So why, exactly, is polygamy illegal?

Prompted by this story in The article is about a Muslim American woman, highly educated, an editor who works from her home, who has written a book about being one of two wives who share a husband. All are Muslims, and the subject admits that, while she was first upset by her husband’s decision to take a second wife, she’s now apparently OK with it.

Now, let me state emphatically that my upbringing, my respect for people, and my spiritual/religious beliefs preclude polygamy. It does, as the Slate article so aptly puts it, give me the heebie jeebies.

But as I assessed my objections to it, I realized they they are all what I consider cultural objections. That doesn’t make them any less important to me, but it does make them nobody’s business but mine. I know the common legal justification for legislating behavior is that it’s best for society, mainly in the way resources are distributed. Marriage is a state-recognized contract, and as long as all parties to the contract are happy with what happens if one or more of the parties dies or leaves the union, why would the rest of us care what the contract says? I think this is the main argument gays make (and one I subscribe to) when arguing that they should be allow to enter into same-sex marriage.

So, while the idea still gives me the heebie jeebies, and while my unsupported opinion is that it’s nothing more than a dodge for older men to have sex with lots of (younger) women, it does seem to stand the reason test for legality. Or does it?

I agree with all of that except it doesn’t give me the heebie jeebies. It’s not something I could see myself doing, but hey, whatever rocks your boat.

There certainly are a lot more legal hurdles that would have to be overcome in the case of polygamy than there would be for SSM, but I don’t see them as being unsurmountable.

This is precisely why marriage should be handled like a simple corporation as it regards the state. People entering into it can organize how they see fit in any configuration and disputes can be handled like they are now when corporate relationships go sour.

I’ve thought of a problem with legalizing polygamy that I haven’t heard anyone discuss before. The problem is, what kind of polygamy are we talking about?

I and other live-and-let-live government-out-of-our-bedrooms liberal types would be comfortable with legalizing polygamy under certain conditions:

  1. It applies equally to men and women- polyandry, polygyny, and group marriage are all equally acceptable.
  2. Everybody already in the marriage has the absolute right to refuse to let anyone else in.
    I suspect that this is what most polyamorous folks would want, too.

The religious types who want to legalize polygamy would probably object to one or both of those conditions. Polygamy as described in the Bible certainly doesn’t fit those conditions- only polygyny was allowed, and a man could take a second wife even if his first wife didn’t like the idea. AFAIK, Muslim polygamy is similar. I would be opposed to that sort of polygamy.

The upshot is, the two groups of people who are likely to support polygamy (liberals/polyamorists and very conservative Christians and Muslims) aren’t really in favor of the same thing. This issue just doesn’t come up with, say, gay marriage- people on both sides of the debate at least agree what a gay marriage would be, that nobody could be forced into a gay marriage, and so on.

Anne Neville With the solution of making marriage into a form of incorporation, the corporation could write the guidelines in its corporate charter. Do you see a unanimous decision as being essential? What if the corporation developed rules for quorum and majority rules? Would that be allowable, or does the government need to determine certain rigid guidelines by which it can be accomplished?

The argument I’ve always heard is that polygamy makes divorce difficult, as it pertains to children (if the family breaks up, who gets the kid?). However, it seems to me that this difficulty could be avoided if two, and only two, parents are designated as the kid’s parents (be they male-male, female-female, or the more traditional male-female).

There’s also the fear that it’ll make it harder for everyone to find someone to marry, as the more well-off will tend to attract multiple spouses.

The actual reason, I think, is that it’s considered to be “icky” by the majority, much like gay marriage. Sheer historical inertia.

Personally, I think polygamy should be legal, and should be set up as corporations. I have several poly friends, and the difficulties they face are unnecessary (I also say the same of my gay friends).

Lightnin’ I am no Koranic scholar, but I think the ability to support multiple wives as a prerequisite is stipulated.

