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April 2, 2012 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Polygamy, Polyga-you

It is perfectly reasonable for you, dear reader, to have crinkled your brow in confusion upon reading the title of this article. What is polygamy I hear you ask? Well, basically, it’s where you get to have sex with multiple people and not have your husband/wife get mad at you because, in fact, the person you did it with is your husband/wife as well! Intrigued? Yeah, me too.

Polygamy, translated from a Greek word meaning “often married”, is the act of engaging in a marriage comprising of more than two partners. The most common form of the social practice is referred to as polygyny (when a man marries multiple women).

Guys, I know what you’re thinking, what kind of Jesus-type Adonis of a man could possibly handle more than one woman at a time? Just one can often be too much for even the best of us. In actual fact polygamy is, and has been, far more prominent globally than most people realise. Anthropological records have shown that polygamous relationships have featured in more than 85 per cent of societies at some point or another.

Today though, polygamy is a mere shadow of its former self and is practiced mainly only in tribal communities and by certain religious groups. Representatives for Islam have come forward in order to attempt to justify their faith’s endorsement of plural marriage and cite the emphasis placed on community obligation in the Qur’an as a primary factor; “As the Qur’an indicates (4:3), the issue of polygamy in Islam is understood in the light of community obligations towards orphans and widows. Islam, as a universal religion that is suitable for all times and places, cannot ignore these compelling obligations.”

Muslims also see in polygamous marriage a solution to social faux pas seen in abundance in the west; “Islamic polygamy addresses the social problems of prostitution and extramarital affairs common in the West. Instead of cheating—infidelity is one of the top reasons for divorce in the West—Islam allows a man to marry more than one wife, with full recognition of the rights of both of them.”

Polygamy is not completely dead in the west though; America especially still enjoys the occasional draught from the bigamous cup with an estimated 50,000 people thought to be living polygamous lifestyles. The majority of this number is made up by fundamentalist Mormons who splintered away from popular Mormonism when the religion renounced polygamy in the 1800s. These independent sects believe that Joseph Smith had a revelation in the mid-1800s and announced that in order to replenish the earth and gain access to the celestial afterlife, men were to have as many wives and children as possible.

Even closer to home, polygamy enjoys some level of political contention. Debates on the issue have arisen in New Zealand as recently as 2008 when Social Development Minister Ruth Dyson was quoted as saying that the government was “moving to recognise triples (in the family unit)”. It’s a long way away from the nuclear family model, but it’s still a pretty explosive idea.

As expected though, polygamous societies in America have been subject to a lot of criticsm on the part of non-practisers and have enjoyed their fair share of scandals. In 2008 a raid on a Texas ranch belonging to The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) resulted in multiple charges of bigamy and welfare fraud.

The social issues with polygamy reach far beyond legal indiscretions however, with the former leader of FLDS being sentenced to life imprisonment for multiple counts of sexual assault against a minor.

Spectrum writer David Larson atrtibutes the prevalence of sexual abuse in polygamous communities to the form of “extreme patriarchy” that “often becomes a tyranny against women.” Bereft of influence, the abuse of these mothers’ children is one of the “inherent dynamics of polygamy.”

Examples of polygamy in the media are numerous and rarely complementary. The HBO show Big Love is the story of a Mormon man who has three wives and nine children and is forced to keep his lifestyle secret for fear that his business will fail if he is discovered. Likewise the character of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart has several wives in his village and is a prideful, violent man who frequently beats his wives and eventually commits suicide at the novel’s climax.

It really makes you think. With a practice that has enjoyed such prominence throughout our history and continues to be practiced and contended today, why do we, as cosmopolitan, educated young people internally cringe at the idea? Is it because it really is detestable in polite society? Or has it just suffered from a prolonged smear campaign from the mass media? Is the global decline in polygamous relationships perhaps a case of conservative western ethics encroaching on an ancient form of simple anthropological prudence?

And, no matter what your opinion on the issue is, doesn’t it seem like the kind of private, personal matter about which you should be able to make up your own mind?

It has long been understood in western society that the one ‘line in the sand’ which the government cannot cross in the process of their lawmaking lies across the door of the family home. Obvious exceptions exist in cases of domestic violence and other examples of gross misconduct, but does polygamy really fit into that category? Should the ways in which we socially unite ourselves really be subject to governmental regulation?

The American Declaration of Independence possibly sums up the proper role of government the best; “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted

among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” I interpret this to basically mean that if, as a stepping stone in my pursuit of happiness, I choose to engage in a polygamous marriage (assuming that I’m not hurting anyone), the government not only has no right to stop me but should be stripped of its power and deposed for even suggesting that I do. Their only role in the whole situation should be dealing with any perverse side-effects that might arise. But maybe that’s just me.

The practical applications of polygamy in society are made pretty clear by the Muslims, and, when you consider the incredible malleability that the institution of marriage has enjoyed in the past, it seems pretty crazy not to allow a cheeky bit of bigamy in there somewhere (see the guy who married his cat (Germany), the woman who married the Eiffel Tower (France) and that one guy in China who married a cardboard cut-out of himself in woman’s clothing).

Polygamy is definitely an issue that can be contended ‘til the cows come home. With the institution of marriage in the state that it’s in now though, not to mention society at a whole, monogamy wouldn’t be the horse that I’d back. Perhaps all that we unhappy souls of the world need to do to lighten up is to get a bit o’ polygamy going on.


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  1. jason says:

    It is a fact that almost all of the Animal species are not monogamist par a few species. Yet since the intruduction of the Christian religion a large number of people worldwide live this type of relationship?. There are many other religions that have polygamy as there standard way of life such as Muslims. And history has shown after some wars there was some polygamy happening even in Christian states just to get balance. But not too many talk about this cause it’s taboo?. Many young people today have more than one sex partner sometimes the same sex. And many youth today even organizing sex parties?. Yet when i was young this was hardly heard of. Many people keep f..k buddies that a friends with benefits e.g. booty calls. These are a mutural relationship between two or more people just like an open relationship but they call each other friends?. Basically these people are having an polygamist relationship. But society classes polygamy is what happens when someone marry’s more than one person?. I say what’s really wrong with a tri relationship it just seems so normal if both other parties are in love with each other and you balance there like’s and dislike’s and always be open. Imagine if this was the norm? People would be less inclined to sleep around on each other and with say two people working full time and say someone at home with the kids the perfect balance would accure, and if one gets tired they could swap roles and the income would be better as there would be two providers. I’m sick of hearing governments saying more parents are working and not spending quality time with the kids yet they also complain not enough money is being made in house holds to raise a family so both parents have to work!. It’s just a no win situation. Yet in a triad relationship you can create balance but it would be recomended that you are either bi sexual and willing to have another guy in your lives or you patner is bi sexual so you can have another woman in your lives as this creates less conflict than having two people fighting over you effection. To many men i’d known got off on women fighting over them as it increases these girls dependency on that man and his ego. But in a triad relationship it’s about respect and communication and balance not ego or conflict. We all have a job to do and a lot of love to share. Polyamory for all.

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