May 23, 2008

Can polygamy be a crime in the United States?

Here's some timely analysis by law and religion prof John Witte Jr. (It's especially timely for me because it's the subject of the Constitutional Law exam I'm working on grading right now... as I take a break to blog.)
For nearly two millennia, the Western tradition has included polygamy among the crimes that are inherently wrong. Not just because polygamy is unbiblical, unusual, unsafe, or unsavory. But also because polygamy routinizes patriarchy, jeopardizes consent, fractures fidelity, divides loyalty, dilutes devotion, fosters inequity, promotes rivalry, foments lust, condones adultery, confuses children, and more. Not in every case, to be sure, but in enough cases to make the practice of polygamy too risky to condone.
Should we limit freedom to do one thing because it often leads to something else? Shouldn't we be very careful when the thing we would limit is something that we ourselves have no interest at all in doing but that other people believe is essential to their eternal salvation?

From the opinion in the 1878 Supreme Court case — Reynolds v. United States — that upheld the criminalization of polygamy:
[T]he accused, proved that, at the time of his alleged second marriage, he was, and for many years before had been, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly called the Mormon Church, and a believer in its doctrines; that it was an accepted doctrine of that church "that it was the duty of male members of said church, circumstances permitting, to practise polygamy; . . . that this duty was enjoined by different books which the members of said church believed to be of divine origin, and, among others, the Holy Bible, and also that the members of the church believed that the practice of polygamy was directly enjoined upon the male members thereof by the Almighty God, in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the founder and prophet of said church; that the failing or refusing to practise polygamy by such male members of said church, when circumstances would admit, would be punished, and that the penalty for such failure and refusal would be damnation in the life to come."
Reynolds was sentenced to 2 years at hard labor.

More from Witte:
[S]ome religious communities and their members might well thrive with the freedom to practice polygamy. But inevitably closed repressive regimes like the Texas ranch compound will also emerge—with under-aged girls duped or coerced into sex and marriages with older men, with women and children trapped in sectarian communities with no realistic access to help or protection from the state and no real legal recourse against a church or mosque that is just following its own rules. We prize liberty, equality, and consent in this country too highly to court such a risk.
Why isn't it better to strictly police child abuse, rape, and under-age sex? Why pick on one sort of behavior that has a risk of leading to these things? What if the evidence showed that mothers living with men who are not their children's fathers runs a high child abuse, rape, and underage sex? Could we criminalize that too? The answer shouldn't be the religious motivation seems especially repugnant.

UPDATE, December 14, 2013: Here's my post on the decision in Brown v. Buhman.

61 comments:

SGT Ted said...

What if the evidence showed that mothers living with men who are not their children's fathers runs a high child abuse, rape, and underage sex?

Exactly.

Paddy O. said...

Not just because polygamy is unbiblical, unusual, unsafe, or unsavory. But also because polygamy routinizes patriarchy, jeopardizes consent, fractures fidelity, divides loyalty, dilutes devotion, fosters inequity, promotes rivalry, foments lust, condones adultery, confuses children, and more.

I agree with this, except for the unbiblical part. I think we see the disappearance of polygamy in Israel and nearby communities during the Biblical era, but I don't see that it's particularly unbiblical except inasmuch as say slavery is unbiblical, being against the underlying ideals taught in Scripture.

But the reality stands that it seems hard to find an advanced society that practices polygamy. Where young men are killed because of war or famine or whatnot, and a large number of pregnancies are needed to maintain population level it seems understandable.

But where numbers are closer to being equal between men and women it is very much against societies interest to condone sexual power in the hands of a few while leaving many young men seeking power and satisfaction. and it seems right to create laws in order to maintain the balance that allows for progress.

This makes polygamy a fundamentally different kind of situation than gay marriage, which is pretty much entirely more of an issue of differing moralities and changing traditions. Gay marriage does not undermine regular marriage. But polygamy does undermine marriage for a good many men, and creates a society where young men are either conquerors or outcasts.

Blue Moon said...

Paddy-O:

On a somewhat related note, it'll be interesting to see what happens in China regarding the imbalance between males and females. Because of the "one child" policy, many girls were aborted or killed leading to way more boys than girls being born. It can't be good to have a millions of, ah, sexually frustrated males in their 20's and 30's wandering around.

Paddy O. said...

Blue Moon, that's so true.

More than a little scary. Unless, of course, there's a huge jump in Buddhist monks.

China is either going to become very violent or very enlightened over the next decades.

Simon said...

There are few things that I think are so obviously evil as to require no defense of their suppression, and that grossly misogynistic practice is one of them. It ought not be tolerated in polite society, and its toleration ought not be discussed in polite company.

rhhardin said...

When did child abuse first turn up in legal reasoning?

I'd suspect in the 60s, if Ian Hacking is right.

In which case legal reasoning depends on social constructionism, which would affect original intent as a touchstone.

A million moral discoveries have been made since the 60s.

Kirby Olson said...

