Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Noble Cause

Diane Noble is the award-winning author of The Sister Wife, the first book in her new historical polygamy fiction series "Brides of Gabriel." She has a commentary on about how condemnation of polygamy (polygyny, really) can really be about a larger bigotry towards anything different than someone’s own feelings and choices.

I've studied yesterday's polygamists, and today's, as appalled as anyone about the treatment of women and children in fundamentalist offshoots of the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Mormons are just as appalled as the rest of us, I might add.) More than that, I am sickened by the practice of marrying child brides to men old enough to be their grandfathers. In my opinion, this practice has nothing to do with religion; it has everything to do with pedophilia.

I'm also concerned that HBO's popular "Big Love" and TLC's upcoming reality show "Sister Wives," for the sake of entertainment and palatability, can't give us the whole truth about life in polygamous families. I'm concerned that both shows are essentially promoting a lifestyle that is illegal in the U.S.

In the 19th century, however, polygamy was first practiced as a means to take care of widows and orphans on the rough and dangerous frontier. Mormons had been tortured and killed and chased from their settlements. Mothers with young children were left without homes or husbands to care for them. Was the practice of polygamy humane? I believe it was. Was it easy? Ask any woman who's known jealousy and she would probably say no.

Citing jealousy as a reason why polygamy can’t work ignores two very important things. First, that there are polygamous marriages that have worked and continue to work, if by “work” we mean that the marriages last and the participants benefit from the marriage. Second is that spouses (or nonspousal lovers or friends) of any arrangement, including monogamy, are sometimes jealous of someone else’s time and devotion to children, friends, jobs, hobbies; essentially, anything other than them. So it is a very weak argument to cite feelings of jealousy as a reason to deny this freedom to marry. If someone only wants one spouse and wants that spouse to have no other spouses, they can have that. Allowing others their right to polygamy won’t force them to give up their right to their monogamy.

The deeper story has to do with how we see, how we interact with, the real people who differ from us -- those neighbors with skin of a different hue, those families who attend a mosque instead of a church or synagogue, or wear tip-to-toe clothing alien to us, or have a different way of praying.

Yes, some people have a hard time accepting that other people are different from them in the lives they lead. Those people will just have to adjust to letting other people have their freedom. I do think, though, that if more people could see polygamy freely enjoyed by others, some people who currently condemn the very idea might go so far as to strongly consider it for themselves.
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