Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world


Mainstream Polygamy

Filed under: Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 10:35 pm

Polygamists normally live on the fringe and try to avoid any attention being called to them. Now, though, they're coming out of the woodwork, banding together, and attempting to legalize their practice. As was predicted, they're largely piggy-backing their effort on the drive to legalize gay marriage. While gay marriage is a separate issue and should be judged on its own merits and not because it is the first step on a slippery slope, it's worrying that polygamy could gain any sort of traction.

A problem with our loosening sexual mores is the idea that nobody is in the position to judge the partnering practices of others. That's just lazy thinking and is indicative of those whose response to important moral dilemmas is a subjective hedonist "whatever makes you happy" instead of doing the hard thinking on the matters.

Polygamy is not a healthy practice in a modern society. When implemented, it results in women becoming akin to property, their value exists only in relation to their husbands or to whom they can be married off, and these patriarchies start marrying off girls instead of women. Women become commodities, useful for sex and salvation, and women (at least those who don’t already buy into the men’s excuses for the practice’s necessity) are forced to participate.

Worse still (at least practically speaking, maybe not morally) is that polygamist communities are inherently unstable due to the natural gender balance. The ratio of men to women is typically 50/50. If multiple women are married off to only some men, though, that means that other men are denied spouses. That is, there is an excess of men and the extras aren't happy at not having a mate. In one fundamentalist Mormon sect in Utah, boys are driven out of the community on trumped up (or simply false) charges and dumped in nearby towns – and at ages as young as 13. The sect's male leaders don't want competition for wives and so they simply eliminate potential challengers before they can become a problem. This illustrates another issue: raw power differentials. The men with the wives wield an inordinate amount of power over not only the females who are wholly dependent on them, but also young males. Any boys who expect to rise to any prominence can do so only under the good graces of those above them.

So I don’t particularly care if some people say they can make polygamy work or that it makes them happy. If they care merely to live together, fine. But if they engage in polygamous marriage and demand equal rights, standing, and benefits given to conventional married couples through legalization of polygamy, they should be handed an unequivocal no. While my libertarian tendencies make me wary of the government intruding on private practices, especially those that are religiously based, marriage is also an important social practice. As such, it warrants the attention and regulation of law. Because of the practical social implications described above (and my list is hardly exhaustive), polygamy should be roundly denounced, outlawed, and actively stamped out wherever it is found. If the polygamists unite, let them – we’ll better know who to prosecute.


  1. You’re not a libertarian. These ladies are not demanding legalized marriages acknowledged by the state, but decriminalization of their lifestyle, because they have suffered living under the stigma of threatened prosecution for nothing other than loving each other in an extended family relationship. You say, let them live together but not marry. That’s what they ARE doing. The state of Utah defines bigamy as ANYONE who is married who cohabits with another person who is not the legal spouse. If polygamists do not marry legally AT ALL, but merely live together, they can still be prosecuted under this law, along with thousands of non-polygamists who merely shack up in polyamorous arrangements or extra-marital relationships. I’m not justifying or saying that it’s right. I’m explaining the hypocrisy of your statement and society’s stance. Utah views any couple who is living together as “common law married” whether that couple WANTS to be legally married or NOT. Therefore, unmarried polygamists are still labeled as criminals. Your threat to prosecute and stamp them out rings of biterness and ignorance. I know many, many families in a variety of polygamous communities. I am active as a child advocate working to create opportunities for women and children, and that includes education, social services and intervention where it is needed. THAT can ONLY come through compassion, not HATRED. Which means it CAN’T come from someone like you.

    Comment by Merycia — 3/13/2006 @ 1:44 pm

  2. Merycia, perhaps I should have clarified. If they can live together and get away with it by laying low, fine. But if they choose to push for the rights and recognitions of married couples by positioning themselves as married groups, they should be be denied and their lifestyle continued to be criminalized. Decriminalizing it is merely tacit legalization and it will be a short step from there to the demand for legal recognition, even if it isn’t now demanded. As it is, most are not merely living together but are living together as married groups, often with the permission and cover of some religion. Whether they actually choose to go through some ceremony or formalize the arrangement does not change the effects. That some may choose to exploit a loophole by saying they’re not officially married is irrelevent.

    Please mercifully spare me the complaint that I’m filled with hatred, ignorance, or bitterness. What I hate are the effects that result from polygamy. I analyzed the issue and presented a case. Instead of whining and stamping your feet about how I’m so mean, take up the points of my argument. Oh, and merely saying these people love each other doesn’t do that work. Loving something is not a normative justification that something should be permissible and/or legal.

    Comment by Dangerous Dan — 3/13/2006 @ 3:07 pm

  3. I was almost convinced by Merycia, but she did not use enough CAPITAL LETTERS to make her point, so I remain unconvinvced.

    “While my libertarian tendencies make me wary of the government intruding on private practices, especially those that are religiously based, marriage is also an important social practice. As such, it warrants the attention and regulation of law.”

    I am not convinced that marriage should be a matter for the state to regulate, aside from enforcing contracts. The one strong case for state regulation of marriage is the case that is the bane of most libertarian plans: what about the children? I am still undecided on the justness for the legal case of polygamy, as long as all parties consent. If one party does not consent (and we assume marriage should be regulated by the state) polygamy should not be legal. I suspect there may be circumstantial justifications for polygamy in some societies in some time periods, but as long the ratio of men to women in modern America is anywhere near 50/50 polygamy needs to be condemned even if legal/decriminalized.

    Comment by Pete The Elder — 3/15/2006 @ 8:58 pm

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