Thursday, January 08, 2009

Polygamy and abuse

I have no great love for hierarchical, authoritarian religious leaders using religion to build their own harems, but I still find the polygamy charges against the Bountiful sect troubling.

There can be no doubt that some of the individuals and leaders in the splinter religious groups in the US and Canada that practice 'celestial marriage' have engaged in unambiguously illegal and morally reprehensible behaviour involving minors. Both young girls compelled into relationships with much older men and young boys driven out of the only homes they've ever known under flimsy pretexts with no resources or idea how to survive in the outside world, all to reduce the competition for older men among the limited supply of child brides.

But there can also be no doubt that not all polygamous relationships follow this pattern, perhaps not even most of them. Even polygamy's fiercest critics must concede that loving non-coercive polygamous relationships started and continued exclusively with consenting adults do exist.

I'm reminded of Glenn Greenwald's logical postulates of social authoritarianism that include such examples as:
  • Sometimes, people get drunk and drive, or get drunk and abuse others. Therefore, we should outlaw all alcohol (rather than just outlaw drunk driving and assault).
  • Sometimes, the media libels people and destroys their reputations. Therefore, we should outlaw all freedom of the press (rather than just proscribe libel).
  • Sometimes, children get a hold of cigarettes or pornography. Therefore, we should outlaw all smoking and pornography (rather than just outlaw the act of selling cigarettes or porn to minors).
  • Sometimes, men rape women or molest minors. Therefore, we should outlaw all sex (rather than just outlaw rape and child molestation).
Add to this list, Sometimes polygamous relationships involve unacceptable, coercive, abusive compulsion of underage females - therefore we should outlaw ALL polygamous relationships (rather than just enforcing existing laws against abuse, coercion and statutory rape against the polygamous relationships that include these crimes).

I find this an unpersuasive argument.

Prove that Winston Blackmore married girls when they were fifteen years old and I have no problem with him facing serious jail time for statutory rape. But simply proving that someone has an unorthodox relationship with multiple women who were all over the age of consent when the relationship began however, does not pass the smell test for proving a crime to me.


Mike said...

Well said.

What consenting adults do or agree to, how they live, is no business of the states.

When there is no consent or "consent" is the result of social or violent coercion, then its time to do something.

These charges should be a bout sexual exploitation, not polygamy.

Cliff said...

Not least because this polygamy prosecution is likely to be an expensive failure by the time it reaches the Supreme Court. Time and money wasted on unsuccessful prosecution for polygamy that could be better used to build a successful case for statutory rape.

David said...

Cliff: I believe the AG investigated this group thoroughly over a period of years and found no evidence of statutory rape -- that is why charges were not brought. But apparently the absence of lawbreaking did not satisfy the AG.

Now we are faced with the absurd spectacle where when a man lives with three women under one roof and calls them "girlfriends," it's fine and dandy, but if he calls them "wives," he's a criminal and he's sent behind bars for years. If this is not an irrational law, I don't know what is.

Cliff said...

The best argument I've heard for these prosecutions (and it's still pretty weak.) is the same argument for keeping laws against possesion of small amounts of soft drugs:

That polygamy is easier to prove than statutory rape and may allow prosecutors to shake out the examples of statutory rape the prosecutors believe exist just as penny ante posession charges can allow them to take major dealers off the street that they can't make cases of trafficking against.

It's the best argument they have and it isn't a very good one - it assumes that we can trust the police and crown to just 'know' who's guilty without being able to prove it, justifying prosecuting people for something that arguably shouldn't even be a crime because they can't prove the other crimes they'd rather prosecute them for.

I don't trust the police and crown's infallibity of judgement enough to find that an acceptable bargain.

David said...

I believe that argument was precisely the one advanced by the special prosecutor consulted by the AG -- that polygamy was the "root" from which all other alleged crimes flowed.

Of course, the major difference between this situation and small-time drug possession is that in the case of drugs, you are dealing with different degrees of the same basic offense. Possessing an ounce of marijuana is obviously less harmful in the aggregate than smuggling tons of cocaine, but there is still a fundamental similarity in that both substances have been declared illegal, and with a rational basis for that illegality tied to the directly-observed effects of exposure to these drugs.

We also "know" that either the possessor grew the drug product, or else obtained it from someone else: either way, we have constructive knowledge that there must be a more serious crime lurking somewhere below the surface, either dealing or production.

There is no such similarity here. As the original post notes, we do not criminalize the free exercise of certain behaviors simply because they bear some correlation to other harmful behavior. Nor can we know that where the is polygamy "smoke," there must be fire.

(I should add, in the USA, marriage-related charges, usually for bigamy, are NEVER brought independently against polygamists. Only when there is some other crime being alleged is the bigamy charge introduced. I think the reasons for this relate to what has been discussed here).

