The Ethical & Legal Discussion about Polygamy

Today, I’d like to share with you some thoughts on polygamy. Why polygamy? Because I was ‘provoked’ by some news I read in Fox News website about the Utah Polygamy Law.

I learned new things about this US state from the article. Utah is known for its polygamist culture. And, this practice outdid the polygamy law, that defines polygamy a felony since 1935. Seems that tradition there is stronger that the law application. This is an intriguing fact to me, as all I knew before was it is the Mormons’ state and a place full of wonderful parks to visit.

In the article was written that Utah lawmakers have agreed to change the Polygamy law. They will not treat polygamy as a crime, but instead will be defined as infraction and maximum penalization is by penalty. Somehow, the lawmakers are raising their hands in front of the stubborn tradition of Utah population.

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But, is Polygamy Right?

Before answering the question, lets clarify what is the definition of Polygamy:

Polygamy is the practice of marrying multiple spouses. When a man is married to more than one wife at a time, sociologists call this polygyny. When a woman is married to more than one husband at a time, it is called polyandry. If a marriage includes multiple husbands and wives, it can be called a group marriage

I come from a country that used to have polygamist families as part of its tradition in the past. Partly supported by the religion and partly from the necessity to preserve successors of won blood. If a married man died, his wife was married with one of his brothers (even if the brother is already married). The family leaders were very fanatic to make sure the children of the widow will not be raised by other people outside the family. This was a way to preserve family tradition and to keep male children in the family.

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So, I’ve had the chance to meet second, third and fourth wives. I even met two rival wives living at the same house. To me, it sound strange to see in modern times polygamist families. Because I was raised in a monogamist one. But, seemed that those ladies saw it as a normal way of living.

Polygamy History

The social phenomenon of polygamy is quite old. The human society in the ancient times functioned based on polygamist behaviors. Women at the time used to have intimate relationships with multiple male partners.

At a certain moment of time, this way of living was facing health issues. The multiple sexual activity made possible for the diseases to spread quite fast. So, it was found as a solution to limit sexual activity to only one partner. This solution then was formalized into the institution of marriage. And marriage meant one man and one woman stay together and have intimate relationships with each-other only.

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Examples of Polygamy World wise

But, the monogamist type of marriage was fully implemented mainly by the Christian population. Other religions stood for different kinds of families. Muslim religion allows for polygamist families, where one man could have several wives. Sultans or other Muslim kings had many women in their harem. But, they rarely married women they had children with. Sultan consider harem his own big family and took care for all women in there.

China has the tradition of one man marring several women at the same time. Some parts of India allow marriage of one woman with several men simultaneously. The same applies to some other Asian countries. Mormon population allows for one man marrying several wives. All the above mentioned countries, have wives living in the same big house.

While the western culture has shown examples of men having completely separated families in different states. Because, they were afraid of legal consequences.

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The Ethical Discussion

Lets go now to see the phenomenon on the ethical aspect. Is it correct to have polygamist families?

Ethics stand for following the rules set by the community someone is part of. That being said, it is very important which community we consider in our analysis. If society of a country is considered community, than legal requirements should proceed. And as long as the law in USA does not allow polygamist families, than ethically is not right.

What about the case we consider as community the religion group. In this case the answer changes by the religion group we take in consideration. For groups that their culture allow polygamy, there is no ethical discussion in place. For those promoting monogamy, it us unethical to built polygamist relationships.

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Let’s consider the medical aspect of polygamy. Today as in centuries before the same approach is valid. We have so many deadly diseases that are easily spread through sexual contact (HIV Aids, HPV infections, even coronavirus is added to the list lately). So less sexual partners help to prevent the scale of spread for the diseases.

The Reality in Western Culture

In western culture, people have polygamist relationships all the time (sexual ones). To the point that physicians are studying the health effects of multiple sexual partners. A recent study has shown that women with more than 10 sexual partners in the course of their life have 91% higher risk to develop cancer when getting old. While men that have more than 10 sexual partners face 69% higher risk to have late cancer.

So, let’s take a man who has several relationships with different women at the same time, but has managed not to get married with any of them. Is he less guilty than somebody having 4 wives? On the ethical point of view the situation is the same. On the legal point if view it makes all the difference in the world. The second man could face imprisonment for polygamy. While , the first man is considered just someone resourceful .

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The Moral Discussion

Morale is the last aspect which helps to ‘judge’ the phenomenon of polygamy. Morale has to do with the person, his/her individual beliefs. The moral question is: Is the person involved in a polygamist relationship OK with it? Is he/she in such relationship with free will?

So, did the Albanian women in the past accept the proposal to marry their brother-in-law with free consent? Did Chinese women like to be married to a man with other women? Do Muslim women give consent freely to enter in a polygamist family? Are Indian women OK to marry with more than one man at the same time? Are the Mormon ladies getting married with polygamist men with full consent? And finally, were American wives of the famous polygamist lawyer aware and agreed with their husband having other parallel families?

If the answers of all these question is Yes, than no morale issue exists.

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Final Thoughts

As you can see dear friends, the whole discussion about polygamy rests to the word “consent”. I think Utah lawmakers are doing the right thing to add the ‘adult consent’ concept to the polygamy law. They are saying that if people that enter a polygamist relationship agree with their free will to do so, than by law this is not considered a penal crime.

But polygamist relationship done without free consent should be considered part of family crimes and should be severely punished.

The Utah case says everything: tradition and cultural beliefs overcome the law. Why? Because polygamy is older than legislation. If we consider that the human civilization has reached to the point where each person is capable to protect self from different diseases, than there is no original reason to stop it.

What can I say dear friends. I am not a polygamy defender, but facts and history speaks on their own about it. In the end of the day, better regulate such things by law to better control the phenomenon. Rather than allow terrible abuses made in the name of tradition and culture, that leave weaker participants with no rights and no place to complain.

I’m very curious to know what is your opinion about polygamy and the case of law change in Utah, USA. Looking forward to here your opinions at the comment box.

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