One to one marriage is the basis of legal rights for women. This is the case put forward by J.J. Bachofen in his landmark treatise Mutterrecht (translated in a bowdlerized edition by Princeton as Mother Right in the 1960s).

Bachofen (also a Protestant, like Witte) argues that matriarchy was a tyrannical state that recognized desire as the only law (much as postmodernism under Lacan saw desire as the only law).

Bachofen argues instead that women's right to a single marriage was the beginning of legal rights on a basis comparable with the rights of men. Strangely, feminists overturned Bachofen's basic thesis and decided that it was patriarchy that was evil and to blame.

But Bachofen explicitly says that patriarchy represents the emergence of law and order and transcendent principles.

I suspect that Engels and other communists occluded Bachofen's thought in their work on the family, and that this ineluctably goofed up a reading of Bachofen's work -- which is still worth reading. He's a ball of light, although he sees in marriage laws a unilineal evolution from the ancient days of matriarchy (in which a male tyrant dominated) to the notions of universal human rights which were in the process of articulation in Bachofen's 19th century -- but which still hadn't become universal -- still haven't.

Bachofen argues that one-to-one marriage between a man and a woman is the recognition of equality for the souls of two individuals.

Witte, in his book Law and Protestantism, doesn't reference Bachofen. I wish he had, but he doesn't.

He does however reference the Decalogue as an itemization of RECIPROCAL rights. A fifteen year old cannot be seen as a reciprocal in their relationship to a 57 year old.

If you read just one new law book this summer I wish it would be Witte's. He concludes (partially) :

"One person's duties not to kill, to commit adultery, to steal, or to bear false witness thus gives rise to another person's rights to life, property, fidelity, and reputation" (303).

He argues that in Heaven there will be no law, and that in Hell, there is no law.

In a sense you could see polygamy as being heaven for those for whom there is no limit, no command to be reciprocal, but it is hell for those who are condemned to endure it, and have no legal remedy.

Jake said...

Paddy O gave the main reason against polygamy. Here is another.

The polygamy sects in Utah profess to be religious. But the glue that holds the cults together is pedophile sex. Young boys are forced out of the cults so that they will not compete against the older men for the girls. These "Lost Boy" are homeless and a real problem in Utah.

Polygamy is against the law because it is good public policy to forbid it.

Quayle said...

Sorry, but you'll have to drop the unbiblical argument.

1. Abraham took Sarah's servant Hagar as a wife, and God did not condemn Abraham and cut him off as a prophet, but later blessed him with his prayer and desire that Sarah have children herself.

2. Jacob was not condemned by God even though he had Leah, Rachel, Bilhah, and Zilpah as wives. Even after that, God changed Jacob's name to Israel and blessed him and his posterity, principally by guiding Joseph through Egypt to be in a position to save the family.

3. Elkanah had two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. Peninnah had children but Hannah didn't. Hannah cried to God and he heard her and gave her a son: the prophet, Samuel. If her relatoinship was condemned by God, then why did he later bless her to bare a son that became a mighty prophet?

Numerous examples can be found. If God condemns polygamy per se, then why did God continue to bless and work with those that practiced it at that time?

Quayle said...

Paddy O has butchered his attempt to equate then distinguish polygamy and gay marriage.

Using Paddy's own logic, and unrestrained freedom of assumptions, if all women wanted to be married to men, and all men wanted to be in gay relationships, then women would be strangers and outcasts.

Paddy admits that Polygamy does not undermine marriage for men if there are more women than men in a society. So, would polygamy undermine marriage if half the men wanted gay relationships, and all women wanted straight relationships and entered into marriages with the other half of the men?

Besides, it is self evident that putting polygamy and gay marriage on anywhere near the same level of social importance or meaning is illogical because polygamist marriages can create new generations and gay relationships can not.

It is the difference between two redwood trees in a forest and two redwood chairs on a patio. More redwood trees will come from one but not the other.

George said...

I'd like to see the cops bust a rich Saudi guy who comes on vacation here with his wives and kids.

Here's how it works in Saudi Arabia:

Muhammad said that a man could have as many as four wives simultaneously, so long as he treated each woman "equally."

In many Muslim countries that is seen as an implicit ban, because, of course, no man can treat multiple wives "equally" financially, sexually, or emotionally.

Nonetheless, the way it often happens is that the guy gets tired of the first wife. She gets old, nags, whatever. He brings in a trophy wife. A nice 15-year-old. The old one gets pushed off to the side. Maybe divorced. Maybe the kids get treated fairly. Who knows. There's always this implicit unspoken threat that if the wife isn't up to snuff the guy will bring in someone else. Once you're used, your used. Little resale value. You can bet lots of prescriptions for anti-depressants are written for women in the Kingdom.

(PS: Bin Laden is the only son of his father's 10th wife. They divorced. His father had 22 wives and 54 kids.)

William said...

This is counter-intuitive but polygamy actually discriminates against men. If Donald Trump and every power forward in the NBA were allowed four wives, who would be left when you got around to choosing. In his twenties just about every guy gets a fair chance at an A-list girl. One man, one woman leads to an equitable distribution of nature's most prized resource: attractive women.

vbspurs said...
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vbspurs said...

