Now that same-sex marriage is all but passé as a hot-button topic, the latest rising civil sociopolitical star is the contentious issue of polygamy, also referred to as polygany, bigamy, or the more user-friendly term, polyamory. I am largely in favour of these alternative marital arrangements; the libertarian in me wants to give consenting grown-ups the benefit of the doubt when it comes to forming such unions. Whatever gets you through the night, as Lennon used to say.
Many of the concerns with polygamy have to do with the potentials for coercion and abuse. As most of us are aware, however, conventional marriages between two people are hardly immune to these sorts of problems -- yet we don't find it necessary to ban traditional marriages on these grounds. What is required are tough and enforceable civil laws against spousal abuse and accessible public and private institutions that can help women in need.
I do have one concern about polygamy, however, and it is about parental accountability. I sometimes worry that, like the failed communist experiment where communal ownership meant no responsibility, shared guardianship over children will result in lack of parental accountability. That said, my feeling is that biological parents will likely take the lion's share of the responsibility, so this may not be an issue. Moreover, there is truth to the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child; multiple caregivers (assuming they do their job) can only be to the benefit of children.
The Web has been filled with discussions on this topic recently. Here are some links and quick blurbages:
Husband and wives (Guardian): "Over the years a blind eye has been turned to the practice of polygamy in the United States. But the trial of a Fundamentalist Mormon for assisting in the rape of a minor could change all that. Ed Pilkington visits Utah and uncovers a closed world of 'sisterwives', underage marriages and banished teenagers."
Polygamists Fight to Be Seen As Part of Mainstream Society (Washington Post): "Valerie and others among the estimated 40,000 men, women and children in polygamous communities are part of a new movement to decriminalize bigamy. Consciously taking tactics from the gay-rights movement, polygamists have reframed their struggle, choosing in interviews to de-emphasize their religious beliefs and focus on their desire to live "in freedom"..."
Is There a Case for Legalizing Polygamy? Blogger Gary Becker writes, "For a long time I have found the practice of polygamy intriguing, and have wondered why opposition to this form of marriage is so strong in the United States and most of the world....Why the strong opposition to polygyny if it would be so rare? If modern women are at least as capable as men in deciding whom to marry, why does polygyny continue to be dubbed a "barbarous" practice?"
Economist Bryan Caplan has made his polygamy lecture notes available. Arnold Kling chimes in about "Polygamy, Jealousy, and Social Peace." Caplan responds by saying we need "Facts Not Fear."
The positive image of polygamy in media (The Daily Evergreen): Polygamy loves company – especially in the American media.