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May 7, 2008

Help Reduce Child Abuse: Legalize Polygamy Now!

by tarran

A great deal of attention is focused on the recent raids on the FLDS compound in Texas. The behavior of the state has rightly been condemned, most effectively by Les Jones who wrote:

Imagine that some parents in a school district were accused of child abuse. Now imagine that the authorities took every child from the elementary, junior high, and high school away from their parents and put them in foster care. That’s a rough analogy of what’s happening in Texas.

There is no question that that the people in charge of the FDLS abuse their members. The church leaders will evict dissidents, break up families, particualrly by ordering women to leave their husbands.

Why do church members allow the abuse to happen?

The interesting question in this matter is why do the members of the church tolerate the mistreatment? Why do fathers who presumably love their daughters permit them to be given to men as trophies? Why do mothers who love their sons permit them to be sent to slave away in coal mines at a young age? The members of the FLDS are human beings, with all the emotional attachment to their children that is inherent in humanity. Why are people making these horrible choices?

When people are stay in a hostile environment, it is generally for one of three reasons:

1) They are too lazy to leave/change.

2) They are afraid to leave, because leaving would be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

3) They are afraid to leave, because they will be forced to abandon something so precious that leaving is more unbearable than staying.

The Sources of Fear:

It is readily apparent that people are afraid to leave for both sets of reasons:

1) Children who leave find themselves cut off from family. Poorly educated, they lack the ability to support themselves and live a mean, impoverished lifestyle. They are literally ‘foreigners in their own country’.

2) The church owns most of the property. Thus a person who wishes to leave usually owns only the clothes on their back and little more. People are not paid; rather their salaries are held in common in a bank owned by the church leaders. They are not permitted to bank elsewhere or to withdraw their money without permission. Church leaders have been known to arbitrarily reduce the balances credited to dissidents.

3) The members of the church are afraid of the outside world. They fear that they face persecution by outsiders. they are terrified of law enforcement.

Predator Pressure and Feudalism:

But why is the church so powerful? Why can it make such demands of its members? The sad fact is, the people who are members of the church have little choice; their fears of persecution are well justified – Mormons have faced persecution throughout their history. Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob who was outraged by his advocacy of polygamy. In the mid 19th century, there were anti-Mormon pogroms. The Federal Government insisted that the Mormon leaders repudiate polygamy before permitting Utah to become a state. The raids in the 1950′s solidified hatred and distrust of the outside world. The fear of persecution exists because polygamists are persecuted in the U.S.

Furthermore, because of the persecution, devout church members faced a difficulty in finding business partners and naturally banded together and did business largely with other church members. This lack of trade allowed church leaders to gradually take over the community’s wealth. In effect the fear of persecution recreated feudalism. The church leaders became the noblemen, and the common church members became the peasants.

As the church gained a totalitarian control of their members’ economic activities, the church was able to isolate their members from being able to function in outside society. The church could exert a totalitarian control of how the young are educated. It could make or ruin men.

Furthermore, the members of the church are denied access to the court system; after all if a man is vulnerable to prison-time for bigamy he is hardly likely to sue the church for ripping him off.

Ending the Dark Ages

By criminalizing their deepest religious beliefs, the state in effect empowers church leaders to abuse the members of the church at will. If the malignant power or the church elders were an arch, the laws banning polygamy would be its keystone. Legalizing polygamy would doom the feudal system.

Parents who felt that telling a church elder to go to hell would not leave them poor would be far less likely to permit their children to be sexually abused or kicked out of their community. Church elders who were aware that their flock could leave at any time would have a great deal of incentive to treat their followers kindly rather than abusively.

There is nothing inherently evil in polygamy itself. Most people would not choose to be part of a polygamous marriage. Some though, for a variety of reasons, do. Absent the violence and fear that is caused by prohibition, there is no reason why their experiences should not match that of Janet Averett who writes:

I was raised in a polygamous home. My dad had two wives, and each wife had her own house and kids. As kids we wore blue jeans, listened to rock ‘n’ roll music and watched TV. We went to public school and many attended college. We fell in love and married whoever we wanted, at or above the legal age.

We now work and live all over the country. I am no longer in a polygamous group, and neither are most of my brothers and sisters.

The laws against polygamy are holdovers from a dark ages where homosexuality and interracial marriages were similarly outlawed. The proponents of outlawing homosexuality and interracial marriage could point to many problems associated with those practice when they were outlawed. However, upon close inspection, all of the violence, degradation, social harms, and psychological problems associated with these former illegal activities were in fact caused by their prohibition. The same is true of polygamy.

