Saturday, January 14, 2012

Mormon Candidates, Gay Marriage, and Polygamy

One argument frequently offered by opponents of gay marriage is that the  logic that leads to the legalization of same-sex marriage also implies that polygamy should be legal. Supporters of same-sex marriage seem, in my experience, reluctant to make the obvious response—so what? Why shouldn't a man be permitted two wives or a woman two husbands, provided that all three parties are willing? Most seem to concede, at least by implication, that if same-sex marriage does lead to legalized polygamy, that is an argument against it.

It occurs to me that this raises a potential problem for two of the current crop of Republican candidates. Neither Huntsman nor Romney supports same-sex marriage. Both are Mormons. Surely at some point some curious voter will ask one or the other for his view of polygamy. Given that they are trying to get votes from people who regard polygamy as so obviously wicked that the mere possibility of legalizing it is a convincing argument against legalizing same-sex marriage, what are they to say?

It is true that the Church of Latter-Day Saints abandoned polygamy a century or so back. But it is also true that it was founded by polygamists, throughout its early history regarded polygamy as an important part of its religion, and abandoned it only under severe outside pressure, including military occupation by the U.S. army. Can a believing Mormon really hold that polygamy is not merely a bad idea at the moment but inherently evil? Can someone unwilling to say he believes that polygamy is evil win the Republican nomination?

Has the question come up yet? If so, how did the candidate evade it?

22 Comments:

At 11:47 AM, January 14, 2012, Blogger Nadaav said...

It's a very interesting question, and the dynamics at play are complicated. Most Mormons today oppose polygamy and (I think) consider it an embarrassing part of their cultural past. (Contrast this with, say, blue collar white Southerners: they don't still want to secede from the Union, necessarily, but they still look back upon the CSA with pride.) A few fundamentalist Mormons still practice polygamy, and those who are able to be in polygamist relationships (what about all the inevitable single men left with no prospective mates?) seem very happy with it.

Yet the bulk of non-Mormons think that all Mormons still practice or support polygamy, and most non-Mormons also view polygamy as a slavery-like institution designed to oppress women. (Again: what about all the single guys??) So if Romney publicly opposed polygamy, many people might see this as a contradiction with his faith, even though (in practical terms, at least) it isn't one.

But none of that really matters, because I think only two tiny groups of voters might care enough about how well, say, Romney's view of polygamy matches up with the historical Mormon view to make it a decisive issue in whether to vote for him: one group is fundamentalist Mormons, who will not find any mainstream candidates with more favorable views towards polygamy anyway, and the other is that odd breed of religious fanatics who think that how well one follows the orthodoxy of his own religion is the most important thing in the world, and that any discrepancy is a huge blight on his character.

 
At 12:32 PM, January 14, 2012, Anonymous Jancis M. Andrews said...

In 2011 the British Columbian government asked Chief Justice Robert Bauman of BC Supreme Court to rule on the constitutionality of S.293 CC, proscribing polygamy. For 4 months the judge listened to Briefs by both pro and con groups. It was noted that the groups supporting S. 293 CC (BC Teachers Federation, Can. Fed. of University Women, Child Protection Services, various women's Groups, etc.,including people who'd escaped from Bountiful) were more numerous than those against it (Civil Liberties, some wives from Bountiful, Polyamorists). An Angus Reid poll found that 82% of Canadians were against polygamy. On Nov. 23 2011 Judge Bauman ruled S.293 CC was constitutional because polygamy contravenes women's equality rights, harms children, and reduces the pool of women available to other men. Canadians cheered! Polygamy comes from the dark ages when women were considered chattels. It has no place in a modern society. The year is 2012 AD, not 2012 BC.

 
At 1:05 PM, January 14, 2012, Blogger John David Galt said...

I know a number of people who openly practice (non state recognized) polygamy in California. It's no big deal, and there is no real way to ban it without also banning premarital and extramarital sex (though there may still be some US states which do that).

I believe the main reason most of the public (at least in "red" states) doesn't support polygamy is that they lump all of it together with cults like FLDS, which practiced forced "marriage," much of it with under-age girls.

This is similar to the tactic DARE uses, of calling all use of illegal drugs "abuse" and thereby lumping it together with the behavior of addicts and the suicidally insane. It will take decades for the American public to unlearn these false associations, but as long as our freedom (unfortunately) depends on their consent, we must make the effort.

 
At 1:11 PM, January 14, 2012, Blogger Julie said...

I'd disagree with Jancis. Yes, polygamy as most people envision it (i.e. one husband, very many wives, of which many of the wives may be adolescents or pressed into the marriage against their will) should be prosecuted. In cases like this, there is a violation of equality and free will, and this is particularly heinous when it comes to children's rights.

HOWEVER, not all polyamory is like that. I have several friends living in triads, some with two wives and one husband, some with two husbands and one wife. Some of them have kids, and those kids are (as far as I can tell) well-adjusted and happy.

What consenting adults do in the privacy of their own homes, whether they want to live in heterosexual couples, homosexual couples, or groups of more than two people, is nobody's business but their own.

 
At 2:02 PM, January 14, 2012, Blogger SheetWise said...

