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Not Really Polygamy

May 30, 2008
N. Lukanovich

Since polygamy is a hot topic of late, what with the raid on the Texas 'Yearning for Zion Ranch', I think it's about time that someone cleared up what the word polygamy really means. The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), which includes Bountiful and this ranch of 'Yearning', does not actually practice polygamy, but polygyny.

Polygamy is the practice of having multiple spouses, of whatever gender. Polygyny is the practice of a man having multiple wives. Polyandry is the practice of a woman having multiple husbands - extremely rare, and usually fraternal: brothers marrying one wife because of limited resources. It's practiced where communities live on steep mountain slopes and there's only so much land to go around.

To call polygynous societies, polygamous, is bold faced spin, a twisting of words to make the practice less sexist. These are intensely patriarchal societies that follow ancient traditions. In the case of Christians and Muslims, they look to holy books written centuries before the technology of printing presses, and point to the word of God.

In the U.S., the FLDS claims protection from prosecution for polygamy by shouting about civil rights. In Canada, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is invoked nearly as much as the Bible itself, like some sort of sacred text that allows a group to do what they want as long as they hide under the cloak of religion.

Those that would claim that polygyny isn't sexist must be stupid, misogynist, or both. When a practice within a group is only allowed for one gender, and if it is only allowed to men, then clearly, it is sexist.

When Winston Blackmore, who only gets to run half of Bountiful since the split - the other half follow the so-called prophet Warren Jeffs, who is currently rotting in prison for a sexual molestation conviction (it's all too sordid) - when the good Mr. Blackmore was asked in an interview how he would feel about women marrying more than one man, he appeared ready to vomit and said it was 'disgusting'. He claims this would be against the word of God.

What I find 'disgusting', is invoking the word of God to justify marrying 26 wives and having about 80 children. What I find 'disgusting' is using women as livestock and then being sanctimonious, because, after all, other men have affairs. What does he mean to imply? Men are such blind slaves to sexual desire they can't control themselves? Men are like animals? I'm endlessly amazed by those who would have us believe that men should hold positions of moral authority while at the same time claiming that men can't 'help themselves'. Isn't this just a little insulting to men themselves?

Wally Opal, the Attorney General of B.C., has stated that he is against polygamy, but apparently all the legal minds surrounding him claim that even though polygamy is illegal, it would be difficult to prosecute because it may be an out-dated law. Something to do with consenting adults, a new era of permissiveness, and increasing secularism: we should allow polygamy because it's all about free love and nothing to do with religious exploitation of women.

The stench from the bullshit is blinding. Where is the proof that secularism is on the rise? It is Christian fundamentalism that is on the rise, and demands from religious groups of all kinds for special rights. And what's this rubbish about consenting adults? Teenage girls, even if 16 or 18 years old, who have been raised to believe in a God that will punish them and damn them to hell if they don't follow the laws of the prophet, can hardly be considered to be 'consenting adults'.

There is a whole new movement of Christians other than the FLDS, in the U.S. and Canada, who claim that polygamy should be legal because it is sanctioned by the Bible. Is this a badly thought out joke? Just as an aside, the Bible also condones sacrificing your sons to God. We don't get to pick and choose what we want from a book written during barbaric times and claim: if it was written it is so!

If these proponents of 'polygamy' knew what the word meant, you can bet they wouldn't run around jabbering about the word of God supporting a practice that would include the possibility of one woman marrying many men.

But then, this possibility seems far fetched, it has never been part of Western culture, and if there was any group in Canada that practiced polyandry, the women with many husbands would be dragged off to court faster than you can say 'Charter of Rights and Freedoms'.

The cental problem is (drum roll please): religious freedoms. The concept of religious freedoms came long before the notion of women's equality, and that's where the conflict begins. The idea behind religious freedoms was to give men the freedom to follow the religion of their choice, and arose during a time when men were persecuted for following the 'wrong' religion and when minority religions were often outright banned.

Perhaps it is religious freedoms which are outdated, and not the law against polygamy. After all, why do we need religious freedoms enshrined when we live in a multi-cultural society that accepts all forms of faith? Religious freedom should not, after all, be about having a free pass to oppress women within the religious group by using the phrase 'it's the word of God' as a knee jerk defense to any criticism.

Now, if women's equal rights were truly upheld in Canada, the leaders of Bountiful could be prosecuted, whether or not polygamy was legal, because they give rights to men not accorded to women. But we don't prosecute inequality within religious institutions. That would open up the 'can of worms' that lawyers, judges, and politicians quietly fret about when it comes to Bountiful. What, for example, would we do with the Catholic Church, which forbids the ordination of women? Hmm…..the can of worms is the size of Mount Everest.




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