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Debate: Polygamy

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Should marriage to more than one person be legal?

Background and context

Polygamy is the state or practice of having two or more mates at the same time, this includes both Polygyny (the union of one man with more than one woman - literally, ‘many females’) and Polyandry (the union of one woman with more than one man: literally, ‘many males’). Polygamy is a social phenomenon that has existed for thousands of years in cultures around the world. Polygamy is believed by some to be condoned in the original texts of many faiths - in the Bible from Lamech’s marriage to Adah and Zillah in Genesis (4:23), to Joseph’s four wives (Gen 29-30). In Judaism, most of the prophets - God’s messengers - were polygamous. Solomon is said to have had 700 wives.
In America, substantial controversy surrounds Mormon fundamentalist forms of polygamy. In the 1840’s, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, approved the practice of polygamy. In 1896, Utah's leaders were forced to abandon polygamy in order to achieve statehood. Polygamy is a felony in the state – albeit not often prosecuted. In 1953, the American public reacted adversely to a ‘polygamy raid’ in Utah, causing a reduction in the enforcement of polygamy laws in Utah and elsewhere in the United States in subsequent decades. For more than a century, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints has expelled those practising polygamy. Polygamy has been maintained, however, by break-away Latter Day Saints Churches such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (FLDS). This church was led by Warren Jeffs before his high-profile arrest in 2007. In 2008, starting on April 4, Texas State officials "raided" a FLDS community in Elderado, Texas, and took 416 children there into temporary legal custody in an effort to protect them from allegedly abusive conditions. This has enlivened the polygamy debate in the United States and internationally. Many polygamists and non-polygamists strongly advocate the practice. And, with an HBO show called "Big Love" that features a more-or-less happy polygamous family, many are taking a fresh look at the arguments. The Mormon church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) does not practice, support, or encourage polygamy anymore.

See more background resources here: Wikipedia: Polygamy, Wikipedia: Mormon Fundamentalism, Warren Jeffs (leader of FLDS Church and community that practiced polygamy)

Contents

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Should marriage to more than one person be legal?

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Yes

  1. Anti-polygamy laws do more harm than good.
    1. Raids on polygamists are traumatizing to these communities
    2. Polygamy laws deter crime-reporting by those within these communities
  2. Anti-polygamy laws do not work.
    1. It is impossible to appropriately enforce anti-polygamy laws Score: +6
    2. Legalizing polygamy will save millions of dollars in welfare fraud
  3. Anti-polygamy laws are wrong.
    1. Consenting adults should be free to engage in polygamy
    2. If polygamy is bad for individuals, let them figure it out on their own
    3. In tolerant societies why single out and criminalize polygamy?
    4. Criminalizing polygamy applies a moral double standard
    5. Polygamy is not bad.
  4. If gay marriage is being legalized, so too should polygamy.
    1. Criminalizing polygamy unfairly alienates immigrant polygamists
  5. Anti-polygamy laws are not needed.
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No

  1. Polygamy harms society.
    1. Polygamy harms women.
      1. Polygamy causes jealousy and competition between wives.
      2. Polygamy sacrifices love between mates to other considerations.
      3. Compound Polygamous women are being brain-washed and don't have a choice.
      4. Polygamous marriages are typically hierarchical and undemocratic.
      5. Polygamy will always be sexist with patriarchal polygyny predominating.
      6. Polygamy ordains men to dominate and abuse wives.
      7. Polygamy wrongly promotes patriarchal principles in society.
    2. Polygamy harms children.
      1. Polygamous fathers can't give their children adequate attention.
    3. Polygamy harms families.
      1. Polygamous family dynamics are complicated and unstable.
    4. Polygamy harms men.
      1. Polygamy leaves some men with no women to marry. Governments should avoid actions that increase the amount of people who cannot get married.
      2. Polygamy allows men to avoid controlling their sexual impulses.
      3. Polygamous men are strained in managing household complexities.
  2. Society should outlaw activities that it feels are very harmful.
  3. Legally recognizing polygamy would result in a lot of legal problems.
    1. Polygamous divorce is a legal nightmare in dividing children and property
    2. Legalized polygamy opens a slippery slope to legalizing polyamory.
  4. Compound polygamy should be outlawed.
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Marriage/family: Does polygamy conform with principles of marriage/family?

