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Plural Marriage: The New Marriage-Rights Frontier

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In her decades of researching polygamy, Janet Bennion, a professor of anthropology and sociology at Lyndon State College, recalls three times she was “courted” by married women. One wrote her “love letters.” Another took her to a restaurant “to determine whether I was wifely material,” Bennion writes in her new book, Polygamy in Primetime.

These women were devout members of fundamentalist Mormon sects, not swingers. Like many examples in Bennion’s illuminating study, they defy the popular perception that the practice of men taking multiple wives is solely about the male libido.

Liberal Vermonters have cheered on the progress of marriage rights this election season. But what would we say to a woman who sought to unite herself in matrimony to a man and another woman?

We might crack jokes about group sex, accept such a union as “polyamory,” or view it as dangerous to women’s rights when associated with a patriarchal religion. But whatever we think of polygamy in America, Bennion argues, it’s not going away anytime soon. And she believes it should be legal.

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Polygamy in Primetime responds to this new visibility with an overview of the subject that, despite occasional academic language, will appeal to general readers seeking more details than the soap operatics of “Big Love” can provide. Bennion argues provocatively that, just as marriage-equality legislation followed the advent of nuanced media portrayals of gays and lesbians, so “the decriminalization of polygamy will follow the recent poly media phenomenon.”

Of course, there are plenty of reasons for progressives to question the notion that polygamy is part of the “new American sexual revolution,” as Bennion puts it. Mormon plural marriage is tied to patriarchy and the official subordination of women who have access to the privileges of “priesthood” only through men (as in mainstream LDS). The practice rests on the assumption that all fertile women should be breeding; it relies on a high female-to-male ratio; and it has led to abuses, from the rape of teenagers to the mass expulsion of young men who threatened the ruling patriarchs’ monopoly on nubile wives.

But, as Bennion points out, monogamy has sheltered abuses, too. Polygamy, she believes, will never be “the prevalent marriage structure.” Yet it seems to work for some, including mainstream LDS women who convert to fundamentalist sects seeking a “good man” they can’t find in the regular dating pool — even if they have to share him.

We may assume we know why men opt for polygamy: Is a guy who maintains three wives in connected households really that different from a secular serial monogamist on his third or fourth family? But why would an educated, independent-minded woman choose such a situation?

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SEVEN DAYS: What do women find in polygamy?

SD: What’s the relationship between fundamentalists and the LDS church?

SD: You mention having a “theory that plural marriage fosters clandestine lesbianism” — something the LDS church doesn’t condone.

SD: Were you ever tempted by polygamy?

SD: Why should we legalize plural marriage?

SD: Given the reasons you cite for modern single women to choose polygamy — access to high-status men, emotional and economic support from co-wives — is it likely to start taking nonreligious forms?

Polygamy new marriage-rights frontier. We need to get off our high horse, and look at this from a civil liberties perspective

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Oh, it is pretty plain that if gay marriage becomes the law, there will be no argument against polygamy. Heck, even the Vatican suggested the same in its announcement last week.

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Bcspace,

Does it matter to you that many people who support "one man one woman" marriage also support polygamy?

Does it matter to you that those who defended Prop 8 in Perry v. Scharwzneger are on Court record supporting the notion that polygamy falls within the traditional definition of marriage.

So there is no connection between ssm rights and polygamy.

Traditional marriage folks - who oppose ssm - support the premise that heterosexual polygamous marriage (where one man is married to a one woman per ceremony).

Given that the traditional marriage crowd support polygamy what is your point? We need not fear polygamy because of ssm, we need polygamy because of traditional "one man one woman" marriage.

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Does it matter to you that many people who support "one man one woman" marriage also support polygamy?

Not at all.

Does it matter to you that those who defended Prop 8 in Perry v. Scharwzneger are on Court record supporting the notion that polygamy falls within the traditional definition of marriage.

Nope.

