Polygamy, plural marriage, polyamory… the news and commentary media coverage has been more than plentiful since the Browns of Sister Wives won recently in a court decision that overturned an item in Utah law that was, perhaps, the most restrictive of its kind in the country.
There has been so much confusion about what actually happened.
No, unfortunately, the court did not grant the polygamous freedom to marry.
What it did was overturn what was, when you get down to it, the criminalization of a polyfidelitous form of polyamory. Under Utah law, people have been free to have a different sex partner every night, and have children with all of them. What they were prevented from doing was actually living with or considering themselves as married to more than one person at a time. So again, if one woman wanted to have sex and children with five different men, that was OK, but she was a criminal if she lived with two men and called both of them her husbands.
It was a ridiculous law, intended to attack religious minorities for their practice of what they call plural marriage, a religion-based form of polygyny. Yet how effective was it at actually stopping polygynous living, or, what is really important, preventing spousal and child abuse? It wasn’t. I argue that such laws actually help perpetuate domestic violence and child abuse by making victims and witnesses more reluctant to cooperate with law enforcement because their own consensual, non-abusive relationships are criminalized.
Anti-equality and compulsory monogamy finger-waggers have been acting like this ruling is the end of the world, no doubt using it as a fundraiser for their certified hate groups. And other people ignorant about what is really going on have regurgitated the ridiculous “polygamy is bad for women and unattractive men” warning (see Discredited Arguments #9, 15, and 16). Some monogamist gay commentators have been throwing poly folks under the bus.
But the court decision is hardly envelope-pushing. It aids long-established, fundamental rights such as the freedom of association and freedom of religion, and brings Utah a little closer to the other 49 states and most of the modern world in no longer allowing law enforcement to march into your home and say, “You can’t love and commit to more than one person! Off to jail with you!”
What I wish the ruling had done was recognize the polygamous freedom to marry (which is what some people seem to think happened.) It is nice to see that, even though there is much bigotry-spewing and there are plenty of bus sightings, there are also many allies standing up and challenging people with the simple question, “What’s wrong with letting people be with the consenting adults they love?” Although the ruling did not go far enough, it is a step in the right direction, and the civil rights march has often progressed through baby steps.
There is still much work to do, but full marriage equality will happen. We will get there. A woman, like a man, should be free to share love, sex, residence, and marriage (or any of those without the others) with ANY and ALL consenting adults, without prosecution, bullying, or discrimination. If a woman wants to marry a man who is already married, that is of no ill effect to anyone else. If she wants to marry two women, that hurts nobody. Let them be! Let them marry!