Personal tools

Debate: Polygamy

From Debatepedia

(Difference between revisions)
Jump to: navigation, search
Revision as of 08:04, 23 January 2009 (edit)
TheRealdeal (Talk | contribs)
← Previous diff
Revision as of 08:13, 23 January 2009 (edit)
TheRealdeal (Talk | contribs)
Next diff →
Line 132: Line 132:
*'''[[Argument: Polygamous fathers can't give their children adequate attention| Polygamous fathers can't give their children adequate attention]]''' *'''[[Argument: Polygamous fathers can't give their children adequate attention| Polygamous fathers can't give their children adequate attention]]'''
*'''[[Argument: Polygamy is not equivalent to gay marriage in nature| Polygamy is not equivalent to gay marriage in nature]]''' *'''[[Argument: Polygamy is not equivalent to gay marriage in nature| Polygamy is not equivalent to gay marriage in nature]]'''
-*'''[[Argument: Legally recognizing polygamy would result in a host of legal problems]]''' +*'''[[Argument: Legally Recognizing Polygamy Would Result In a Host of Legal Problems]]'''

Revision as of 08:13, 23 January 2009

Should marriage to more than one person be legal?

YOU can become an editor of this article. Debatepedia is a wiki encyclopedia of pros and cons that anyone can edit! What's a wiki? How to edit.

Editing tasks in this article that you can do:

  • Many of the pro and con websites listed in the pro/con resources section have not been read, and arguments and quotes have not be drawn from them.
  • Many arguments do not have argument summaries or summarizing quotations.
  • You can add more editing tasks here, delete completed ones, and talk about tasks on the discussion page. See other editing tasks on Debatepedia here


Background and Context of Debate:

Polygamy is the state or practice of having two or more mates at the same time, this includes both Polygyny (the union of one man with more than one woman - literally, ‘many females’) and Polyandry (the union of one women with more than one man: literally, ‘many males’). Polygamy is a social phenomenon that has existed for thousands of years in cultures around the world. Polygamy is believed by some to be condoned in the original texts of many faiths - in the Bible from Lamech’s marriage to Adah and Zillah in Genesis (4:23), to Joseph’s four wives (Gen 29-30). In Judaism, most of the prophets - God’s messengers - were polygamous. Solomon is said to have had 700 wives. In Islam, the Koran tells us that after the battle of Uhud many widows were left, who were married to already married men (4:3). In modernity, most religions ban the practice and it is rare in Islam. In most countries, including all western ones and some Islamic ones, polygamy is illegal, although some Muslim states (e.g. Saudi Arabia) do allow it. Apart from these Islamic examples, polygamy does continue in some African societies.

In America, substantial controversy surrounds Mormon fundamentalist forms of polygamy. In the 1840’s, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, approved the practice of polygamy. In 1896, Utah's leaders were forced to abandon polygamy in order to achieve statehood. Polygamy is a felony in the state – albeit not often prosecuted. In 1953, the American public reacted adversely to a ‘polygamy raid’ in Utah, causing a reduction in the enforcement of polygamy laws in Utah and elsewhere in the United States in subsequent decades. For more than a century, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (to give the Mormons their proper name) has expelled those practising polygamy. Polygamy has been maintained, however, by break-away Latter Day Saints Churches such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints (FLDS). This church was led by Warren Jeffs before his high-profile arrest in 2007. In 2008, starting on April 4, Texas State officials "raided" a FLDS community in Elderado, Texas, and took 416 children there into temporary legal custody in an effort to protect them from allegedly abusive conditions. This has enlivened the polygamy debate in the United States and internationally. Many polygamists and non-polygamists strongly advocate the practice. And, with an HBO show called "Big Love" that features a more-or-less happy polygamous family, many are taking a fresh look at the arguments.

