Why polygamy shouldn’t be criminalized

I think Skippy gets it pretty much exactly right (except that it was CBC’s The Fifth Estate, not boogeyman network Fox News, that brought Bountiful to the Canadian public’s attention):

Even if you put aside the free exercise of religion argument – which most folks do, since fundamentalist Mormons aren’t exactly the most popular people on earth. They’ve already been expelled from the mainstream Church of Latter Day Saints – the law is still absurd, particularly in the case of Bountiful. Other than the part about multiple marital partners, no one is alleging anything untoward happening there.
Let’s say that you take your thirteen year old daughter, beat the snot out of her, lock her in a closet for a month and force her to marry some ghoulish religious elder, who proceeds to impregnate her a dozen or so times. Well, you’re f**ked, since all of those things are already against the law. Even absent the famous “sister-brides,” you’ve committed at least four serious crimes, multiple counts of them, in fact, and will go to jail for a good long time. Congratulations!
However, if you’re talking about a situation such as Bountiful, where everyone is consenting and there is no evidence of violence or criminal coercion, all you’re doing is prosecuting a lifestyle that really shouldn’t concern you. Bountiful is right in the middle of nowhere, so you can’t even argue that the FLDS are mortifying the neighbors.
[…]
To those of you who worry about 1,000 people in the middle of nowhere destroying your values, I ask this: aren’t you more worried about the government? Do you want it doing for your personal or communal values what it did for the budget? Really?
Since the most horrifying, Warren Jeffs aspects of polygamy are already illegal, it is entirely possible for the government to prosecute the violent and ugly underbelly of it while leaving the cast of “Big Love” alone. …

There’s a difference between the government formally recognizing a certain form of marriage, and actually making said form of marriage a criminal offence. (Even before gay marriage was officially recognized in Canada, there was no law that said a same-sex couple couldn’t go to a gay-friendly church and go through some kind of marriage ceremony.)

9 thoughts on “Why polygamy shouldn’t be criminalized

  1. Susann says:

    The 5th Estate did break this story open nationwide in 2003, but Daphne Brahham (sp?) of the Vancouver Sun has by far the most extensive newsprint series on Bountiful pre-dating the 5th Estate.
    Her long standing work on the polygamy issue was and remains truly outstanding.

  2. Frances says:

    It’s not just about the young women; the young men are generally considered surplus to requirements and expelled from the colony to fend for themselves.

  3. Bruce Rheinstein says:

    “Bountiful is right in the middle of nowhere, so you can’t even argue that the FLDS are mortifying the neighbors.”
    I’m reminded of H.L. Mencken’s definition of Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.
    Seriously, though, unlike with gay marriage, there are serious social implications associated with polygamy. Jonathan Rauch had a good piece in Reason on this back in 2006. http://www.reason.com/news/show/117323.html

  4. John B says:

    Further to Frances’ comment, I’m astonished the issue of “lost boys” hasn’t become prominent.
    “Up to 1,000 teenage boys have been separated from their parents and thrown out of their communities by a polygamous sect to make more young women available for older men, Utah officials claim.”
    “Many of these “Lost Boys”, some as young as 13, have simply been dumped on the side of the road in Arizona and Utah, by the leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), and told they will never see their families again or go to heaven.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2005/jun/14/usa.julianborger
    I expect if this happened to young teenage girls, the shit would hit the fan and the press would be all over it like a bad rash. The math is simple, absent a dearth of males, for every Blackmore with six wives (or whatever he has), five men will be spanking the monkey for a long, very long, time. Other articles:
    http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/story?id=851753&page=1
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/09/us/09polygamy.html?_r=5
    BTW – welcome back Damian, we missed you.

  5. Philanthropist says:

    Marriage laws should be repealed across the board. Religions have performed marriages centuries before government involvement. There is no legal need for marriage anymore since it’s a contract that’s not really a contract anyhow.

  6. DaninVan says:

    Philanthropist; the need for a marriage contract is a civil issue, not religious. There HAS to be a framework that sets up guidelines for property matters, support for children, and protection for the surviving spouse (and children) in the case of the death of a spouse (inheritance).
    It’s no different than laws guiding a business partnership.
    Polygamy just muddies the waters.

  7. Philanthropist says:

    Common-Law marriages, co-habiting partners etc. – there seems to be many forms of relationships that fall short of actual marriage that the legal system deals with already, so it wouldn’t seem to make much difference if legal marriage were abolished. No legal marriage means that no government agency has a say in the kind of social relationships we have.

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