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Jul 13, 2009

Pro Polygamy

At first glance my title may appear to be an oxymoron, but with a closer examination you will be able to, if not agree, understand this point of view. As a Muslim woman I could have easily come to the same decision by simply stating “I am Muslim, Islam allows for polygamy, I have freedom of religion, so polygamy should be legalized.” Instead my conclusion on the legalization of polygamy comes with out putting my religious beliefs into the equation. I will also present this argument absent of my personal opinions of polygamy. In other words, this paper does not aim to discuss the moral, cultural or religious value of polygamy. Nor is it designed for me to discuss whether polygamy is right for my life or yours. It is not even on whether polygamy should be practiced or not. It is however concerned with the legalization of polygamy and women’s rights in relation to its legalization.

The fact of the matter is polygamy exist in the United States. Christains practice polygamy. Muslims practice polygamy. People who practice Ife practice it. People practice it absent of any religious reasons. Immigrants practice it. Nationals practice it. Thousands of people in the United States practice polygamy. Polygamy being outlawed has not and will not prevent it from existing in the United States. In addition polygamist are generally not brought up on charges for practicing polygamy. If a case does come to court it is typically for “polyabuse”, crimes like incest, underage marriage or welfare fraud. Crimes that are crimes on their own. However otherwise healthy, plural marriages between consenting adults should not be a crime.

Furthermore, putting legalizing polygamy will allow for controls to be place on a practice that is not regulated. Which allows for abuse of the practice to go on unquestioned. However, if persons are required to obtain a license for a second marriage, they may be required by the states to ad hear to rules. They will be forced to ad hear to rules that they are not forced to ad hear to now. Both respecting their rights to act as adults in control over their personal life's and the well fare of society. In addition crimes that are masked under polygamy will be exposed (Walfare fraud, underage marriage) One because the government will now have documentation of the relationship. Two because marriages that don't meet the requirement for a license will not be allowed.

The point is polygamy is practiced and it will continue to be practiced. Since it is illegal it places the women who practice it at a tremendous legal disadvantage. For example, say a woman is a second wife and for some reason she seeks a divorce, her marriage is not recognized by the state so she cannot be afforded the same rights, as would the legal wife. Another example is if a man has two wives and passes away, if he does not have a will only the first wife has legal authority over their property. This again leaves any other wives in a bad situation. Illegal plural marriages also leave children at a disadvantage, when it can easily be an advantage. A plural home for children is, no doubt a more stable home for children then one in which a man is flipping between more then one home with no social or legal responsibility to the mother and child. For one it is more economically stable, but even more important it is more emotionally stable. It is easier for a child to understand daddy has other children who he loves as much as you that he has to share his time with, and then daddy is expected to put these children and their needs above yours because they are legitimate and you are not.

Polygamy it self does not put women at a disadvantage. It is the criminalization of polygamy that places women at a disadvantage. Not only does this criminalization of a historically practiced institution put women in an unstable situation; it has created a stigma where one did not exist. As journalist the issue of polygamy continues to frighten and scandalize Americans, and steers us toward the most manifestly backward and veritably un-American of practices: acceptance of social and legal discrimination”. It is an infringement biased purely on the valuing one religious and cultural understanding of marriage over others. Not on its implications on society.

You may be wondering if legalizing polygamy will contribute to our already morally declining society. The answer is no. For one, there are not flocks of men and women sitting around waiting for polygamy to be legalized. In fact in a world where polygamy is allowed in many countries, less then 15% of the Muslim world practice it(I am sure that the numbers are similar amongst other groups that allow for polygamy). Most people, regardless of their cultural or religious allowance for polygamy, would prefer to remain in monogamous marriages. Legalizing polygamy will not insanely increase polygamy it will however protect the rights of those who choose to practice it.

What it will do is make those who practice polygamy socially and legally responsible to their wives. It will also serve as a regulation of polygamy. It will eliminate many abuses that happen. For example men taking second wives with out the first wives permission. If polygamy is legalized it can be a requirement for both wives to consent before a marriage license is issued. There may also be an age requirement instated, to eliminate minors becoming second wives. It will protect non legal wives from being divorced for frivolous reasons. Like other marriages their will be no willy nilly divorces of second wives. Couples will have to go through the same divorce proceedings of monogamous marriages. There will also be no me so horny marriages as the parties will have to apply for a marriage license. If plural marriages are indeed a decision of three or more consenting adults of sound mind, it should be allowed. And if there are no other alternative motives behind polygamy then those who seek to practice it will willingly ad hear to the rules the state mandates. As to what those rules should specifically look like, that is up to the state. But one would assume that they would not be based on the rules regarding polygamy as prescribed by on religion over the other, but rules as designed by the states. So that they best meet the needs of the state and the various people following the rules.
As Justice Anthony Kennedy said in his opinion of Lawrence and Gardner v. Texas
“[America] has been shaped by religious beliefs, conceptions of right and acceptable behavior, and respect for the traditional family. For many persons these are not trivial concerns, but profound and deep convictions accepted as ethical and moral principles to which they aspire and which thus determine the course of their lives. These considerations, do not answer the question before us, however. “The issue is whether the majority may use the power of the state to enforce those views on the whole society. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. In all events we think that our laws and traditions in the past half-century have the most relevance here. These show an emerging awareness that liberty gives substantial protection to adult persons in deciding how to conduct their private lives and in matters pertaining to sex.”

Polygamy is with out a doubt a private matter pertaining to sex and should be protected as such. Protected not because men have the right to more then one wife, but because women have the right to be protected under the law.

I guess in effect I am pro choice. Much like legalizing abortion did not necessarily increase the abortions, reduced the number of deaths associated with having illegal abortions. Legalizing polygamy will reduce the number of abuses that take place while it is illegal. In addition much like many people disagree with abortions, those same people agree with abortions being legal. Agreeing that polygamy should be legal does not mean you must believe in the practice of polygamy.

note: I am aware that polygamy technically means both a man marrying more then one wife(polygny) or a woman having more then one husband(polyandry)...i chose to use polygamy as opposed to polygny because polygamy is more often then not polygny and is popularly used as such.

Written
April 2008

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