Big love

polygAfter reading the book, The Secret Lives of Saints by Daphne Branham, I like to think I’m up to date on the whole polygamy issue in both the U.S. and Canada. I gotta say, it’s sticky.

On one hand, you have these fundamentalist Mormon men (Winston Blackmore and James Oler), charged with polygamy, claiming religious persecution–a violation of their Canadian rights. They are also arguing that because homosexuality has been included into the definition of marriage, there is no reason that polygamy can’t be also.

The other side, religious practices are not grounds for taking away other more important rights, such as the right to equality, freedom to choose who you marry and the right to education–most of which are pulled out from underneath the women and children in these sects.

Here’s where it gets tricky: If you ask these women, they will try to convince you that they are not oppressed, that they love their lifestyle and that they deserve the right to marry their polygamous husbands.

It blows my mind. I almost feel bad for the women in the same way I would if I was talking to a certifiably insane person who was trying to convince me he or she is not crazy. It must be very frustrating for them, because they *really* believe what they’re saying.

I anticipate a future argument when this all goes to trial: If these women want to be in these sects, shouldn’t we let them be? Well no, I argue we shouldn’t. Just because someone doesn’t realize to what extent they’re being disenfranchised doesn’t mean we should ignore it. But some disagree with me. This is the question for today: if someone says they’re happy in a situation where their rights are clearly being compromised, do we intervene or not?

(Just to be clear, this particular issue with polygamous sects also involves the rights of children, who should absolutely be taken out of these villages).


12 thoughts on “Big love

  1. Similar to the question whether Muslim women cover their head because they want to do so or because they have no other choice?! I bet you if you ask Muslim women who do cover their head whether this is what they want, they would say “yes” and it won’t me a lie since society taught them it’s wrong to show your hair, so now it seems like it’s their own choice to cover their head, but not really…

  2. I’ve met many Muslim women who really do choose to wear their hijabs, and enjoy that it honours their god and tradition (same with, Jewish women who cover their heads for similar reasons).

    I think there are situations in which there is choice and freedom. That said, I know there are circumstances in which there is shame in not wearing them–those cases seem similar to the polygamous women’s idea of “freedom.”

  3. I’ve never been perturbed by the concept of polygynous (the sub-group of polygamous relationships that see a man take on more than one wife) marriages…perhaps because I was raised in a country where Muslim men practised this as part of normalized society.

    However, as an academic, I would be interested in the wife-perspective, specifically the effects of wife-order. Some would suggest that in a polygynous household, the power structures are upheld by the wives themselves rather than by the male…ie, the dominant first wife exerts power over younger wives; alternatively, the younger wives are seen as sexier. There is well documented scholarship pertaining to this dynamic.

    Having earlier stated that I have no personal bias for or against these relationship, I do believe that religious choice comes second to the legal structure of the country in which one chooses to reside. If the law states that bigamy/polygamy is illegal, then that holds true even if ones religious belief is contradictory. For this reason, it is unacceptable for Hindu sons to throw their elderly mother on her recently-deceased husband’s funeral pyre in Vancouver (thus practising the Hindu practise of ‘sati’)

    In terms of the children and their safety, I don’t believe that these situations are detrimental to the psychological development of children. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that they are equivalently ‘normal’ to secular polyamorous relationships that most children of separated parents are exposed to. However Jenn, I do understand your wariness for the safety of children especially in light of the FLDS sect that was busted for child abuse in Texas recently.

    My apologies for carrying on ad nauseum – I tend to get carried away.

  4. @ Jen: I don’t know much about polygamous sects, but I feel like you haven’t given me much to dislike about them from what you wrote in your blog entry.
    You say that their right to equality; freedom to choose who they marry; and their right to education is usurped…but then you also say that they’re happy with this.
    I don’t see any reason to interfere with this. If they’re happy, then what’s the big deal? There are so many more things that we should be worrying about…like world famine. Those people will not try to convince you that they’re happy.
    However, in the case that the children are being mistreated, well then I think it’s obvious what to do.

    @ Roselle: you say “I do believe that religious choice comes second to the legal structure of the country in which one chooses to reside” how do you mean this? I mean, yeah, it comes second, since if you do practice something that is against the law, you will be persecuted. But are you trying to say that, no matter what the law says and no matter what the religious beliefs are, you will morally agree with the law over the religion? I mean, you picked an example that is appropriate for that, but I’m sure I can come up with a contradictory example where you would side with the religious practice…
    and I don’t think that everyone has all that much choice in where they reside…

  5. You’re right, I didn’t get into it. I’ll try to give you a quick list now. If one strikes your fancy for discussion, I’ll do my best to expand on what I know.

    1) Average women are married off at very young ages (14-16), through arranged marriages…this strikes me as institutionalized rape. There is no dissent because the prophets tell them it’s god’s will. These new wives leave school to become baby machines to men two or three times their age.

    2) Racism is taught in their public schools, as fundamentalist mormons believe people of colour are cursed by god.

    3) If you do the math, there is no way young men can all marry (and if they *don’t* marry more than one wife, they can’t get into celestial heaven). These boys are often shipped off to work (in BC it’s to forestry companies); few of them return. There are also stories random excommunication of young men. This practice avoids male competition and keeps existing leaders in power.

    4) Their police, judges, juries, teachers etc. are all FLDS. It’s very difficult to bring any sort of elder abuse issues to justice.

    5) Due to inbreeding, both Canadian and US sects illegally smuggle new women into the sects. Women are property.

    6) If women want to leave (with their 10 or so kids), it’s not only very difficult but there is no enforced child support.

    To get the best idea of the situation, you have to think of the “prophets” like cult leaders. They have a lot of control. Whether exercised overtly or implicitly, this power they have is, within the community, absolute. If consenting adults are into it, fine. But children have no business in these places.

  6. Actually, you’ve got this backwards.

    Because you are blind to the beauty of Patriarchy, and all of the benefits it affords you, I thik perhaps Patriarchy should be forced upon you just as much as you think “liberation from Patriarchy” ought to be forced upon these women.

    Er, actually, I’d never stoop to your plan, however, as the above is just a joke.

    Your plan is a plan of coercion, Satan’s plan, which was rejected before the Foundation of the World.

    That’s why Satan and you, his minions and followers, always fail. Sooner or later, and usually sooner.

  7. I wrote something really long…but then talked it over with my roommate and came up with something much smaller:
    – on the one hand I just want to answer: they’re all fucking brainwashed and looney and the lot should be brought into “the real world” where they would be re-educated and assimilated into more reasonable communities.
    – however, this is a very slippery slope with respect to me saying the same thing to everyone who is religious
    – so I guess I want to say the following:
    1) Is there not a law against marrying too young? Marriage should be between consensual adults (I don’t have anything against polygamous marriage [this includes a woman having multiple husbands])
    2) religion should not even be taught in school anyways, there should be a federal law against this
    3) that sucks for those boys, but growing up in a mormon community also sucks so…
    4) as long as the police and so on obey federal law…I don’t know what to say…
    5) I don’t even understand the illegal smuggling bit
    6) I personally believe that child care should be universal and free…but I’m practically a socialist so…

  8. Yeah, if people want to have multiple simultanious sexual partners its A-OK with the GODless world, but if they want to live in s dedicated and committed relationship then they are ‘bad’ or ‘insane’.

    How dare you presume to interfere with people’s natural GOD (Yes GOD) given Rights. Socialism that is not voluntary is tyrrany.

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