Polygamy Hypocrisy

Polygamy is on trial in Canada, where one of the issues is what justifies anti-polygamy laws infringing on the choices of consenting adults. Advocates of the status quo say polygamy hurts society by creating more unmarried men, who are unhappy and violent, and by making men compete more fiercely for women’s admiration:

Does polygamy between consenting adults harm anyone else? The question has been raised in Canada, where polygamy has been illegal since the nineteenth century, but the supreme court in British Columbia is going to have to decide whether this law is unconstitutional. Doesn’t it infringe the right of adults to arrange their lives by mutual consent? The original law was directed against Mormons, and the present test is also directed against a polygamous fundamentalist Mormon commune. …

There has been one brief filed against decriminalising polygamy … from … anthropologist Joe Henrich. … [He says] monogamy gives huge advantages to societies which practice it. It arose, like philosophy, among the Greeks, passed through the Romans, and then the Christian church took it over as an ideal and managed over the course of around a thousand years to establish it as the norm in Europe, even for the aristocracy. ….

Men who fail to get wives will be driven by competition that it increasingly dangerous to society and to themselves. … Unmarried men are more violent and more generally criminal. … The worst affected are the poor and uneducated. … Because the competition for women is so fierce, making them valuable objects rather than loveable people, men … must control them more carefully. The same dynamic places pressure on the recruitment of younger and younger brides into the marriage market. … Finally, the men will reduce their investment in any particular wives and children. … because they will increasingly spend their efforts on getting more wives rather than looking after the ones they have.

Henrich argues that these factors help to explain the measurable economic failures of highly polygynous countries, including low saving rates, high fertility, and low GDP per capita. … Monogamous marriage has unobvious advantages. In fact he considers that it was the seedbed of European ideas of democracy and, later, human rights and women’s equality. (more)

I very much doubt the Greeks invented monogamy, and the rest of this seems also exaggerated. But such arguments seem worth considering, as a US legal suit to allow polygamy would probably face similar complaints.

Note that such arguments, that polygamy creates more unmarried men, who are unhappy and violent, and makes men compete more fiercely for women’s admiration, also support other laws.  For example, they support laws prohibiting lesbian female relations, or more generally prohibiting women from remaining unmarried to any man.  After all, unmarried women just as directly cause unmarried men, relative to polygamously married women.  Yet there is little political support for such prohibitions.

[Added 7a:  These anti-polygamy arguments also make good pro-polyandry arguments, since men who share a wife are also no longer unmarried men. Added Thurs: They also argue for prostitution.]

These anti-polygamy arguments also support more vigorous punishment of extra-marital affairs. After all, men whose wives cheat on them also get unhappy and violent, and the prospect of inducing wives to cheat makes men compete more fiercely for their admiration. Yet not only does our formal law have only weak punishments for such cheating, it actually goes out of its way to prohibit what would be the naturally strong punishment of blackmail. And our informal social norms regarding cheating spouses usually advise others to “stay out of it.”

It seems to me pretty obvious that we prohibit polygamy mainly because the folks who want to do it (rural religious communes) have low status in our society.  Also, since high status folks cheat and don’t want that discouraged via blackmail, we prohibit blackmail.  Yes there is an element of inertia, but gays have overcome such inertia in ways that polygamists can’t. Gays are common in high status communities and professions; for our elites, many of their best friends really are gay. Not at all true for polygamists.

More interesting data from WrongBot reviewing the book Sex At Dawn:

The book’s first section focuses on the current generally accepted explanation for human sexual evolution, which the authors call “the standard narrative.” … Men are attracted to fertile-appearing women and try to prevent them from having sex with other men so as to confirm the paternity of their offspring; women are attracted to men who seem like they will be good providers for their children and try to prevent them from forming intimate bonds with other women so as to maintain access to their resources. …

[Against that, the authors] offer a wealth of examples in support of their thesis — that in the human evolutionary environment, communal sexual behavior was the dominant paradigm. …

We … take it for granted that any given individual can have only a single father, [but] this was not established scientifically until the 19th century. … [But] dozens of South American tribes (both foragers and farmers) … believe in partible paternity. …. Chimp and gorilla mothers never allow other females in their tribe to hold their young children … Yet, in 87% of human forager societies, mothers are willing to allow other women to breastfeed their children. … Well-respected anthropologists … are in the habit of declaring that marriage is found every human society. … [But] anthropologists are willing to consider all kinds of arrangements to be “marriage”, though, creating confusion that is easily amplified by imprecisions of translation.