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Yes

  • Polygamy is O.K. as long as multi-partner relations of all kinds are also allowed. These could include women marrying multiple husbands, or gay, lesbian, and even bisexual partners. This openness to all kinds of multi-partner relations would combat any concerns that polygamy is merely patriarchal (with the man at the top). If all varieties are possible, it is impossible to argue that the law is biased toward patriarchy in polygamy.
  • Polygamy can't undermine marriage any more than it is undermining itself The institution of marriage is already broken, with divorce rates as high as 50% in many countries. Therefore, what exactly are people trying to protect against polygamy? The "institution of marriage"? What institution? It doesn't seem that there is much to protect, so polygamy shouldn't be held up this account.
  • Polygamy is not about sex, but about strong and stable families.
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No

  • Polygamy undermines the traditional institution of marriage. Polygamy undermines the traditional institution of marriage, trivializing the union of two people.
  • Polygamous men cannot reciprocate equally the love they receive from their wives. Carrying for a wife is about more than supplying her with material needs, something polygamist husbands are frequently capable of doing for their many wives. It is also about more than treating all wives equitably and even "loving" them equitably. It is, rather, about providing a wife with reciprocal attention, love, sexual attention, and feelings of individual value and meaning. This is reflected in the notion of the yin and the yang; parity and complementarity between two partners. A man with even just two wives is incapable of reciprocating equally the love and care he may receive from each of them. He will fall short to some degree with each of wives and violate the notion of reciprocity in marriage.
  • Polygamy leaves some men with no women to marry; socially destabilizing With an essentially 1:1 male to female ration in the world, a man that accumulates three wives can be seen as depriving two other men of wives. In this zero-sum reality, polygamy is unsustainable, and results in many social frictions as men compete intensely for the "scarce" wives and as many of them fail to secure them.
  • Polygamy does nothing to reduce the impulse toward adultery outside of the household. Adultery is based on a desire for the ‘other’, for something outside the known, outside the home. Polygamy does nothing to combat this; adultery still occurs in polygamous societies. Indeed, polygamy encourages adultery as it dilutes the idea of fidelity from being loyalty to one person, substituting the legitimacy of intercourse with many.


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Male interests: Does polygamy meet or undermine male interests?

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Yes

  • Men have an inherent desire to have many wives and "multiply". Men have an inherent desire to mate very frequently. But, it is not possible with a single wife to have multiple children in rapid succession (or as frequently as a man wishes to have sex and thus procreate). Clearly, men have a desire to have sex and procreate more frequently than every nine months, the period of time that a man would have to wait if in a monogamous marriage. Thus, the only way for a man to satisfy the inherent desire to procreate with a high frequency is if he marries multiple wives, whereby he can satisfy his desire to have and and procreate in rapid succession.



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No

  • Polygamy allows men to avoid controlling their sexual impulses Men should be able to control their sexual impulses with reason and control. This is very important to avoiding an obsession with sexuality and a distraction from other important elements of life. Philosophers throughout history have stressed the hazards of uncontrolled sexual impulses. Yet, polygamy allows men to let their sexual impulses loose without control and reason guiding the impulse to have sex and procreate. This damages discipline among men, allows their sexual impulses to become a controlling obsession and distraction, and allows sex, procreation, and child-rearing to become the dominant factor in a man's life. This is unbalanced and unhealthy.
  • Polygamy leaves some men with no women to marry; socially destabilizing Polygamy is unsustainable, or at least inequitable in this way. With many women marrying a single man, many men will be left without wives. Certainly, this would be depressing and even disastrous for these men. The injunction against premarital sex means, for men, no sex, ever in your life. In other societies, this would not present such a drastic problem, but wide scale polygamy would at a minimum, result in severe depression for a large segment of the male populace. And make no mistake, it would eventually become common.
  • With a lower availability of women, polygamy creates bitter competitions between men When a few men win all the wives in a community, many men are left without wives and the opportunity to live fulfilling lives with a lover, sex, and children. Realizing the costs of failing to secure wives, men will compete viciously for a scarce supply of wives. This competition can prove nasty, violent, back-stabbing, and socially damaging.


