Plural Mural

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Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

In my opinion, Big Love is one of the best shows on television; a smart, humorous, and thoughtful take on the American family. It's truly the best kind of satire — it makes you cringe, and giggle, and then look at your own glass house — even if there aren't multiple spouses in it.* Big Love portrays two kinds of polygamy; the reality is there are poly-methods to polygamy. We assume plural marriage looks like the Warren Jeffs/Roman Grant model — underage girls in prairie dresses — but that's not always the case. Today, we're giving you the whole gamut; a real look inside the practice, where it came from, and both critique and defense. Is this a matter of religious tolerance (when, of course, it doesn't break the law)? Is this about a definition of family? Dig deep folks... and listen. You might be surprised by what you hear.

*Honestly, don't pretend you haven't wanted to split your significant o's in two, or three, just once. At least so you could go out on the town with one, while the other babysits and cleans the mold out of the shower.



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What? No mention of polyandry? If they want to have marriage with more than woman, then women should be able to have more than one husband. If we can't have both, then we should have neither.

Sent by ecotopian | 2:26 PM | 9-12-2007

What has been done with the parents of the underage girl? I was responsible for my son until he turned 18. Jail and loss of parental rights would seem correct for them.

Sent by Chip Bosse | 3:21 PM | 9-12-2007

I don't come from any type of polygamist background but I believe that if consenting adults want to enter into a marriage contract with more then one person, then they should be able to. It would just make taxes, health benefits inconvenient. Just like gay marriage!

Sent by Stefanie Ward | 3:22 PM | 9-12-2007

Oh, he is a talk, geeky, quiet guy. And an Accountant no less! Well obviously he is not a cult leader since they are all wild eyed, long haired loud mouthed nut. Thanks for clearing that up. I would say that it seems that most pedophiles, serial killers and other wacko's are described as quiet, geeky guys also. Put as nice a face as you want, be as much of a devil's advocate as you like but when you "marry" a child to an adult male before she has any real say in the matter, you are a rapist and a nut. One more reason that "fundamentalism" has become a synonym for wacko.

Sent by George from Oregon | 3:23 PM | 9-12-2007

It should be illegal for the simple reason that it creates young men with no access to women. What are young men with no possibility of marriage going to do? Mostly get into lots of trouble.

Polygamy might work in a society consistently at war or which brutally represses mixing between the sexes and channels sexual energy into "spiritual" pursuits. Early Islam is an excellent example of both.

If, as in the case of the Mormans, there is a large surrounding monogomous society which can absorb the extra men things may not come to a head. If it were widely practiced it would have catastrophic results either in the form of repressing the extra men or in the form of lots of ultra-aggressive young men.

Sent by Nate | 3:29 PM | 9-12-2007

The "big church", th corporate mormons still believe that polygamy is an "eternal principle". While they no longer practice polygamy, they believe that polygamy is the "order of heaven".

Sent by Jeff | 3:31 PM | 9-12-2007

There is a whole 'nother Jewish side to the polygamy issue. Several Sephardic Kibbutzim have marriages that are plural, and considered lawful by the Rabinate. Although not common nowadays, there you are.

Sent by Alan Wilensky | 3:33 PM | 9-12-2007

If more than two consenting adults (emphasis on "consenting" and "adult") want to be married; it should not be the business of the secular state to block such unions.

Sent by Charley Kellermann | 3:35 PM | 9-12-2007

The reason for polygamy is so that the husbands can exploit young girls. It is a way for men (who generally have greater sex drives) to fulfill their need for sex and propogate (spread their seed so to speak). They don't want to hear "not tonight honey I have a headache." Ever wonder why women are polygamist? Because marriage is a good deal for men and they derive much more from it. Women get the short end of the stick in many cases.

Sent by felicia | 3:35 PM | 9-12-2007

While I'm enjoying the conversation as an investigation of fundamentalism (Mormon or otherwise) polygamy there is a whole range of 'poly' relationships and structures that are possible and do not involve any religious basis at all.