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  • http://cephalicfurrow.wordpress.com PeterW

    Seems to me that if you’re looking for hypocrisy, sex norms are the best place to go. So much of social convention around sex is a veneer for Darwinian status competition, and given the primal nature of sex we have both little reason to suppress self-interest, and lots of reason to cover up our real motivations (so that others do not get an advantage).

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    “we prohibit polygamy mainly because the folks who want to do it (rural religious communes) have low status in our society”
    Razib wrote something like that here.

    Personally, I’m willing to conflate correlation with causation on the matter. Polygamous societies seem worse than monogamous ones. Charles Kenny has argued that communism didn’t actually reduce economic growth, but I’m not willing to take that risk either.

    Jason Malloy has, to my mind, rather convincingly refuted “bare branches” theories of violence.

    • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

      The Charles Kenny paper is here.

  • Anthony

    I’m kind of surprised by your post. It seems obvious to me that there were in fact fairly strict social norms which prevented things like lesbianism and extramarital affairs, they were just gradually abandoned.

    • Abelard Lindsey

      Yes, but this cannot explain the prohibitions against homosexuality of men. If anything, a society that is concerned about men being left “without women” should actually condone, if not promote, homosexuality in men.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    TGGP, yes, the case for “bare branches” violence seems weak.

    Anthony, yes those norms eroded, yet the norm against polygamy remains. The challenge is to explain that difference.

    • Unnamed

      Lesbianism has the same effect as polygyny in creating a mass of unattached potentially dangerous young men, but gay male relationships have the opposite effect, and it seems hard to condemn one but encourage the other (especially when there’s been so much focus on gender equality and not treating women more harshly than men).

      The extramarital affair case doesn’t seem as closely analogous to polygyny. The cheated-on partner gets angry, but they’re not a part of this mass of unattached disaffected young men.

      • Konkvistador

        Spread of diseases was a greather threat than violence on the battle field for civilizations with primitive medicine. Why should not the same be true of live in the city or village?

        In some hunter gatherer societies homicide is quite likley to be the no. 1 cause of male death. Perhaps some of those societies are more consistent in their treatment of homosexuality as a sexual release valve.

  • http://danieltarmac.blogspot.com Henry

    I’m changing my mind a lot. A short time ago I supported polygamy. Then just yesterday, I changed my mind when I read the argument you outlined above. After reading this, I remembered that my initial support for polygamy was mostly due to the consistency argument.

    Although it’s not necessarily inconsistent, now that I think of it. Forcing unmarried women to marry is probably a lot more traumatic to the women than prohibiting her from entering a polygamous marriage. Almost everyone would consider rape to worse than preventing an act of sex, for instance. Anti-polygamy laws may be a relatively efficient form of “redistribution of women”, which we should presumably support to be consistent if we also support redistribution of wealth (see Eric Crampton).

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  • http://www.TheBigQuestions.com/blog Steven E. Landsburg

    One could presumably argue that lesbianism is not sufficiently widespread to be worth condemning but that polygamy threatens to become so.

    And one could, I think, argue that extramarital affairs, even though they sometimes trigger bursts of violence, do not in most cases deprive the husband of a regular sex partner and therefore don’t contribute to the problem of frustrated single men becoming violent.

    In fact, quite the contrary—if the wife of a 30 year old man (who is past his prime violence years) has extramarital sex with an 18 year old, she is alleviating the problem, not contributing to it.

  • Brett

    My main reason for opposing polygamy is legal: it changes the nature of the legal set-up of marriage in a way that makes not all the partners equal.

