Social Question

nikipedia's avatar

Should polygamists be prosecuted, and if so, to what extent?

Asked by nikipedia (27338 points ) November 26th, 2011

A recent court decision in Canada upheld the illegality of polygamous unions. The judge concluded, “The evidence . . . supports the reasoned view that the harms associated with the practice are endemic; they are inherent. This conclusion is critical because it supports the view that the harms found in polygynous societies are not simply the product of individual misconduct; they arise inevitably out of the practice. And many of these harms could arise in polyandrous or same sex polygamous relationships, rare as those appear to be. Here I mention, without limitation, harm to children (for example, from divided parental investment or as a result of less genetic-relatedness of family members), to the psychological health of the spouses, and to the institution of monogamous marriage.”

For more details, the full decision (opens pdf) is available.

What do you think? Should polygamy stay illegal? Do you think people living in polygamous arrangements should have their children taken away from them?

Or do you see some flaws in Chief Justice Bauman’s logic?

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If you’re curious about the purported harms and don’t feel like reading the whole 246 page decision, here are some selected items from the “summary of apprehended harms” (full list available in section V.D.7. [779–793]), Chief Justice Bauman lists:

a) It creates a pool of unmarried men with the attendant increase in crime and anti-social behaviour;

b) The increased competition for women creates pressure to recruit increasingly younger brides into the marriage market;

c) This competition causes men (as fathers, husbands and brothers) to seek to exercise more control over the choices of women, increasing gender inequality and undermining female autonomy and rights. This is exacerbated by larger age disparities between husbands and wives in both polygynous and monogamous relationships; and

d) Men reduce investment in wives and offspring as they spread their resources more thinly across larger families and increasingly channel those resources into obtaining more wives.

—Women in polygynous relationships are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. Competition for material and emotional access to a shared husband can lead to fractious co-wife relationships. These factors contribute to the higher rates of depressive disorders and other mental health issues that women in polygynous relationships face. They have more children, are more likely to die in childbirth and live shorter lives than their monogamous counterparts. They lack reproductive autonomy, and report high rates of marital dissatisfaction and low levels of self-esteem. They also fare worse economically, as resources may be inequitably divided or simply insufficient.

—Children in polygynous families face higher infant mortality, even controlling for economic status and other relevant variables. They tend to suffer more emotional, behavioural and physical problems, as well as lower educational achievement.
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19 Answers

DrBill's avatar

No, they should not be persecuted, it should not be illegal.

By using this warped type of justification, we should arrest all blacks, because they commit more crimes than other races, we should arrest all Catholic Priest because some of them commit crimes against children, etc., etc.

A few states (like mine) have laws that protect the poly lifestyle. No one should be arrested because they have a certain lifestyle, have skin of a certain color, belong to a certain religious group. This judge has made a prejudice and discriminating decision, and it should be overturned.

augustlan's avatar

As long as it is illegal, yes it should be prosecuted. However, I don’t think it should be illegal in the first place. Are there problems associated with some sects involved with polygamy? Sure. But address the specific problems (underage girls, abuse, etc.) rather than the marriage choice itself.

perspicacious's avatar

Yes indeed. To the fullest extent of the law.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Gosh, silly me. And here I was thinking that polygamy didn’t have to mean polygyny, and that the entire idea of marriage (monogamous and otherwise) was a social construction.

nikipedia's avatar

@Aethelflaed, I don’t understand your comment. The judge explicitly comments on polygyny and polygamy as separate constructs, and I don’t understand why something existing as a social construct would imply that it should not be subject to social contracts (in the form of laws).

jerv's avatar

Social contracts and law are apples and oranges… unless you have an agenda to enforce a particular viewpoint via legislation. While there are certain things that most civilized humans, regardless of culture, find abhorrent (rape, murder, theft…), there are others that are only abhorrent amongst a certain sub-group (polygamy, homosexuality, marijuana, spitting in public, belief in religions other than the ones that the legislative body holds…), so it is rather tricky.

So tell me, what is the official state religion of Canada anyways?

Aethelflaed's avatar

@nikipedia Well, his big problem is with (widespread, religious) polygyny, but then he rules against polygamy as a whole. He does make note that they are different, but then doesn’t really seem to have a big problem with punishing all of polygamy for the problems of widespread, religious polygyny. So it’s like the same thing as when people acknowledge that marijuana and meth are different, but then end up treating all drugs like they were meth. And social constructs can change, they are, by definition, not “inherent”. So, he seems to be able to understand the difference, just not able to then apply that nuanced thought to his ruling.