MPB said...

Great post. Protect children from exploitation and abuse. Leave consenting adult relationships and family arrangements alone. It's simply NOT the government's business to tell people who to love, or how to love.

Dumoustier said...

It's simply NOT the government's business to tell people who to love, or how to love.

True, and to my mind, unassailable. The government has no business in relationships between consenting adults, and neither does anybody else. That includes people like Winston Blackmore, Warren Jeffs, and presumably this Oler fellow.

The particular brand of polygamy as practiced by these cultists gives, or gave, Blackmore and Jeffs the authority to dictate who married who, assigning wives to husbands, sometimes re-assigning a wife from one husband to another, and in the case for which Jeffs is facing trial, dictating that a 19-year-old boy and 14 (?) year old girl be married.

This is precisely what commenters here are saying the government cannot and must not do. If the government can't do it (nor should it), then it seems obvious that nobody else should be allowed to do it either, freedom of religion notwithstanding.

I agree that the law, as written, is overly broad. However, I think that the trial that results from this charge under this law will reveal enough about the coercive aspects of the FLDS brand of polygamy that, even if the law is eventually struck down as unconstitutional (and there's no guarantee that will happen), there will be enough hard data uncovered to allow Parliament to write a good, solid, constitutionally correct law that will prevent future Winston Blackmores from ever exploiting women and children in this way again.

So on balance, I'm happy that BC has finally shown some courage and laid the charges.

***Heh. WV = downedmen. Appropriate.

Boots said...

Please at least pretend to do some research on the facts of polygamy, wordwide, before you jumpt to conclusions about how tolerant and open minded you all are.

I'd really appreciate it, and so would my grandaughters yet unborn; I'm sure, who would prefer to live in a country where their sisters aren't imprisoned within American concubinage, from *any* religion.


Cliff said...

Did you even read the post you're critiquing?

Boots said...

"But there can also be no doubt that not all polygamous relationships follow this pattern, perhaps not even most of them."

Yes, darlin', I read it.

Slave owners, my own direct ancestors here in the South, said the exact same thing about slavery you just said about polygamy.

Even Jefferson was a very kind slave owner.

Should that make the practice right?

Cliff said...

And my first 2 paragraphs address that directly.

I suspect we agree more than we disagree. But I do think that there are plural relationships out there, both polygamous and polyandrous, that are not abusive nightmares. I also believe that there are standard, one man one woman relationships, and religious communities that are marked with coercion and abuse. Shall we outlaw traditional marriage and traditional religion because it can feature abuse and molestation?

Bringing the full weight of the law against polygamy hasn't stamped it out, just driven it underground. Bring the full weight of the law down on abusers - for acts of abuse - but outlawing plural marriage because it can be marked by abuse is a recipe for oppression, failure and the seductive reinforcement of martyrdom.

Boots said...

Just because there are concubines, who remain safe and never abused does not mean it is desirable either to permit, or effectively ignore the cultural practice within a civilized society.

I repeat my request for you to study polygamy, not the FLDS or any other polygamous group in particular, but polygamy, before you make judgments based on the PR efforts of men with a vested interest in keeping their concubines sweet, from the moment they are born.

What I hear you saying is that all cultures are equal, so why protect ours, but are they?

The culture we live in is designed to operate on a system of contractual monogamy, which we call marriage, in order to protect children and establish an ordered civilization.

Now let’s compare that culture to the cultures who allow polygamy, shall we?

I do this because the UN [of which I am no real fan btw] can find no country on the face of this entire earth...that would be our whole planet, which allows the legal practice of polygamy and also allows women equal rights with its men. See the pattern?

“Bringing the full weight of the law against polygamy hasn't stamped it out, just driven it underground.”

Same with prostitution. Perhaps we should give up, go ahead let them walk outside our schools looking for johns, that way they will feel more comfortable reporting it to the authorities when they get beat up while turning tricks.

What you are saying is that even if you actually study this and find polygamy is an actual abuse, better government regulation is the answer for the victims?

Martyrdom? You mean just like the Muslims who also enjoy owning their women folk...hmmmm.

