I suggest it’s time to legalize polygamy among consenting adults.
I have been thinking about how to respond to the many stories in the press about polygamy and the seemingly odd behavior of polygamist prophet Warren Jeffs. Mr. Jeffs leads the polygamist cult based on the Utah/Arizona border and is locked in a Texas prison for having sex with minor girls to whom he was “married.” While I don’t condone Jeffs’ behavior, I am astounded by the blatantly negative attitude toward polygamy in the media. While the focus as of late has been on the extreme practices of this particular sect, there appears to be some kind of media consensus that polygamy is evil.
I don’t agree.
I’ve lived in Utah for 12 years and find much that is odd about the Mormon culture. Since legislators and local lawmakers in Utah are predominantly LDS, it follows that state and local laws reflect the religious convictions and values of this majority. If you don’t believe me, try ordering a drink in a restaurant or finding someplace to dance. Polygamists are, in theory, practicing the original form of the faith. While Jeffs is consistently cast as an evil psychopath, I wonder if his behavior is much different from Brigham Young’s, the fellow who led the Mormon pilgrimage to what is now Utah.
What’s difficult for me to understand is why it’s okay to be gay in San Francisco (or anywhere else) and not okay to be polygamous in Utah. Our country is increasingly leaning toward more acceptance and recognition of a variety of relationship types. The Democratic Party has recently added same-sex marriage to their platform. Polyamory, the concept of multiple loving relationships, is emerging in western states including Utah. I find acceptance of gay marriage and rejection of other loving relations to be a contradiction in the values of those who would judge.
The problem with polygamy is that it’s illegal. Polygamists have been forced to live outside of the legal system. When people are forced to be outlaws, they establish their own rules. Why not take advantage of the welfare system? Why not avoid taxes of all kinds by developing community property and voucher payment schemes? Anyone in a similar situation would do the same.
I’m not for or against polygamy, but I have had discussions with polygamist women (in my naturopath’s office) in which I have been impressed by their contentment. Non-polygamists respond that these women have been brainwashed and can’t be trusted to have an unbiased perspective. I would assert that the most indoctrinated group anywhere in this country are Christians, having been thoroughly inundated throughout childhood with mythical stories characterized as factual.
It was some years ago, while reading the seven volume Annals of Ireland, that it became obvious to me that my Irish ancestors were polygamist. The Annals don’t use that word but instead spoke about building alliances between adjoining tribes through multiple marriages and warriors taking in their brother’s wife and children when he was killed in war. It was clear that some men had multiple wives. Polygamy is also common in biblical stories. It is a part of our heritage. Frankly, so is juvenile marriage.
Society has a right to change its moral code, as exampled by child labor laws being instituted to eliminate that practice. Polygamy and underage marriage have been outlawed too. Mormons were seen as an oddity and forced to give up polygamy in order to become a state, yet now the nation is swaying toward recognition of same-sex partners. Likewise, some people are finding that they can love more than one person.
I suggest it’s time to legitimize plural marriage among consenting adults. If polygamy were legal then anyone who was unhappy with their current prophet could leave the faith and take their assets with them. A woman unhappy with her husband could divorce him and seek support. The oddity of polygamist practices would diminish. Bring those people who practice plural marriage into mainstream society. Then, enforce the societal consensus that it’s not okay to marry minor girls to old men.
Beyond that, let’s live our own lives and mind our own business.
James P. McMahon studied ecology at the University of Illinois because he is curious about the natural world around him. He fell in love with rivers at an early age and then learned all about them. He’s also fallen in love with yoga and travels to yoga festivals and workshops. He has a passion for learning and contributing to a healthier planet and healthier people. He works from his home overlooking the Santa Clara River in southern Utah. You can learn more about Jim and his work at Home Water Purification Systems by Sweetwater LLC.
Editor: April Hayes
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