Numerous examples can be found. If God condemns polygamy per se, then why did God continue to bless and work with those that practiced it at that time?

God apparently also didn't prevent slavery from occuring.

This polygamy argument is moot.

The Western Christian tradition has made it an impossibility for man to take two wives at the same time, because marriage is a sacrament.

A marriage between one man and one woman man is rather like one vote each: just think of it as being more democratic than three women ganging up on one man.

Ironically though, that never happens.

Wherever polygamy occurs, individual women have lessened individual rights.

The message is that one woman is very much like the next, so why pay attention to any?

vbspurs said...

BTW, just like it is true that men seek out as many women to assure their genetic continuity, so it is true that women seek out one man to make good fathers to their children and to protect them.

Sharing one man with several women lessens the chance he will pay indissoluble attention to your children and their welfare, first, not just to yourself.

Maxine Weiss said...
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Revenant said...

But polygamy does undermine marriage for a good many men, and creates a society where young men are either conquerors or outcasts.

Not necessarily. There are several million more single adult women than there are single adult men, here in the United States. When you exclude people in prison, the number of available men shrinks further still. Polygamy would need to become pretty widespread -- much more so than it would ever be likely to be in our society -- before we would have to worry about men being unable to find wives.

Dave Hardy said...

1. Monogamy comes into the west from Roman law, not from the Bible, which quite clearly thought it unexceptional (and not just the Old Testament; Paul's epistles dictate that bishops should be men with one wife, suggesting that the ordinary believer might have more).

2, It was permitted in a few diocese during the Thirty Years' War, which radically depopulated parts of what is now Germany, and fell heaviest upon the men. The ruling was that the command to be fruitful and multiply was biblical, whereas monogamy was a law of the church, and of lesser status.

3. The prosecutions in Reynolds, etc. were not for polygamy (the defendants having married only their first wives under the civil war), but for fornication/adultery. Equal enforcement of those statutes today might be a bit unpopular.

4. The risk of patriarchialism can be moderated with polyandry which, as Mark Twain points out, is a much better match with human biology. One woman can keep several men happily defused, whereas one man can do the same for several women only in his dreams.

5. The US today allows a person to have several spouses. Just not at the same time. I can't really see where one practice versus the other dilutes devotion, divides loyalty, forment lust, etc., etc..

6. I think G. B. Shaw made the point that polygamy must be outlawed in any democracy, since for every fellow who gets four wives, there will be three consigned to involuntary celibacy.

That said, I am happy to settle for one person to gripe about house repairs, income, car maintenance, etc.. Bigamy consists of having one spouse too many, and at times monogamy seems the same.

Balfegor said...

But the reality stands that it seems hard to find an advanced society that practices polygamy.

There's a strong selection bias here. We wouldn't consider a society "advanced" unless it had a strong technological and industrial base. Most states banned polygamy under European or American direction. For example, it is my understanding that polygamy (in the form of concubinage) was legal in Japan until 1945, when we conquered them and rewrote their Constitution and laws to accord with our preferences. Under the more permissive British Empire, polygamy remained legal in Hong Kong until the 70's too. I think the PRC may have abolished polygamy earlier under the influence of Communist theory.

Anyhow, it is not the case that development naturally led to the abolition of polygamy -- it's the case that the nations that were first to develop pressured many other nations (developed or otherwise) to abolish polygamy. And those nations that were first to develop had proscribed polygamy since antiquity, including in long periods during which it is hard to argue that they were more advanced than their polygamous neighbour civilisations. The fact that advanced nations are not polygamous today seems to me more a matter of historical accident than of actual causation.

Nonetheless, the way it often happens is that the guy gets tired of the first wife.

I don't know how true that is. My sense is that the most common reason, historically, that a man would bring in a concubine is that his first wife failed to provide him with a male heir. I think the Japanese Imperial Household Agency was actually suggesting something like that recently, until the birth (in 2006) of the new Prince. On the other hand, the 16th century novel Golden Lotus suggests that some did amass harems purely to slake their lusts for novelty and variety. So your supposition isn't wrong outright -- I just don't think it was the most common situation in most polygamous systems around the world.

Balfegor said...

Whoops, left out an important link -- I meant to say that most states modernised and industrialised either under European/American colonisation, or under heavy, heavy influence from European or American powers, incl. occupation (as in Korea and Japan), or the very Western influence of Communism (e.g. China, Vietnam, etc.)

Chip Ahoy said...

Those women give me the total creeps. Ya know why? They all use the same pattern to make their dresses and that shows a regrettable lack of imagination. But then, after all that trouble to get the dress thing perfect, in their own minds at least, they totally neglect their shoes. I say you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, and the shoes these women wear tell me they're up to no good.

That is all.

cafasano said...

(PS: Bin Laden is the only son of his father's 10th wife. They divorced. His father had 22 wives and 54 kids.)

