Let’s start right out by clarifying the purpose of this discussion: Polygamy should not be illegal. I’m not arguing that Polygamy should be legalized. There should never be a need to argue that something be made “legal”. One should assume that the state of everything in the universe is “legal”, unless someone effectively argues that some thing inherently harms others to such an extent that it must be made “illegal”, therefore stripping humans of any rights related to that thing.
For example, murder. I doubt we need to discuss why removing a person’s life harms them to such an extent that it should not be allowed. A more esoteric concept would be speed limits on roads. In that case one would need to make an argument that goes something like this…
Roads are physically engineered and built to withstand a certain range of capacities. Variables such as the number of vehicles, the weight of vehicles, and the speed of vehicles, directly impact the condition of the roads, which are financed from public funding sources, creating a sort of “public contract” that everyone must accept with some use limitations that everyone must abide by. Hence – speed limits.
A History of the Criminalization of Polygamy
In 1862 the Thirty Seventh Congress criminalized Polygamy in three short paragraphs of the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act. This act was specifically and blatantly designed to target the Mormon church, which is exceedingly ironic given the fact that the argument against Polygamy is religious in nature, and essentially boils down to “because it’s always been illegal”.
If we try and apply the previously stated logic, the argument would go a little something like this…
Society is, and has always been, founded on the principle of a single man and a single woman being married, producing offspring, and repeating the process.
But since when was “because it’s always been done this way” an acceptable argument? I’ll answer that question – in America, it was never acceptable. The entire country is founded on upending the system and attempting to do the “right” thing by protecting people’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. So here are plenty of reasons the criminalization of Polygamy should be repealed.
1) There Was Never a Good Reason For Criminalizing Polygamy
The people who criminalized the act did so solely on the basis of religious intolerance. And that basis flies in the face of the entire US system of governance.
2) You Can Never Have Too Much Freedom
In the landmark case Lawrence V. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down the illegality of homosexual acts. In the court’s summary judgement one of the final paragraphs reads as follows:
…times can blind us to certain truths and later generations can see that laws once thought necessary and proper in fact serve only to oppress. As the Constitution endures, persons in every generation can invoke its principles in their own search for greater freedom.
3) Necessary Protections Already Exist
You know what should be illegal? Let’s say a woman marries a man and gets all the legal protections afforded to her by marriage – community property, the right to pull the plug on her husband if he ends up in a coma, etc.; and then the woman marries ANOTHER man without either of them knowing about the other.
4) Punishing People For Who They Care About Is Wrong
Nature or nurture, it doesn’t matter why – the courts have already ruled that you can’t punish people for being straight, gay or bisexual. Protections also exist for people who are transgendered (though not enough). There is simply no justification for harming anyone just because they choose to spend their life with multiple partners.
5) Everyone Should Be Allowed to Choose
Noah Feldman said it best:
If all humans are inherently entitled to have their marriage choices respected and acknowledged by the government, there’s no good reason to exclude people who choose plural marriage.
6) Humans Are Wired To Love Multiple People
Take sexuality off the table. Now think how many people you love. Parents, siblings, spouses, children. Who do you love the most? Which of your parents would you choose if you had to let one die? Which of your children?
Obviously it would be inconceivable to choose between people you love. And if, for example, a loving couple happened to fall in love with another close friend creating a Ménage à trois, who is to say that the relationship isn’t as real as any other?
7) Polyamory is Legal
Everything a group (meaning more than 2 people) want to do together is already legal, except being able to call themselves “married”. It’s called Polyamory. The only problem is, the people are denied legal protection granted to married citizens.
For example, if three people were legally married and lived together in the same household for 50 years, if one or more died the assets would remain with the survivor(s). Without marriage protection at least one of the three family members would potentially be subjected to tax consequences as well as a number of other harmful side effects.
8) The Courts Can Easily Handle the Details
Some people worry about the consequences of polygamous marriage in terms of divorce, children and other minutia. But 57 countries already deal with these things, plus US courts routinely have to tackle all kinds of difficult family matters. For example:
- What to do with the kids of crack addicts
- How to deal with complex inheritance matters with large families
- Crazy paternity situations
- Families with multiple divorces, and multiple children with the same mother and different fathers
- Children with unwed parents
- Kids who’se parents are incarcerated
You can’t make something illegal just because it’s difficult. Think how disruptive the abolition of slavery was – but we didn’t keep it because it was going to be tough to undo!