Got One Wife? Have Another.
Christen M. Gray
There are many laws in this nation that not only seem silly and pointless, but even go against the basic ideals our country was built on. A very interesting, and to most of us, very odd subject hit the headlines of the New York Times last Saturday. It is a theme that has recurringly shocked the nation for over a hundred years. That theme is polygamy.
After being outlawed in 1862 by the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act, polygamy was officially given up by the Mormon Church, which had before then taught it as doctrine. The LDS Church issued a declaration in 1890 that it would suspend its activities. Though it is well-documented that many church-sanctioned plural marriages were performed after that date, the Mormon church has for the most part not practiced polygamy since 1904.
These days it is not the official Mormon church, but the self-styled “Mormon Fundamentalists.” who maintain the practice of polygamy. The modern-day polygamists the public is most familiar with include Tom Green, who spoke regularly on television with his pregnant “child-brides,” 13 to 15 year old girls. After a fire levelled his house, the large family now lives off welfare. This disgusted the nation, and has become the stereotype for polygyny.
However, this is not the ideal or even the norm. Many polygamous families live quite self-sufficiently. Indeed, for any proper Mormon Fundamentalist, self-sufficiency is an integral part of life and as important as any other religious principle. In addition, most plural wives are of a more mature age. Indeed, it should be the act of marrying a 13-year old that is a crime, and not polygyny.
Anti-polygamy activists claim that the use of welfare by these large polygamous families is inherent to the lifestyle. This is just not true. A polygamous family has a much better chance at maintaining a steady income since every adult in the house could, in theory, hold a job. Then, even if one were to become unemployed, there would still be money to take care of family necessities.
Also, often said of these plural wives is that they must be brainwashed to accept such conditions. One may accuse almost any religion of brainwashing to an extent, no matter what the practices are. But really, who hasn’t heard the tired housewife wishing she could hire a replacement for a day? What housewife doesn’t occasionally want to escape her husband and children? Besides, many women are attracted to married men. If a man has already married successfully, doesn’t that make another marriage to him less of a risk?
Feminists may cry that polygyny is sexist and should be outlawed on the basis that it demeans women. Proponents of the practice claim that polygyny frees women. Such an arrangement makes the choice by both partners to pursue a career less damaging to the family. Many very successful and pioneering women have been plural wives. Eliza Snow, plural wife of Joseph Smith and later Brigham Young, was heralded as an essayist, a poet, and intellectual, and President of the Women’s Relief Society organization. She traveled the world giving speeches and defending doctrine until she died peacefully at age eighty-three.
Samuel Chapman, a supporter of polygamy, explained that given the current surplus of women in the population, the competition that arises for men cheapens women. However, with polygamy, women no longer have to settle for what’s left over, and men must strive to show their best both before and after marrying. Thus, the value of women goes up.
This is not to say I am personally a supporter of polygamy, as I would not do it myself. So why not? Personal beliefs, views, distastes, and culture. However, I don’t see why others can not practice polygamy if that is what they want.
The real question is not whether polygamy is morally right or wrong, but whether it should be illegal. We are in fact in the minority among the nations in so avidly condemning a practice that is as old as recorded history. Should all of society have to live up to the moral standards of current popular Judeo-Christian philosophy?
As an interesting side-note, if a Muslim man moved here from Saudi Arabia with his harem, would he be in immediate violation of the law? Would he be prosecuted to the full extent, 5 years in prison per wife? Or is he only in violation if he performs a religious marriage ceremony to add a new wife in the United States?
The point is, polygamy is a part of cultures all over the world. When will our government stop being so damn Puritan and actually respect the rights outlined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights?