Kody Brown, His 'Sister Wives,' and the Return of Polygamy
Tinseltown is seeking to mainstream polygamous relationships.
Having long ago forsaken the favorable depiction of monogamy characterized by such shows as the long-running Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet (1952-1966) and Father Knows Best (1954-1960), Hollywood producers are outdoing themselves in portraying polygamy as just another lifestyle that should be accepted by Americans.
HBO's fictional series entitled Big Love was one of the shows which began the polygamy love affair among Hollywood producers. The show was followed by the reality series Sister Wives, starring the perennially grinning Kody Brown. Brown is legally married to one wife, but "spiritually" wed to three other spouses who live pseudo-harmoniously as one big, happy family with sixteen children. He is the latest calendar pinup for the sexually liberated left, which seems hell-bent on redefining marriage to the point of eliminating it altogether.
The real polygamous Brown family, having replaced TV's fictionalized Big Love family as the poster-family for polygamy, are now suing to make their choices legally legitimate, seeking to decriminalize "consensual" polygamous relationships -- ironically, in Utah, of all places.
For those unfamiliar with the history of Utah, the state has been a stronghold of the Mormon faith since Brigham Young traveled to the American West in order to continue his and his followers' belief in polygamous practices without interference from the law. Young was husband to 55 wives, a few of whom appear in this photograph. He sired 57 children.
The Mormon Church repudiated the actual practice of polygamy and wife-sharing in 1890 in order to join the Union. Though most Mormons are monogamous, outlying fundamentalist, polygamous Mormon sects still flourish in Utah and other states. Mr. Brown is one of the Mormon fundamentalists who justify the taking of multiple wives as an expression of faith.
Brown's lawyer, Jonathan Turley, has defended Brown's polygamous household in an article from the New York Times entitled "One Big, Happy Polygamous Family."
Mr. Turley writes that there are many polygamists in the U.S., among them fundamentalist Mormons and Muslims. It seems both groups are finding government intrusion into their personal lives insufferable.
Turley believes that just because Mr. Brown's family does not look like those of other Utah families, it doesn't mean they are criminals; rather, it simply means that "[p]olygamy is just one form among the many types of plural relationships in our society[.] ... Homosexuals and polygamists do have a common interest: the right to be left alone as consenting adults." The Browns, he continues, "want to be allowed to create a loving family according to the values of their faith."
There are red-light indicators that Mr. Turley's arguments in defense of Kody Brown's polygamous family are being taken quite seriously.
Second, as noted by Nina Bernstein in her New York Times article entitled "In Secret, Polygamy Follows Africans to New York," the influx of Muslim immigrants into New York City (and elsewhere) has meant that many have brought their polygamous practices with them. She writes that most of the women in polygamous households, of which there are thousands in NYC alone, have spoken bitterly of polygamy.
They said their participation was dictated by an African culture of female subjugation and linked polygamy to female genital cutting and domestic violence. That view is echoed by most research on plural marriages, including studies of West African immigrants in France, where the government estimates that 120,000 people live in 20,000 polygamous families.
But in a milieu such as NYC, imbued as it is with multi-culturalism and a "don't ask, don't tell" mentality concerning sexual mores, no one is paying much attention to the establishment of polygamous households. Further, Bernstein ominously notes, "[I]f the household breaks up, the wives' legal status is murky at best, with little case law to guide decisions on marital property or benefits."
The push for gay marriage was based on the monogamous principle, which was used as a model for allowing same-sex unions. But whatever the motives and longings of those espousing gay marriage, as Justice Antonin Scalia memorably noted in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down anti-sodomy laws), the decision would mean a sexual free-for-all, opening the door for the legalization of "bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest, prostitution, masturbation, adultery, fornication, bestiality and obscenity."
While the left may sneer at Justice Scalia's list of predictions, it is fair to ask just what the consequences of the establishment and legalization of polygamy in the West would be. For rest assured: the practice would not long remain an exotic and titillating source for TV reality shows, but would multiply quickly, bringing many woes with it.
First, legal polygamy would guarantee that women in the West in polygamous relationships would begin to resemble third-world women in multiple marriages. The achievements of the struggle for women's rights in Europe, the Americas, and indeed around the world would be blown to smithereens, for the premise of equal rights for men and women begins with the equality monogamous marriage provides as a bedrock for equal rights for men and women before the law.
Monogamous marriages have never been and never will be perfect; however, for all the vicissitudes and inequities associated with monogamous marriage over the centuries, the truth of the matter is that monogamy has been the foremost reason for the elevation of women to equality with men. The one-on-one relationship ratifies equality in social conduct and before the law. Polygamy destroys the hope of equality at the core level, making the relationship between the man and the women inherently unequal, to copy a phrase from Plessy v. Ferguson. As in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford, it automatically consigns human beings -- in this case, women -- to a status less than men and thus not as fully human as men.
Multiplicity of partners automatically ensures unequal treatment before the law, whether it is "consensual" or not. The first duty of the law is that another person not be permitted to do harm. Polygamy automatically does harm to the woman, even when she consents to be one of multiple spouses.