There is very, very little -- if anything -- in a state sanctioned marriage that cannot be achieved in private legal arrangements. Why the state is in the business of licensing private decisions to associate and develop relationships should be the question. A license is something you need to do something that's otherwise illegal -- and I don't know of anything illegal about three or more people living together and/or engaging in consensual sex. There are laws against adults having relationships with minors -- but that's a completely different issue. Marriage is a commitment people make to their family and community -- it really shouldn't have anything to do with the state. Maybe someday a candidate will stand up and say that it's really none of our business -- straight, gay, mono, poly, or otherwise.

 
At 6:04 PM, January 14, 2012, Blogger Lorenzo said...

Streetwise: because a standard contract saves on transaction costs. This is why the landholding aristocracy of Europe pressured the Church to take over marriage law.

Julie: polyamory works rather differently than the standard form of polygamy, polygyny (one husband more than one wife). The latter tends to cut low status males out of the marriage market and undermine the status of women.

More generally, the argument that legally same-sex marriage will lead to legalising polygamy is deeply silly. Legalising same-sex marriage just extends the standard marriage contract to more people. Legalising polygamy changes every existing marriage contract by permitting more members. The dynamics of these two things are very different.

 
At 10:42 PM, January 14, 2012, Anonymous Alan said...

The State shouldn't be in the marriage business, but if it is it should not discriminate.

So what if some choose gay marriage or polygamy? Whose business is it if three men decide they want to be a married trio - or two men and three women want to be a married quintet?

In this respect I like the FLDS more than the mainstream Mormons - though I'm not really in favor of either group.

The Canadian decision Jancis refers to was clearly wrong. Any time freedom is restricted, it necessarily reduces the rights of those involved. Some women like polygyny because it gives them a chance at a quality of mate they could not get otherwise, or because they want a dependable father for their children, or because they want a sister wife to share the responsibilities of raising children with. I have heard that due to the incarceration of 5% of black men, quite a few black women in America have embraced polygyny as a necessity.

Julie - I share your concern about anyone who might be pressured or forced into a marriage they do not want to be in, but considering that what we call adolescents are biologically adults I can't see how you equate marriage for adolescents with forced marriage, nor how you can say that it would be a violation of their rights. Isn't it a greater violation of their rights to prevent them from entering a relationship which they want? Why do adolescents have the "right" to say "No", but never the right to say "Yes" to such things?

Lorenzo: allowing Polygamy would not change previous marriage contracts. In some nations marriage licenses specify whether a marriage is intended as monogamous or polygamous. A man who is legally in a monogamous marriage cannot legally add a spouse later, whereas a couple who are registered as polygamous can later add more wives. There's no reason we could not establish a similar system. A marriage contract is a Contract, after all.

Incidentally, taken historically or culturally, Monogamy is the perversion, not polygyny which has been practiced in virtually every culture not based on the Romans.

 
At 11:48 PM, January 14, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

I agree with Julie and Streetwise: marriage shouldn't really be any of the government's business.

However, oddly enough, people continue to make it the government's business by continuing to register their marriages with the government, and even demanding the right to do so!

As some have pointed out, you can already have any kind of marriage as long as you don't attempt to register it with the government.

 
At 12:04 AM, January 15, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Incidentally, taken historically or culturally, Monogamy is the perversion, not polygyny which has been practiced in virtually every culture not based on the Romans."

If you count marriages, not societies, I believe that is clearly wrong. As best I can tell, in societies where polygamy is legal, most marriages are still monogamous.

Jancis writes: "... and reduces the pool of women available to other men" and "Polygamy comes from the dark ages when women were considered chattels."

It seems to me that you are the one treating women as chattels--justifying restrictions on women as a way of making sure that there are enough women available to otherwise single men. If women are not chattels, then surely they are the ones who get to decide whether they are or are not available, and to whom.

 
At 1:32 PM, January 15, 2012, Anonymous Chumunculus said...

Based on Big Love, it seems like Mormons are more virulently anti-polygamy than the avg person. Like Germans and Nazism, perhaps.

 
At 1:49 PM, January 15, 2012, Blogger Milhouse said...

Surely a Mormon can say exactly that, since they believe that the reason they abandoned the practice was a revelation from God, not the mere practical considerations to which you attribute it.

 
At 5:11 PM, January 15, 2012, Anonymous Allan Walstad said...

Sheetwise nailed it. As for Lorenzo's appeal to transaction costs, if marriage is taken to be a serious commitment, it's not clear to me why people shouldn't be willing to bear transaction costs at the level of actually specifying what they want their relationship to be. In any event, with the politicians out of the marriage-defining business, a number of different standard contracts would become available from which to choose.

I've noticed that militant proponents of government-recognized gay marriage, who characterize the issue as one of freedom, seem generally indisposed to grant the same freedom to groups of more than two individuals. But if you point this out you let yourself in for a lot of abuse on less civil sites than this.

 
At 8:05 PM, January 15, 2012, Anonymous Alan said...