    Think of some of the rights a spouse has with regards to their partner, like hospital visitation, right to pull the plug if they’re in a coma, etc. Now, what happens when you introduce polygamy? Do all the wives have those rights? Do they all have to agree on a course of action? Does the husband pick one wife who has them, and the rest don’t get them?

  • http://maybemaimed.com/ maymay

    This is fascinating. While I realize that I’m reading an economist’s blog, I can’t help but feel gobsmacked at the relentless use of economic framing all sides of this argument.

    Phrases like “driven by competition,” “marriage market” and “men will reduce their investment” are obvious economic formulations of a thing that has no single or atomic value. Human sexuality and romantic desires are not a commodity and cannot be reduced to a dollar value.

    While it is possible to use sexuality to discuss economy, it is reductive to use economics to discuss sexuality.

    That said, fascinating entry. Thanks.

    • http://www.TheBigQuestions.com/blog Steven E. Landsburg

      Maymay:

      it is reductive to use economics to discuss sexuality.

      Of course it’s reductive. That’s why it’s useful.

    • Konkvistador

      The sexual marketplace exists. One needs not be a economist to find the terms you single out appropriate, I use the all the time to describe such dynamics.

  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

    they support laws prohibiting lesbian female relations

    Tiny proportion of population, balanced out by male homosexuals.

    more generally prohibiting women from remaining unmarried to any man.

    Forcing someone to marry and have sex is generally thought to be more intrusive than keeping someone from getting married and having sex, unmarried men still have a chance of marrying them if they improve their attractivenessb.

    anti-polygamy arguments also support more vigorous punishment of extra-marital affairs.

    I always did support the hanging of adulterers.

    • Jess Riedel

      Tiny proportion of population, balanced out by male homosexuals.

      Homosexuality is roughly twice as prevalent among men as women. (Of course, if excess unmarried heterosexual men lead to violence, this is a good thing.)

      Also, there may be many other factors contributing to an excess of a certain gender in any given society (wars, social norms, whatever). Just because two of these factors roughly balance out doesn’t affect the normative argument about whether it is acceptable to encourage/discourage one of these factors in order to balance the sex ratio.

      • Luke

        I wonder what the rate of marriage is among male versus female gays.

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        This says lesbians are more common than gays.

  • http://blog.greenideas.com botogol

    “we prohibit polygamy mainly because the folks who want to do it (rural religious communes) have low status in our society”

    that’s an argument that might be valid in the US, but what abnout other countries?

    In Europe, specificially, we don’t have the strange US phenomenon of ebnduring isolationist rural religious communities to oppress, but still people may be legally married to only one person at a time.

    • http://timtyler.org Tim Tyler

      I don’t see how it makes much sense in the first place. We don’t ban bingo because the people who like to do it generally have low status. It seems likely that there are other, more important factors involved.

      • Konkvistador

        Incest. Why do we forbid cousins from marrying considering the rate of birth defects by their kids is about as high as old (40s) women?

        I think part of the issue is that reproductive marriage, means at least for women putting some of their eggs in the same basket as the man. A well functioning married couple is a strong form of organization (albeit temporary, especially the well functioning bit).

        Also, group competition comes into play I think. If we let them marry more than one women they go after OUR women and WE can’t let THOSE guys have them.

  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

    Polygamy also requires concentrated power over women in the hands of certain men. Those who have harems need this power to keep their women from wandering off. This offends feminist sensibilities.

    Of course, soft polygamy involves a lot of higher status men treating a lot of women as pretty disposable, but it isn’t so out in the open, so feminists tend to give it a pass.

  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    Unnamed, but polyandry would have the opposite effect, and gender equality would make us support both polygamy and polyandry together.

    Henry and Thursday, having to pick any man to marry in the entire world is “rape”?

    Steven, gay relations seem far more common now than polygamy/polyandry. Extramarital affairs most certainly do deprive many husbands of regular sex parters – the wife often claims to be uninterested in sex.

    Brett, I don’t see why all wives can’t have the same legal rights. Andy extramarital partners are now treated unequally to wives.

    maymay, what you call “reductive”, I call “modeling.”

    Thursday, yes gays may balance lesbians, but polyandry can also balance polygamy. We don’t have to authorize any extra male power to authorize polygamy.

    botogol, in Europe it would probably be lower status muslims that would most request it.