This debate revolves around numerous questions. Does government have a compelling interest in legalizing polygamy, or is criminalization justified? Should the government be tolerant of polygamy and polygamous lifestyles? For religious polygamists, does the state need to allow for "freedom of religion" in the practice of polygamy?
Or are these religious beliefs directly clashing with core laws, individual rights, and democratic principles, thus justifying government intervention? Can polygamous marriages uphold principles of gender equality, or are they inherently misogynistic? Is polygamy generally a good social planning model for states? Can it help increase population size in needed times? Or, does it leave too many men without wives, causing social strife? Do polygamous families function as strong support networks that relieve strains on government?

Is it impossible to enforce anti-polygamy laws adequately? Is polygamy too widespread to carry out enforcement of the law consistently? Are raids on polygamist communities highly damaging and traumatizing to polygamist communities? Is the enforcement of polygamy laws driving communities into the shadows subsequently making enforcement of polygamy laws much more difficult?

Are governments engaging in moral double standards by criminalizing polygamy. Is polygamy no worse than adultery, for instance?

Can polygamy be separated from religion, or is it fair to treat it as effectively always faith-based? How does this affect questions surrounding free choice? If polygamy is typically religious, and a belief exists that God commands it, does that mean that women have less of a choice in opting to engage in the practice? Does polygamy have a long standing history in various religions and cultures? Does this provide it greater credibility as a legitimate religious belief and practice, perhaps providing it more protection under "freedom of religion"?

Does polygamy generally uphold the legal right of consent? Or are women forced into marriages and into other actions within their marriages? Do religious, polygamist males have too much authority "from God" to control women? Are polygamist wives frequently abused in the name of God? Is polygamy intrinsically abusive? Does polygamy create harmful competitions between wives?

What does polygamy do to the institution of marriage and family? Does it share the same principles of love and affection as in monogamous marriages? Does it help reduce divorce rates? Are polygamous families stable? Does it satisfy the mutual interests of husband and wives? Do polygamous wives become destructively jealous of one another? What about the children? Are their interests upheld in polygamous marriages?

More background resources.

Pro/con videos, priming the debate...


"Jessica at Polygamy Rights Rally"[1]


"BANKING ON HEAVEN Polygamy Trailer"[2]

The main arguments that define the polygamy debate


  • Polygamy is widespread, making full enforcement impossible and thus arbitrary.


Government role: Should governments be tolerant of and stay out of polygamy?