David -

You are correct that most marriages consist of one man and one wife in cultures that accept polygyny. However, to say that such marriages are monogamous is imposing a modern and Western view. To the people in such cultures, marriage is simply marriage. Whether a man has one wife or one hundred wives, it is simply marriage. After all, the man with one hundred wives started by having one wife.

That said, we live in our modern, Western world, with an expectation of monogamy, and I believe that all parties should know what they are agreeing to before they commit to it. Therefore, it is useful to allow contracting parties to specify that theirs is to be a monogamous marriage.

Jonathan -

You say that one can have any sort of marriage they want so long as they don't register it with the government. This is not true. Several men are currently in jail because they publicly stated that they consider themselves married to more than one woman. If they had called these women their "hos" or "bitches", "sluts" or "baby mamas" they would not be in jail. It is only because they wanted to honor the women in their lives and recognize their relationship as something special that these men are in jail, separated from their wives and children.

 
At 12:05 AM, January 16, 2012, Blogger Jonathan said...

Alan, thanks for the information. I wasn't aware that the law was quite that stupid. You're referring to the law in the USA, I suppose?

 
At 9:22 PM, January 17, 2012, Blogger SheetWise said...

"Alan said...
After all, the man with one hundred wives started by having one wife."


Some people learn ... some people, not so much.

"Several men are currently in jail because they publicly stated that they consider themselves married to more than one woman."

The state owns the contract for marriage. It is an open ended contract, binding, subject to change, and open to interpretation. Why anyone would voluntarily enter it mystifies me. But ... they do own it. Common law is recognized in many states, and introducing a woman as your wife is interpreted as a contract.

As for the other euphemisms you offer as a means of avoiding these entanglements -- I suggest you give them a trial run with your better half (portions?) before you declare them publicly.

 
At 2:21 PM, January 18, 2012, Blogger David Friedman said...

"Common law is recognized in many states"

Judging by a little quick googling, only nine states recognize common law marriage at present, with a few others recognizing ones contracted before some specific date in the past and one recognizing them only for purposes of inheritance.

 
At 12:26 AM, January 19, 2012, Anonymous Andy Z said...

Sheetwise writes "achieved in private legal arrangements"

What does that even mean?

There is no such thing. Legal arrangements, mean dealing with THE LAW. The law is established by the state. The state is the PUBLIC.

Contract laws work for marriage because they've been well established. For gay marriage, the same laws can apply.

Unfortunately, with more than two parties, there is no established standard contract. If one wanted to put multi party marriage into contract law, what standards would they pick? Who would get what in case of separation/death etc? With two parties, it's simple. With more, people will have different preferences, and the number of possible scenarios is much larger.

As for Romney, his family history of polygamy is why slimey candidates like Santorum keep talking about his grandfather....

 
At 12:55 PM, January 20, 2012, Blogger SheetWise said...

Andy Z writes ...
"Sheetwise writes 'achieved in private legal arrangements'

What does that even mean?"


It means two or more people contracting with each other and including their preferences in the agreement, as opposed to people contracting with the state. Not really that complicated.

"There is no such thing. Legal arrangements, mean dealing with THE LAW. The law is established by the state."

The law is established by the state only insofar as what it is legal to contract. There is no "benefit" from marriage, that I'm aware of, provided by the state that cannot be legally contracted between two or more parties.

"The state is the PUBLIC."

Huh?

"Unfortunately, with more than two parties, there is no established standard contract. If one wanted to put multi party marriage into contract law, what standards would they pick?"

I would choose either a partnership agreement or a corporate structure.

"Who would get what in case of separation/death etc?"

It would be resolved according to the law, as agreed between the parties.

"With two parties, it's simple. With more, people will have different preferences, and the number of possible scenarios is much larger."

I see an expanded range of preferences as a benefit. Apparently you disagree.

 
At 10:02 PM, January 21, 2012, Anonymous Art said...

Jancis:
"Judge Bauman ruled S.293 CC was constitutional because polygamy contravenes women's equality rights, harms children, and reduces the pool of women available to other men. Canadians cheered!"

I am glad Judge Bauman ensures equitable distribution of women to the people of Canada.

 
At 3:17 PM, January 24, 2012, Blogger David said...

There is no "benefit" from marriage, that I'm aware of, provided by the state that cannot be legally contracted between two or more parties.

There's the tax advantage to a couple with one breadwinner, and the ability to transfer property between the spouses without tax consequences. I don't say that the state ought to confer these benefits, but they are benefits you can't get by private contract.

 
At 10:22 PM, February 11, 2012, Blogger Rose Kahendi said...

To me, the most interesting question is not how Romney will make his case. I am more interested in the mental acrobatics that mainstream Christians have to perform in order to make the argument that polygamy is evil. The Old Testament does not condemn the institution. And the Patriarchs, who were presumably godly men, all seem to have practiced polygamy. The Mormons' practice of polygamy in previous centuries could be argued to be in continuity with the Patriarchs' traditions. Romney wouldn't dare to make this argument though. Lol.

 
At 5:18 PM, August 11, 2013, Blogger David said...

Mormon's believe in Polygamy but they don't practice it. I am Mormon so i am not a expert on Judaism but I am sure that there are a few customs like slaughtering the first born lamb that are similar to that.

 

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