  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

    [Added 7a: These anti-polygamy arguments also make good pro-polyandry arguments, since men who share a wife are also no longer unmarried men.]

    Steve Sailer has some thoughts on why polyandry doesn’t (usually) work:
    http://isteve.blogspot.com/2010/07/one-bride-for-two-brothers.html

  • mattmc

    I think the bigger reason is that we believe women that enter into the polygamous relationship are doing so because they are brainwashed into a limited and oppressed worldview. See also, burqa.

    • Konkvistador

      Brainwashing is for the most part defined as raising someone in any culture we sufficiently dislike.

  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

    having to pick any man to marry in the entire world is “rape”?

    If the pickings are unattractive enough. ;)

    Though as an unmarried man I’m not completely unsympathetic to your point.

    polyandry can also balance polygamy

    One argument against polyandry as a practical solution is that, for a lot of men, sharing a wife is worse than no wife. Many women might also say that having two husbands is worse than having one.

    We don’t have to authorize any extra male power to authorize polygamy.

    Irrelevant. Polygamy would give a kind of official sanction to de facto power arrangements many people find distasteful.

    • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

      For a lot of people, gay relations are worse than no relations. That isn’t an argument for banning them.

      • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

        But you don’t need to ban polyandry. Most men (and probably women) completely avoid it of their own accord.

        You were saying that polyandry could balance out polygamy. I say that is totally divorced from reality. It’s like telling heterosexual men who can’t find wives to get a man to marry. Polyandry is, I would say, not even close to an acceptable substitute for monogamy for most people.

      • http://deleted These days, those days

        So Thursday, you may be right, but it certainly makes me wonder. Polyandry certainly seems like a solution to what I see as my greatest obstacle to relationship success. In monogamy, “I already have a boyfriend” is an effectively non-negotiable barrier to beginning a relationship with any woman. In polyandry, there’s at least a prima facie expectation that a man could try to be some woman’s second boyfriend. Since “already having a boyfriend” is by far the most common obstacle I encounter, I would see the option “become someone’s second boyfriend” as an opener of great opportunities. And if few men find this an acceptable option, even better. That means that the women who want to have exactly two boyfriends will probably still be looking for their second.

        Again, you may be right about women having little interest in polyandry. I’ve heard the standard evolutionary arguments. And how women would choose their mates in an industrialized, polyandrous society is an untested question. Still, I totally believe that my interests as a single (and looking) man would be best served by polyandry.

  • http://maybemaimed.com/ maymay

    maymay, what you call “reductive”, I call “modeling.”

    Fair enough, but from my vantage point that shows just how enthralled you are to economic framing…. Of course, I don’t blame you for that. We live in a capitalist society, after all.

  • http://omniorthogonal.blogspot.com mtraven

    It seems to me pretty obvious that we prohibit polygamy mainly because the folks who want to do it (rural religious communes) have low status in our society.

    You say that like it’s some sort of revelation, but it really sounds more to me like a tautology. Yes, if the likes of Warren Jeffs had higher status, then polygamy would be legal. So what? Blacks, gays, and women used to have lower status and endured legal discrimination; they successfully (more or less) campaigned to both raise their status and secure their legal rights, since those things go together. That’s how the world works.

    The abstract idea of equal rights does not ensure equal rights; instead it provides an argument for the political movements to secure those rights. If polygamists want to elevate their status, they are welcome to try the same methods.

  • Doug

    The existence of polygamy gives women more power when choosing a spouse (either to be the Nth wife of a high-status male they otherwise wouldn’t be able to marry or by negotiating a strong relationship with an otherwise wife-less male), but a lot less power once they’re actually stuck in the relationship (ability to withhold sex or affection is drastically reduced and the husband can always get a new wife and reduce resources from 1/N -> 1/(N+1)).

    If the spouse market participants were perfectly rational this would be fine, but in reality people (and women especially) are probably irrationally biased towards overweighting the initial attractiveness of partners and underweighting the long-term compatibility and kindness of a spouse. Many, many women date handsome “bad boys” with the belief that they can change them. You very rarely hear women crying that their sweet, caring, boyfriend who pays a lot of attention to them simply isn’t attractive or dangerous enough.

