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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

An Argument For Legalizing Polygamy

Jillian Keenan makes an argument at Slate for plural marriage, the continuing prohibition of which is unsustainable given the arguments for gay marriage. Keenan writes:

Many people argue that there is no such thing as a “healthy, responsible” polygamous family, particularly for the children born into one. “Children are harmed because they are often set in perennial rivalry with other children and mothers for the affection and attention of the family patriarch,” argued John Witte Jr. in the Washington Post. “Men with lots of children and wives are spread too thin,” agreed Libby Copeland in Slate. The earnestness of these arguments is touching but idealistic. Men in monogamous marriages can’t be spread too thin? Children in monogamous families don’t rival each other for the attentions of their parents? Two-parent families are not the reality for millions of American children. Divorce, remarriage, surrogate parents, extended relatives, and other diverse family arrangements mean families already come in all sizes—why not recognize that legally?

It’s also hard to argue with the constitutional freedom of religious expression that legalized polygamy would preserve. Most polygamous families are motivated by religious faith, such as fundamentalist Mormonism or Islam, and as long as all parties involved are adults, legally able to sign marriage contracts, there is no constitutional reason why they shouldn’t be able to express that faith in their marriages. Legalized polygamous marriage would also be good for immigrant families, some of whom have legally polygamous marriages in their home countries that get ripped apart during the immigration process. (It’s impossible to estimate exactly how many polygamous families live here, since they live their religious and sexual identities in secret. Academics suggest there are 50,000 to 100,000 people engaged in Muslim polygamy in the U.S., and there are thousands of fundamentalist Mormon polygamist families as well.)
 
Finally, prohibiting polygamy on “feminist” grounds—that these marriages are inherently degrading to the women involved—is misguided. The case for polygamy is, in fact, a feminist one and shows women the respect we deserve. Here’s the thing: As women, we really can make our own choices. We just might choose things people don’t like. If a woman wants to marry a man, that’s great. If she wants to marry another woman, that’s great too. If she wants to marry a hipster, well—I suppose that’s the price of freedom.
 
And if she wants to marry a man with three other wives, that’s her damn choice.

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