I remember telling the teacher running my kindergarten class that I would have a wife and three husbands we shared so we could each have a child with each and enjoy raising our family together.

Some people may be more inclined to communal relationships and communal living.. and I don't see that being mentioned or addressed here.

Sent by Amy in Oregon | 3:35 PM | 9-12-2007

just a comment on Polyandry...

In african tribes its possible...

Polyandry in human relationships occurs or has occurred in Tibet), the Canadian Arctic, Zanskar, Nepal, Ladakh, the Nymba, and Sri Lanka[citation needed]. It is also encountered in some regions of Mongolia, among the Musuo people in China, and in some Sub-Saharan African and American indigenous communities. Polyandry has been practiced in several cultures in India -- in the Jaunsar region in Uttarakhand, among the Toda of South India, and the Nishi of Arunachal Pradesh[citation needed]. The Guanches, the first known inhabitants of the Canary Islands, practiced polyandry until their disappearance.In other societies, there are people who live in de facto polyandrous arrangements that are not recognized by the law [citation needed].
With traditional polyandry, the most common source of friction is rivalry between the fathers and their children for the attention of their wife or mother. This causes tension for the already heavily burdened wife.

Sent by CPOI | 3:46 PM | 9-12-2007

One of the major pieces of mis-information regarding this issue is that Joseph Smith, Jr. initiated polygamy. This is simply a case of the victors writing history. There is abundant proof that Joseph Smith Jr. had nothing but contempt for polygamy, and condemned it. Polygamy was present in the church during Joseph Smith's lifetime -- but he condemned it. Brigham Young was the major element in introducing polygamy into the church. The Brighamites have never been able to offer conclusive proof Joseph Smith had multiple wives. One excellent source of info on this subject is available through the Restoration Bookstore, Independence, MO. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) has always maintained polygamy is against God's commandments. Such is presented in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Conclusion: don't use Joseph Smith, Jr. or the Book of Mormon to justify this practice. Neither has ever supported such a belief.

Sent by Dave L. Hartshorn | 3:47 PM | 9-12-2007

How can we claim to be a cilivized nation if we allow the women to continue to be treated as the property of men. Who is to say that Jesus was not really a woman and that is why she had to die. These are cults if they are forcing people into marriages. Really, this is just a bunch of dirty old men that are violating the civil rights of the young women.

Sent by Delilah Brock | 3:47 PM | 9-12-2007

Religious or not, I think it's crazy to allow men to marry more than one woman at the same time. If a non-mormon did this, it would be called an "affair" and spat at for the lack of morals. But in the guise of a religion, it somehow becomes legal and moral? Go figure! It seems like sexist men made these rules since women are not allowed to marry multiple men (not sure if any woman in her right mind wants to!)

Sent by rk | 3:48 PM | 9-12-2007

I am more convinced after listening to this that polyandry would not be tolerated by any polygamist. This is why I am now truly convinced that polygamy is sexist. Polygamy isn't about allowing marriage to several women, it's about having access to as many woman as that man can afford. It really is about power, even if you don't want to admit to it.

Sent by ecotopian | 3:51 PM | 9-12-2007

I knew a polygamous family, in which the two women spent more time sleeping with each other than either did with the husband. I doubt that happens with the Mormons... or does it?

Sent by dblunt | 3:52 PM | 9-12-2007

What happens to the boys?
The ratio is obviously skewed. I remember hearing about a book written about the "lost boys" of poligamy, many apparently unable to make it outside their community, end up as male prostitutes, what do we know about them?

Beth Sommer

Sent by Beth Sommer | 3:53 PM | 9-12-2007

I am in a non-Morman polygamous marriage. My husband is Muslim. I am unable to have children. He decided that he needed a second wife to "carry on his family name", claiming it was for children only. My husband now lives with the second wife and I am miserable. Polygamy is not the way to live. If it works for some, I would really like to know how? You can not be happy knowing that your husband sleeps with another woman. It makes my husband happy that he has two women that he can go between, he is truly on a power/ego trip. He is now talking about going back to his native Country to have another wife! This is not the way of life for anyone. I am in process of dissolving my marriage to this man.