    Therefore we raise the cost of polygamy to men sufficiently high (by requiring that mistresses be kept secret and socially stigmatized, are costly to maintain, and have a lot of blackmail power) in order to counterbalance consumer irrationality on the part of female courtiers.

    • Luke

      This suggests a solution: Second marriage license costs $10,000.

  • Van Assche

    Contemporary postmetaphysical (political) philosophy (P(P)P) astounds me. It is full of conflicting thoughts. The treatment of the several subjects on this blog are exemplary. P(P)P has abondanded the idea that philosophy can settle the conflict of competing ends or goals of a society, but it – so I notice – has replaced it with a ‘telos’ that it finds in itself – functionality (economics). As if Ockham’s razor, which is a tool, has become an end in itself in the absence of a metaphysical goal which can be universalized and impinged on all. Functionality has become metaphysics. In this case of polygamy only judicial or economic arguments are considered, silencing our societal model’s axiomas. In criticizing these functionality rules (law, economics) metaphysics sneaks in again… Is P(P)P truly possible without logical flaws?

  • Luke

    The question is why people who believe in the bare branch violence problem aren’t more eager to selectively encourage polyandry, and to encourage male rather than female gay marriage. This sounds like a sign that their true objection is not the bare branch problem at all, but a gut reaction to violations of social norms.

    • These days, those days

      Yeah, in terms of advocating for my perceived interests, I’d definitely be willing to go the route of encouraging polyandry. To me it seems that far too many women already have a boyfriend or husband, such that there is little if any chance of my entering a relationship with them. It’s hard to imagine exactly how women would make choices in a polyandrous system, but there are obvious reasons to hope that the option of being some woman’s second boyfriend would be open to most or all single men, while in a monogamous system, such an option is available to hardly anyone. Since it’s fairly common for a man to find that he’s single and most women are in relationships, this could only be beneficial to such men.

      Regarding same-sex marriages, one thing this reminds me of is that joke “I only support same-sex marriage if both chicks are hot.” Of course the point is that the speaker enjoys the voyeuristic possibilities of a lesbian marriage, but from our current point of view, all you’ve done is take two hot chicks off the market. How shortsighted is that? But then, the real reason why gay rights are beneficial for heterosexual marriage is that no one wants to marry a spouse and then find that he or she is gay (and intuitively, this seems like a worse disaster when it happens to a wife than to a husband). The gays and lesbians don’t want that either, they want to be able to marry a same-sex partner in the first place. Therefore everyone benefits from same-sex marriage. But when a gay man (and the point applies to lesbians in exactly the same way) feels compelled to hide his sexual orientation, the result is that he either turns himself into a fake heterosexual husband for one woman, or creates the illusion that there is one more available bachelor than there actually is. And no one benefits from that.

  • noematic

    There’s often an assumption in relation to arguments against extra-marital sex that one partner does not have, or has not sought the consent of the other, thereby causing harm when it takes place. For many couples (etc.), I would submit that extra-marital sex is consensual and that the alleged harm therefore does not accrue.

    Further, the more that such consent is normalized within relationships/ marriages, the less that non-monogamy will result in unhappy, angry people either inside or outside relationships as they are not prevented from access to potential partners (or conversely, in choosing not to have sex at all or less frequently).

    Lastly, many laws are already changing to cover the scenario of multiple partners, same sex partners etc. to ensure that those outside the legal definition of marriage are not disadvantaged in a legal sense. This is a good indicator that it is possible to change laws, even in relation to issues we understood to be well entrenched, and more importantly, that it is possible to do so without somehow destroying the very fabric of civilized society.

  • http://entitledtoanopinion.wordpress.com TGGP

    maymay:
    “cannot be reduced to a dollar value”
    Nowhere did Robin do that. And while you may find it odd that he uses such terms, people do in fact compete and invest in non-catallactic realms (“market” is more of a stretch, admittedly).

