Saturday, January 31, 2015

Sister Wives

Why is gay marriage OK, but polygamy isn't?



I was curious why Lindsey Graham would ask such a seemingly stupid question during Loretta Lynch's confirmation hearings.  There had to be some ulterior motive behind the question.   Last year, a federal judge ruled Utah's law against polygamy "unconstitutional," essentially decriminalizing polygamy in the state, which had outlawed polygamy to gain statehood.  So whether, Loretta likes it or not, she may have to deal with the issue if the Senate confirms her nomination as US Attorney General.

The Mormon church struck down polygamy in the late 19th century, but various branches still practice the tradition, including the Brown family that parlayed its "experience" into a reality show on TLC.  The same network that gave the world Jon & Kate, which ended in bitter acrimony.  Seems things aren't all peaches and cream with the "Sister Wives" either, judging from this admission by a former "sister," equating her experience with that of adultery.

Most branches of the Christian faith have abolished polygamy.  Augustine long ago argued against polygamy in the Catholic Church, saying that it might have been fine for the Old Testament patriarchs but had no place in modern society. This was the fourth century mind you.  You won't find polygamy among Jews either, except for a very small group of unorthodox Jews who want to restore the "balance" in population in the Levant.

Yet, here we are in the 21st century and there are still splinters of the Mormon faith along with Christian cults like the Branch Davidians practicing polygamy in one form or another.   Lindsey seems to think that if we are going to "excuse" gay marriage, then is polygamy anymore morally reprehensible?  I suppose if gay Mormons or Seventh-Day Adventists wanted to practice polygamy that could cause a moral dilemma, but otherwise not.

Republicans seem to relish these unrelated arguments, hoping to drag others into these faux debates.  This has long been the case with "evolution v. creationism," or "intelligent design" as the case may be.  It is really no more than diversionary tactic hoping that the person being grilled, Loretta Lynch in this case, will say something that they can seize on to make a case against her.  After all, the Republicans now have the upper hand in the Senate and can block all of Obama's appointees if they so choose.

The only problem here is that means their arch nemesis Eric Holder stays on the job.  I think in the end the GOP Senate will confirm Lynch's nomination, if for no other reason than to finally be rid of Holder, whom they have held in contempt for the past 6 years.

But, what of polygamy?  The decision reached last year by a federal judge makes it a national issue and I'm sure there are those "polygamists" in other states that want to see their questionable religious rights protected, not to mention the number of Muslims "quietly" living in polygamy in America.

Maybe it wasn't such a stupid question after all?

14 comments:

  1. Polygamy and Polyandry are simply old subsets of a new movement, Polyamory aka Group Marriage. That civil rights issue is next on the menu.

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  2. Except that even the Mormon church frowns upon such types of cohabitation, which is going to make it hard for these groups to gain the support they are looking for.

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  3. The taboo against polygamy endured through the sexual revolution of the 1960s when an unwritten code allowed consenting adults to see casual sex as harmless recreational fun. Of course it had financial implications in the event of an unplanned pregnancy. But familial obligation is not the point of screwing around. But one-man one-woman marriage was something Americans still held sacred.

    Lax sexual mores were not unprecedented in early America (e.g. the Oneida community which practiced free love). That was the same era that spawned (pun intended) Mormon polygamy which one witty historian saw as Joseph Smith’s bold effort to make adultery sacramental. Despite the sexual revolution, polygamy remains anathema in American culture. It became so entrenched in Mormon culture that it endures as a Mormon subculture today. The Mormon social experiment still looms large in the national consciousness.

    There were certainly gays in Washington’s army at Valley Forge. But same sex marriage is something that not even Joseph Smith would have dared prophesy in response to one of his incredible conversations with Heaven.

    Craig

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  4. ''polygyny'' is the correct term for a man having more than one wife

    Contrary to Christian and much of Western social values it is biblically permissible. Martin Luther and John Milton wrote of this - I know from having discussions about the subject on Christian websites and being a defender of the practice and of its legality. History shows that Christians practiced polygyny until the 4th century when Rome adopted Christianity as its official religion. Perhaps not coincidentally as Gibbons pointed out, that's when the Roman empire started its decline.

    The Bible prohibits the adoption of pagan ideas as "the customs of the people are vain" {Jeremiah 10:2}. It was the pagan Greeks and Romans who mandated monogamy. Ashkenazim Jews did not adopt this until the 10th century and agreed to use it for a millennial period which recently expired. Sefardic Jews practiced polgyny and did not adopt monogamy until the late 16th century. Yemeni Jews still allow polygyny though it is rarely practiced.


    I am all for the legalization of gay marriage and have defended the enactment of laws which expands the equal protection clause to this group in society. I am equally in favor of doing the same for practitioners of polygyny.

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  5. Reynolds vs the U.S. was an 1870s test case on anti-bigamy laws as an infringement on the free exercise of religion. The Court upheld the constitutionality of the law ruling that the Mormon Reynolds was not exempt from the law because of his religion. You can believe what you will but can’t act on it by ignoring the law. It was a landmark case on the road to the LDS Church’s eventual decision to end its defiant open practice of polygamy.

    Even if the legal pendulum now swings back in favor of polygamy, the LDS Church after more than a century has invested too much of itself in rehabilitating its 19th century image. The present day LDS Chruch would more likely prove to be a stalwart bastion against any turning back the clock. Such are the ironies of time and history.

    Craig

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  6. What on earth for, Trip! The Catholic Church long ago banned polygamy, and the Mormon Church banned it in the 19th century, albeit to clear the path for Utah statehood. Now one of these "clans" appeals to the federal government with the hope it will see it as its individual "right." Even if women willingly accept these arrangements, which many do not, it is still reprehensible as far as I am concerned in this day and age.

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    1. The Catholic church did so but only because of a mandate from Roman law. Churches are supposed to comply with biblical law, not necessarily secular law.

      We have had numerous discussions over the years and you are well aware that my knowledge of history is quite extensive. But I am FAR more of a literary than historical scholar. Trust me when I tell you that there isn't a living human being walking the earth today who knows that Bible any better than I do. This especially so for the New Testament and its teachings.

      Is polygyny "reprehensible"? I leave that up to you and anyone else who cares to venture an opinion on the matter. Is it biblically permissible (especially in a nation that professes to be Christian)? Yes it is.

      I was posting on a polygyny website and saw several posts from women who claimed they wished to get into such a relationship but were too afraid of offending social morés. Sad for them that they do not have this option in what purports to be a free society - one allegedly based on biblical principles.

      As for me - live and let live. Prejudice just isn't part of my scheme of things.

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    2. I take it you have read Augustine too?

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    3. Sure did over 40 years ago during my days at City College of New York. Luther & Milton addressed his ideas quite effectively as did Mohammed who acknowledged Jesus as Messiah.

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  7. Polygamy as practiced in Mormon history was not an arrangement of gender equality. If it were, women would have been allowed to take more than one husband.

    Craig

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  8. Supposedly in Nepal a woman can take more than one husband. I didn't know there was a gender prescribed form of polyandry.

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  9. Polyandry allows males only to have multiple spouses. That's what Mormons practiced although polygamy would become the term by which their practice came to be popularly known. Correctly speaking, polygamy allows non-monogamous marriages for both men and women.

    Craig

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  10. Not according to the Atlantic. Polyandry is a woman with multiple husbands,

    http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/02/when-taking-multiple-husbands-makes-sense/272726/

    apparently once common among the Inuit as well. I guess what's good for the goose, polygyny, is also good for the gander, polyandry.

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    1. Polyandry is the practice of a woman having more than one husband - every society that has practiced it has had the same outcome: reduced birth rates.

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