Gay Marriage, Slippery Slope to Polygamy?
Obama and Romney both have grandparents who practiced polygamy, yet both have said (and one’s still saying) that marriage should be between one man and one woman. Some think it odd that they both reject the practice when they’ve each got a family history. But I, too, have grandparents who practiced polygamy yet I don’t like the practice, either. This brings me to the concern that marriage equality is a slippery slope to polygamy.
If you hold marriage to “two consenting adults” the problem goes away.
At the same time, while I have a personal distaste for polygamy, I’m not sure that decriminalization would be a bad thing.
First, the problems with the practice.
Gender inequality can be created by simple supply and demand, with “the one” having more power, whether polygyny (one man, many wives) or polyandry (one wife, many husbands). In the polyandrous Lahaul Valley of the Himalayas women have great say over matters. As one young man in this community explained, “The wife’s voice is the dominant voice in the household.”
Typically, polygamy is practiced under patriarchy (as polygyny) so the power of “the one” man becomes intensified. As one New York Times letter writer observed in response to Jonathan Turley’s insistence that polygamous families should be free to live their religion and values:
(In highly patriarchal families) this is not ‘the right to live your life.’ The men have rights, but not the girls (who are) brainwashed, uneducated and mothers while in their teens.
In polygyny it can seem that women make all the sacrifices so that men may take unlimited pleasure. A Sufi who agreed to be a third wife of her teacher (the article title “My Husband, My Teacher” suggests additional inequality of relationship) described her experience this way:
I went through, as did the other wives, all of the usual feelings of jealousy, fear, and insecurity.
She had to learn to let go of attachment, or seeing her spouse as property. Yet her husband didn’t need to learn any of these lessons, enjoying greater freedom and sexual variety than any of his wives ever will.
The addition of a new wife may even be used as a threat in polygamous cultures. Not surprisingly, 86 percent of Afghani women are against the practice.
Moving to larger societal problems, at marriageable age women and men are in equal number so girls in polygamous communities must be married at younger and younger ages, and are often forced into marriage. Their youth further disempowers them. Meanwhile, teenaged boys may be thrown out of these communities via trivial charges like watching “inappropriate” movies.
Joseph Henrich, a University of British Columbia professor whose expertise lies in psychology, anthropology and economics says higher levels of polygamy are tied to higher crime rates, lower GDP per capita, and worse outcomes for children.
And, fewer available women may mean more frustrated bachelors who support the sex trafficking of girls and women. These young men are also vulnerable to recruitment by extremists in some parts of the world.
There is plenty that is not pretty. So why legalize polygamy?
When the practice is illegal and stigmatized, those who live it end up isolated from the rest of society. That means its practitioners hear few alternate voices, and are less aware of the possibility of living differently. Or, choices become limited as others ostracize them and reject their friendship. In other words, they’re more stuck.
Oddly, adherence to “plural marriage” might actually decrease if it were made legal and destigmatized.
I don’t know if legalization will ever destigmatize polygamy, which is an important step in freeing people to hear different voices and to help them to have more options.
Regardless, I doubt legalization will bring people flocking to the practice. The notion of sharing your husband or wife while being forced to be monogamous, yourself, just isn’t that appealing to most people. In the U.S. polygamy is pretty much only practiced for religious reasons, so it’s not likely to catch on. And where it does, it would be more likely voluntary and not coerced.
If you fear gay marriage because polygamy might come next, I doubt there’s really much to worry about.
Posted on October 19, 2012, in feminism, gay rights, gender, psychology, relationships, sex, sexism, women and tagged feminism, gay marriage, gay rights, gender, LGBT History Month, polygamy, religion, sex, sexism, women. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.