Is Polygamy Good for Women and Children?

Commentary by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS

As so many have forewarned, opening the door to “alternative family” arrangements such as same-sex marriage is bound to give way to calls for the legalization of other arrangements, such as a recently published argument in a major online magazine claiming polygamy is good for women and children.

sister wives “While the Supreme Court and the rest of us are all focused on the human right of marriage equality, let’s not forget that the fight doesn’t end with same-sex marriage. We need to legalize polygamy, too. Legalized polygamy in the United States is the constitutional, feminist, and sex-positive choice. More importantly, it would actually help protect, empower, and strengthen women, children, and families.”

These are the words of New York writer Jillian Keenan who published an op-ed in Slate Magazine in which she outlines the good polygamy can do for society.

Keenan claims legalizing polygamy would actually help cut down on the kind of child abuse that is rampant in polygamist cults such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints run by a man in prison for life for arranging marriages between young girls and older men.

“In a United States with legalized polygamy, responsible plural families could emerge from the shadows—making it easier for authorities to zero in on the criminals who remain there,” Keenan writes.

She also argues that polygamy will further religious freedom.

“It’s also hard to argue with the constitutional freedom of religious expression that legalized polygamy would preserve,” Keenan writes. “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 shouldn’t be able to express that faith in their marriages.”

Speaking from a feminist’s point of view, Keenan goes on to say that those who believe polygamy is degrading to women are misguided.

“The case for polygamy is, in fact, a feminist one and shows women the respect we deserve. Here’s the thing: As women, we really can make our own choices. We just might choose things people don’t like. If a woman wants to marry a man, that’s great. If she wants to marry another woman, that’s great too. If she wants to marry a hipster, well—I suppose that’s the price of freedom. And if she wants to marry a man with three other wives, that’s her  . . . choice.”

Keenan ends her column by directly linking it with the fight for same-sex marriage.

“So let’s fight for marriage equality until it extends to every same-sex couple in the United States—and then let’s keep fighting. We’re not done yet.”

Keenan is not the only one to put out a call for public approval of polygamous relationships. The hit TV show Sister Wives did that several years ago.

And even the prestigious Washington Post published an article six months ago by Lisa Miller extolling the virtues of polygamy.

“If the purpose of marriage is to preserve personal happiness, protect and raise children, and create social stability through shared property and mutual obligation, then why is polygamy so problematic if it occurs among consenting adults?” Miller asks. “The two-parent household may be an ideal, but real life is far messier than that.”

So we should codify this “messiness” by legalizing arrangements that social science already knows are not in the best interests of the child?

Nor does she – or Keenan for that matter – address the question any rational thinking adult might ask at this point in the discussion.

What’s next?

Well, that’s being discussed too – it’s known as polyamory, when people have multiple sexual partners. It’s already being touted as the next sexual revolution.

After that, the only thing left on the list is incest.  Will we one day allow fathers to marry their daughters and brothers to marry their sisters?

Regardless of those who scoff at the “beware of the slippery slope” argument, we’ve already slid far down the slope with polygamy well on its way to being the next “civil rights issue” of our time.

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