Symbeline's avatar

I don’t think it should be prosecuted. However if children, women or men are suffering due to this type of life, means should be forwarded to help them out of whatever crisis this might be causing. Kinda like what child and family services is supposed to do with monogamous marriages/unions/lowlz

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

With all the extended and blended and separated and foreign adopted and mixed culture and who’s the daddy and mommy’s a crack whore families in this country… why separate polygamists out for special prosecution?

If we threw them all in jail, except for the traditional nuclear family unit… I’m not convinced there would be anyone left in this nation.

TexasDude's avatar

Polygamy should only be punished if a party involved does not consent. Otherwise, it should be completely legal. Like pretty much most things for consenting adults, but then again, liberty is a hard pill for a lot of people to swallow.

downtide's avatar

It should be illegal only if there is deception involved, then it’s basically fraud. Like a man who has a wife in one town and another wife in another town, and tells each that he goes away on business a lot.

But for a consenting group of people who wish to live together and share their lives together? No.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I don’t like the idea of condemning polyamourous relationships, because I know some people who do this respectfully… but places like the various FLDS compounds scare the crap out of me, because they institutionalize the demeaning of women, and it’s comforting that there is a law on the books that they are breaking. Now if someone would just prosecute…

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I do not think there is harm to the children or to the people involved…well, no more than the usual harm sexism and patriarchy bring upon the world…I think multiple spouses should be legal but I do find it problematic that it usually happens with cult-ish men getting many wives..within those subcultures, the reverse isn’t allowed and that is pathetic.

wonderingwhy's avatar

Seems the ruling states the case as “it’s illegal because we as a society/species can’t adequately handle the alternative” with a helping of “this is difficult and complex and we don’t want to deal with it”. And you know, from what I’ve seen, they’re largely correct on both counts; individuals tend to get in over their heads and react poorly and courts tend to screw things up royally (particularly in the beginning).

However because something is hard to do doesn’t mean it should be set aside from doing. Nor do I believe for a minute their argument with regards to the issues arising inevitably and endemically from the practice – people are the genesis of each issue they discuss (from the OP not the article which I don’t have time to read now but will – very interesting, thanks for posting @nikipedia !!)

Each of the things listed is something that needs to be addressed in society as a whole. They stem from fundamental moral views that run counter to societies, and are encountered seemingly everywhere you turn, they are in no way restricted to polygamist practices.

a) crime is a choice, figuring out how to teach right from wrong and motivate the actions society deems acceptable is forever an issue.

b) minors are protected; courts do your job. does adding “temptation” make it harder, yes, but no one ever said right was easy.

c) wow, controlling husbands, really? a result of polygamy you say? Interesting. Sheesh, see A and throw in more and more public avenues for women to deal with such problems.

d) now we’ve got men not raising their kids, see C.

Essentially the court is using polygamy as a cover for moral ills that lurk under all of society – address the ills directly (well beyond the courts ability). If you keep outlawing everything that is difficult or can bring those moral problems to the surface, they will never be fundamentally dealt with and we as individuals will be progressively less capable of navigating these dilemmas for ourselves. (This is starting to sound a lot like religion).

To sum it up for the tldr crowd and directly answer the question: should polygamy be prosecuted: no, the behaviors listed however should be addressed by society (from illegality to moral guidance and discussion) to encourage individuals to make better decisions and accept greater personal responsibility.

Teach people to make choices society can accept rather than banning activities that encourage choices to begin with.

Blackberry's avatar

No, it’s all a social institution, meaning it works for some and not for others. As long as children aren’t raped.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yeah. What everybody said. If a guy has 5 wives, and all 5 women are cool with it, who’s to say it’s wrong. Insane, maybe, but none of our business!

AnonymousWoman's avatar

I used to be totally against polygamy, but the older I get, and the more that I think about it, I really don’t feel that it should be illegal at all if everyone involved is happy with the arrangement and above a minimum age. If people can divorce and remarry later, then I don’t see what’s so bad about a man having more than one wife.

If a man wants to stay married to more than one wife and loves them all and doesn’t neglect their needs or the needs of his children, then more power to him! That’s more than I can say about some divorced people who seem to be obsessed with badmouthing their ex-spouses and using their children as pawns against each other.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

If Canada has any same-sex marriages, not to allow polygamy, which is historically more common, makes the government of Canada a fraud.

@downtide It should be illegal only if there is deception involved, then it’s basically fraud. Like a man who has a wife in one town and another wife in another town, and tells each that he goes away on business a lot. That is more like bigamy than polygamy.

AnonymousWoman's avatar

^ Makes sense to me. Same-sex marriage is legal here in Canada, so why shouldn’t polygamy be?

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