Tuesday, July 12, 2011

One Wife Is Sufficient

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I admit it. I watch a few. 

I like Deadliest Catch, probably because the guys are at least doing something useful while being filmed and because there doesn't seem to be as much performing for the camera as on, say, American Chopper.

One I've only watched once or twice, and never from beginning to end, is Sister Wives, about the Utah polygamous family. That group is in the news today, challenging the state's polygamy laws.

The story in the New York Times revealed something I've always suspected: the man featured in the reality show is only legally married to one of the four women.

The gist of the defense is that the US Supreme Court has already set precedent for defense of "intimate conduct" by striking down sodomy laws, and so as long as no criminal behavior is occurring ("child abuse, incest, or seeking multiple marriage licenses") the state cannot step in to regulate behavior.

My wife happened to sit down with me as I had stopped on Sister Wives about a month ago. We asked the same questions of each other -- "What official would give him multiple marriage licenses? If they are not legally married, why is it polygamy?"

If a man has two consenting girlfriends -- let's make this gender neutral -- or a woman has two consenting boyfriends -- and the groups move in together and conduct a voluntary, marriage-like menage a trois will the authorities knock on the door and charge them with polygamy? Or will the legal system have no authority until there is a marriage between two of them? 

And yes, I do realize that polygamy -- we're not discussing polyandry at this point -- can be oppressive to women. There are multiple examples in the news. And I do realize too that the "slippery slope" argument has some validity in this case.

There is no doubt that American moral standards -- our societal ethics -- have liberalized beyond anything I could have imagined half-a-lifetime ago, and generally it has been for the good. 

Judging by 21st century ethical standards and social mores, polygamy and polyandry seem morally neutral on the surface rather than harmful. But there is a dark side. The example of Warren Jeffs. Jeff's behavior was punished, but Kody Brown has faced no similar accusations. The only thing the two have in common, at least on the surface, is their shard belief that polygamy is a proper lifestyle.

  • caveat: I am happily married to one woman who has left me with no desire to marry another.
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