    “We live in a capitalist society, after all.”
    You had better believe that there is modeling and economic framing in communist societies as well. I think the adjective you are searching for is “modernist”, or perhaps borrowing from James Scott “high modernist“.

    Luke:
    I didn’t find any very good overall stats, but this story from Sweden reported that 37 female couples had married compared to 11 male couples.

    • Luke

      So if marriage, specifically, is beneficial (as opposed to sex, generally) it sounds like gays do not contribute to the solution.

  • LeBleu

    I am disappointed by how everyone seems to be assuming polygyny (even when they use the word polygamy) or polyandry. Why not both? Allow a person to be married to as many people of any gender they wish, as long as no one they are presently married to objects to the new marriage.
    You can find quite a lot of people pursuing these kinds of relationships in the polyamory movement, although usually avoiding the marriage aspect, due to legal reasons.

    I think part of the problem is that we don’t have a good handle on what people’s natural preferences are, without the influence of culture. If people were truly free to pick whatever relationship style they wanted, and were aware of this growing up, what percentage would pick monogamy vs. some version of multiple partners? What percentages would pick heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality? Without having some idea what these percentages truly are, it is hard to determine whether monogamy is increasing equality or not. It’s certainly plausible that when men are privileged over women, that monogamy improves equality over polygyny, while also being true that if men and women are equal, egalitarian multiple-marriage would be even better.

    • These days, those days

      I agree. There seems to be a mindset among both the general public and OB posters that monogamy and polygyny are by far the most important systems to consider. They are quite correct that there are alpha males who would like to roll us back to the days of polygyny. But there is only a moderate degree of grounding for their fear that if women had still more freedom, they would use it to go along with the alphas, and set up what amounts to a polygynous system with them. Never mind that most of the historical polygynists, from ancient despots to gorillas to elephant seals, have maintained their systems by force, force directed against the females just as much as against the beta males. It would be unfair to talk as if they ignored the philosophy of true polyamory, which of course predicts and desires a very different outcome.

      The poster Thursday is a good example. I can guess what some of his reasons are for thinking that polyandry/polyamory is something that holds little interest for women or men; but how right is he? Consider that our closest relatives, the female chimp and bonobo, surround themselves with a gang of mutually promiscuous stepfathers. And the advantages are obvious: If a woman might enjoy having a gang of men who share her love, and no man would have to stay single as long as some women are forming such a group, then why wouldn’t the men and women be able to see the advantages of such a situation? While others would indeed choose monogamy or one-alpha-male harems–and we can certainly hope that everyone’s chosen arrangements will work out for the best. It’s true that free love systems often falter because of jealousy and parenting problems–but then, monogamy and polygyny also suffer from those problems. Anyone can see that men and women both chafe under the requirements for exclusivity, so we should be able to see the advantages of a system that doesn’t impose them on either men or women.

  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

    Females will never freely grant equal sexual access to males. I don’t see how polyamoury deals with the female desire to aquire the highest quality genetic material. I also just don’t see how polyamory deals with the incentives for males to grab more than his share. The history of American utopian sexual communities is that they frequently dissolve because the top men are getting most of the sex. Polyamorous groups thus will tend to cluster around a small group of more attractive men and thus do nothing to solve the inequality problem.

    Incidently, Africa has something like a polyamorous culture, where men are very careful not to surprise their wives at home, as they might be entertaining their lovers. Unfortunately, paternity uncertainty provides some serious disincentives for investing in children and society in general. Women in Africa do 80% of the work and the men mostly just sit around drinking and/or pursuing sex.

  • Brett

    Brett, I don’t see why all wives can’t have the same legal rights.

    As I pointed out, a number of the rights lead to legal conflict. For example, what if one wife wants to pull the plug, but the second wife doesn’t? Who prevails?

  • http://manwhoisthursday.blogspot.com Thursday

    They also argue for prostitution

    Men don’t just want to have sex with women, they also frequently want to prevent other men from having sex with her. Men want exclusive access. Prostitution thus is an inferior substitute. It doesn’t solve the problem.