Oh, it's a lot worse than that. The father had three permanent wives, and cycled through 19 "fourth wives." Very quickly, too, sometimes, a matter of a few months to a few years. His mother was allowed to stay with him until he was about 3, and then she was sent away, and he was left at the mercy of the three real wives, their bullying children (his half siblings) and the servants who treated him like dirt. (His nickname was "the slave's son".)

I figure the best argument against polygamy is that it destroys childrens' ability to form intimate relationships. Of course serial polygamy (mom marries multiple times, shuffling children in and out of relationships with stepfathers and stepbrothers and stepsisters) does that, too.

Quayle said...
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vbspurs said...

For example, it is my understanding that polygamy (in the form of concubinage) was legal in Japan until 1945, when we conquered them and rewrote their Constitution and laws to accord with our preferences.

If I may snip this bit, Balfegor, since you went on to reference the Japanese Imperial Family.

It was in fact the case as you say, but the Japanese took to Westernisation in a big way.

When Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako were having trouble producing a male heir (echoed later in your example), he refused to take his Courtier's advice, and marry another woman, or more specifically, take on a concubine.

The pressure was intense, but he resisted because the custom was already seen as old-fashioned.

Cheers,
Victoria

Quayle said...

Re: "Wherever polygamy occurs, individual women have lessened individual rights."

I believe this conclusion can be easily countered by the facts around the Mormon women in the late 1800s.

The ruling class in Washington DC used the argument as above against the Mormons to justify not seating their Territorial Delegates in Congress. Opponents of the Mormons claimed that the only reason the Mormon patriarchy remained in power in the Utah Territory was that the oppressed polygamist wives couldn't vote.

The Mormons called Washington’s bluff granting women the vote in 1870 – that’s a full 50 years before the 19th Amendment.

And counter to what everyone that doesn’t know the history would imagine, by 1886 it was the American government that was oppressing the Mormon women by dragging them into court and forcing them upon penalty of imprisonment to answer questions in open and public court about where they slept, and with whom – a degradation they felt was an assault to their sensibilities and dignity. (To you who are all in favor of keeping the government out of the bedroom: when was the last time you were dragged into court and forced to testify about your sex life?)

The Mormon women became so outraged by the treatment they were receiving from the federal government that they held a woman’s mass meeting in Salt Lake City on March 6, 1886 at which numerous speeches were made condemning the government’s heavy handed acts against women in their community. The meeting was addressed by prominent women of Salt Lake, and outlying Mormon communities - a few who were even doctors as early as 1886. (Brigham Young believed that if you wanted to educate a society, educate the women because they were the primary teachers of the children.)

The record shows that one woman said at the meeting, “It has been said by the chief executive of the nation, ‘I wish you could be like us.’ And what is that? They marry one wife and degrade as many women as they choose. God forbid that we should descend to their level! We believe in the elevation of woman, and live on a higher plane. Our husbands marry wives and honor them….”

In the resolutions of that meeting, the Mormon women also included the following: “Resolved, That we extend our heartfelt thanks to the ladies of the Woman Suffrage Association assembled in Boston, and unite in praying that God may speed the day when both men and women shall shake from their shoulders the yoke of tyranny.”

And who was it that shortly thereafter stripped the vote from women in Utah? Was it the “misogynist Mormon patriarchy”?

No. It was the US Congress in the Edmonds-Tucker act of 1887. Women in Utah lost the vote at the hands of the misogynist Congressional patriarchy. Imagine that.

PatCA said...

I think we do have an interest in criminalizing polygamy rather than its sequelae. Society is not capable of making all these fine distinctions and does not have infinite investigative capabilities. Just look at the years of investigation, the informants, a fake phone call, and the possible overkill (in hindsight) of the Texas authorities. Polygamy is not good for western societies, or any societies for that matter, and liberty is more than doing whatever the hell you feel like doing.

Daryl said...

We criminalize polygamy for the same reason we make men pay child support.

We can't stop some assholes from getting lots of pussy (we would if we could) but we can at least stop them from having lots of kids, whom we will have to support with taxpayer dollars.

Then we let feminists come up with their own bogus, man-hating justifications for those laws, and we let them think they're in control. But really, it's a man thing. These rules were put in place by men for a reason.

Daryl said...

Once I learned that people would judge me by my shoes, I started buying expensive shoes. And I shine them regularly.

Stupid people. They think they know me. YOU DON'T KNOW ME. I'M ACTUALLY JUST AN ASSHOLE SLOB WITH EXPENSIVE SHOES.

But you have to get to know me to learn that.

Thief said...

There is also this in Reynolds:

[W]e think it may safely be said there never has been a time in any State of the Union when polygamy has not been an offence against society, cognizable by the civil courts and punishable with more or less severity. In the face of all this evidence, it is impossible to believe that the constitutional guaranty of religious freedom was intended to prohibit legislation in respect to this most important feature of social life. Marriage, while from its very nature a sacred obligation, is nevertheless, in most civilized nations, a civil contract, and usually regulated by law. Upon it society may be said to be built, and out of its fruits spring social relations and social obligations and duties with which government is necessarily required to deal. In fact, according as monogamous or polygamous marriages are allowed, do we find the principles on which the government of the people, to a greater or less extent, rests...