  • Consenting adults should be free to engage in polygamy As long as consenting adults freely choose to engage in polygamous marriages, the government has little cause to intervene. It should be assumed that individuals will engage in contracts only when it is in their mutual interests. Some defend laws against polygamy on the basis that women are not actually freely consenting to polygamy, even if they say so; that social/communal and religious doctrine are forcing them to do so. But this assumes far too much, opening an unruly debate about what constitutes free will in decision-making. On a legal basis, only clear evidence that women are being forced to engage in polygamous contracts should be used to invalidate such contracts. Otherwise, polygamy should be legalized on the basis that the vast majority of these women claim to engage in polygamous contracts by free will.
  • If polygamy is bad for individuals, let them figure it out on their own The government should not play "big brother" for the very reason that it is incapable of teaching people how to live their own lives. If polygamy is bad for individuals, we need to trust that they can figure that out on their own. If we can't trust individuals to figure this out, then we demean their capacity to reason and to assume responsibility over their own affairs. Even if we were to assume that polygamy is bad, it is clear that government laws and intervention are incapable of instructing individuals to do right. Or, at least the government it is not more capable than social and individual reasoning in guiding individuals to do right. This reasoning is validated by the fact that, despite laws against polygamy, the practice continues to be widespread. Maybe that is because it is actually not bad.
  • We must consider polygamy's best-case not just worst-case scenarios. A prejudice seems to exist in analyzing polygamy, in which the worst case scenarios are over-emphasized and sometimes used to paint the whole picture of polygamy. But, without also considering the common best-case scenarios involved in polygamy, such selectiveness can be viewed as prejudiced or at least ignorant. We need to be open-minded to instances in which consenting polygamist families live exceptionally happy and model lives. The reality is that many of them do. This should dampen the apparent prejudices of those that focus squarely on abusive scenarios within polygamist communities; scenarios that exist in all other communities too. It is also necessary to realize that legislators must consider the average polygamous scenario so as to better understand the inherent qualities of the practice, rather than simply exceptional polygamous practices.
  • Polygamous families provide good financial support networks Larger families with multiple wage earners are more resilient against challenges they face. They have a greater safety net. This greater self-sufficiency in polygamous families reduces the strain on governments of having to act as a safety net when things go bad.
  • Legalizing polygamy will save millions of dollars in welfare fraud The problem is that many polygamists exist in the shadows and don't pay taxes. And, yet they seek welfare checks. If polygamy was legalized, polygamists would be forced to come out of the shadows, pay taxes, and subsequently avoid commiting welfare fraud.
  • Legalization will allow polygamists to positively contribute to society By bringing polygamy out of the shadows, legalization will enable polygamists to become more active and contributory members of society.
Perhaps, just perhaps, reintroducing polygamy would be a way of fulfilling God's promise to Abraham that his progeny would become as numerous as the grains of sand on the seashore."
  • Polygamy is valuable in communities with a shortage of males "The Case for Polygamy". Time. 1968 - "A missionary for 16 years in Tanzania, Father Hillman points out that in much of the underdeveloped world there is a shortage of men willing and able to take on families. Polygamy thus provides the only hope of marriage for many women. 'In such a socioeconomic context," writes Hillman, "the Christian insistence on an immediate change from [polygamy] to monogamy might very well cause much more harm than good. It is not at all certain that the average Christian missionary has either the mandate or the competence to change social structures that are not in them selves evil but are in fact serving constructive purposes.'"
  • Criminalizing polygamy unfairly alienates immigrant polygamists Martha Bailey, Chief author of a 2006 Queen's University study calling for the legalization of polygamy in Canada told The Canadian Press, "Polygamous marriages are legal in some countries. They come to Canada, the vast majority of them will not know the law and they have no legal protection. They could be prosecuted. Suddenly, they're living in fear."[3] -
  • If polygamy can sometimes be acceptable, all forms of it should be legal. If we agree that some forms of polygamy are acceptable (say with one man and three wives), it is difficult to logically impose restrictions on the number of wives or children that could be involved in a polygamous marriage because they would be, by necessity, arbitrary. Total legalization, instead, is the answer. This could see some sensible guidelines, such as that partners need to be able to provide for one another adequately (which is performed in Muslim communities).


