Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Polygamy More Ethical?

Don Lee makes a case that "Polygamy is more Ethical than Monogamy.”

He explains that professing monogamy isn’t always matched with actual monogamy.

In Western culture this is generally referred to as either "family friend" or "serial monogamy", neither of which are true monogamy. While being legally married, approximately 80% of all couples experience a sexual contact outside of marriage, and this remains the 2nd largest cause of classic divorce.

It may be cited as a cause in a certain number of divorces, but in a good chunk of those cases, it is not the cause. It may be a symptom. Yes, there are some divorces in which cheating (a physical, emotional, or financial relationship with someone in violation of the agreement with the spouse) is the cause, but I think it is clear to less biased observers that the cheating is a symptom of the real problem leading to the divorce.

The largest cause of divorce is loss of income, itself a revealing indicator of what Western Marriage is really all about.

Moral monogamy is "marriage until death" in most cultures. Legal monogamy is having only one legitimate spouse. These are in no way similar concepts, and in practice are quite diverse. Legally, you can be "monogamous" about nine or ten times, and some people have been married more than a dozen times.

In general (prostitution and consanguineous sex being generally illegal, and thus excluded) a married person having sex with someone other than his or her spouse is not criminalized in the US, though in a few states it can be subject to a lawsuit in civil court.

My point is not just that "serial monogamy" isn't really monogamy, and it isn't, but that many completely happy 30+ year marriages indulge in "private activities" which involve other people. Apart from the roughly 90 million Americans [almost one in three] who are members of sexually-themed clubs, or swingers, there is the harsh reality of cheating. 8.5 in 10 marriages experience infidelity according to most studies. The number ranges from 6 to 9 in 10 depending no the focal group, however the larger the group - the higher the ratio trends! Meaning, the likelihood that more people "cheat" is found to be more significant when studying larger groups.

As I have said before, actual monogamy is a minority behavior.

The chances of a successful marriage are less than 30% by most calculations, and those are odds I would not play even in Vegas.

This is where I think the writer gets it wrong, depending on how one defines “successful.” I suppose it is possible to say that if you exclude all marriages that end in divorce, separation, estrangement, or otherwise experience significant trouble, no matter how long they lasted or what was accomplished during the marriage, you could arrive at this figure. Mostly, though, when emotionally healthy and mature people marry with no prior marriages or other significant baggage (prior children, large debts, serious criminal record, Anita Bryant record collection), the odds of it lasting until death are high. But you do have these people, especially a lot of these types who tend to be against marriage equality, who marry and divorce three or four times, skewing the odds.

Marriage can help. Marriage can enhance a relationship. Many people who have experienced cohabitation without marriage and then with marriage report a difference. Full marriage equality will bring that to others, too, thus improving life for LGBT people and their family members, poly people, etc.

The essay goes on to talk about how being intolerant leads to divorce, and makes a case that men are generally on the short ends of the stick with current marriage laws in the West.

Essentially, we have a primitive legal structure based on outdated morality, which continues to exact life-destroying punishments upon those who have harmed nobody.

Boy, is that ever true!

He goes on to make a case that current laws and programs encourage women to raise children outside of legal marriages.

Now we get to the good part…

Ethically, poly marriages are far more stable, rarely dissolve, and provide enormously well for the children. Allowing people to license a group marriage would ensure long term stability, and make divorce very unlikely to cause emotional harm to the children even when it does occur.

The law should not be enjoined to prevent any class of person from getting married, such as gay people, or mixed race, or people from other nations.

If people want to get married, we should get out of their way and let them.

He writes a bit about the difficulties faced by same-sex couples, before returning to the poly topic.

Yet, there is no news flash about a poly family member killing her kids because she was depressed. The chances that any person in a poly marriage would be so isolated that they could develop a problem that dangerous, and that severe, are remote to the point of ridiculousness. In a poly marriage you're never alone, suffering apart from your mate, or without some conversation. Poly structures actually require communication as a part of existence.

You can't be poly without communicating. It does not work.

Therefore, Polygamous marriages are by definition far more stable and successful than monogamous marriages, because polygamy can't even be started without extensive communication, deal brokering, and long negotiations.

He knows what he’s talking about first hand…

I grew up on a farm with a family that practiced legal polygamy, and I was never abused until my mother pulled away from the family and converted to Christianity. Her abuse put me into a foster home, which cost me my birth family, and also all contact with the rest of that family. I never knew them again. I did not rediscover my roots until I was in the military and dated a young Jewish woman. There, again, I saw the warmth, unconditional love, and large prosperous families that I'd remembered.

This is probably one of the worst kept secrets about Western Judaism, and one that many would probably like me to shut the heck up about, but it's truth. Ethically, there's not only nothing wrong with it, Polygamy is in reality a multitude of times more healthy and successful than Monogamy. Despite being demonized in Christian media, persecuted by law thanks to other religions, and widely derided as abusive for more than fifty years, Polygamy continues unabated, safely, without harm to anyone.

After explaining that polygamy isn’t inherently harmful to women, he goes on to get more broadly philosophical.

With as much as I quoted, there’s a lot I didn’t. Go read the whole thing.

If it could be conclusively proven that polygamy was generally better than monogamy, I still wouldn’t discourage monogamy. That’s because I believe in full marriage equality, in which people make their own choices about their marriage, or whether or not they will marry at all, or whether they will stay married. It is too bad more people who tout monogamy can’t extend that kind of respect to poly people.
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