On Polygamy and the San Angelo Raid

In case you have been living under a rock the past 24 hours –and often, I think under a rock is a very good place to be, by the way — there was a massive raid on a fundamentalist Mormon cult in southwest Texas yesterday.

What is troubling to me about all the media coverage is the lack of distinction being made between “polygamy” and “suspected sexual and physical abuse.”

Can we just be clear here? Child Protective Services would not, and did not, raid this religious cult because they practice polygamy. That (should be) their right, under religous freedom protections, as long as it is between consenting adults. And as Texas law states that a 16-year-old female can legally marry, if the marriage is between a 16-year-old and a 54-year-old, that’s their business, as repulsive and disturbing as that sounds to me.

They went in because they received a call from a girl alleging physical and sexual abuse, and found reasonable suspicion that this abuse was widespread, as it often is in cults, because that’s how they keep people from leaving. But it is consenting adults’ legal right to belong to cults, just as it is consenting adults’ legal right to belong to any religion they want.

I just think it is important to make a clear distinction here: I don’t want the federal government legislating who I can marry, so I am not going to support the federal government’s right to legislate whether a person can have one spouse or three spouses. But that’s not why the raid in southwest Texas happened.

The comparison of same-sex marriage to polygamy was made a couple years ago in either Curve magazine or Girlfriends magazine – I wish I could find the reference. It’s manipulated by both sides for their own end. I understand the fear that if we legalize polygamy (or polyamorous relationships, which would be the more gender-equal solution) then it opens the door for creepy arrangements in religious cults. Raising the age of consent in order to marry would help that –but maybe not. Whatever age you make it, there will be a risk for brainwashed young women winding up with abusive, controlling older men. But that’s happening right now. We can’t legislate to try and prevent it, we can only stop it when we find out about it. It doesn’t make sense to take away other people’s legal rights in order to prevent something that probably can’t be prevented.

Most importantly, as deeply uncomfortable as I feel with the dynamic in polygamous communities, I don’t think we should be legislating what goes on between consenting adults.

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~ by realsupergirl on April 8, 2008.

7 Responses to “On Polygamy and the San Angelo Raid”

  1. I was just watching “Big Love”, the HBO series. Have you seen it? It addresses some of these issues.

    I find polygamy offensive, not so much in concept, but in practice, as it is ALWAYS one man with many wives who are subservient to him (at least in the cases that make the papers).

    This comes from me, the one who wouldn’t be big on one husband, let alone two.

  2. But that’s not really the polygamy you’re objecting to, is it, then? I mean, I have the same gut-level reaction. But it’s not the fact that they have more than one spouse that offends me, it’s that, as you say, it’s always men with wives, and the wives are expected to be subservient and submissive, which is sexist. And from what I understand, Big Love shows only the softer side of that community, but in reality that dynamic is usually backed up by physical, emotional, and sexual violence.

    On the other hand, I know plenty of people who are or have been in polyamorous relationships, who are loving and kind to their significant others, and who strive against any power imbalance (outside of a sexual context, of course, where it can be fun to play with that sort of thing). And why should those people be denied legal protections of marriage, if they wanted them? We don’t outlaw hetersexual marriage because there are some abusive, violent heterosexual relationships. You know?

  3. The thing I find disturbing is the way that our media will give ANYTHING the benefit of the doubt if some moron invokes the mantle of religion. Mormons like these have less moral weight in my universe than NAMBLA. All religions are cults. Fuck them and their psycho leaders, Peter, Luther and magic Joe Smith.

    They want to go to heaven? I have the ticket right here…

  4. The thing I find disturbing is the way that our media will give ANYTHING the benefit of the doubt if some moron invokes the mantle of religion. Mormons like these have less moral weight in my universe than NAMBLA. All religions are cults. Fuck them and their psycho leaders, Peter, Luther and magic Joe Smith.

    They want to go to heaven? I have the ticket right here…

  5. Don’t worry, I am not advocating the de-legalization (or for that matter the legalization) of anything. I just don’t think polygamy usually works well for women or is practiced by societies that give much room for women to demand their rights (ie. Saudi Arabia). Usually and Most being the key words there.

    As for polyamorous relationships, I don’t know that many and the ones I have encountered have not been psychologically healthy for either of the women I knew in them (but I can suspend judgment on that a while).

    Would you be into a poly relationship if your S.O. suggested it?

  6. Don’t worry, I am not advocating the de-legalization (or for that matter the legalization) of anything. I just don’t think polygamy usually works well for women or is practiced by societies that give much room for women to demand their rights (ie. Saudi Arabia). Usually and Most being the key words there.

    As for polyamorous relationships, I don’t know that many and the ones I have encountered have not been psychologically healthy for either of the women I knew in them (but I can suspend judgment on that a while).

    Would you be into a poly relationship if your S.O. suggested it?

  7. We have talked about how if one of us felt this was something we needed to explore, we would be open to negotiating what the boundaries would look like.

    I think it would be hard for me, because I am an insecure person, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it wouldn’t be positive if we were to do it.

    I have been impressed by a number of polyamorous relationships in how much time they spend discussing the boundaries and how much trust they have in each other. But I have also seen them get really messy, really fast. But that happens in monogamous relationships as well. I think some monogamous couples could learn something from some polyamorous couples’ ability to communicate and trust each other more.

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