If they go along with legalizing polygamy as a valid alternative lifestyle choice, here, based on my four-year investigation of the FLDS in Mohave County, Arizona, is what you can look forward to as an American woman:
• Your husband can come home one day and tell you that he has taken a new wife or three...
• You will now have to compete for his time attention and affection, daily, or divorce him.
• You will now share the financial resources of your family with the other woman or women, and any children who come along.
• The more that come along, the less there is for your children, or their futures.
• If you leave, you are no longer entitled to half of everything in your marriage. Now you get one third, or depending on the number of concubines in the marriage, one sixteenth, or one hundredth?
• Muslim American men, now free to build American harems, pressure masses of Muslim American women to wear the burqa.
• Other costumes, uniforms, or "coverings", such as long prairie dresses emerge from Middle America, as men claim "religious inspiration" to pressure their concubines to dress "appropriately".
• These same masses of women will be secluded, and as they give birth to more children, their access to communication with the outside world and education cut off.
• Emotional, mental, sexual, spiritual, and physical abuse will thrive in environments where one man is now the focus of the complete attention of multiple women.
• When a polygamist man dies, and his multiple unions recognized as legitimate marriages, each wife is now entitled to receive a check from Social Security.
• Each now legally legitimate child also gets Social Security benefits.
• Thousands of women will find themselves thrust into abject poverty, because their husband is unable to support all of his concubines and children equally.
• Thousands more will be forced to accept government assistance for food and medical care, for the same reason. Their family structure is legitimate in the eyes of the law, so they will qualify for multiple government assistance programs for the poor.
• Birth rates among polygamist marriages will skyrocket, more children = more benefits.
• Infant mortality and child death rates among polygamists families will soar – see the Colorado City, Arizona death rates.
• Accidental child death rates among polygamist's families will increase – see the Colorado City, Arizona death rates.
• The reporting of domestic violence shrinks to zero in entire communities, for decades at a time – see the Colorado City, Arizona history of zero prosecutions for domestic violence in over a decade.
• Competition to the older, more powerful men, underage boys and young men driven from their communities, with no education or job skills, become a burden on law enforcement and social services in neighboring, non-polygamist communities where they are abandoned - see the Colorado City, Arizona history of driving 400 boys out of their town.
• Trained from birth to expect assignment in marriage, complete submission to patriarchal religious authority, and acceptance of the "blessing" of an early marriage, millions of bright American girls, along with their potential talents and contributions to society, will be lost for generations.
We face that chilling future if polygamy remains either unchecked or legalized in America.
These sorts of things, however, are apparently unimportant to the average American Feminist.

Polygamy is abuse
Abuse isn’t a religion

Cliff said...

I think we may have reached a sticking point. I'm unconvinced that all plural relationships are inherently, inevitably abusive. You are convinced that outlawing all such relationships - presumably including the ones where everyone involved are consenting adults willingly choosing to be in them - is the only possible response to the ones that are oppressive.

I'm sorry, but I think you are responding to oppression with oppression.

Do you believe that if you just outlaw and crack down on polygamy that everyone involved will just go 'Oh well I guess they're right, let's just drop all this nonsense.'? Or are the men and women involved going to embrace that seductive martyrdom I mentioned and keep doing what they're doing?

Boots said...

As I am unconvinced that all slave owner relationships were inherently, inevitably abusive. In fact, I have great historical proof that this was not the case.

I also believe, however, that legal slave owner relationships and the acceptance of the cultural practice of slavery led to a hotbed of horrific abuse cases. Should the government have simply regulated the treatment of slaves rather than criminalized their ownership?

If I am broke and unemployed, should I be allowed to sell myself into indentured servitude, as long as we are all consenting adults?

What you are missing here is what most Americans are missing. You have no faces to put to the abuse and corruption. Perhaps if you talked to some of the survivors of American polygamy, you would be much more cautious with your children’s own future rights.

Polygamy is illegal. Those who break the law should be prosecuted.

If they do allow it, women in this country will look back on the 20th century as a quaint golden age of civil rights for females, not unlike the persecuted women of Iraq, who stand behind our organization 100% by the way.

So here I have a nice [you do seem perfectly nice] safe, secure westerner opining about the freedom to love....and I have women in Iraq sending me their support, asking what they can do to help me stop this from ever happening in America.

Dear K.Dee Ignatin,

It seems that we fight for the same cause on opposite sides of the globe.

Although polygamy was about to end in the modern Iraq, the political mess of the new millennium has introduced us into a new age of politicized misogyny. The new mutations of Islamism into an uncontrolled beast has made most feminists and egalitarian of the Middle-East lay low.

A few of us are still determined to stand against them and tell the whole world that we, the women in Iraq, reject polygamy, paedophilia (of female children), and submission.

I personally have gained a reputation at that, but it always comes with a high cost.

Our current "democratic" constitution has given way to polygamy while it was penalized before the occupation.

You have an ally and a supporter in Iraq.

Keep on leading the struggle for women's liberation and do not wait for appologists to make you stronger. You do not need them.

In Solidarity,

Yanar Mohammed

Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq, president OWFI

I wonder which one of you really knows more about polygamy's true impact on women’s rights?

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