Legalization would go a long way to ending the culture of subjugation and child abuse that is alleged to exist within the FDLS community.

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13 Comments

  1. Unfortunately you miss a fundamental source of fear: the fear that they will go to hell for eternity if they say no to the bishop. Because of this even if all persecution from the outside ceased immediately institutionalized abuse would still continue.

    Also, just legalizing polygamy is unlikely to stop persecution by itself. The historical persecution of polygamists goes far deeper than just bigamy laws. Even non-polygamist mainstream Mormons have found significant anti-Mormon sentiments from others, and add in isolation and “funny clothes” and the like and some people just seem to think that’s some sort of invitation to bully, oppress and condemn.

    I do think legalizing polygamy would seriously help by forcing law enforcement and helping the media differentiate between illegal (but not too harmful) polygamy that isn’t really that distinguishable from adultery, having lots of baby mamas or the various other more socially acceptable familial forms and illegal (and quite harmful) abuse of men, women and children.

    Comment by V.S. — May 7, 2008 @ 11:43 pm
  2. Mother Nature supports monogamy, not polygamy. Polygamy is anti-social. There are not even two women for every one man. Therefore, if polygamy were legalized, who would collect all the extra “wives”? (In reality, concubines.) Rich men would collect concubines for their harems, but poor men would have to do without a sexual partner with whom to raise a family. That would make for social unrest. And concubines and harems are part and parcel of backward Third-World countries where women are 2nd-class citizens. They do not belong in any First-World country that claims men and women are equal.

    Comment by Jancis Andrews — May 8, 2008 @ 12:06 pm
  3. Jancis, I give you an assignment;
    write 100 times: “That which is not forbidden is not compulsory.”
    If this is confusing, ask yourself whether adultery should be legal or illegal.

    Oh and having one alpha males who mates with all the females in his band and prevents other males from mating with them shows up repeatedly in the great apes, including our species. From an evolutionary standpoint it is the natural, or primitive condition of human societies. That’s not to say I advocate for people to set up their families that way – most women do not want to live in a polygynous group. Nor do most men want to live in a polyandrous family. Thus the fraction of polygamous families would be quite small if it were legalized and not stigmatized.

    Edited to fix numerous spelling errors :(

    Comment by tarran — May 8, 2008 @ 12:11 pm
  4. minor correction: “That which is not forbidden is not necessarily compulsory.”

    Comment by Jeff Molby — May 8, 2008 @ 12:22 pm
  5. One other thought: I find it interesting that when one is talking about polygamy, most people assume that one is really talking about polygyny: one man paired with multiple women.

    We could just as easily be talking about polyandry which is one woman paired with many men, which is rare but not unheard of.

    It is kind of strange how everyone makes a simmilar assumption about something that Jancis claims is not a part of human nature.

    Comment by tarran — May 8, 2008 @ 1:41 pm
  6. Very interesting article. I especially liked the quote given from the woman who grew up in a polygamous family. If only more people would hear those kinds of stories instead of the ones where woman and children are being abused!

    As for what Jancis said about men out numbering women, statistically women out number men world wide. Women are about 51% of the world’s population, men are 49%. In polygynous societies less than 5% of married men have multiple wives, and even then they usually only have two. Large harems are not very common.

    As for being anti-social, what’s wrong with two or more women falling in love with a man who is able to provide for his family? Often that is the case with Christian polygyny (not what the FLDS practice). It is not to gain status or to become more holy. It’s about adults being in love.

    Again, good article. I enjoyed reading it!

    Comment by WSG — May 8, 2008 @ 11:44 pm
  7. Jancis, “Mother Nature” overwhelmingly supports polygyny over monogamy. More than 90% of all human cultures have been polygamous throughout history, and of the 1200 or so documented in modern times, more than 80% are polygamous.

    As for equality, is it EQUAL to tell adult women that they cannot have the one man they choose? What about their rights?

    Anyway, the fact is that men and women aren’t equal–they’re different. Equal means the same. Physically and mentally, men and women are very different. Value-wise, men and women are equal, of course, but to say that polygamy makes them unequal when it is by CHOICE, is to ignore the fundamental differences between the genders in spite of science and Biblical evidence to the contrary.

    Comment by John_for_Christ — May 8, 2008 @ 11:52 pm
  8. I am glad that many of you can look so dispassionately upon polygamy, but something is missing in your legalistic arguments:

    the suffering of the women and children

    I am from a fifth generation mormon pioneer family. The first polygamist in my family joined the mormon church in 1835.

