The practice of polygamy has been rather frowned upon in Western cultures over the centuries, but there have been a few instances around the world where it’s more accepted – more often where a man can have multiple wives (polygyny), but there are a few instances where women with multiple husbands (polyandry) is the norm. Mixed marriages – where the gender balance is less relevant than the fact that multiple people are in love – barely features on our radars 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 any more than that – but because we as a culture have been so programmed into believing a certain kind of relationship is “right” that we cannot easily imagine a state where alternatives exist but aren’t intent on destroying our way of life.
An interesting fact I only learnt when researching 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.
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. There are a few thoughts on the ethical implications;
1. It gives people freedom of choice.
Laws that support polygamous unions 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.
I’m 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 is 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, as long as it is healthy and safe.
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. It’s not the government’s job to legislate against relationships, 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”.