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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


More on polygamy

I read up a bit on polygamy (via wikipedia) and found some interesting things:

1. It is not illegal to live with multiple people and to have sexual relationships with them, UNLESS you *claim* that more than one of them are your spouses.

2. Some polygamists marry and then divorce each spouse as a way of not technically doing anything illegal. This isn't what he does in Big Love - but if he did this is how it would work: Bill would marry Barb and then divorce her. She would thus still have his last name, as would their children. He would then marry Nicki, then divorce her. He would finally marry Margene and stay married to her until her wanted a new wife. Thus, no one is committing any crimes (technically), and they can be more open about their relationships.

3. This last point is important, I think, in terms of the problems of polygamy. The children have to keep their relationships secret (and that can be near to impossible with younger children, and an annoyance and source of rebellion for older ones), and cannot acknowledge the relationships in public. In one heartbreaking scene in Big Love, his two young sons (by his second, and thus unacknowledged, wife) see him and start running toward him. He panics and the children are whisked away by their mothers. Thus creating some legal guise of why there are strong relationships between the family members can be helpful to children - who I imagine are bewildered as to why things need to be secret and hurt when daddy or one of the other mommies doesn't acknowledge them.

[I have chills right now watching the abc news segment on the Iraq war. Some British reporters were imbedded with the US troops and abc showed some of the footage. It's devastating. I think we need to see more of this on the news. If we saw more footage of what is really happening over there, we would more forcefully push to end the war, and congress would not have to fear repercussions from the public if they push for it too. I feel like there were far more news reports about the VietNam war - that people were much more aware of the reality of it back then - or am I wrong?]

4. Back to polygamy. Apparently many polygamists only marry one person and then call the others their spouses. Thus, as in Big Love, this is not technically polygamy. The only way it is illegal is if there are laws in that particular state against cohabitation or adultery. According to wikipedia, cohabitation (an emotional and physical relationship within one home) is illegal in 7 states: North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, West Virginia, Florida, Idaho and Michigan. However, it is not often enforced. Interesting that it is not illegal in Utah. In Pennsylvania, adultery is punishable by up to 2 years in jail, in Michigan, it can carry a life sentence, and in Maryland, there is a potential $10 fine.

5. I'm curious as to whether or not Big Love has had an impact on how Mitt Romney is viewed. Even though he is not a polygamist and I think not a fundamentalist, I think that Mormonism comes cross as being fairly repressive (garment lines?!?), extreme, intolerant, and that there is a lot of proselytizing. Romney is the only candidate I have ever heard discuss the separation of church and state (in a good way - that they need to be separate) - but I think this show makes it hard to see how that could work.

6. Interestingly, I would argue that polygamy is not good for women (although there are some cultural exceptions - for example, in afghanistan under the Taliban - given that many husbands died in the war and women were not allowed to work or leave the house without a male - polygamy could be a protective thing - and the only way single women could survive), but some have argued it is bad for men in general. Let's say there are 100 men and 100 women (all heterosexual) - and 10 of those men each marry 3 women, that leaves 90 unmarried men and 70 unmarried women - meaning that men get the short shrift.

7. One of the arguments for polygamy by "the Prophet" in big love is that making it illegal is nonsensical given that it is a consensual act and is a lifestyle choice, not unlike gay and lesbian relationships. When framed that way, it makes sense. However, one good argument against it (although I guess a reason that could also be used to argue that making it legal would solve this) is that because there are not all that many polygamists, and it is not exactly easy to safely recruit non-polygamists into polygamous relationships, there is a lot of intermarriage - and thus a lot of inbreeding. Wikipedia notes that one guy married his 15-year-old cousin, who was also his aunt.

8. Clearly the marriage of minors is illegal, and not a practice that should be condoned at all.

9. One of the big issues for me in all of this is that of consent. To some extent if adults consent to such an arrangement, then maybe that is ok. I'm still dubious about this, but I find myself hard pressed to think it ought be illegal if everyone is an adult and everyone consents. However, it seems to me that consent is not an easy thing in this - particularly because this occurs within religions that are fairly repressive, patriarchal, and not valuing of women. Within that context, is true consent possible? On Big Love, Barb (Bill Paxton's character's first wife) consented to his taking another wife - however, it seems as though she likely consented out of fear that if she didn't do so, he would leave her. She also had cancer at the time, and thus was likely not in a good state to make such decisions.

10. Clearly minors are incapable of making truly informed consent, and are likely not consenting to such things without heavy duty coercion, brainwashing, or fear of severe consequences (like banishment, punishment, etc. - on more than one occasion in Big Love, Bill is exhorted by others to use physical punishment to "control" his wives). In a recent episode, it was noted that women in the compound who were rebellious were sent to reeducation camps - which I imagine are like the camp in the book "Jesus Land" - and then they come back and are "nice" and thus consent to this stuff).

11. Okay, clearly I am obsessed. It's nice to have something to think about besides Harry Potter. I seem to recall that a couple years ago, a book came out by a woman who left he Mormon church - and in it she talked about having been abused - does anyone know this book?


At 9:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Polygamy (Mormons, the Liberals that they are, play word games, calling it "plural marriage" so it doesn't sound as bad) is more prevalent than you might think. A lot of times, a Mormon man will own two (or more) houses and will shuffle his time between them and wives.

Polygamy is required in their scripture to become a god someday.

For the scoop, check out:


Like Mormonism, the blog isn't what it seems.

(Funny photos too.)


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