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Female interests: Does polygamy benefit the women that engage in it?

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Yes

I imagine that across America there are groups of young women preparing to launch careers. They sit around tables, talking about the ideal lifestyle to them in their aspirations for work, motherhood, and personal fulfillment. "A man might be nice," they might muse. "A man on our own terms," they might add. What they don't realize is that there is an alternative that would allow their dreams to come true. That alternative is polygamy, the ultimate feminist lifestyle."
  • Polygamous women can choose the right husband, even if he is married Women shouldn't have to pass-up a man that they fall in love with simply because they are married. Polygamy allows them to attempt to marry that man, thus satisfying their desire to be with the one they love. The same applies to men, who may fall in love with multiple women.
  • Polygamous wives have security of husbands not having to divorce to re-marry Women, being aware that men are promiscuous and desirous creatures, worry that their husbands will fall in love with other women, and divorce them to be with those other women. But, in a polygamous marriage, they don't actually have to worry, as their husbands can marry other women without divorcing them.
  • Polygamy is only appropriate when a man can provide for more than one wife "Polygamy means to protect, to take care of and maintain the wife. He told one social worker that polygamy was not illicit. But, Srila Prabhupad explained, only if the man is able to maintain his wives. Otherwise, if he cannot maintain another wife, then to want another wife is not actually for protection. Then all he wants is to have sex only. That is irresponsible and thus illicit sex. Even if a man cannot maintain one wife, but has sex with her and gets her pregnant, this is not good. Who will maintain the woman and child? Then it is irresponsible sex, and that is illicit. But, if the man can properly maintain additional wife, then it is not illicit, then it is proper religious marriage, protection, of the women.
  • Many women join polygamous families to climb the social ladder. It is OK for women to join polygamous marriages in order to climb the social ladder. This is often a good way for women to get out of poverty and achieve a greater respect and status in a community.


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No

  • Polygamy is abusive in depriving women of the right to consent (above).
  • Polygamy is abusive in depriving women of many individual rights (above).
[...]After marrying and sacrificing all for her husband, no woman should ever have to feel that she is still not good enough."
Oh, tremendous. We were all required to live in the same home, and there's just a lot of dominance that goes on about who has the right to rule. And, of course, the woman who has the most favor with her husband is going to rule over the other wives and their kids."
  • Polygamous men cannot reciprocate equally the love they receive from their wives. Carrying for a wife is about more than supplying her with material needs, something polygamist husbands are frequently capable of doing for their many wives. It is also about more than treating all wives equitably and even "loving" them equitably. It is, rather, about providing a wife with reciprocal attention, love, sexual attention, and feelings of individual value and meaning. This is reflected in the notion of the yin and the yang; parity and complementarity between two partners. A man with even just two wives is incapable of reciprocating equally the love and care he may receive from each of them. He will fall short to some degree with each of wives and violate the notion of reciprocity in marriage.
He also quoted the oldest wife, who was nostalgic for the days when she didn't have to share her husband with this army of younger wives."
  • Polygamy leaves women sexually unsatisfied and prone to adultery Women have strong sex drives; often equally as strong as men. It is difficult for them, therefore, to have to share their husband with other wives, and go many nights and sometimes weeks without sex. Such sex deprivation can create an impulse among polygamous women to seek sex elsewhere in affairs with other men.


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Children: Do children in polygamous families benefit or lose?

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Yes

  • Anti-polygamy police raids traumatize children. Raids by police of polygamous sects, and the division of children from their mothers is a highly traumatizing experience for children. If the interest of the state is to, in part, protect these children, their raids are doing more harm than good.
  • Legalization will allow polygamist to send children to mainstream education. The illegality of polygamy forces polygamists to live in the shadows of society. In these shadows, children are unable to obtain a proper education. If polygamy is legalized, polygamous families will come out of these shadows and will be able to send their kids to proper schools.
  • More parents can equate to higher income (more people capable of working) and less time for the child to be without an accompanying parent (due to working, etc).