[P]olygamy leads to the patriarchal principle, and which, when applied to large communities, fetters the people in stationary despotism, while that principle cannot long exist in connection with monogamy.... An exceptional colony of polygamists under an exceptional leadership may sometimes exist for a time without appearing to disturb the social condition of the people who surround it; but there cannot be a doubt that, unless restricted by some form of constitution, it is within the legitimate scope of the power of every civil government to determine whether polygamy or monogamy shall be the law of social life under its dominion.

...[T]he only question which remains is whether those who make polygamy a part of their religion are excepted from the operation of the statute. If they are, then those who do not make polygamy a part of their religious belief may be found guilty and punished, while those who do, must be acquitted and go free. This would be introducing a new element into criminal law. Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices. Suppose one believed that human sacrifices were a necessary part of religious worship; would it be seriously contended that the civil government under which he lived could not interfere to prevent a sacrifice? Or if a wife religiously believed it was her duty to burn herself upon the funeral pile of her dead husband; would it be beyond the power of the civil government to prevent her carrying her belief into practice?

So here, as a law of the organization of society under the exclusive dominion of the United States, it is provided that plural marriages shall not be allowed. Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and, in effect, to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself. Government could exist only in name under such circumstances.


- Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145, 165-67 (1878), emphasis mine.

As to the connections between polygamy and despotic, patriarchal societies (e.g. Saudi Arabia), with special note of the despotism of the FLDS, see also this article (from Reason Magazine, of all places!)

vbspurs said...

Hey, Quayle, that was interesting thanks.

I have to digest everything you wrote, but my gut feeling is that American exceptionalism, within the framework of Christianity, is what made this possible in Mormonism.

Certainly other polygamous cultures do not allow their women any such input, influence or personal freedoms.

Cheers,
Victoria

whiskey_199 said...

Polyandry has never existed in other than a few rare cases because men will kill other men to maintain exclusive access to women. The closest humans can get to polyandry is the case in the Black Urban Core or West Africa, where women will have three children by three different fathers. As expected, men invest zilch in the children since they're very likely not theirs anyway, and women select merely on the biggest physique and most aggressive, testosterone personality. Most people would not like to live in a society shaped by this factor. Neither South Central LA nor say, Charles Taylor's Liberia are nice places to live. More like hell holes.

There is no real polyandry other than progressives lunatic fantasies. Or short lived communes that predictably implode, often with extreme violence (think Jonestown, Branch Davidians, etc.). In practice it means the Big Man takes other men's wives. Human nature being what it is, that provokes or guarantees violence.

As far as polygamy is concerned, yes gays point to that and want acceptance for polygamy so they may have acceptance. Legally speaking, if the state cannot define marriage in one way (no gay marriage) it can't define it in others (no polygamy). That has been the experience in Europe and Canada. In Britain, each man may claim his polygamous wife each time for welfare benefits, marriages are recognized.

[Rest assured, China will be very, very violent and will take women from other places. That has always been the rule. Osama bin Laden has 27 different siblings due to his father's keeping 4 wives. Such societies produce at best chaotic, brutal, violent, and awful hell holes of competition for the few available women. To the death, really.

Such societies are leeches, relying as the FLDS or Muslim polygamist societies, on welfare from productive monogamists, or raiding, luck in petroleum, etc. No real technological, commercial, or industrial progress can be made in a polygamous society, and you can see their weakness -- men spend all their time in endless, brutal, winner take all competition for the few women available. Rather than the stable, bourgeois, middle class professional behavior needed to create the wealthy society found in the West.]

Yes, Polygamy can be a crime in the US. The Constitution gives the government the right to promote social order, and among them is preservation of the fundamental aspect of our society, that of each man and woman to find an individual mate. As noted, if George Clooney and NBA stars can each take multiple wives, ordinary men, great masses of them, will have none. Other men will act as Warren Jeffs, con men fleecing the taxpayer and molesting young girls in statutory rape. Young men will be thrown away as trash. Young girls have their lives ruined.

But, certain people find this "hip" or "trendy" or "enlightened" to promote the view that it's OK to tolerate what ought to be intolerable. As intolerable as incest, necrophilia, cannibalism, and other odious behaviors. Among certain types of women who would rather be dead than un-trendy, this attitude is prevalent. Despite the horrors inflicted on young girls, boys, and the predation by wealthy and powerful men, you can see a number of female pundits defending the FLDS and polygamy in general.

I don't see why polygamy should be tolerated, just so some can pose as hip and cool and uber-tolerant. I would assume that equal protection would apply to the young girls forced into marriage and the young men forced out of the community.

[Wyoming, a monogamous state, gave women the right to vote in the 1870's as well. They wished to attract women and so gave them a better legal shake. The first female judge was elected in the late 1870's, the Territory refused to come in to the Union without the women voting in the 1890's, and elected the first female Governor, Congresswoman, and Senator all by the 1920's. Utah and Mormonism was hardly unique in giving women rights. New Zealand followed this pattern also, for the same reasons, during the same time frame.]

tom swift said...

