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Monday, August 27, 2012

Polygynists, Obama, and Romney

I've mentioned before the polygyny in the heritage of both President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney. Thanks to Jesse Walker at reason.com for calling my attention to McKay Coppins' article at buzzfeed.com, "Polygamists See Themselves in Romney, Obama Family Trees."
Anne Wilde still clearly remembers the moment she watched Mitt Romney throw his heritage under the bus.

A practicing polygamist and leading advocate for "plural marriage" rights, Wilde had watched Romney's political rise over the years with an unusual sense of personal investment. She knew his agenda wouldn’t include the polygamist equality that she’d spent years fighting for as co-founder of the advocacy group Principle Voices. She knew he was just a politician trying to win an election.
And look how he's treated gays and lesbians who want to monogamously marry.



But she also knew this was a man who came from a long family line of proud polygamists — ancestors who embodied the best qualities of the lifestyle she loved. And, in 2007, as Romney ascended to the top tier of the Republican presidential primary, Wilde found herself eagerly cheering him on.

Then, in May, Romney gave an interview to Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes, where the subject of polygamy came up.

"There is part of the history of the church's past that as I understand is troubling to people," the candidate said. "Look, the polygamy, which was outlawed in our church in the 1800s, that's troubling to me. I have a great-great grandfather. They were trying to build a generation out there in the desert. And so he took additional wives as he was told to do. And I must admit, I can't imagine anything more awful than polygamy."

Wilde was crushed.
Really? He couldn't think of anything more awful than polygamy? Well, I suppose it is awful in a time and place where women are property, only men can have more than one partner, lesbians are force to marry men or be shunned and alone, and all of that. But under a system with gender equality, the freedom to not marry, and the freedom to divorce, a woman should be free to marry a man who is already married, provided all involved agree, and provided she is free to marry a woman if she wants to, or more than one woman, or more than one man, or a man and a woman.
Obama, meanwhile, has kept mum on the subject of his ancestral polygamy since entering the White House, Wilde said, though she suspects he wouldn't be quite so harsh, since he doesn't feel the same compulsion to overcompensate that his Mormon challenger does.

Image by Chris Ritter/Buzzfeed

As biographer David Maraniss reports in his book, Barack Obama: The Story, the president's great-grandfather was a polygamist in western Kenya — where it was a common practice in the Luo tribe — and took five wives, including two who were sisters. Obama's grandfather had four wives; and his father already had a wife in Kenya when he went to the University of Hawaii, fell in love with Ann Dunham, and married her.
As for Romney...

In Romney's case, the practice was put to an end several generations ago, but the list of known polygamist relatives is much more expansive, thanks in part to his church’s commitment to genealogy research. Both of Romney’s paternal great-grandfathers, early leaders in the Mormon Church, practiced polygamy, and both spent much of their lives in Mexico, after fleeing a U.S. government crackdown on Mormon plural marriage. One of them had five wives; the other had four — and that's where it stopped. Romney's grandfather and father were born in a Mormon colony in Mexico, but both were monogamists.



Image by Chris Ritter/Buzzfeed

The article eventually gets to the Dargers, and Joe Darger supporting the Libertarian candidate for President.
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