So there is no connection between ssm rights and polygamy

I would agree that the later could be justified by the former in the eyes of some. But since there is no reason for the state to recognize gay marriages and almost as much if not exactly the same reason for the state to recognize plural marriages, I tend not to see any connection at all, no.

Traditional marriage folks - who oppose ssm - support the premise that heterosexual polygamous marriage (where one man is married to a one woman per ceremony).

Sounds fine to me though of course I do not advocate the Church bringing back plural marriage unless God Himself authorizes it.

Given that the traditional marriage crowd support polygamy what is your point? We need not fear polygamy because of ssm, we need polygamy because of traditional "one man one woman" marriage.

This is only one of the many aspects of plural marriage covered in the OP. Feel free to talk about the gay marriage connection, but I was actually more interested in the fact that here is a highly educated women (as the article itself points out) justifying, not necessarily for herself, plural marriage. I do not agree that supporters of traditional marriage all support plural marriage. If I were to guess, most are opposed to it.

Did you guys happen to read the answers Ms. Bennion gave to the questions I quoted in the OP?

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I would be cool with legalized polygamy if there was a fair, gender and religiously neutral Family Code providing for it.

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I would be cool with legalized polygamy if there was a fair, gender and religiously neutral Family Code providing for it.

Watch "Sister Wives" and see if you would be cool with it. The promo for a new season shows all kinds of problems with it.

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I have no problem with polygamy, as long as children are not taken as mates. It seems the current practitioners have a penchant for children, and those folks should be jailed.

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I have no problem with polygamy, as long as children are not taken as mates. It seems the current practitioners have a penchant for children, and those folks should be jailed.

Totally agree and wonder why law enforcement in Utah sit on their hands. I think the polygamy in Sister Wives is another side of polygamy and would be more in keeping with what Robert would deem viable.

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My libertarian nature tells me that the government should respond to what people want, rather than mandating what people can get. There certainly have been abuses in polygamist marriages in a number of cultures. However, monogamist relationships have a spotty history too.

I know that communities who practice polygamy have been watching the legal wranglings over SSM with an interest in pursuing legalization of polygamy. However, I have not seen any proposed modifications to the Family Code (the legal codes deaing with child custody, divorce, and property rights) that would provide a fair and religiously neutral provisions for marriage, divorce, custody, and similar issues that are pertinent to marriage.

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Watch "Sister Wives" and see if you would be cool with it. The promo for a new season shows all kinds of problems with it.

I will check it out. I had not heard of the series, but Googled it. I tend to like non-sensational reality TV, and it seems like the type of show I would enjoy watching.

That said, I am sure that relationships are largely governed by religious laws which tend to favor husbands over wives and children. If polygamy --- and polyandry --- are ever legally recognized, there will have to be laws in place that are religiously, and sexually, neutral to govern these complex institutions.

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I will check it out. I had not heard of the series, but Googled it. I tend to like non-sensational reality TV, and it seems like the type of show I would enjoy watching.

That said, I am sure that relationships are largely governed by religious laws which tend to favor husbands over wives and children. If polygamy --- and polyandry --- are ever legally recognized, there will have to be laws in place that are religiously, and sexually, neutral to govern these complex institutions.

I have been totally against polygamy for years after witnessing the group under Warren Jeffs. But then came the Brown family on Sister Wives and I then saw how it could be lived more righteously. I am aghast at the stamina of the husband Cody Brown. He goes around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to make everyone happy. All seem to have their hearts in the right place and are trying to make an almost impossible situation, work. But it's been very hard on them to have to move out of Utah and go to Vegas and leave friends and church family behind. They moved because the Utah law enforcement felt forced to come after them when they started the show and exposed their live style on t.v. Now I think it'd be safe to come back to Utah since the dust has settled.

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Oh, it is pretty plain that if gay marriage becomes the law, there will be no argument against polygamy. Heck, even the Vatican suggested the same in its announcement last week.

Correct.

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My libertarian nature tells me that the government should respond to what people want, rather than mandating what people can get. There certainly have been abuses in polygamist marriages in a number of cultures. However, monogamist relationships have a spotty history too.