Polygamy seems like the ideal way to ensure that the old guys snap up the wives even before they're old enough to appear in the general market, leaving a bunch of unattached younger guys who can be convinced to commit any old atrocity if it will finally get them some houris.

rightwingprof said...

"routinizes"

And the willful murder of the English language proceeds.

"Why isn't it better to strictly police child abuse, rape, and under-age sex? Why pick on one sort of behavior that has a risk of leading to these things?"

Those are the wrong questions, since polygamy is illegal, and in our society, immoral. The question to ask, if you really think there is any point in the discussion at all, is "Why should we legitimize this behavior by legalizing it?"

rightwingprof said...

Simon says: "It ought not be tolerated in polite society, and its toleration ought not be discussed in polite company."

And that is perhaps the best comment so far on this. Except, of course, we no longer hold with the idea of polite company, do we? It's one of those outdated concepts when we can no longer distinguish between liberty and license.

igbalonigbanlo said...

Certainly other polygamous cultures do not allow their women any such input, influence or personal freedoms.

Historically among the Yoruba-speaking people of west africa, there has always been (before western education) a significant amount of input from women in policy making. In fact one of the most feared and respected chiefs in every Yoruba town (every town had one of this, it was part of the yoruba governing council structure) is the Iya lode (you could call her the Minister for Women affairs usually also a wealthy trader), because it was recognized that if they so chose and whenever conditions or policies were asinine enough they did choose to, they could put a halt in the affairs of a town or city-state till things were rectified. Also a fair amount of priests/diviners were women, so they were pretty powerful in terms of what they could do and that hasn't changed much.


In terms of polygyny and choice, south western Yoruba women (quite a few of them well educated) would often if they are advancing in age choose to be a second wife and have kids for a man of decent means, rather than wait for a guy to get divorced (divorce still has a stigma) or his wife to die (and we know statistically the latter would be a long wait). Of course there are rich men who have multiple wives just for the sake of it and assholes who abuse them, but we've had a long enough history of polygyny that there are things that just aren't condoned by most families with a decent pedigree (physical abuse etc ), which incidentally also ensures most of the rights of the children are preserved. Children rights preservation also comes from the Yoruba belief that children are a huge deal e.g. while some other groups saw twins as evil, Yoruba pantheistic mythology had a an androgynous god/dess for multiple birth children which meant they were almost spoilt.


As to the numbers issue, every time polygyny comes up I notice that most people who have never seen polygyny up close and don't understand how it works don't realize that men, rarely if ever, marry women their own age (usually 5yrs difference or more) in these societies, partly due to the fact that most of these old societies discovered on their own that women age faster than men (and men need to become financially independent to a small degree before pursuing marriage) so there's a cascading phenomenon with polygyny that assures nobody ever has to do without a wife, unless you don't want one. And that's the single most accurate (historically) and valid counter-argument to the young-men-without-wives fear.

After having lived in a few places around the world and coming from a monogamous home but having cousins from polygynous settings, I have to say I'll take polygyny (as practised in yorubaland) over single parenthood any day.

igbalonigbanlo said...

I have to respond to this Whiskey_199, having children from multiple fathers is not a common phenomenon in West Africa, please don't conflate ghetto district U.S.A with West Africa. By the way, Charles Taylors Liberia was a war zone and is not representative of normal West African existence.

And before anyone reads that I support polygamy in the U.S., I don't. It's not part of the mainstream culture. And I don't think making drastic changes in society is a good idea. I guess I just betrayed my political leanings.

Even in the pre-European Ashanti matriachal society in Ghana, I don't think polyandry was practised. I believe it was more like the serialized monogamy that exists in the west these days.

joelr said...

The notion that gay marriages can't "produce" new generations is clearly false. Gay men can adopt, or arrange borrowed/rented wombs; lesbians can acquire sperm. (Sperm, as it turns out, is not a rare substance.)

AMcGuinn said...

The reason polygamy and womens' rights don't coexist is because a first wife with the right to divorce and get a share of property won't tolerate the introduction of a second wife.

P. Rich said...

Old Chinese Proverb

Women tend to form closer attachments with their children because they always know who the mother is, whereas a man is never sure about the father.

Marriage, of course, places legal obligations on the man regarding wife and children irrespective of the sperm source.

Meanwhile, I am still waiting on a serious discussion about Islamic polygamy in this country. And please don't bother trying to pretend it doesn't exist, Pookie.

Wheeler's said...

The arguement that inner city kids should be removed from parents is all straw, Ann. They are removed alla time.
Social services exists to take care of those kids.
SS couldn't get a toe in the compound at YFZ becuase those kids are not obviously being abused.

Wheeler's said...

