Polygamists are multiplying on the screen. For those who are drawn into the polygamist lifestyle there is a lot to watch. One of those television shows is TLC’s Sister Wives, were we see the Brown family, including Kody Brown, his four wives and their 17 children. The main reason for the Brown family to take part in the show is to create more public awareness of polygamy and to battle the existing prejudices in today’s society. With the arrival of television shows about polygamy like Sister Wives the debate around polygamy has grown. We are fascinated by a lifestyle which is against the law and which is present on the edges of society (Ravitz). According to David Ebershoff, writer of the novel The 19th Wife, that is not surprising at all. ‘Polygamy asks us to think about religious freedom, the right to privacy, and are there limits to those rights? And if there are, who determines them? It’s this moral murkiness that draws us in,” says Ebershoff (Freydkin). Also the definition consistent with ‘family’ is shifting. Today’s society gives individuals more freedom to create their families in ways that they want and think is right (Rower, 729). Our perception on the principals of liberal are changing, therefore it is time to reconsider polygamy.
The norms on the way families should be arranged have changed. In the past years society has started to think differently about the definition of ‘family’. The introduction of gay marriage and the possibility of divorce have proven that there is an increasing acceptance on the right of individuals to establish itself in personal and sexual life (Rower, 725-729). Besides, monogamy is no longer needed to give women and children economic protection. Most women nowadays had an education, have their own income and know how to take care of themselves and their children (Van Oi). The traditional monogamous family (husband, wife and children) is thereby the subject of change (Rower, 725-729). The meaning of marriage is best left to individuals who can decide for themselves what they want their marital relationship to be (Den Otter).
Religious freedom is a dynamic concept. The last couple of years the scope of religious freedom has widened. Religious freedom is now a primary good within a liberal democratic society (Sharma, 3) and the law provides constitutional protection to personal determinations concerning marriage, reproduction, family relationships, parenting and education (Rower, 722). Because of the widened scope of religious freedom it is almost impossible to argue that polygamy goes against the law. Taken in mind that most polygamous families chose to be polygamous because of their beliefs; they have the fundamental assumption that plural marriage is the way to accomplish the so called highest achievement (Ravitz). As long as all those involved are mature, legally able to sign a marriage contract and most of all are willing to do so, there is no constitutional reason why it is not possible to express faith trough marriage.
The justifications for prohibiting polygamy are hypocritical. Same-sex marriage is promoted by the idea that we should be able to marry whomever we choose. It is hard to think of a good reason why that would only apply to a couple. The main question is therefore how it is possible to legalise same-sex mariage but still prohibit polygamy (Allouba). Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University and the attorney of the Brown family, argued that polygamy laws expose our own hypocrisy. According to Turley are the current rights of polygamist based on popularity and not on principle. Turley’s liberal argument is that all humans are equal, there is no single standard which applies to all humans; therefore he states that is hypocritical to continue to ban polygamy. When it comes to the fundamental institution of human society Turley can think of no legitimate reason why polygamy should be treated differently from monogamy. ‘The justifications for prohibiting polygamy come from outside liberalism, from our religious, ethical, and civilizational traditions’ (Auster).
With the traditional monogamous family as the subject of change, the concept religious freedom becoming more ambiguous and the hypocrisy shine through our polygamy laws, our perception on the principals of liberal have changed. Together with the legalisation of same-sex marriage the arguments against polygamy are hard to upheld, so it is time to reconsider polygamy.
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