Sent by dj | 4:49 PM | 9-12-2007

Beth Sommer [above] seems to have asked the same question that's been nagging at me for a while: Having some number of men in a community marrying more than one woman would mean no access to possible wives for numerous other men. What happens to those "excess" men? How are they integrated [or not!] into communities which are so focused on the centrality of marriage? I'm hoping that someone out there can answer this; I've heard various theories, but I can't believe there aren't any studies or observations that would speak to this issue. Thanks!

Sent by Rhea Hirshman | 10:13 PM | 9-12-2007

The concept of monogamous marriage is based on religion. As a country which purports to believe in freedom of religion, monogamous marriage should not be forced upon its citizens as the only option. This is the simplest of "separation between church and state" (or lack thereof) issues. In this country that claims to be the world's most free, it seems that when it comes to issues of (gasp!) sex, our puritan heritage rears its ugly head. It's time to let go of outdated notions of "acceptable" family structure.

As for the abuses which occur under the current reprehensible FLDS polygamous system, those abuses should be dealt with by the laws currently in place, via the social services and criminal justice systems. Child and spousal abuse are encountered in monogamous marriage families as well. If these polyamists weren't forced to go underground with their marriages, perhaps the foundation of these systems that allows repression of children and women would crumble.

Sent by Melanie | 9:49 AM | 9-13-2007

Several comments: (disclaimer - I am a member of a polyamorous "triad". My husband and our girlfriend all live together quite happily.)

1. The "excess men" argument doesn't take into account the fact that the gender ratio is skewed to start with: there are more adult women than men in the U.S.

2. An "affair" is only an "affair" when conducted with subterfuge and without the knowledge and consent of the other party in a relationship.

3. Not all "poly" relationships are alike. There are different underlying philosophies, different dynamics, different group compositions, etc. I think the most important things to ask are whether the parties are truly consenting and whether the relationship supports the well-being of all of its members. Like it or not, more people are redefining the boundaries of marriage and family and our culture is going to have to adapt by facing its own hypocrisy in conferring benefits on some but not others.

Sent by M.R. | 10:03 AM | 9-13-2007

Polyandry, one woman being married to more than one man, was an early practice of the founder of Mormonism, Joseph Smith, who was "married" to 11 women who were already legally and lawfully married to their legal and lawfull husbands. And they all remained married to their original husbands, despite the fact that the so-called "revelation on plural marriage" (contained in D&C 132) which Joseph Smith claimed to receive straight from the mouth of God, expressly prohibits the practice of Polyandry as it was practiced at least 11 times by Joseph's Myth himself, in clear violation of his god's commandment directly to him. It gets worse. Joseph's original wife, Emma, objected to Joseph's philandering and adultery throughout her life, despite this, Joseph came up with the "revelation on plural marriage" 10 years after she and Oliver Cowdery caught him screwing the teenage house help (Fanny Alger, who was 16 at the time.)Joseph Excommunicated Oliver Cowdery over "the dirty little affair" because Oliver refused to quit calling it "that dirty little afffair" and refused to believe that anybody was above the law, even Joseph's Myth. Emma didn't fair much better. She was threatened with divine destruction if she didn't give up her objection to Joseph's philandering. She never gave it up and that was the main reason she split with the Brighamites and headed back with the Reorganized Church of JCoLDS after her cheating husband's untimely death.

