Should Polygamy Be Illegal?

Why should the government have the right to interfere with consenting adults who chose to live this lifestyle?

This is a question I’ve been pondering lately, given my stance that the government needs to stay out of any relationship between (among?) consenting adults.

I find the Mormon practice troubling because of the extremely sexist overtones, and because I have seen/read reports that the practice goes hand-in-hand with spousal abuse and even pedophilia. However, I think that the government should address these issues through narrowly targeted laws (which are already in place), rather than outlawing polygamy because of some correlation to crime.

To extend the question - is there any good reason to outlaw incest? I’ve read some articles that claim there is no significant genetic threat (sorry, I don’t have the book with me - I’ll see if I can find the articles when I get home), and anyway, sex no longer necessarily leads to reproduction. Barring any consistent, reliable evidence of serious genetic problems, does the government have any business outlawing this practice? (BTW, let me make it clear that my personal reaction to the idea is “Eewwww!” but that doesn’t mean it should be illegal.)

It appears to me that the correlation between polygamy and spousal abuse and pedophilia may exist only in certain communities. As far as I have read, these problems are no more common in polygamous West Africa than they are in monogamous America. It appears to me that the Mormon “biblical lifestyle” is more conducive to abuse than ordinary polygamy, which I have absolutely no problem with. I also have no problem with one woman married to multiple husbands, especially in an age where paternity can be established genetically.

I agree with AerySun’s analysis of incest as well. The government has no right interfering with the recreational sex of individuals. However, I would not necessarily recommend incest. Relationship issues with members of the opposite sex might crop up later in life, and sex between siblings might utterly ruin good relationships.

Then again, parents can cause both of the above problems. Maybe the government should outlaw them, too.


No. Niether should same sex marriage.


Does this strike anyone else as ludicrous?

Er, what part? The question? The content of the articles? The fact that I can’t give you a citation right now?

I think part of the legal monogomy thing has to do with the legal rights of spouses, which would get confusing if you could have more than one legal spouse.

I don’t much about polygamy – in what sense is it illegal? Will the government just not recognize any spouse beyond the first (which is OK with me), or do they actively prosecute people who living in polyamorous arrangements? I mean, it’s certainly legal to live with and sleep with more than one person. Hell, I can fill my house with nubile young women and the government…

Hmmm… Hold on, I need a moment here…

OK, all better. Now what was I saying?

I see no reason that polygamy should be illegal.

Incest is a trickier matter. As I understand it, the probability that any particualr incetuous union will produce a genetic abnormalty is only very slightly higher than that for a non-incestuous union. However, prolonged inbreeding can, and has in the past, reinforced undesirable recessive traits such as hemophelia. In general, inbreeding reults in a less robust, healthy and adaptable population. The smaller the genetic pool, the more uickly it will grow “stale”.

On the other hand, I do not believe that long-term genetic potential should be a factor in allowing the government to determine which human unions are acceptable. That slope leads quickly to miscegination laws.

To me, the troubling aspect of incest has to do with the normal sexual and social development of children. Unfortunately, this is hardly an area in which hard mathematical truths abound. I am more likely to be over-protective of children in suc a case, but frankly I see little reason why it should be illegal for two siblings to have a sexual relationship after they have both matured.

But the ick factor is pretty high.

No, polygamy should not be illegal. If a man is stupid enough to marry more than one woman, he deserves what he gets.

In re: Incest. Maeglin, if I remember the sociology class I took a long time ago, there are some valid reasons for condemning incest that have nothing to do with genetics.


Do you mean troubling to you personally? Or do you feel the government should interfere (through narrowly targeted laws) with regard to practices of consenting adults that have “extremely sexist overtones”?


I was wondering about this before starting the thread. But I’m quite sure that I’ve read (concerning the history of the Mormon Church) that it is illegal.

Spiritus Mundi

I think it’s unlikely that incest would become widespread even if it were legal. As such, it doesn’t seem likely to have the effect that you describe. The historical examples typically involve royal families, who had reasons to practice this for many generations.

what scares me about the whole incest thing is the fact that maybe both partners are not always at the same level of consentment.
I think i’m talking about the whole imagery here.Like “ho my big brother is the best man in the world etc…”.
And if the men (or women) in your family are your “role model” it might be easy to cross the line and think this is a more of a physical kinda love.
I am not sure I’ve been clear…

Well, FWIW, incest does increase the likelihood of genetic anomalies that will kill a baby outright (along with the aforementioned recessive traits being expressed), but when you consider the vast range of things that can go wrong with a child, it’s really not all that large a factor. Of course, there’s probably other reasons, but beats me.

