Top 10 Reasons The US Should Legalize Polygamy
What exactly is Polygamy? Most of us think that it is the practice of a man marrying more than one wife and it is true, that is a specific form of polygamy known as polygyny. Another form of polygamy is known as polyandry and is the practice of one woman having more than one husband. While polygyny is the more common form of polygamy, polyandry has been known to be practiced in some cultures.
Polygamy has always been considered illegal in the USA; indeed declaring the practice illegal was one of the requirements Utah had to fulfil in order to become a state of the USA. Prior to that time polygamy had been considered legal in the territory and continued to be practiced long after the ban by a break-away sect of the Church of Latter Day Saints. That ban has recently been challenged with a plural family bringing a case to Federal Court which resulted in a decision which ruled language banning ‘cohabitation’ was unconstitutional although the ruling did not prevent the state from refusing to issue multiple marriage licenses. As such polygamy is considered a crime and perpetrators can be prosecuted for bigamy.
With the recent changes legalizing gay marriage many people feel it is time to reconsider the legal position of what might be considered by some to be an unconventional relationship and afford those who engage in them the same protections under the law as those in a traditional marriage.
Here are our top 10 reasons for legalizing polygamy.
10. Polygamy Is a Valid Lifestyle Choice
When the laws of the United States that govern marriage were set down the USA was a very different country. The majority of the population were devout Christians whose religions taught them that marriage was the union of one man and one woman. Groups such as the Mormons of the time (the Church of Latter Day Saints now claims to oppose plural marriage) were persecuted for their unorthodox beliefs on marriage.
Times have changed. Divorce, once a social stigma, is now the norm, gay marriage, once unthinkable, has been legalized. American society is now far more understanding of what were once seen as unorthodox lifestyle choices. But not, it appears, for polygamy. Adam and Eve are ok as are Adam and Steve but it seems Adam, Eve and Lilith is a step too far. This makes no sense! If as a nation we have decided that we should validate the lifestyle and partner choices of almost every part of the community why should we continue to exclude those in plural relationships.
We are, effectively, choosing to criminalize loving families and open their children to the risk of stigma and scorn just because they choose to love more than one person. This is an appalling value judgement and does not fit with today’s tolerant society.
9. There Are More Women Than Men In the World
While more male babies are born than female, men are more likely to die than women either in accidents or from violent causes. Of course there are countries like China where the one child policy has resulted in the abortion or abandonment of female children but for the US, Russia and the majority of the western world there are typically, more women than men. In the US the 2002 census showed that men outnumbered women up to the age of 24 years. Above that age there are more women than men.
Given that the average American woman does not marry until 26 years of age (and many educated and career women will delay marriage to concentrate on their career) this imbalance means that there are more women than there are men to marry them. In the past gender imbalances caused by catastrophic events such as the First World War led many women to live a life of spinsterhood – there were simply not enough men to go round.
Hollywood rom-coms often concern the tale of a woman desperately seeking Mr. Right, hoping not to be left on the shelf. Sometimes Mr. Right is taken and she has to try to take him from his current girlfriend or wife, sometimes the heroine has to defend her man from the predatory mistress. These tales are popular because they ring true to life. Women fight over men because they are a limited resource. Permitting polygamy would ensure that this source of friction could be eliminated forever and prevent any woman who wants to marry from being left on the shelf.
8. Raising Children Is Easier
If you have ever had children you will know just how tiring they are. You love your children with all your heart but they can be demanding and selfish (they are children after all) and sometimes you just need a break. Polygamous relationships remove a lot of the stresses and strains that come with bringing a new child into the family. They are, if we are honest, a marital structure that is perfect for the support and empowerment of women.
Women bringing their babies home from hospital will know just how isolating a time it can be. Most men can take only a limited amount of paternity leave (if at all) and they can be left, sore from the birth, suffering in some cases from post-partum depression, left to get to grips with the demands of a new baby on top of all the usual chores which typically fall to the resident parent. Imagine the comfort of having a sister-wife to help you, someone you trust completely to give the baby the care and love of a mother, someone who can help and empathize and someone whose children are the siblings of your own. This very support can help to eliminate or reduce the stresses of the early days and the benefits don’t stop there. More adults in the house mean that the earnings hit of maternity leave is softened.
Having more than one other adult in a relationship also means that you are never stuck for a babysitter when you want a romantic night out with your significant other. You have additional support when dealing with a rebellious teen, doing homework, running around for the PTA. With all those benefits why would you not want to be on a polygamous relationship.
7. Polygamy Is Endorsed By Religions Worldwide
Seen through the American cultural lens it is easy to think of Polygamy as something that is distinctly unusual practiced only by a few fundamentalist Mormons and by some Muslims in other parts of the world.
Polygamy (or more specifically polygyny) nevertheless has a basis in all major religions. It is tolerated in Buddhism (where marriage is seen as a purely secular not religious affair). While modern mainstream Christianity rejects the notion of polygamy it has been sanctioned in the past, perhaps most famously by Martin Luther who felt it was not against any of the teachings of scripture. This built on a long standing tradition of polygamy in early Judaism where the Torah commanded a man to marry the widow of his brother and specifically made provision that in the event of a second marriage the position of the first wife should not suffer. Traditionally, high caste Hindu men were permitted to practice polygamy with lower caste men being allowed to take a second wife if the first was unable to bear a son. Polygamy has been illegal for Indian Hindus from 1955.
Of course with the exception of Mormon fundamentalists the most well-known modern day examples of Polygamy are found in the adherents of Islam. The Prophet Mohammed was in a monogamous relationship with his first wife but, upon her death was known to have had up to 10 wives (although not all simultaneously). Modern day Islam permits a man to marry up to four wives but only if he is able to support all of them. A wife is permitted, in the marriage negotiations, to require her husband to refrain from taking a further wife during their marriage.
6. Polygamy Is Legal In Other Countries
Of the approximately 200 countries in the world about 50 (25%) allow polygamy to be practiced. Most Muslim countries (Tunisia and Turkey are notable exceptions with Turkey going so far as to forbid polygamists from immigrating) permit polygamy and countries such as India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia permit polygamous marriages only for their Muslim citizens. Some countries, such as New Zealand, which otherwise outlaw polygamy, will recognize polygamous marriages if they were legal in the country in which they were contracted. In other countries, polygamy is positively celebrated such as, for example, in Swaziland where the king has 13 wives. Several Central Asian republics, notably Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have debated legalizing polygamy for civil unions. The debates failed in all national parliaments but it is still seen as an important issue for securing the status of many unofficial second, third and fourth wives.
It seems deeply unfair that American men and women are denied the rights that their fellow polyamorists are permitted to indulge in in countries as diverse as Nigeria and Indonesia. Men in the Maldives and Malaysia have more rights when it comes to recognizing the women that they love and showing their lifelong commitment to them than the modern American. Even countries like Tajikistan have acknowledged that there is an urgent need to debate the legality of polygamy. The USA should take a leaf out of their book!