Texas just want to get rid of the the polygs, like a lot of us out here in the West.
Texas judiciary enacted laws specifically against the practices of the FLDS. Marriage to a minor at 16 is a felony. Performing a marriage ceremony involving a minor is a classA misdemeanor. Sexual contact with a 16 or 17 year old girl is a first degeee felony. Misprepresention of age is a misdemeanor. etc, etc.
Now you can argue that some of those are actually interfering with the practice of the FLDS religion, since the patriarchy daddies believe that thay cant achieve heaven without at least 3 wives, but you cannot argue that the state of Texas is just attempting to enforce their own state laws.

btw, they will likely be able to enforce them with DNA samples they collected from ALL the children and a larger percent of the adults who would never have volunteered samples without the children being held.

Wheeler's said...

This is really about who owns the child.
The Right side is pretty much wholly on the side of the FLDS patriarchy daddies as far as i can tell. I find that pretty creepy myself.

Texas is just trying to move the polygs along by making the State of Texas inhospitable for them. While there's still under a thousand.
The Shortcreek Raid in 1953 is an example of where the state of Arizona tried to rid itself of the polygs.
Failed, sure.
But there wasn't DNA testing back then.

Here's my questions for you Ann.
One, do states have the right to enforce their own laws?
And two, will the new genetic privacy bill have an effect on DNA samples acquired for criminal prosection?
It is my understanding that DNA evidence, like fingerprints, is currently useable no matter how it was acquired.

An Armed Texan said...

Althouse, don't be crazy. Next you'll be saying we should just outlaw murder instead of guns!

Wheeler's said...

And even if the patriarchy daddies get off, the State of Texas may have achieved as least part of their goal...the polygs will have to be more careful about their interactions with minors.
You do unnerstand why the polygs have to marry the grrls off young don't you Ann?
Otherwise they run away.

Dave S. said...

"It's one of those outdated concepts when we can no longer distinguish between liberty and license."

Exactly.

And Ms. Althouse, there is no need to twist up any rational, logical, clinical arguments about why polygamy per se may not be harmful to society. Just Google up "FLDS lost boys". That will tell you all you need to know to condemn this inherently de-stabilizing, cruel and disgusting practice. It is and should be offensive to every decent person, and its tangible deleterious effect on the rest of us removes it from protection under libertarian principle.

Dave S. said...

"Shouldn't we be very careful when the thing we would limit is something that we ourselves have no interest at all in doing but that other people believe is essential to their eternal salvation?"

Oh, that's a good one - "My soul will burn in hellfire if I don't have regular infusions of fresh teen pussy." Very convenient.

How about we just exercise some basic discrimination and say, "Nice try, a-hole. Ain't gonna happen."

Common sense, folks. I consider myself a libertarian, but I live in the real world. Sometimes reality trumps theory, and the reality is that polygamy is and should be illegal for very damn good reasons.

And I would be really interested to hear of any polygamous groups in the U.S. that don't ultimately rely on state welfare for their existence.

Wheeler's said...

The polygs are very, very good at getting around the law, Ann.
Their polygamous marriages are "spiritual marriages", not bigamy...they only have 1 legal wife.
Both for legality and ADC/welfare.
The "exiled" boys are dropped off in big cities at 17, legal age in Texas, so they can't be prosecuted for child abandonment.

Texas enacted laws specifically targetting polygamy and child statutory rape and child fake-marriage ceremonies.
I thought you were a federalist, Ann.
Am I wrong?

Wheeler's said...

I'm in Colorado. We have a polyg problem here. Arizona and Utah have polyg problems.
Texas is trying to get rid of their polyg problem.
How 'bout chu easterners (and faux-federalists) just let us states deal with the polygs in time-honored Western fashion?
By riding them out of our town on a rail.

Ms. Althouse, you ask-- Can polygamy be a crime in the United States?
Like all true federalists we just want to make polygamy a crime in our individual states.

Koblog said...

What's the difference between polygamy and bedding every woman a man can...leading to unprecedented illegitimacy and abortion rates?

We condemn polygamy but laud the sexual prowess of multiple "love-child" producing celebrities.

For some reason, if a man makes it "legal" by actually marrying his harem of women simultaneously, it's bad.

But if he has a sequential harem of women (with or without marriage) that's okay.

Or if a woman has multiple sequential ex-husbands or boyfriends and children by each, that's okay too.

The goal has always been for one man and one woman to contract legally for life.

When we threw that goal out, anything goes.

Wheeler's said...

profoundly stupid argument Koblog.
serial marriages have financial, legal and contractual obligations.

NJArtist said...

The banning of polygamy in the west has its roots in St. Paul's epistle wherein he states that one of the prerequisites for a bishop is that he be a husband of one wife.

Dave S. said...

"Can polygamy be a crime in the United States?"

Yes.

Next question?

The Knowledge Worker said...

