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Utah's Polygamy Statute

Should Polygamy Be Illegal?

Like any good reality personality aspiring for infamy, the stars of TLC's Sister Wives now have legal problems. Thanks to the publicity surrounding the show, police want to know if Kody Brown and his four "wives" are committing felony bigamy.

Kody told the Today Show that he's only legally married to his first wife. So where's the crime? Utah applies its bigamy law to "spiritual" marriages. Bigamy happens when a person "knowing he has a husband or wife or knowing the other person has a husband or wife . . . purports to marry another person or cohabits with another person." It doesn't matter whether you have multiple marriage licenses; simply cohabiting with another person while married to someone else is a crime.

Arguments in favor of criminalizing polygamy cite related criminal behavior, like statutory rape and welfare fraud. The ACLU of Utah says police can pursue those crimes separately and thinks the statute violates the constitutional right to privacy and religious freedom, saying, "by criminalizing private, consensual, adult relationships that are motivated by sincerely held religious beliefs, we fail to live up to the constitutional promise that consenting adults be free to maintain and define their personal relationships without fear of government interference." What do you think?

Image Source: Getty
Venus1 Venus1 7 years
I'm with Janine on this one. I think this is an international issue and goes beyond the laws of one country. I keep asking myself would I want to be one of these wives? No! If the tables were turned (less common), would I want more than one husband? No, to be a little flippant, they are too untidy but bedtime might be fun! Do these answers make it wrong? Probably not.
janeaustenrules janeaustenrules 7 years
There are also valid legal reasons why polygamy cannot be legalized. How do you define to whom and from whom legal rights and obligations flow? How do divorce and estate laws apply to these inter-relationships? Would the sister-wives have enforceable rights against each other? What rights would the children have against the sister-wives who are not his/her mother? These are all complicated legal issues. And the fact that polygamous marriages are not legal is not a human rights issue or discrimination. The reason gay marriage is such an issue is because you are denying access to a legal right to someone based on his/her sexual orientation. A polygamist is not being denied access to a legal right - they are seeking the creation of new rights because, as mentioned, the entire foundation of domestic law is predicated on only one legal spousal relationship existing at a time. Gay rights activists are seeking that the rules be applied equally to them, polygamists want new rules, hence it is not appropriate to suggest it is hypocrisy to support one and not the other.
stephley stephley 7 years
Sorry Janine, I don't see polygamy as a human rights issue, more like a libertarian rights issue. The government recognises your human right to choose a person to marry and even to change your mind, divorce one person and marry another. But I don't see a need for the government to recognise every marital possibility people can come up with. You should have a protected human right to form a recognized union with another person; I don't think you have a protected human right to 'marry' as many people at once as you choose.
Janine22 Janine22 7 years
Stephley: I just wanted to clarify that I DID NOT said that "being born gay and choosing to take multiple marriage partners" were the same thing. In fact, that is not what I said or implied at all, you misunderstood me. My point was that an individual that supports gay marriage is hypocritical if they do not also support polygamy. The reason that I was comparing the two scenarios is because they are both issues of legality and human rights in regards to choice of marriage partners. Having said that, I 100% support the legalization of gay marriage but have some issues with polygamy, particularly the ways in which it can suppress women's rights and choices (which I mentioned in my previous post). However, I believe in freedom of choice when it comes to an individuals choice of life partners. It WOULD indeed be hypocritical to say that gay people should legally be allowed to marry but polygamy should be illegal, or that for instance, homosexuality is socially acceptable but polygamy is immoral. Certainly you can see where the argument becomes very murky! It could be considered from the perspective of ethnocentrism. For example, an individual living in certain areas of Africa may think that polygamy is socially acceptable and see nothing wrong with it because they are culturally exposed to the situation and it is therefore seen as commonplace and normal to them. Most people in North America are not exposed to polygamy and therefore it may be more likely to be seen as immoral or not socially acceptable. Alternately, an individual raised in North America may be exposed often to homosexual partners and therefore view it as more commonplace and socially acceptable. It all depends on your perspective and the way/culture in which you were raised. I was not at any time trying to debate the biology behind homosexuality because obviously there is evidence that people can be born gay and obviously an individual is not born polygamous (although I would argue that culturally, they are born into and raised in that environment). I was talking about the ethical ramifications of outlawing one minority groups legal rights to marriage while legalizing another minority groups rights to marriage simply because it is more socially acceptable or socially sanctioned. When you look at the argument from this perspective, you can see that it is not fair no matter where you stand on each individual issue. Mimzy2: I am Canadian and polls show that the majority of the population of Canada believe that gay marriage should be legal. Yeah Canada!!!!!:):)) I completely agree with anonymous 17, while personally I do not necessarily agree with polygamy on some levels, I also believe that it is not the governments place to police our intimate relationships (Although personally I do not believe that multiple wives should all have access to spousal benefits). I think that it is important to examine the issue from several angles and temporarily put aside our natural biases, because it is so easy for an individual to just believe that something is immoral because it is not the way in which we were raised. I think that that type of attitude breeds unnecessary ignorance, hatred and judgement.
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 7 years
Thanks, stephley, I agree with you. I fully support gay marriage, but polygamy is a completely different issue and I don't think that makes me a hypocrite.
zeze zeze 7 years
LOTS of different lifestyles raise children in a way that limits their options and leaves them close-minded, I wouldn't say polygamist families are any more special.
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 7 years
