The New York Times tells us that the Raid on Sect in Texas Rattles Other Polygamists:
“Polygamy is not the problem,” said Marlyne Hammon, who belongs to a group called The Work of Jesus Christ, which practices polygamy in a town just a few miles from here. Ms. Hammon, of Centennial Park, Ariz., said child brides had no place in her group’s faith or practice. “This is about human error, not polygamy,” she said.
Now, there’s a sense in which I agree with her. Part of me is adamant that whatever consenting adults do with their private lives is no concern of mine nor of the law’s. Part of me sees nothing wrong with plural marriage, as long as all involved know what they’re doing and are happy with it. It might not be my cup of tea, but, hey, neither are a lot of other things. À chacun, son goût.
But then I think about it a bit more, and I find a few things that bother me, a few “red flags” that tell me that, yes, polygamy is the problem:
- It always seems to be associated with a fringe religious sect. The religious aspect isn’t, in itself, the red flag. It’s that I just don’t see it at all outside of that context, and my experience tells me that any reasonable social behaviour also exists in a secular environment.
- Related to 1, but not entirely the same, it would bother me less if these groups were open, accepting, and tolerant. They’re not; they decry other lifestyles different from their own, condemning them as wrong. I’m always suspicious when people claim to know the ultimate answers.
- It’s always multiple wives to one husband, never the other way ’round, never polyandry. That aspect convinces me that there’s a part of this that’s aimed at — and is succeeding at — keeping women in subservient positions, and that the women aren’t entirely consenting. At the very least, their consent comes from lifelong training, rather than from their having arrived at it independently, and that’s troubling.
- Related to 3, I worry about what they’re teaching their children, how they’re bringing in another generation, and another, with the same exclusionary and oppressive ideas.
- Setting aside whether they should be imprisoned for it, there is the concept that we give certain legal rights and benefits to spouses. To the extent that some of those benefits cost the state money, it’s arguably unfair to expect us to confer those benefits on some arbitrary number of spouses, rather than just one. It’s possible that these groups, in their desire to eliminate outside interference, eschew those things, and so possibly this doesn’t matter in practice; I’m not sure.
I’m willing to be convinced that my red flags don’t really matter, and that polygamy’s really OK if it’s done “right”. But for now... yeah, polygamy is the problem.
“Raid on Sect in Texas Rattles Other Polygamists”? And well it should.