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Polygamy

Yeah, But Is It Worse?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 16, 2001.

It is hard to look upon the successions of mousy and elderly heads of the Mormon Church today and visualize Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, who were large and powerful men. The fact alone might bring into question the genetic benefits of polygamy, the large bony skeleton of the Latter Day Saints in the vast, barren closet that is the state of Utah.

When the economic benefits of becoming part of the United States were contrasted with the continuation of running quasi-legal toll booths for California pioneers, and when Congress - bolstered by the pinch faced pastors of Boston - declared that Utah statehood was dependent upon monogamy or bust, the Saints of the late nineteenth century were visited by deity and angel and changes were made in their doctrines that allowed - encouraged, actually - the performance of multiple marriages, at least for men. The original precept and the cynicism of the move to negate it - in the same bundle as the Mountain Meadow slaughter of innocents - has always kept the Mormons from complete assimilation into the heart of most Americans. Further, it has long been a badly kept secret that some sects of Mormons continued to have multiple wives, an embarrassment in the same nature of the various Snake'n'Shake sects of Christianity.

But is polygamy wrong? The basis against it are translations of the Bible, specifically the plurals of Man and Wife. The Mormons used to think not, for various self-serving reasons, hardly an unreasonable view given the genuine persecution and murder of their originators over a century and a half ago. Under-populated groups under fire have very different morality than others, and are very similar to challenged groups in other religions and continents.

Every animal in the world allows the most powerful males to compete to breed with the most desirable females, which usually translates into the female nearest to a male in rut. The problem here is that 'powerful' used to mean successful at adaptation and competition with other males, which was pretty much limited to physical assets of strength. In the ages culminating with Bill Gates, the definition of what is a powerful male has changed, since the richest nerds can have large, handsome competitors killed or, as large segments of America have done to those descended from slaves, kept reduced in the number of financial feathers they can display. This has put humans in a quandary, because what sex, common sense, and happiness declare are superb mates is not necessarily that which the genes do. The fact is, no other animal is confronted with this issue of competing yardsticks before mating.

But is it less moral for a man to officially marry several women and accept financial responsibility for them and their children than for the strutting males that lace America bragging about the number of children they've produced by multiple relationships in the course of their annoying life? Less moral than the serial marrying women who deface church with their vows, and any sense of decency with the extortion festivals that are their weddings? Is a woman forced into marriage with an ancient friend of her father likely to be more unhappy twenty years down the line counting her life insurance checks than the girl who elopes with that exciting rock star or cosmic environmental hero of her drugged-out youth? Statistics are unavailable. It is an open question whether or not polygamy is a less happy state for women and children than the alternatives that are pursued in reality by those who condemn the procedure.

Feminists of both genders correctly point out that the reality of polygamy and bigamy, which is polygamy laced with fraud to one party to the marriage, is that the man gets the best of both worlds while pretending to a higher moral plane which is, in essence, a Playboy Philosophy enshrined as a command from God. And further, a woman who maintained two or more households and husbands would be openly seen as a slut, or at least from California, whereas the man who does such is secretly viewed as a virile Be-Jesus of a male, if socially deformed. New statistics, which lack specifics regarding multiple household participants, now hold that only twenty-five percent of American households are nuclear, by which is meant a man married to a woman and the children belonging to them. I don't think it is or was ever that high. Women always had children by lovers, until this century most people never knew a minister or priest to marry them, and this all folds into the great American hypocrisy, which has always been Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Especially, don't allow the children to ask, and don't tell them if they do.

It is true that nobody in the United States has the right to offer for marriage or to marry a fourteen year old girl under any circumstances. And it isn't right that marriages be forced on any one under any conditions, but can it be said that the wives of the frisky Mormon males and their broods are less happy than their exhausted sisters with multiple lovers across two continents? I have no idea. But neither, I argue, does the law, our Ur document of which allows its pursuit, that is prosecuting Tom Green as we speak.