You are right however, about the supply and demand issue. Many countries now are seeing a demographic problem of too many young men without any prospects. China’s one-child policy is going to bite them in the ass. Young men without prospects are a recipe for disaster where domestic tranquility is concerned.

As for the divorce, I think it should be pretty easy to determine who the parents are. They can only have the DNA from two people.

Er, it’s not exactly a clean sweep with two contesting parents either. Which makes this rather a harebrained defense of the polygamy laws, I’d say.

I’d say that the opposition is all those married couples who don’t want the “sanctity” of marriage-as-an-institution sullied. Basically cultural mores made into law.

Because the idea of people just voluntarily deciding that they want to participate in polygamy is a hypothetical construct. In the real world, polygamy occurs in cultures where women are viewed as property, they have no say in the matter, and are usually married off to their cousins at age 13.

As a pure religious freedom/equal protection issue, polygamy in and of itself should be legal. But, 99 to 100 percent of polygamous marriages as they exist now would result in prosecutions for kidnapping, incest, or sexual assault even if the underlying marriage was not a crime.

Yes, I do. I don’t want to be in the situation where I’m happy in my marriage to one or more lovely people, then one of them brings in somebody I can’t stand, and my choice is to put up with it or leave. The one who wants to bring in a new person should be the one who has to choose between continuing in the relationship without that person or leaving.

I suppose the participants in each marriage could work things out for themselves, though, and someone with concerns like mine would make sure there was a clause saying anybody can keep anybody else out for any reason (well, actually, not being interested in being part of a polyamorous relationship, I would have a marriage in which both my spouse and I waived the right to bring in additional spouses).

I’m not sure that would be enough to satisfy the religious fundamentalists, though. They could, of course, set up polygynous marriage contracts that work the way their religion says they should. But some of them seem to get upset at the legal recognition of marriages that don’t conform to their rules- see the same-sex marriage debate for an example. What would they have to say about legal polyandry, or polygynous marriages where a man can’t bring in another wife without the approval of his current wife or wives?

:confused: Aside from Mormons, I’ve never heard of any Christians, very conservative or otherwise, supporting polygamy. I can’t imagine why they would, except that it exists in the Bible, but that’s just as much an argument for Jews to support it, and I’ve never heard of any modern-day Jews arguing for polygamy either.

Interestingly enough, I’ve heard polygyny described as being just as harsh for men as for women. Not the men who keep multiple wives, mind you, but the poor schmoes who can’t get a wife at all, because there aren’t enough to go around. If the average for polygynous marriages is two wives, that leaves approximately half of all men without any chance for marriage at all.

I do wonder what some of the fundamentalists who read the Bible literally would have to say if this actually came up for debate…

In addition to the Bible, we also have various decisions made by rabbis over the last few thousand years. These decisions can even go against what the text of the Bible says on a literal level. One Biblical text comments in an approving way on someone killing a man for sleeping with a pagan woman. There are later rabbinical commentaries, though, that say that we shouldn’t emulate that kind of behavior.

Similarly, Ashkenazic Jews have a rabbinical prohibition on polygyny- a rabbi ruled around the year 1000 that polygyny is not acceptable for Ashkenazic Jews. It’s actually reasonably common for Jews to be forbidden to do something that a Biblical character who is held to be admirable does- Abraham served guests a meal of milk and meat together, Jacob married two sisters, and Moses’ parents were aunt and nephew- all of those things are forbidden for Jews.

It would be more of a problem for the Protestants of a sola scriptura and literalist bent to justify why polygyny should be forbidden if the Bible seems to approve of it.

The opposition to it goes a lot deeper than just married couples. Also, I don’t see why cultural mores shouldn’t be reflected in law.

When I traveled abroad, I always expected the laws of wherever I happened to be to reflect the culture there.

Rather than a corporation, I see marriage (from an atheistically legal standpoint) as being a contract between or among partnering entities. A contract can involve more than two parties and not be a corporation, can’t it?

