As our society and its progressive vision move increasingly towards equal rights for LGBT persons and the ending of victimless crime, one issue from the distant past has taken a perhaps unsurprising back seat.
Polygamy. At first glance, it’s easy to think of Middle Eastern or African polygyny. Illegal in the entire US for over a century – and an offense a person can go to jail for – polygamy is probably most well-known to most of us for being featured in the Bible or stories from a strange land called Utah. As we soldier on towards public acceptance that people are born gay and want to marry, polygamy is something most of us just aren’t concerned with. What better time than now to begin the discussion?
When we hear “one man, one woman,” the first response is usually “bullshit!” and the second is to call somebody a bigot. While these responses are welcome, if a bit unproductive, these knee-jerk reactions cause us to not question another level of bullshit. It’s become evident that “one man, one woman” is an entirely arbitrary gender standard and there’s no reason why it can’t just as easy become “one man, one man” or “one woman, one woman.” (Okay, the easier way to say that would just be “two men/women”, but bear with me on this.) Now that we’ve started to accept this arbitrary standard being ridiculous and unjust as it is, the next arbitrary standard we need to take a look at is why only two people can be married at a time.
Historical accounts should lead one to the conclusion that polygamy has been a fairly common occurrence throughout civilization. In our religious texts and in stories of the ancients, including their own writings, tales of polygamy are commonplace – much like stories of our LGBT ancestors. It wasn’t limited to one area of the world, either. One side of the world to the other, various cultures have engaged in their own versions of polygamy. This isn’t some unknown thing, some relic of a lost age, polygamy has been a central feature of humanity and human relations for thousands of years.
Those who fight against gay rights and equality in the marriage field often say that after gay marriage comes bestiality! Incest! Pedophilia! Polygamy! Out of these things – gay marriage, bestiality, incest, pedophilia, and polygamy – two of them aren’t like the others. Gay marriage is consensual and harms no one. Polygamy is the same. Why do we let opponents of marriage equality have a pass on polygamy when they use it to support their backwards vision of what society is and should be?
While it may have benefitted our WASP ancestors in this legend of success and grandeur we call American history to prohibit us from marrying multiple persons, who does it really help and who does it really serve? What is the societal and cultural gain of prohibiting this? With divorce being widespread and cheating becoming a cultural fixture, it should be apparent that humans are not “meant” for monogamy. In the natural world, monogamy most frequently implies that someone is getting killed at the end of copulation.
Furthermore, what do we mean exactly by saying that it’s a free country if we ban something as harmless as polygamy? The gears of bureaucracy extended to ban polygamy in this free country fairly early on, only tolerating it when forced, and stamped it out whenever they could. What is missing, though, is a real and solid reason for this harsh treatment. Saying something is a societal ill or immoral means little when one can’t point out these societal ills or what it means to be immoral.
If this is to be a progressive era, a truly progressive era, each person should be free to do what they desire so long as it does no harm to others. I don’t know you or what you believe, but I believe that if there are not good reasons for laws that are on the books, laws they should not be. As the fight for gay marriage and gay rights winds down thanks to increasing public awareness and acceptance, we should be starting to discuss more issues that relate to personal freedom. If we are to acknowledge and promote diversity and personal freedom, the next arena may very well be polygamy. I hope we’re ready.
This is part one of a two part series, with part two covering criticisms towards polygamy and polyamory.