Sent by Stan Zielinski | 10:35 AM | 9-13-2007

It is true that there may be excess men. In ancient societies, this is okay, because men were used to do dangerous tasks and often die, and, perhaps it should be worded this way: it is in those societies that we both see the natural advantage of polygamy and the necessity of it.
In modern society, however, is there a natural need for polygamy in some way? The answer is yes. The excess men, are the ones that are not even capable of having even one wife, and may cause trouble, that is true, but let us set this aside for just a while. In most modern societies, there is a big gap between the rich and the poor. If a man is able to marry multiple women, or a rich woman is able to marry multiple men, there would be a very natural way to help some poor people. And there would be hope even for the poorest person, as long as there exist intermarriage between different classes. Notice that here can also exist a woman marrying multiple men, that would not only fix the "excess men" problem, but also preventing them from cause troubles. Please note that if a man is not competitive enough to get a single wife due to polygamy, the result of him getting a wife may be even a lower standard of living, and would not that cause more trouble?

Sent by Xiaoshan Cai | 11:12 AM | 9-13-2007

As many have pointed out, there are many ways to implement non monogamous relationships. Poligamy is but one of them.

Much like the (mostly)former erronous association of homosexuality with pedophilia, poligamy is often associated with arranged and forced marriage. While in some cases it is certainly true, disassociate teh issues and poligamy becomes much less offensive.

As a side note, I use the term poligamy to define a marriage of any group of more than two, be they same or mixed sex.

Polyamory (aka poly) is a non marriage relationship, often made contractually legal, between three or more consenting adults. There are many happy poly relationships in this country with single or multiple households. Doesn't mean everyone sleeps with everyone. Just means there is a caring relationship. Take the sex out of the equation and how is this different from any extended family?

Take sex out of the equation and what are 'family values'? It means taking care of the people who are important in our lives. Is this such a bad thing?

Arranged marriages are common and accepted in many parts of the world. I'm not defending the forced marriage (which is a whole different thing, certainly not of a 14 year old girl to her 19 year old cousin.

This country was founded on tolerance of religious principals of others. Sometimes that includes things some of us don't like. Where do we draw the line?

Sent by Bob B | 11:26 AM | 9-13-2007

Nate, Beth and Rhea bring up a point that hasn??'?t been sufficiently addressed - what are you going to do with the extra boys?? Send them to war?
Alan Wilensky commented about biblical polygamy - most Old Testament polygamy was a system based on societal and economic needs and was a form of charity, for example, to take a brother's wife in after he dies, not as a directive from God Almighty for salvation. Furthermore, everyone should know that neither Jesus Christ nor the New Testament instructs the faithful to practice polygamy.

Sent by Erma | 6:58 PM | 9-13-2007

I am married to a man who is a 4th generation descendent of polygamists, and as such, I have long been interested in the practice in a sociological sense. I have come to the conclusion that in a country whose constitution allows freedom of religion, polygamy should be tolerated - but only if it is between consenting adults and they are supporting themselves. Too many of the FLDS members abuse the welfare system to support their lifestyle - called "bleeding the beast" by the practitioners. Don't ask me to support their religious practices with my tax dollars.

Sent by Kathy B | 7:04 PM | 9-13-2007

When a woman (name?) in this interview was asked why she believed that polygymy was a good thing and should be continued she just said it was a religious practice. There were many religious practices that are discontinued--because they are horrible. Allowing people to marry more than one person fits right in there. When people are outside of the polygymist societies they seem to be forced to lie and teach their children to do the same. Is this a desireable consequence that we want to promote? The only benefit of it I see is allowing a man to fulfill his sexual desires. Is that a good enough reason to accept or promote this practice?

Sent by Daniel Ithaca,NY | 1:31 PM | 9-14-2007

Need to read the book Under The Banner. It talks alot about LDS and all the splinter group such as Jeff's FLDS.
Choice in polygamy is one thing but these woman have NO choice in Jeffs compound. This 14 yr old is probably lucky she was married to someone close to her age. Usually the young girls are married against their will to men 40, 50+ years older. They are brain washed to accept this lifestyle because Jeffs( and other mormons) claim to speak directly to God. They have no TV, radio so they dont know any different. They dont know where babies come from because it isnt discussed. The girls dont know what is happening to the sexually because they have absolutely no experience,even kissing when not married is a sin.
I am surprized the government doesnt get the sect on tax evasion. Jeffs group gets huge amounts of money from governmental assistance. The wives get welfare because they are not legally married, dont work and have many children.

