The practice of polygamy has always been rather frowned upon in most Western cultures over the centuries, so there have been a few instances around the world where it’s more accepted – more often the male form, where a man can have multiple wives, but there are a few instances where woman with multiple husbands is the norm. Mixed marriages – where the gender balance is less relevant than the fact that multiple people are in love – really doesn’t feature on our radars hardly at all.
I’m curious about polygamy, not because I intend to practice it – I haven’t even found a single partner willing to put up with me, let alone considering more than that – but because I think we as a culture, as a society have been so programmed into believing a certain kind of relationship status is “right” that we cannot easily imagine a state where alternatives exist and aren’t necessarily a move towards destroying our entire way of life.
The three forms of polygamy are officially labelled as; polygyny, polyandry, and group marriage.
- Polygyny is when a man has multiple wives.
- Polyandry is when a woman has multiple husbands.
- Group marriage is where the family unit consists of a mish-mash of spouses from both sexes.
An interesting fact I only learnt when researching online for this post; Britain outlaws bigamy, the practice of marrying someone when you’re already married to someone else, and actually recognises polygamy in very specific, narrow reasons; “Polygamy is only recognised as valid in law where the marriage ceremony has been performed in a country whose laws permit polygamy and the parties to the marriage were domiciled there at the time.”
Polygamy became particularly controversial in America among Mormon fundamentalists when the religion was first formed in the 19th century by Joseph Smith. The fraud officially condoned the practice, at least in part undoubtedly because of his own preference for the state of affairs … if you’ll pardon the pun. He was coincidentally able to find religious doctrine that supported his cause, but church and state leaders officially abandoned the practice in 1896 in exchange for becoming a state; they had divine revelation that told them god’s mind had been changed on the subject and wanted them to end the process. The practice later became a felony, although it’s not always been prosecuted in a consistent way over the years.
But there are pros and cons around the practice, of course, and it’s often difficult to have an effective discussion around the subject due to the lack of evidence we’ve gathered on the subject. To this day, male-led plural marriages are still legal in several Muslim countries and some parts of Western Africa, and polygyny is still practiced in Bhutan, Nepal, amongst the Masai people of Kenya, and in some parts of India. However, none of these relationships have been studied as to the effects on human interaction or lifestyles
But the ethics of polygamy should be considered on their own merits, and I have a few thoughts on the subject as to what the ethical implications are.
1. It gives people freedom of choice.
Laws that support polygamous unions should give people a chance to choose what makes them happy, especially when it comes to marrying whom they love. Consequently, people’s rights to privacy will be protected by such laws, ensuring that they will have the freedom to live life the way they wish to. Neither gender should be forced into any kind of relationship, but if that’s the lifestyle they choose to live in – and as long as the relationship is healthy and mutually supportive – then why should anyone ban people from living a life they desire?
2. It provides a better support system.
Because polygamous families will have more husbands / wives and more children, members will always have someone to talk to. They will have a shoulder to cry on, someone who they can relate to, and a confidant. This reduces the risk of depression and isolation among the members, especially the children.
A couple of cons;
1. It brings jealousy.
Jealousy can naturally occur in any household, which could be magnified in a house with more than one adult relationship going on. This can affect the entire clan, causing misunderstandings and other problems that can make a house chaotic. Favoritism among your children can also cause jealousy and emotional distress.
2. It could make some feel neglected.
In this type of union, each part of the union will need to fulfill their responsibilities to each other apart. If there’s an emotional imbalance in the house, then hurt and confusion can set in, especially when communication fails and misunderstanding sets in.
I’m genuinely of the belief that any consenting, adult relationship should be permitted. This isn’t permissiveness gone mad or any other such nonsense, merely plain common sense. We should allow people the ability to celebrate their own diversity, and not assume that a single type of relationship should be right for everyone. Personally, I quite like the sound of having a single partner; that works for me. But does that mean I should impose the same kind of expectation on everyone else? No; for one thing, what gives me the right to assume that everyone else is going to be – or should be – the same as me? We should all be allowed to explore our sexuality and desires in our own way, in any ways that are healthy and secure.
If, as a result of all the above, that means some people are going to want to get together in a community of love and celebrate that in a different way to the majority, then good for them. I admire people for standing up and saying, “This is me. This is what I’m comfortable with.” Just because one particular way of celebrating love is currently in the ascendant doesn’t mean that it’s the only way; we’re confusing our way with the only way, and that’s just wrong. Happy, healthy relationships come in many forms, as it turns out, and it’s not the government’s job to legislate against it, nor is it humanity’s job to judge other people; it’s everyone’s job to be secure enough in themselves to say, “Live and let live” for anyone who is leading a healthy, constructive life – and, really, that’s all that matters.