Legalizing Polygamy: An Argument

Two FLDS men in Canada have been accused of polygamy and are currently in the middle of a trial. A defense attorney on the case says that the country’s decision to legalize gay marriage will lead to legalizing polygamy.

This question may raise some eyebrows, but I’m going to ask it anyway: What’s the big deal? Polygamy isn’t any more “dangerous to society” than gay marriage, which Canada has deemed acceptable for society. Consenting adults enter into a union that they feel fits their preferences, religion, or both.

Full disclosure: I am personally opposed to polygyny (which is how polygamy is usually manifested). But I think we’re all missing the silver lining in polygamy legalization:

  • Currently, women in such marriages are legally vulnerable because their marriages are not registered or recognized by the state. They have no recourse if they are abused or divorced: if they go to the police or other governmental entities, they worry they’ll be arrested because polygamy is illegal. Legalization would register these marriages and give women recourse for grievances in the case of domestic violence, divorce, child support, etc.
  • If polygamy is legalized, then those entering into polygamous marriages will have to fit the requirements for entering into any marriage (i.e., be consenting adult parties). All parties (including other wives) will have to agree to the marriage. Marriages with minors will still be against the law, as will marriage without a spouse’s consent or knowledge.

The illegal status of polygamy in the West causes many women who are in polygynous marriages to fall into a legal grey area where they feel they aren’t allowed any rights or protections from the law because their marriages are illegal under Western laws. Muslim polygynous marriages differ from the FLDS community’s in that there are a finite number of wives allowed and Muslim communities are not separated from Western society through the use of compounds, as FLDS communities sometimes are. However, both of these communities can find themselves trapped by the law if they no longer want to be a part of the polygamous lifestyle.

Polygyny is often associated with the exploitation of women partly because its illegal status allows for abuses to go unreported. With legalization comes regulation: if we legalize and regulate polygamous marriage like we do other forms of marriage, those in polygamous marriages will no longer be in legal limbo.