Not so long ago a friend of mine introduced me to his wife. For a moment I stared at him, confused. Then she was another woman than I had encountered just a few days earlier with his children. Wicked friend, trying to pull my leg? Wrong! He confessed to me to live in a polygamic relationship with consent of all involved. He tried to explain to me that his religious views had inspired him to bind two women to his life. A complicated history with some very particular elements he had never told me. A nice widow by the Balkan war had come into his life, with whom his first wife could go along very well and allowed this evolution to take place! Polygamy with a social function never really was unconventional, I realized. It however gives the man in some respect the upper hand, which in times of equality between sexes and secularism appears to cause a shift towards polyamory, love for many without the necessity to formally legalize the relation, thus marry, but avoiding rather archaic consequences of social taboos and rejection by the law. What is polyamory ?
I was reminded of this subject while reading about the intriguing case that plays these days in Utah, USA. A cult leader, Warren Jeffs, tried to have a verdict of illegal polygamy overruled. He failed. That in the state that gives home to the Mormon church of 'Jesus Christ and Latter-days Saints'. A Christian church faction that historically was in favor of polygamy, but denies this today. A denial of Matthew 5:17-18? Polygamy isn't restricted to this religious community alone. Today it is becoming a growing phenomenon in Israel as well. In modern Israel, when a wife cannot bear children or is mentally ill, the rabbis are inclined to give a husband the right to marry a second woman without divorcing his first wife. Moreover the number of plural marriages amongst prospering Sephardic Jews is rising. The plural marriage is also known in Islam. Islam deals with this issue more clearly however and provides certain legal requirements to discourage such a practice. Christianity as such has never taken a clear stance about plural marriages, rather allowing the existence of concubines, still common practice in France. In China, the status of a man was once measured by the number of women he had – both wives and concubines. In 1949, the Communists banned the practice, seeing it as a sign of bourgeois decadence, but now, after two decades of market economy, concubines have returned – the “ernai”, meaning “second wife”. So we look at a phenomenon that is quite widespread! One wonders what is against this?
Attorney Brian Barnard has made a case in favor of polygamy. He claims that while it is a legitimate concern of the State to prevent fraudulent or coerced relationships, it has no right to prevent plural marriages amongst consenting adults. Could it two centuries ago be related to slavery, today the taboo seems directed to object against same-sex marriages and prevention of child-abuse. A twist of mind to only scare rational adult people? Should individual, personal freedom be judged by some public opinion and the moral understanding of the State? Consensus so far has never guided us to moral truths. In that light I doubt whether a change of names, from polygamy to polyamory, means a change of heart, though it pretends a difference. My guess is, that much of the 'moral resistence' is based on envy! Envy not to be able to come up for two households, being responsible for them. Or in a sense circumventing it in the less formalized polyamory. My friend is an exception: he can afford to have two wives!