As for polygamy, the government does in fact prosecute people who practice it, though I think there is less of an effort to discover such offenders as there is for, say, drug distribution. All the same, every once in a while you see something in the paper about somebody being charged with it…

I believe that polygamy is illegal in all 50 states. Have seen cases where some one was prosecuted for it (generally the deal is that a person, doesn’t bother divorcing the first spouse goes on to marry #2, 3 etc. without telling them). This can get very sticky in terms of wills, insurance etc. Certain legal rights of inheritance and surviorship exist with the spousal relationship (some of the reasons gays want to be able to legally marry).

No, it should not. The US government currently enforces state religion and religious discrimination in the form of marriage laws, quite unconstitutionally. IMO, naturellement.
Giraffe & Izzy - The US government does not recognize any marriage after the first. Bigamy (marrying again) is a crime; I believe it is federal, but I’d have to check.

If you move here from a country that recognizes plural marriage, you have to pick one person to count as ‘spouse’. You can claim the rest as dependents if you support them, but they can NOT be spouses.

In my state, living as if you are married (by the legal code, sharing habitation & bills, etc. IIRC) with someone other than your legal spouse is a prosecutable crime. The entertaining part is that a neighbor’s statement is sufficient as both the filing complaint and proof of conduct. :rolleyes: Fornication and adultery are illegal too.

In other words, altho the police aren’t running around looking for polyamorists to prosecute, it most certainly IS ILLEGAL to live and sleep with more than one person.
In addition, you suffer all of the same problems that have prompted the movement to legalize gay marriage. No employer benefits, no tax benefits, no legal protections, no inheritance protection, no next-of-kin rights, etc. etc. etc. Almost 1500 benefits of marriage, as counted by the Vermont Supreme Court.

Do you have ANY idea how fast DHS will take children if they realize that there are multiple parents in the household?
Um, excuse guys, I’m sure you don’t MEAN to be offensive, but why is incest immediately brought up every single time this subject comes up? Polyamorists appreciate this comparison just about as much as gays appreciate being constantly compared to thieves and pedophiles. (Oh yeah, and we ain’t pedophiles, either, thanks.)

I don’t believe that polygamy or polyandry should be illegal. It would certainly make all sorts of legal complexities, however, were it allowed, and would make divorce laws exponentially more intricate. :slight_smile:

As for incest, I think that if both participants are consenting adults, there’s no problem. (Other than, of course, the weird looks they’d get if anyone found out.) Incest between a parent and a non-adult child is just plain wrong, for the obvious reason that one has so much power over the other. Incest between two non-adult children is, I think, a murkier matter.

Spiritus Mundi

I think it’s unlikely that incest would become widespread even if it were legal. As such, it doesn’t seem likely to have the effect that you describe. The historical examples typically involve royal families, who had reasons to practice this for many generations. **

The reason that incest is “illegal” or at least gross is because of the incest taboo (technical anthropological phrase, Dr. Martin would be so proud I stayed awake). It has always been an unwritten thing. This actually says a lot about humans; we deduced a long long time ago that it is very bad to sleep with close family members because we paid attention to the results of such icky unions.

Izzy, I meant I find it personally troubling, but I believe the government should mind its own business.

Also, to clarify, my mention of abuse and incest refers to a particular religious group or groups that practice polygamy as part of an overall religious lifestyle that includes the subjugation of women, and possibly the “marrying” of barely pubescent girls to much older men.

IMHO, multiple marriage is purely the business of the participants, as long as no other laws are broken. Hey, as a lawyer with a workaholic husband, I have said that my husband and I need a “wife” to take care of the house for us - I might really do it, if I weren’t a jealous person :wink:

I brought up the separate issue of incest between adults because it was part of my pondering. Since I believe gay marriage should be allowed on the basis that adults can do what they want between themselves, I came to the conclusion that I must also support the legality of other practices that are more repugnant to me. To me, that is the basis of freedom - your support of others’ freedom doesn’t end where your “ick factor” begins.

Why should such an entity as “legal marriage” exist in the first place? Why should the state stick its nose into marital affairs at all?

Why do you assume incest is being discussed in the same context that pedophilia is usually discussed? It’s pretty clear (at least to me) that, on a moral basis, pedophilia involves at least one party who is considered socially and legally incapable of offering consent. Incest, on the other hand, while it may carry implicit overtones of child molestation, can occur between consenting adult relatives.

I see nothing inherently immoral about polygamy, polyandry, or incest between consenting adult partners, and I don’t think they should be illegal.

I agree that polygamy should not be illegal, as long as all members know about all the other members. However, the cases mentioned above, where someone marries wife #2 without telling her about wife #1, are wrong and should be illegal. Marriage under the law is a legal contract, and to get someone to enter into a contract with you under false pretenses (i.e. they might assume that they’ll get your stuff when you die) is fraud.