  • Religious polygamists often see their religious laws as above state law John R. Llewellyn, former polygamist. "Polygamy vs. common sense". Retrieved 4.24.08 - "One last remark about our Founding Fathers. Wilford Woodruff had a dream where a few of the Founding Fathers came to him and wanted to become Mormons, so he had all the signers of the Declaration of Independence baptized in a Mormon ritual called, Baptism for the Dead. As a result, many Mormons behave as if the Constitution is a Mormon document and everything Mormon, including plural marriage, is constitutional. I suppose that notion is good for Mormon self esteem, but once again, a real stretch of the imagination." In general, when a church sees its polygamy laws as above state laws, the state has a right to intervene.
Anti-polygamists would argue, with some justice, that feelings of gender equality are impossible in a family where, simply to prevent anarchy, the man must organize his wives like a military unit with himself as the commanding general."
  • Most mormon polygamy priesthoods uphold "the freedom to be oppressed" This is a faulty principle that is similar, in some ways, to freedom of association principles. It posits that if someone feels that they are being unjustly oppressed in a polygamist community, they have the freedom to leave. But, as long as they want to remain in the community, they are subject to the authority and possibly the oppression of the priesthood. This is faulty in the basic sense that it denies the unfettered reach of a nations laws to all of its citizens. No priesthood can offer a citizen the choice to forfeit inherent rights that are protected by a nation's constitution; those rights cannot be forfeited and are considered inherent in all citizens.
Moreover, in America today the main constituents for polygamous marriage are Mormons and, as Newsweek reports, 'a growing number of evangelical Christian and Muslim polygamists.' These religious groups practice polygyny, not polyandry. Thus, in light of current American politics as well as copious anthropological experience, any responsible planner must assume that if polygamy were legalized, polygynous marriages would outnumber polyandrous ones — probably vastly."
  • Legalizing polygamy could spread the institution and its social harms Legalizing polygamy would have the likely effect of increasing the practice, although perhaps not to the extent that it proliferates on a massive scale. But, if the practice is deemed harmful, any marginal increase in it can be concluded as bad, and should be cause for concern and pause among legislators who are considering legalizing it.
  • Legalized polygamy opens a slippery slope to legalizing polyamory. Indeed, if patriarchal polygamy is legally recognized, it would only be fair to legalize all forms of multi-partner relations. This is precisely the problem, as it would open the floodgates to the legalization of polyamory in gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities.
  • Legalizing polygamy would open a slippery slope to legalizing other immoral lifestyles. If we legalize polygamy, why not legalize, say, beastiality (sex between men and animals). The problem faced here regards moral boundaries. Where do we draw the line, if we legalize polygamy?
  • Few societies have population problems that can be solved with polygamy. Polygamy might be a demographic solution in countries with large female populations and small male ones, but such major demographic discrepancy are very, very rare. And, over time, it is clear that populations even out naturally and irrespective of government policies.
  • If polygamy is legalized, would the state allow marriages with 100-wives? Opening the door to legal polygamy opens serious questions about instances in which a man marries 100 wives and has 1,000 children. Isn't this an abusive form of polygamy? And, if so, how does the state regulate polygamy? Does it put a cap on the number of wives and the number of children? Assuming that such caps would be arbitrary and indefensible, the state would have to criminalize all forms of polygamy, or allow for the 100-wives scenario. It is better to criminalize it.
  • Polygamy is legal in failed societies and illegal in succesful ones There is a common trend internationally surrounding polygamy. The only states in which polygamy is legal are underdeveloped or unsuccessful ones. No modern democratic state legally permits polygamy. This basic trend goes against polygamy, suggesting that polygamy is not an ingredient in the development of a modern state. There are good reasons for this that will be outlined below, such as the fact that polygamy is not sustainable in a society where there are equal numbers of men and women (it leaves many men without opportunities for marriage). All of this suggests to leaders and legislators in states that desire to modernize that they should not legalize polygamy.

Enforcement: Is it impossible to appropriately enforce anti-polygamy laws?


  • Polygamy is widespread, making full enforcement impossible and thus arbitrary. If polygamy cannot be enforced across the board because it is too widespread, it will only be enforced selectively. When laws are enforced selectively, they are enforced arbitrarily, undermining basic principles of equality in justice.
  • Legalizing polygamy will reduce harm of prosecution to individuals. Part of the case against polygamy is that it is, supposedly, harmful to those that practice it. It is, therefore, odd that little consideration is given to the harm that enforcing anti-polygamy laws inflicts on polygamists and their communities. Legalizing polygamy would eliminate the damage done by raids on polygamous communities, the division of spouses, the separation of children from their mothers, and the general trauma of being prosecuted for a the conduct of ones entire life.


  • The difficulty of enforcing the law is no reason to legalize polygamy. Laws are often hard to enforce. Laws against rape, burglary, and even murder are good examples. Does that mean the government is wrong in having these laws? Obviously not. The same applies to polygamy. Expendiency should not be a consideration in polgymy laws. Polygamy laws should be based mainly on principles over practicality. The principles underlying opposition to polygamy are strong. The case in favor of this is made above and below. Assuming that these principles are "righteous", it is important to make a strong effort, despite the difficulties, to uphold them them. If the law does not reflect justice and its underlying righteous principles, then of what value is the law? If it is based entirely on expedience and practicality, then justice, principle, and morality lose their power, and just about anything can be justified in the name of practicality. Therefore, if anti-polygamy laws are difficult to enforce, enforcement mechanisms should be improved first; justice and principle should not sacrificed to practicality without a fight.

Double standards: Is government applying a moral double standard against polygamy?