After watching this show I have a WHOLE different view on pologmy. Like the wives state if something happens to one of them - their kids have a home to live in still, if one wants to go to school they can, if one wants to have a career they can and another wife stays at home with the kids. I don't think it's wrong or bad - it's their choice!
stephley stephley 7 years
Being born gay and choosing to take multiple marriage partners are not the same.
Janine22 Janine22 7 years
If most people believe that gay marriage should be legal, then it is pretty hypocritical if you also believe that polygamy should be illegal. Having said that, the problem I have with polygamy is the lack of alternatives for many of the young women. If you watch the show mentioned, all of their children attend a separate school in which their children only go to school with other children of polygamists. Therefore children in this culture are raised to believe that they have no other valid options. If you are raised to believe that polygamy is the right choice in god's eyes and you are not exposed to other types of relationships, then of course you are more likely to become an adult who 'consents' to this type of relationship. This may mean that it has been ingrained into you from a very young age that a polygamist relationship is the only right thing to do. This is where I have the problem, the lack of choice and the lack of power that the women have to experience independent thought and be exposed to cultures other than their own. I would assume that many of the women may be banished from contact with their families if they chose another type of marriage and therefore another type of religion. This is where I think polygamy is wrong, along with obviously, women being married off too young and being abused. I have read before that pedophiles are particularly attracted to polygamy because they can marry very young girls and have access to many children that they can molest. This scares me. Women in these cultures become breeders who spend much of their lives pregnant and may become scared to leave because they will never see their children again.
Venus1 Venus1 7 years
I don't have a problem with this per se, providing everyone involved is genuinely a consenting adult and no pressure has been brought to bare.
zeze zeze 7 years
No, they are not, I read today that the Utah authorities are looking into that TLC family - even though he has only one marriage license, but 3 wives. I don't think the government has a place to interfere in your private relationships, so if you say you have 15 wives, good luck to you. Having 4 marriage licenses is a totally different thing though. That is legal, it is not even about relationships.
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 7 years
I never said anywhere in my post that people who want more than one sexual partner/companion shouldn't be allowed to get married. But, zeze, you said it yourself: they shouldn't be allowed to have more than one valid license. Therefore, you do not agree that multiple marriages at one time should be legal, correct? Your words are a bit contradictory here. There's no such law that says you can't have more than one sexual partner. If you want one valid marriage and four other girlfriends living with you all under one roof, then yeah, fine! Nothing wrong with that as long as they're all consenting adults. I wasn't saying that this type of situation should be illegal. My post was more in reference to the people that usually believe in polygamy in the U.S., which is fundamentalist religious groups. And within these groups, polygamy is not such a pretty picture all the time. It isn't always one jolly husband skipping off into the sunset with his four jolly wives. Polygamy is not as simple an issue as it seems when you factor in the extremely male-dominant cultures that tend to practice it.
danakscully64 danakscully64 7 years
I agree with zeze.
stephley stephley 7 years
Marriage is supposed to be more than a legalized sexual relationship, isn’t it? People with multiple sex partners aren’t putting those people forward as anything other than sex partners: no legal obligations to each other, no insurance benefits, no immunity from testifying against each other in a court of law, etc. It may be that most of their business is private, but to confer the rights of marriage makes it public – marriage confers legal rights. If you want to have sex with five women in your home, that’s fine; if you work for the government and have five wives, are all five of those wives legally and equally entitled to spousal benefits? The abuse issues raised by polygamist marriages go beyond domestic abuse to issues like forced – if they’re provided the cover of religious freedom, then they become that much harder to investigate and prosecute.
zeze zeze 7 years
The people saying it should be illegal: HOW IS IT DIFFERENT THAN A MAN/WOMAN WITH MULTIPLE SEXUAL PARTNERS AND KIDS FRMO DIFFERENT WOMEN?! Sorry to go all caps on you, but seriously, how? Multiple licenses should be illegal, as the possibility of abuse of the system and the unfair advantages some may have would be too complicated and too burdensome. Private life - so long as they're all consenting adults - then it is none of my business. I treat it just like anything else I disagree with, don't practice, teach my children why I don't and why they shouldn't, but otherwise, mind my own business. Issues of abuse and force should be investigated just as in any other marriage - some studies show increased level of domestic violence among military families and the poor - doesn't mean they shouldn't be able to get married.
WarEagleNurse WarEagleNurse 7 years
postmodernsleaze postmodernsleaze 7 years
There's a lot of polygamous sects that result in terrible abuse of women. I'm not saying all are, but many are. Many polygamous groups pair young girls with older men and force females into arranged marriages. A lot of times, inbreeding inevitably occurs, as polygamous communities are not widespread and they stick together. Rape and beatings are common. Maybe in theory, it doesn't sound like that big of a deal as long as all are consenting adults. But they aren't all like Hugh Hefner having multiple girlfriends and everyone's just having a grand ol' jolly time. The problem is, many are not consenting adults at all.
stephley stephley 7 years
Maybe the government does have a tricky balancing act here. Bigamy definitely is a specific crime with victims and damages, and people get themselves into all kinds of trouble in “consensual, adult relationships” – so on those two points, I don’t have a problem with polygamy being illegal. We should be free to observe ‘sincerely held religious beliefs’ – but how do we determine which polygamist relationships represent religious beliefs ‘sincerely held’ and which are simply serial bigamy? Doesn’t federal law only protect peyote use for members of one Native American religion? Would everyone agree to polygamy only for members of certain religions? What if the religions are questionable small off-shoots of other religions that don’t recognize polygamy? Is the government obligated to protect everyone’s interpretation of whichever religious book they claim to follow? What if the polygamist religion violates other rights of those involved? Underage brides, etc.?
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