    I heard as a child many personal stories from
    grandparents of how they suffered and their
    mothers suffered in polygamy.

    I have read many pioneer journals and histories.
    There is no way that polygamy or polygny or polyandry or plural marriage or multiple wives should be legalized or decriminalized.

    It would be bad social and bad political policy.
    SLAVERY and POLYGAMY (POLYGNY,POLYANDRY,ETC.) ARE FOREVER LINKED.

    There is no equality in SLAVERY/POLYGAMY/BIGAMY.

    Comment by ann mere — May 10, 2008 @ 11:29 am
  9. ann – with respect, the problem is not with polygamy itself, but with a religious belief that in effect treats women as slaves of their fathers or husbands. By making women’s salvation dependent on their husband’s salvation and prohibiting divorce, the Mormon church effectively made women chattel of men.

    Even if the Mormon church had been monogamous, you would still have the tales of misery.

    If a person chooses to be in a relationship that isn’t monogamous, it is none of our business. I have no business stopping my neighbor from marrying anyone for any reason.

    If a man tries to compel a woman to marry him by force, then it is a crime regardless of how many (or how few) wives he already has. Prosecute that crime, rather than outlawing all sorts of victimless behavior in hopes that somehow among all the innocent people who are harmed a few criminals will be thwarted.

    Comment by tarran — May 10, 2008 @ 6:07 pm
  10. I agree with what Tarran says. Polygamy is not the root of the problem of woman and children being abused. Woman and children have been, are being, and, unfortunately, will be abused with or without polygamy.

    I am a woman who is not opposed to polygyny, but will not stand for abuse. I will not allow my husband to harm either myself or our children, but I wouldn’t mind if he had a second wife. The key here is that it’s not for gain on a religious level for us. It is simply a choice of a different life style than most others. He is not abusive, I am not forced to stay home, I don’t have to wear funny clothes or go to church everyday. It’s not about our religion (we’re not Mormon). When you turn that, or anything really, into a symbol of religious status, thats when you end up with problems.

    Marriage should be between the people who are entering into that union and no one else. It should be for reasons of love, not force or gain.

    Comment by WSG — May 11, 2008 @ 10:00 pm
  11. As far as nature being supportive of monogamy but not polygyny, I offer the following:
    There would be enough women to go around because there’s enough men who find men attractive it leaves a surplus of women. I suspect this will increase hugely as we reach the end times.
    IF, and I say if for a reason, polygyny was legalized, women would be able to choose a good man who’s already married and avoid the ‘losers’ who just sit on their butts. The only thing women would find oppressive is they wouldn’t be able to rule the roost nearly as easily as in a monogamy only society. But if they love their man, are treated well as they should be, it’s not oppressive at all. Our government is way more oppressive than marriage…. Then again, considering the state of monogamy, maybe that is more oppressive….
    Plenty of men stay single for whatever reason, if we can only have monogamy, that leaves many women with poor options. Statistically more women wish to marry than men, seems to be built into them. So actually this creates a situation that is anti-social because women fight amongst themselves for rights to the man they control. Ever see a cat-fight between women competing for a man? It’s just not pretty, and is certainly not an indication of an evolving society.

    So, this makes me wonder which society is more progressive, one that allows multiple wives where a woman isn’t abandoned for another, or one that recognises a responsible man can love more than only one wife?

    Comment by KGM — May 16, 2008 @ 3:11 am
  12. KGM

    What about the women who don’t want a man? This morning my wife was commenting that men tend to be slovenly pigs- that pigs were in fact preferable as they didn’t put on pretentious airs (Someone forgot to clean up after capping a marathon coding session with a late night snack). ;)

    I also notice that you talked about legalizing polygyny but not polyandry… Out of curiosity, why?

    Comment by tarran — May 16, 2008 @ 5:26 am
  13. After having just read Carolyn Jessop’s book “Escape” about her experiences in FLDS, I understand why she’s lobbying for decriminalization. Under those circumstances, she’d have had more access to proper law enforcement and our criminal justice system – and hence would not have had the difficulty of extricating herself and her 8 children without help from any authorities. The criminalization of polygamy segregates them so from “polite” society that no law enforcement not affiliated with FLDS will get involved for fear of violating their religious rights – and FLDS affiliated law enforcement turns a blind eye.

    Comment by kay — May 19, 2008 @ 6:32 am

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