  • Tim Fowler

    All the conversations about banning polygamy, and the more common conversations about same-sex marriage, seem to try to set the debate as if the only options (other than not having or mentioning an opinion) are “It should be banned” or “the government should recognize it”. But another alternative, that the government should let people do whatever they want in terms of these relationships, but not necessarily recognize them and give them benefits, is also possible. (As is the variant that the government shouldn’t be in the marriage business at all).

    If someone says “the government should not recognize this relationship as a marriage and give it support and benefits”, that doesn’t mean your saying it should be banned.

    The difference between the “ban” on same sex marriage, and the occasionally real ban on polygamy, is not small. Fining, or jailing, people for doing something is a real ban. Not formally recognizing it isn’t.

    (Accepting this point doesn’t mean you have to be against formal recognition)

  • These days, those days

    Not all of the questions about multiple partners are about marriages and legal recognition to begin with. Polyamory is a cultural movement that focuses on ideas about love, sex, relationships, and the rest, and not a lobby for any kind of changes to the marriage laws. Maybe that would change if polyamory ever becomes a movement as strong as gay rights. For now, though, it mainly seeks to observe that the unquestioned status quo is for both romantic partners to demand complete sexual exclusivity, and to further suggest that maybe they would be happier if they allowed each other to date other people (needless to say, this is an oversimplification).

    Bigamy laws exist, of course, but probably most polyamorists are content to have relationships without legal recognition of these marriages. (And when I say “most polyamorists,” I of course mean the free-love philosophy, not Mormon-style polygynists.) And my impression was that at the time the laws were written, the lawmakers were worried about a man who would have two wives and fraudulently let each of them think they’re the only one. It’s not clear whether legal marriage is a useful or neccessary means, in the present-day society, to men’s age-old end of impregnating as many women as possible, but there you have it.

    In fact, I looked up “bigamy” on Wikipedia, and I found it was worse than that. The United States law distinguishes between bigamy for deceptive purposes like helping someone immigrate to the US, and plural marriages that are for the purpose of openly practicing polygamy or polyamory. And the latter (named the offense of polygamy rather than bigamy) is the worse offense, a felony rather than a misdemeanor. In other words, the law has made multiple marriages a worse offense if the polygamist is openly practicing a certain sexual philosophy, rather than just trying to deceive someone. In other words, this legal distinction is just as much a thoughtcrime as the much-criticized legal distinction between “racially motivated hate crimes” and violent attacks perpetrated for any other motive. Quite an outrage, really.

    • Konkvistador

      Concerning the laws they do sound outrageous! They aren’t very congruent with our “official” positions on sexual choice.

      BTW I don’t get why fringe Mormons don’t just have a religious ceremony performed? Or if they must use contracts to cover as much of the same legal ground as marriage does.

  • Tracy W

    When a guy proposes marriage to you nowadays, that means he’s proposing an exclusive relationship. If polygamy was legalised, what is he proposing? Yes, people often cheat on their spouses, and I’ve read some accounts by men that they were standing at the alter, exchanging vows, and even right then thinking about which woman in the congregation they’d next sleep with, but at least it is socially agreed that the cheaters are violating their word. If a guy proposes marriage when polygamy is okay, what is he really proposing?

    It strikes me that there’s a fundamental difference between a relationship that’s intended and understood as being exclusive, and one that lacks that understanding. In my experience, my husband’s first commitment is to me, and vice-versa. If I had another wife, and the two of us both needed him as badly, who would he help first? Obviously if we have kids that would change, but the parent-child relationship is different in nature again to the spousal one (and I note that stepparents often find their spouse’s fundamental loyalty to the children a source of conflict).

    A polygamous marriage doesn’t have the same meaning as a monogamous marriage, and I think it’s a shame that we apply the same word to both setups. Same-sex marriage doesn’t change the meaning of marriage the same way, because obviously two men or two women can be committed to each other first in a way that three people can’t be.

    Please switch genders around as desired.

  • Janice S.

    In Canada the British Columbia Attorney General thinks women should be except from anti polygamy laws and that only partiarchical polygamy should be illegal. Hows that for overcoming bias? Whats good for the gander is not good for the goose?

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