Saturday, August 16, 2008

What is it that's wrong with Polygamy?

I can't even remember how we got onto this conversation, but the other day some friends and I were discussing polygamy (having more than one marriage partner), and where and why it's practised.

After moving on from the difference between decriminalisation and legalisation (which is just semantics to me, I reckon they're exactly the same) it got onto why I think it's wrong.

For Christians, I have no problem in justifying that it is wrong-one woman and man, lifelong partners, meant to have sexual unioun with only one person etc.

But, from a broader society point of view (as most of you will have guessed by now, I'm not big on necessarily imposing Christian values/ideals on to the rest of society) I had a hard time articulating why it was that I think it should be against the law.

And that in itself raises interesting questions about how and why we make laws, but that's another issue...

Obviously it has a great potential for misuse and abuse, but so does normal marriage, and we don't get rid of that as an institution.

There's just something in me that doesn't think it's right, but I'm still trying to articulate what exacly that is and why.

I don't actually think the laws on it in Australia are going to change anytime soon, because as a society it's not something we're into, but I'd be interested to hear what others think.

19 comments:

Bec Flood said...

hey digger...
if u want to read some more on the reasons why polygamy is wrong and some ways that it can be abused read "Stolen Innocence" by Elissa Wall...
a very interesting read indeed...
keep up the good work. love reading ur blogs... certainly gets my mind ticking away...

Janet Woodlock said...

Polygamy is nearly always a symptom of patriachy and inequality for women... it's not the "ideal dream" for many women to have to share a husband with other women... it usually is something they put up with because they have no power in society... because their father arranges their marriage and they have no say... because only men have legal rights, rights to work in freedom, etc. and therefore marriage is an economic/survival imperative.

That's not to say that every monogomous marriage reflects the biblical ideal of "oneness" and mutual submission, mutual respect and mutual honour. However, I'm a bit suspicious of arguments that go: "well there's inequality in some monogamous marriages so we're in no position to judge inequality in polygomous marriage." I find this a very weak defence... far better to promote equality of men and women across the board than to throw up our hands and say it's an imperfect world so we can't make a stand on anything.

(I find equally weak the argument from an isolated case... "I've found a threesome where everyone seems happy with the arrangement... therefore we should legalise this for everyone".)

Despite apparent exceptions, I think legalising polygamy gives license for deeply disempowering cultures to continue their practices. Like female genital mutulation, just because it is the "custom" within some cultures, doesn't mean we should legalise it in Australia.

David said...

You should turn to the Bible for your answer.

Solomon had 700 wives.

God condones polygomy as evidenced by this passage:

2 Samuel 12:7-8
And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; And I gave thee thy master's house, and thy master's wives into thy bosom...

God makes laws for men with two wives:

Deuteronomy 21:15
If a man have two wives, one beloved, and another hated...

Always turn to the Bible for the important questions about life, including polygamy.

Remember, if God says it, you believe it, and that settles it.

Janet Woodlock said...

Kings within that era would routinely inherit the harem David... but you'll also note the bible doesn't shirk from detailing how polygamy caused terrible heartbreak and treachery in David's family (and led Solomon his son into paganism).

Nowhere does God command someone to take more than one wife... but he did establish laws to protect the welfare of multiple wives in an ancient society where polygamy was common.

Jesus pretty much settled the issue for Christians in my opinion.

rockpaperdynamite said...

I think that polygamy is one of those areas that may not be ideal, but keeping the practice out side the law probably hurts the victims even more.

If you are a second 'wife' (quotes because the law doesn't recognise you) you have no rights within the domestic unit. Because you can't leave and get 1/3rd of the house, etc, the law actually encourages you to stay in your marriage.

So we have the law encouraging people to stay in relationships that may be very un healthy for them.

So giving such relationships formal recognition may actually help some people get out of such situations.

Any legalisation though should be apart of recognising all 7 combinations of 2 or three people. How you choose to structure your life should cause you to be discriminated against by the government.

Janet Woodlock said...

I'd like to question that RPD... the issue has been raised in Australia because within Islam men can have up to 4 wives... and we have had a recent wave of Islamic immigration from Africa and the Middle East. In theory, Islam has criteria by which wives should be looked after and criteria by which wives can be divorced, and most Islamic communities are pretty "tight" about what is and isn't acceptable for members of their community.

I don't think there's much demand for legal polygamy from other sections of the Australian community.

But I'll admit my experience with the Islamic community is limited... you may know of specific instances where a change of law would be protective.

rockpaperdynamite said...

To be honest, I was being influenced by the not so far in the past Hack episode that looked at the issue.
So it'd probably bet better to listen to hack than me: http://www.abc.net.au/triplej/hack/notes/s2284795.htm
They interviewed people on all sides of the debate, Muslim leaders who do polygamous marriages and those who don't, Muslims who agree and disagree with the practice, either in Australia or overseas, and those who are/have been in such relationships and had positive and negative experiences. Sure its a small sample size, but you get all the different perspectives.

Digger said...

Hey Bec, thanks for the idea, will try look it up.

What sort of book is it?

Digger said...

Hey Janet,

I agree that often it is a result of unjust situations for women, but I do not think that that makes it necessarily always so.

For some reason, I believe some women may make that choice.

I agree that in many cases it is the only option, because the men need to look after the women because they can't work etc. So I actually don't mind it in that situation (making the best of a bad lot I think.)

But I think I do agree with what ur saying about it being disempowering to women here, which is probably why I diagree with it.

And totally agree with your second comments and response to David.

Digger said...

But I also see where ur coming from with ur 1st comment RPD, that maybe it's not ideal, but maybe we have to work out a way to work with it.

And definitely agree that if it were legalised you would have to legalise all 7 combinations.

But, not completely sure about ur last comment, cos if you follow that to it's fullest extent, then who the state can not enforce any laws on our lives... The fact is, the state does, we just have to work out what restrictions...

And yeah that episode of Hack was good, I should have another listen.

Janet Woodlock said...

Mmm... at the risk of sounding like some cultural supremicist... (in this instance at least), maybe rather than changing the law to accomodate ancient Middle Eastern customs, perhaps those who immigrate to Australia accept part of the deal is operating within Austalian law.

I have a friend who works in the magistrates court... it's actually rather liberating for women to discover it's not actually OK for their husbands to beat them if they're living here... there are many legal protections for women in Australia. Just because this is OK in some cultures doesn't make it right... cultural sensitivitiy has its limits. Ditto for female genital mutilation. It may be a time honoured custom, but it is breaking the law of our land.

I accept that polygamy is more of a grey zone, but I cannot accept it is a good idea, or that it is an advance in the cause of women's rights.

David said...

Here is a film clip about the Koran which you muslim lovers will enjoy:

http://religiousfreaks.com/2008/03/27/fitna-geert-wilders-film-critical-of-koran/

Digger, could you make a similar film about the Bible?

bec flood said...

hey digger...
its a memoir by a girl who grew up in the Fundemantalist Church Of Latter Day Saints.
i find it interesting readin accounts of people who are born into these kinds of sects that are demeaning and often times abusive. i have a copy of it... if i only i see u more often than once in 1 and a half years i could give it to you! u have put a maybe on coming to my little get together on facebook so if u come then i will give it to u then...
another good one that isnt nesasarrily bout polygamy but is a goood read about cults is 'not without my sister' i have that too...
hope u can make it on the 30th of august!

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