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No

  • The children of older wives suffer when new wives enter a polygamous marriage New wives in polygamous families are often the subject of great attention from their husbands. This draws attention away from the children of other wives. And, as new children are born by the new wife, attention is taken away from the other children. Children are aware of this, and respond resentfully to new family members.
  • Polygamy subjects children to an environment of rivalry and insecurity Children realize that the attention they receive from their father is conditioned in large part on the presence of other siblings and the nature of their mother's relationship to the father. This builds resentment and competition between siblings, which is unhealthy and potentially dangerous.
  • Polygamy forces children into a life they often don't want. The children lose because they are being forced to work and doing things that they don't want to.Some children are being forced either to marry at 14 to their own relative like cousin or even brother. Some girls start having children before the age of 17. Many children are basically not living a normal childhood and are suffering.Some children even try to escape the polygamy world in order to start a new life.
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Gay marriage: How does gay marriage play into this debate?

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Yes

  • If gay marriage is being legalized, so too should polygamy.
  • The legalization of gay marriage provides proof to the assertion that marriage as an institution is based solely the on the desires of the people involved in that relationship rather than any social or religious ideals, resembling more a legal contract than a social construct. As such, there is no logical reason to preclude more than two people from entering into such an agreement.


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No


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Marriage benefits: Would giving polygamy marriage benefits create problems?

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Yes

  • Any problems with polygamous couples can be remedied. Any legal complications that could arise are either easily remedied or are already being dealt with in the courts for monogamous couples. The fact of the matter is that the existence of legally recognized polygamous families would not alter the landscape of the nation, its laws, or its people significantly. Many of the methods that would be used to provide remedies for things like child custody and divorce settlements already exist through the courts, and allowing polygamists to use them, while increasing the workload for civil servants, would cause no excessive burden or force the creation of any new entities to handle them.
  • Tax laws would not need to be modified, as polygamous families could still file normally (married filing singly, married filing jointly, etc). The only modification that would need to be made is for the inclusion of a few more lines for spouse or dependents and either putting together a sliding scale for household deduction, or capping the deduction at one spouse per household (putting a limit on the marriage tax benefits).
  • Legally recognized polygamy would also allow for spouses to receive succor from the courts or other agencies when they suffer at the hands of their spouse(s) without the fear of being punished for reporting a crime or abuse.
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No

  • Recognizing polygamy would cause a host of legal problems. Regardless of whether polyamorous relationships are appropriate or if it's appropriate for people to have polygamous marriage ceremonies in religious institutions the benefits provided by legally recognized marriage pose serious problems. A group of people, such as a street gang, corrupt public officials, corrupt businessmen, or even a terrorist cell could get legally married to avoid testifying against each other in court. Divorce proceedings would be complicated. Even if just one spouse was getting a divorce since marriage involves sharing property so the court would have to figure out who brought what into the marriage to protect the property of the spouses not getting divorced. Determining child custody would also be difficult. Which spouses are eligible for custody rights? All of them? Just the two that had the child? Any spouse that was in the marriage at the time the child came into their custody? Determining how to divide inheritance would also be complicated. Furthermore it has a greater abuse potential in immigration law than monogamy. A person could bring in thousands of people just by marrying them. This could pose a grave threat to national security, since a terrorist or spy could use this to get his associates into the country easier, and combined with spousal immunity obtaining evidence in order to stop them could prove difficult.


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Pro/con resources

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Yes

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No

Andrea Sachs. "Polygamy Survivor Carolyn Jessop". Time. Oct. 24, 2007


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Pro/con videos

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Yes

"Polygamy in Islam: A safety net for society" November 20, 2006[1]

"Freedom to Choose Polygamy". Posted on YouTube February 22, 2008.[2]

"Understanding Mormon Polygamy Pt 1-Early LDS Church Polygamy". Posted on Youtube January 15th, 2007.[3]

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No

"Part 4: Many Wives: Vows of Silence"[4]

Flora Jessop on Fox News. Posted April 18th, 2008.[5]

Underground Polygamy Railroad Fawn & Fawn Run!. September 24th, 2007.[6]

"The Underground Railroad Escaping Polygamy" Posted on YouTube September 27th, 2007.[7]

External links

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