Twice now Paul has been credited with the anti-polygamy position of Christianity, and his is the most explicit statement. But Paul wasn't writing in a vacuum about polygamy. Jewish tradition (which Paul was well-educated in) had long before changed against it (and you'll note hasn't changed back). The Christian tradition against polygamy (and divorce, and celibate priests) can be rooted in the teachings of Jesus in Matthew 19. The implication at verses 5 and 8 is that in the ideal one man marries one woman forever and the "two become one". Adam and Eve are the implicit ideal (who else could they have married?). Jesus' position wasn't inventive but reiterated one of the Jewish schools of thought on divorce at the time:
3. The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?''
4. And He answered and said to them, "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning `made them male and female,'
5. "and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?
6. "So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.''
7. They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?''
8. He said to them, "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9. "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.''
10. His disciples said to Him, "If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.''
11. But He said to them, "All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given"

Not really relevent to a discussion of the direction of American law, but given that many Christians give move credence to Jesus' teachings than Paul's, I figure it's worth pointing out.

Slim999 said...

Can ploygamy be a crime in the United States?

Sure it can ... but only if the judicial system usurps the plain meaning of the language contained in the Bill of Rights.

And, since the judicial system is full of nothing much but lawyers, you can believe they can pervert the Bill of Rights to mean just about anything.

Where the Bill of Rights plainly says: "Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of my religion" ... a lawyer or a judge can read to say "Congress can make some laws prohibiting the free exercise of my religion if has a good reason to."

Given that reality ... really, why are we even discussing what can and can't be a crime. Anything can be a crime if you have no guiding morality.

And the judicial system doesn't.

Wheeler's said...

slim999 is correct.
according to the constitution, polygamy cannot be a crime.
3 wives is part of the FLDS patriarchy daddies religion.

Perhaps that is why judicial activism is built into the system?

blake said...

Polygamy is, of course, no more or less illegal than gay marriage. The state can't stop you, in any meaningful sense, from setting up whatever arrangement you like.

You don't get work-related benefits, I guess, unless and until companies get around to respecting polyamory, just like you have to wait for some of them to get around to respecting same-sex marriages.

Divorce is a much bigger problem, I'd think. If marriage is disposable as it is today, there's not a lot of logic for protecting one arrangement over another.

What would probably make the most sense, society-wise, is to reward those behaviors we want to encourage: Stable couples that produce or adopt children. No kids? No benefits. Divorce? There go your benefits.

Or just get out of the sacrament business altogether. Might wanna get out of the welfare business, too, since it sounds like the supporting of unmarried mothers actively encourages, you know, unmarried mothers.

Meanwhile, no longer concerned with activities between consenting adults, the state has all the more resources available to eliminating actual crimes that involve children.

cgard10361 said...

Can it be a crime? If a state can convince the Supreme Court that it has a sufficiently compelling justification for what appears to be an abrogation of the First Amendment, than the answer is effectively yes -- for now.

Of course even the legal v. illegal distinction is blurred since it is the state which grants marriage licenses in the first place: there are no laws prohibiting a man from cohabitating with two women. So saying that polygamy is a "crime" or, on the other hand, saying that the state will simply not grant more than one marriage license to a man are very close to being the same thing in practice. Either way you will not stop "de facto" polygamy, you will just prevent the state from formally recognizing these relationships. The social stigma is really the far stronger limiting factor.

I believe, however, that a lot of the policy arguments that have been made here are either unsubstantiated or irrelevant as to whether polygamy should be "legal." You would have to do a more serious study of comparative outcomes between monogamous marriages and polygamous ones before coming to these conclusions -- the relative rates of divorce, of abuse, etc. And even then this would not be a LEGALLY sufficient justification for criminalizing it.

My take on this? The state has no business interfering with the voluntary associations of its citizens which do not harm others. With the increasing prevalence of live-in, but non-married couples, even the marriage distinction is starting to become less important than it once was. A policy of benign neglect toward polygamous relationships would appear to be a good compromise.

Rich Rostrom said...

Revenant wrote: "There are several million more single adult women than there are single adult men, here in the United States."

Yeah. 7.4 million widows, divorcees, and spinsters over the age of 65.

There are surpluses of single males in every age bracket up to 44, totalling about 3.5M. There are 10.2M excess
single women 45 and up.

Rich Rostrom said...

Revenant wrote: "There are several million more single adult women than there are single adult men, here in the United States."

Yeah. 7.4 million widows, divorcees, and spinsters over the age of 65.

There are surpluses of single males in every age bracket up to 44, totalling about 3.5M. There are 10.2M excess
single women 45 and up.

Vik Rubenfeld said...

>Should we limit freedom to do one
>thing because it often leads to
>something else?

Heck yes, when the "something else" is the list of horrors you quote as cited by Wittte:

> Not just because polygamy is unbiblical,
> unusual, unsafe, or unsavory. But also
> because polygamy routinizes patriarchy,
> jeopardizes consent, fractures fidelity,
> divides loyalty, dilutes devotion,
> fosters inequity, promotes rivalry,
> foments lust, condones adultery,
> confuses children, and more. Not in
> every case, to be sure, but in enough
> cases to make the practice of polygamy
> too risky to condone.

The alternative is to promote and encourage the horrors.

The Pharisee said...

Kody Brown won his case:

http://hughmcbryde.blogspot.com/2013/12/judge-decriminalizes-plural-marriage-in.html