I know that communities who practice polygamy have been watching the legal wranglings over SSM with an interest in pursuing legalization of polygamy. However, I have not seen any proposed modifications to the Family Code (the legal codes deaing with child custody, divorce, and property rights) that would provide a fair and religiously neutral provisions for marriage, divorce, custody, and similar issues that are pertinent to marriage.

In some cultures, all such questions are settled in well-organized religious courts. In the State of Israel, for example, if someone has a family law dispute, he must go to the religious court which has jurisdiction (Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, etc.), and the decisions have the full force of the law of the State behind them.

When polygyny is legalized (and it will be), state and federal U.S. law will rewritten to accommodate it.

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People were advocating polygamy in the same breathe they were speaking against ssm.

Polygamy, is said, to fit within the traditional definition of marriage.

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Closer than SSM. However in western eyes not so much. I truly loved my Mother-in-Law while she was alive, but have NO desire for more than one. I don't see a big push for polygamy. Though I have no real objection to it being legalized for consenting adults.

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Closer than SSM. However in western eyes not so much. I truly loved my Mother-in-Law while she was alive, but have NO desire for more than one. I don't see a big push for polygamy. Though I have no real objection to it being legalized for consenting adults.

I'm in the same boat as you sometimesaint. I love my wife will all my heart, but if I had to take another wife, I might go insane. And then possibly more? No thanks, I have my hands full with one woman as it is.

It's not for me, but if consenting adults want to do that with their own lives, than have at it.

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Did you guys happen to catch this statement in the article in answer to one of the questions?

As a feminist, I say, “Bring it on; let’s legalize it.” In that way, what you do is you bring the abuses into the light. You bring in governmental regulating policies that protect second wives.

[This position is] controversial, that’s for sure. There are abuses, but to state that polygamy is uniformly abusive is just an outright lie. It’s a form of bigotry.

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Here is thought.....

Let's say that ssm is the slippery slope.to.polygamy, whats to say such is not Gods plan inorder to re-re-institute polygamy?

Not that God wanted ssm, but that in His forknowledge, He would use the legalization of ssm best in His favor for the benefit of the Saints; the Saints stopped polygamy because of gov persecution, so riding the coat tails of ssm would provide a legal basis in favor of polygamy.

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Here is thought.....

Let's say that ssm is the slippery slope.to.polygamy, whats to say such is not Gods plan inorder to re-re-institute polygamy?

Not that God wanted ssm, but that in His forknowledge, He would use the legalization of ssm best in His favor for the benefit of the Saints; the Saints stopped polygamy because of gov persecution, so riding the coat tails of ssm would provide a legal basis in favor of polygamy.

I don't believe the church would reinstate polygamy, even if it became legal.

There are countries right now where the church is where it's legal, and they still don't allow it there.

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I don't believe the church would reinstate polygamy, even if it became legal.

My opinion is that they wouldn't reinstate it because it becomes legal.

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I am not saying that polygamy legal = next day the Church body sustains polygamy; with polygamy legal there is no more threat described in Official Declaration 1.

Given that polygamy fits within the "traditional definition" of marriage, then the government has just as much interest in allowing polygamy as it does in allowing/licensing/providing benefits for single spouse heterosexual marriages. Polygamy becoming legal does not need a the legalization of ssm.

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I'm curious if there is anyone on this forum who practices, or has practiced, polygamy and who might be able to address what efforts, if any, will be made in the future to make the practice legal in the U.S.

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There was a man who posted years ago who was from a polygamous family, but now would probably work as hard as he could to prevent legality. Other than him, there have been some that have expressed fundamentalist views, but I don't know of any who admitted being in a polygamous relationship in the US.

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There was a man who posted years ago who was from a polygamous family, but now would probably work as hard as he could to prevent legality. Other than him, there have been some that have expressed fundamentalist views, but I don't know of any who admitted being in a polygamous relationship in the US.

I would consider it but the wife put the kibosh on the idea.

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