs in Utah. Other than that, any answers on what is going to happen next would be pure speculation."

Anonymous said...

"wth??? this is sooo stupid! say no to polygammy!!!!!