The fact of the matter is that the destruction of monogamous marriage and the institutionalization of polygamy will automatically result in the reduction of women to mere concubines, with all the evils attendant to that lesser status. Historically, wherever polygamy has reigned, women and children suffer, and male dominance, in the real sense of that often overused and misapplied term, is guaranteed. Male dominance means sexual dominance, among other things. The woman is reduced to a plaything, her capacities as a being equal to man subsumed under the male. Her influence and significance are divided among a plurality of wives and concubines -- a fate scarcely contemplated by sentimental theorists who go on about "consenting adults."
One need only read the stories of polygamous relationships in the Old Testament, written thousands of years ago, to see clearly the absolute misery the practice caused for all involved -- a reason Christ called for marriage to reflect the initial created order of Adam and Eve. The exhortations of the Hebrew prophets to honor the wife of one's youth plus Christ's articulation of the monogamous principle have been a bedrock on which women's rights have been forwarded.
The misery of women mired in polygamous relationships is stunningly depicted in the brilliant film Raise the Red Lantern (1991), starring Gong Li. Director Yimou Zhang avoids idealization of concubinage and polygamy, preferring the cold eye of realism. He depicts the vicious rivalry among the wives, the betrayals leading to the death of rivals, the dismissal and denigration of the aging concubines, and the downward trend toward pedophilia as younger and younger women are desired. His unrelenting cinematic eye focuses on the utter sexual and economic captivity of the wives and is the perfect riposte to current liberal dementia concerning polygamy.
But one does not need to read Old-Testament stories or view Zhang's film to understand that women are basically little more than sexual slaves when polygamy is a societal practice. The point is reinforced time and again by societies dominated by religions allowing polygamy. Attendant to the misery and subjection of women is the unequal treatment concerning their children, who are also completely under the dominance of fathers.
Just as pertinent, in our own country, the glamorization and defense of polygamy typical of liberal defense lawyer Turley has been shown for what it really is -- a dangerous fiction.
The ugly reality was exposed during the recent, notorious trial of Warren Jeffs, who is the head of the Utah-based Mormon Fundamentalist LDS Church. Jeffs' sect believes that polygamy brings exaltation in heaven. Cynics believe that Jeffs found exaltation of quite another variety by sexually abusing underage girls. The prosecutors exposed polygamy's horrors before a traumatized jury, playing a tape in which Jeffs had recorded himself -- before onlookers -- raping a twelve-year-old "spiritual bride." Jeffs is but one example of aging men who choose younger and younger "brides" to add to their harems.
Regardless of the exposure of the realities of polygamy and the disgust with which the jury reacted to Jeffs' prurient sexual practices, liberals continue to push for polygamy as just an "alternate lifestyle" without fully comprehending the deleterious, indeed catastrophic consequences to society.
It is to be doubted that the left has contemplated, for instance, that polygamy would mean the death of the Western concept of romance. The Platonic ideal of the other half and the Christian ideal of monogamy have informed romantic literature for centuries. Polygamy kills the romantic idea that somewhere there is a man or woman who completes a relationship. Ironically, romance between one woman and one man is a subject Hollywood delights in portraying time and again, following one of the unconscious and subliminal foundations of Western society. Polygamy destroys romance.
To paraphrase a quote from Mustapha Mond, leader of the radical new sexual order in Aldous Huxley's prescient Brave New World, written in 1933:
He waved his hand; and it was as though, with an invisible feather whisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Orpheus and Eurydice; some spider webs, Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet. Whisk. Whisk -- and where was Dante and Beatrice, Abelard and Heloise? Whisk -- and those specks of antique legends, Lancelot and Guinevere? Whisk, the other half; whisk, eternal fidelity. Whisk. Whisk, whisk.
We are told by liberals and "moderate" Republicans time and time again that social issues should take a backseat to economic issues. The fact of the matter is that the two are inextricably intertwined. Wherever polygamy is encouraged and wherever it becomes dominant, there will be poverty -- economic, political, and spiritual.
The basic principle of monogamous marriage between one man and one woman constitutes one of the moral foundations on which the entire societal edifice rests. Along with the principle of the right to life, the principle of monogamous marriage demands the support and protection of not just the Church universal, but also the state.
The solution to the present confusion over the issue of marriage lies with those committed to the Judeo-Christian principle of monogamous marriage. Since the mainline churches and liberal Jewish synagogues are rapidly capitulating to the demands of gay marriage activists -- most recently the Presbyterian Church USA -- evangelicals and Catholics must fight for monogamous principle that has characterized the West for hundreds of years. Both should and must unite to stand up for the monogamous marriage covenant, lobbying with an intensity that matches or excels the mad obsession of those radicals who seek to overturn one of the foundational mores of Western civilization.
Those who believe in sexual faithfulness between partners should also join the fight. Faithfulness to one's partner is one of the last remaining vestiges of the principle of monogamy. It is still honored, at least as a virtue to aspire to, among gay rights activists and some other liberals. The idea of faithfulness as a virtue would vanish overnight were polygamy to become a law of the land.
The West would be racing even faster toward a sexual free-for-all, a world in which "everyone belongs to everyone else," as Huxley notes.
There would come a time, as Mustapha Mond reminds his eager students, when the very concept of monogamy would appear hopelessly antiquated. Why, he says, can you believe that at one time, people had different ideas? Can you imagine that at one time not everyone belonged to everyone else?
If a coalition of those who oppose polygamy is not gathered, and if the fight for the monogamous principle is not enjoined, the rapid installation of polygamy in the West, with the inevitable ills attendant to it -- among the worst being a catastrophic setback of women's and children's rights -- will continue apace.