Sent by lana k | 8:00 AM | 9-15-2007

While there are slightly more women than men in the U.S. [the population is just under 51% female according to the latest census data] that difference is clearly not enough to answer my question about "excess" men when many men in a community take more than one wife. Please note that the purpose of this question is not to argue for or against polygamy --I am just trying to get a grip on how polygamous communities handle this because --again --I never hear it dealt with in discussions of this issue and it seems like such an obvious discrepancy! Can someone please answer this question!?!?

Sent by Rhea Hirshman | 11:21 AM | 9-15-2007

I was disappointed in Talk of the Nation for presenting the views of 2 very articulate, pro-polygamy speakers in Ken Driggs and Anne Wilde, to be contrasted with only a brief presentation by the anti-polygamy Rowena Erickson, not a very articulate, educated speaker. Mr. Driggs and Ms. Wilde, I believed, downplayed the ways in which "polygamy" has indeed been a cover for pedophilia and the subjegation of women and girls througout the history of Mormonism, starting with Joseph Smith himself. I believe that more comparable spokespersons for a less positive take on American polygamy should have been interviewed. One candidate for this role would be Jon Krakower, author of "Under the Banner of Heaven."

Another appropriate source of information about the relative merits of polygamy would be researchers who study polygamy cross-culturally. There is research I've read that children in Middle Eastern Muslim polygamous families have lower school achievement, on average, than children in monogomous families. Sorry I don't have a reference for you right at the moment.

Thanks for your time.

Sent by Mary Ellen Griffin | 2:29 PM | 9-15-2007

The teen age boys from Bountiful who are thrown out of the community for spurious reasons "Your bouncing your basketball too hard" wind up in Salt Lake on the streets. The old men marrying the young girls do not want the competition. This is sexual abuse of minors for the girls and parental desertion of the boys. They have almost no education and are lost on the streets. Some girls occasionally run away but it is hard. No education and they have been taught that everyone else in the world is evil.
Child abuse. Nothing less than child abuse.

Sent by Sarah Fitzpatrick | 5:39 PM | 9-18-2007

Manipulation of people by religion has been the song of history. There is little difference between religion in Utah and religion in the Middle east. Both stem from obsolete traditions handed down through the centuries, give only a century plus for Utah. Manipulation starts from birth enhances success. When asked; why do you let them do that to you, the answer is it is our religion. From Pedophiles in the Catholic Church fulfilling their personal whims, to Aztecs ripping out a persons heart to make sure the sun comes up every day, even todays suicide bombers. The pattern is very clear, ignorance is necessary, the key to successful manipulation. Free thought and reason must be absent. Ignorance is a handy tool, so needed to set a solid foundation for religious manipulation to be successful.

Sent by Lee | 4:00 AM | 9-21-2007

Many thoughtful remarks. I agree that consenting adults should not be legaly restrained from entering into whatever kind of living arrangement they desire. Poly arrangements appear to have lots of advantages as well as challenges. Most of the arguments for and against poly relationships are bibilical in nature. Which I find a sad commentary on our society. One thing I haven't heard addressed in the poly arrangements, is what happens when the relationahip disolves? For instance, what happens to all the wives and children when one of these patriarchs dies? Do they all go to heaven with him? Does the first born son get all the assets? What becomes of all the sister-moms and their children? These are difficult questions in mono relationships, the problems appear compounded in poly relationships. Any thoughts?

Sent by StoneToad | 9:10 PM | 9-26-2007

By Poly arrangements you mean casual? Quite simply religious demeaning of women goes on today, treated as second class citizens or more like slaves. This whole concept reeks of sexism, from the Moslem's to the temples in Utah, not much difference. A form of control, using god as the whipping boy.

Sent by Lee | 9:46 PM | 9-30-2007

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