Going the rounds on Facebook this morning is “Legalize Polygamy! No. I am not kidding.” by Jillian Keenan on Slate. She observes that “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 sizeswhy not recognize that legally?”
Many years ago, I mean in the 1970s, I read an argument by a minister that divorce and remarriage amounted to polygamy, anyway. He was speaking about the new “no-fault” divorce laws that made the marriage contract the easiest contract to break, ever. The fellow made an ironic argument then, that rather than readily allowing divorce, and all of the problems inherent in serial marriage, we ought to allow polygamy, in order to take better care of the children that were the product of those broken marriages. No one seemed concerned about the children in modern divorce, except to argue over parenting responsibilities such as child-support and visitation rights. Maybe, he suggested, if men could enjoy polygamy instead of serial marriage, they might take fatherhood more seriously. It was a joke. It might not be a joke anymore.
Then there is the religious aspect; how dare we have such disrespect for Islam as to disallow the full expression of it through polygamy?
Its 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 shouldnt 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. (Its 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.)
This might be my favorite part, polygamy on feminist grounds, wherein all is about choice:
Finally, prohibiting polygamy on feminist groundsthat these marriages are inherently degrading to the women involvedis misguided. The case for polygamy is, in fact, a feminist one and shows women the respect we deserve. Heres the thing: As women, we really can make our own choices. We just might choose things people dont like. If a woman wants to marry a man, thats great. If she wants to marry another woman, thats great too. If she wants to marry a hipster, wellI suppose thats the price of freedom.
And if she wants to marry a man with three other wives, thats her damn choice.
How do we argue with people being free to make choices?
Look at the practical benefits, childcare problems are solved, there could always be a mother in the home, we might be able to cut back on the divorce rate. Aren’t those things conservatives want to see? The problems, though, like an excess of frustrated young men, I am reading that that could be addressed by locking them up in prison or allowing them to live off of their parents in basements while playing video games. It may be that we have arrived at the solution before even having the problem. And of course, same-sex marriage would be a benefit for the less hard-core heterosexual of the men in the population. Homosexuality as a choice would certainly be open to them.
Elsewhere on First Things, R.R. Reno writes about, ” Bespoke Identity Formation” and the modern eagerness to get morality out of the way. May I suggest that those choices other people make will, democratically, have a deleterious effect on how Christians can live. My mind wanders into thinking about “Liberty is not license” and the idea of government creating licenses for licentiousness. But we live in a democracy these days. That makes me think of this scripture from 1 Timothy 2:1-2, ” I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity.”
(I am having terrible time with formatting today and cannot make the fonts consistent. Sorry.)