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Marriage Equality


New York state recently passed a marriage equality bill giving way for same-sex couples to legally tie the knot.  So, how could this affect the tens of thousands practicing polygamy which is currently illegal?  Plural marriage has been coming out of the proverbial closet with recent news headlines, television shows and reality programming putting it in the mainstream sphere of discussion.  There are compelling arguments on both sides; however, a closer examination suggests that some of those arguments aren’t mutually exclusive to this discussion.

Many opponents to plural marriage point to the exploitation of women and children as just cause to continue outlawing the practice.  High profile cases such as the Warren Jeffs case have made sensational headlines claiming arranged under-aged marriages and various other abuses perpetrated on young girls.  Clearly, any proven abuses should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, especially in cases where children are involved.  These sensational headlines fail to discuss the fact that abuses against women and children are not mutually exclusive to polygamy.  There are plenty of documented cases of monogamous relationships in which children and women are abused.  There are also many documented cases of polygamous spouses and children who live productive, happy and healthy lives in their plural families.  Why then are prosecutors focusing on the abuses occurring within some plural relationships as inherently part of the lifestyle?  Regardless of the lifestyle, the focus should be on the abuses perpetrated.  Let’s be clear, not all polygamists commit these acts – just like not all teenagers who dress in black trench coats and listen to Marilyn Manson are going to plot to shoot their classmates.

There are also arguments that suggest that polygamy is amoral and that legislation is required to provide a social and moral compass to citizens.  Again, I question that line of thinking.  Sure, it may be immoral from a certain religious standpoint – however, there are plenty of religions that believe plural marriage is mandated by a higher authority.  Since I live in a society that was founded on Christian values I get why so many may find the idea of plural marriage a bit distasteful – but let’s also remember that we live in a secular society in which our religious ideology is supposed to be separated from the law.  And it would serve many Christians well to recall that there are numerous instances in the Bible in which various characters take more than one wife.  So, again I think this argument falls flat.  Let’s leave religion out of it – and that includes the arguments from some Fundamental Mormons that it falls under the realm of religious freedom.  Arguments that are founded on religious ideology invariably lead to a slippery slope.

Let’s look at this from a logical standpoint.  What’s inherently wrong with polygamy?  If two or more consenting adults want to commit a lifetime to one another – why not?  How can more love be a bad thing – especially where children are concerned?  I agree that the children of plural marriages aren’t given a choice in the matter, but the same is true of children who are born into a broken marriage, a single-parent home, a fundamental religious home, an impoverished home, etc.  We can’t start legislating who gets to have a family based on these ideas.  For all the abuses uncovered in these marginalized or unconventional families there are many more success stories.

Personally I think we are doing the spouses and children of plural marriages a huge disservice by not making it legal.  The non-legal spouses and children of these marriages have no recourse in cases of separation, death of one of their spouses or reporting abuse to the authorities.  I suggest the last point because I’m willing to bet that a spouse of an abusive polygamous relationship may be unwilling to go to the authorities for fear of being prosecuted themselves, simply because of their lifestyle.

There’s something clearly wrong when it’s illegal for more than two consenting adults to enter into a relationship committed to family,  love and honour – yet, a spouse of a monogamous relationship can legally step outside their commitment without fear of prosecution.  Sure, some hefty divorce bills might follow, but the cheating monogamous spouse still is afforded rights, such as still having access to their children.  The same isn’t true for plural families who face the prospect of being separated from their spouses and children or being imprisoned simply because their love extended beyond the traditional notion of family.

I think it’s time that polygamy in the Western world was brought out of hiding.  It’s the only way that society will be able to really understand it and provide adequate protections for those who choose to practice it.  By keeping it hidden, society is driving it further underground, where those who prey on the unprotected and marginalized will exploit the lifestyle for their own gain.  Let’s start having an intelligent and informed dialogue about the subject.  One that doesn’t revolve around religious ideology and sensationalized media headlines.

I believe that the foundation for any intimate relationship is based on love, mutual respect and trust.  These should be the measurements of a marriage – regardless of how many spouses you have.

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