For me, **Anne Neville ** hits the nail on the head, with **Lenin’s Tomb ** contributing a glancing blow. If you read the linked Slate article, you’ll see that the subject of the article first felt “shocked, hurt, angry, and confused”. Now, I’m no anthropologist, but it seems to me those are natural feelings. And if I’m an atheist I’m thinking natural feelings exist for a reason that is anthropologically explainable, and that reason continues to exist even in our technologically advanced times. If I’m a religious person, I reach for “God made us that way.” Either way you look at it, if a woman feels shocked, hurt, angry and confused by something her husband does (my wife once did – long story, not going there now) somebody is doing something wrong.

I’m a liberal. Liberals have a huge stake in “live and let live.” At the same time, we believe in equality. We believe the innocent and helpless should be shielded from oppression and exploitation. We believe the state should not dictate religion nor religion dictate to the state.

This is just another lesson in how damned hard it is to be a liberal! And a spiritual one at that.

Simple, the kid belongs lock stock and barrel to the mother. It goes with her or stays with her [depending on who is leaving and staying in the marriage.]

The father gets to visit. The kid stays in the house of the mother. He she or it can have 2 weeks vacation per year with the father, Father is responsible for half the cost of raising the sprog, no ifs ands or buts. You dont want to pay support, get a bag of frozen peas and a snip job.

Well, sure the feelings of jealousy are natural feelings which are “anthropologically explainable”. So what? I was insanely jealous of my brother growing up - should we mandate that parents can only have one child to spare our kids the pain of jealousy and sibling rivalry? What about kids who are jealous of their classmates? Private tutors for everyone? I thought the point of living in groups and using our rational thought and ability to communicate is that we can move past anthropological urges and boundaries. Concert violinists aren’t natural, but I’d be sorry to see them cease to exist.

There’s a widespread misconception that poly people don’t feel jealousy. I don’t think that’s generally the case. We feel jealousy, but we just process it differently. For us, it doesn’t mean the relationship is doomed, it means we want to figure out why we feel threatened. If I feel jealous, it’s because of something I’m not doing right (even if that something is staying with (a) partner(s) who doesn’t respect my boundaries.) I just don’t let jealousy consume me or define my romantic relationships any more than it defines my lifelong relationship with my brother.

As for the OP: yeah, cultural holdover, legitimized by a smokescreen of legal worry which doesn’t hold up to the slightest scrutiny. Frankly, I think the lawyers are missing a gravy train here - think how much more work there’d be for them if every marriage contract was written and enacted individually. I mean, there’s only about three contracts that need to be decided on: power of attorney, child support and parental rights, and ownership of property and inheritance rights - nothing people *couldn’t *do on their own. But it’s like prenups for everyone!

How very nice. And I’m sure that knowing their children will barely see them and that they aren’t regarded as anything but a bag of money will really strengthen the father-child bond. And if the kid’s a boy I’m sure watching his mother loot his father like that will really improve his opinion of the opposite sex. :rolleyes:

As far as polygamy goes ( and in effect it’s polygyny, since very few people in any culture want polyandry ), you can expect a lot of social problems as women gravitate in large numbers towards the men with more money. Like aruvqan and our already existing laws demonstrate, men are regarded more as a source of cash than anything else by most people. Laws and customs that promote monogamy are there mainly to benefit men, most of whom would otherwise have nothing but the women that the better off don’t want.

The article didn’t make this clear, but the woman running the blog whose husband had taken another wife…were they both legally (er…illegally) married? Or was only one marriage legal? Because it’s only illegal in the first case, which is often how polygamists get around the law.

Sure but any and all of this could be and very often has been true of conventional monogamous marriage - if we can fix that so that partners have equal rights, aren’t property, aren’t coerced, etc, I’m sure we could fix polygamy in a similar way.

The only concern I would have is whether the burden on the state in administering the dissolution of such relationships is grossly and disproportionately increased - i.e. if instead of being half as expensive again as administering a monogamous divorce, it was ten times as expensive, or something. I don’t think that’s terribly likely, but it would need to be considered.