  • Polygamy is no worse than modern serial monogamy Serial monogamy is the practice of, in the context of marriage, marrying one person, divorcing them, marrying another person, divorcing them, and moving on and on through husbands and wives. This is very common in the West, with divorce rates as high as 50%. Pro-polygamists legitimately ask, "so it's OK to marry-divorce-marry-and-divorce, but it's not OK to marry all of those wives at the same time? Why?"
  • Polygamy is a better alternative to adultery, divorce, and remarriage Adultery, divorce, and re-marriage are practices that are highly tense, bitter, costly, destabilizing, traumatizing, and damaging-for-children. Polygamy avoids much of the experience by bringing everyone into one stable family. While there certainly may be some costs associate with such polygamous families, are these costs any worse than those associated with the very common experiences of adultery, divorce, and remarriage.


  • Polygamy is deeply sexist while adultery, divorce, and re-marriage are not. Polygamy almost always assumes a patriarchial polygynous form (one man, many wives). Patriarchy is sexist in the basic sense that males hold a dominant position. Typically, this is re-enforced by religious interpretations that demean women and empower men. These sexist elements are not inherently shared by adultery, divorce, and re-marriage.
  • Polygamy is hierarchal and unequal while adultery, divorce, and re-marriage are not. Polygamy typically assumes a hierarchical structure, in which the man is king and in which senior wives assume dominance over junior wives. Sometimes, the priesthood exists even above the man, having the power to strip a man of his wives if he contravenes the priesthood. This is all deeply unequal and undemocratic. Adultery, divorce, and re-marriage do not, conversely, violate basic individual rights.
  • Polygamy establishes a rights-violating contract, while adultery, divorce, and re-marriage do not. Polygamy inherently violates the principle of consent. It does so first by offering women a choice to join a community in which their rights are set aside and they are subject to hierarchical oppression and non-consensual new-marriages (among other things). This is an invalid contract, as no individual can agree to forfeit their inherent rights in this way. Adultery, divorce, and re-marriage do not fit into this category in the simple sense that they do not seek to establish invalid contracts that breach individuals rights. Rather, adultery is the act of breaching a contract and divorce is the act of ending a contract, but neither are acts of establishing invalid contracts that breach individual rights.

Religion: Is polygamy a legitimate religious belief protected by "freedom of religion"?


Deuteronomy contains a rule for the division of property in polygamist marriages. Old Testament figures such as Abraham, David, Jacob and Solomon were all favored by God and were all polygamists. Solomon truly put the "poly" to polygamy with 700 wives and 300 concubines. Mohammed had 10 wives, though the Koran limits multiple wives to four. Martin Luther at one time accepted polygamy as a practical necessity. Polygamy is still present among Jews in Israel, Yemen and the Mediterranean.
Indeed, studies have found polygamy present in 78% of the world's cultures, including some Native American tribes. (While most are polygynists — with one man and multiple women — there are polyandrists in Nepal and Tibet in which one woman has multiple male spouses.) As many as 50,000 polygamists live in the United States.
Given this history and the long religious traditions, it cannot be seriously denied that polygamy is a legitimate religious belief."
  • Criminalizing polygamy violates the right to freedom of religion Given that polygamy has such a long history as a religious tradition, and that it can be considered a legitimate religious belief, how can governments deny individuals their free right to practice these beliefs. Doesn't that violate the principle of "freedom of religion". We shouldn’t stop people from practicing their faiths. Polygamy is legal within the Muslim faith. Why should the validity of such marriages not be recognized? It’s no less than a slur on the faith concerned.
  • Legalization will dissolve paranoia on both sides of the fence. Prejudices and misunderstandings between polygamous and non-polygamous communities worsened by the fact that polygamy's illegality, in many countries, drives the practice under-ground. Legalizing it will bringing into the open and subsequently increase mutual-understanding and tolerance on both sides of the fence.


  • Polygamy is practiced mainly for religious reasons, so can't be seen in secular terms Some contend that Polygamy is simply a marriage contract and that it should not be pigeon-holed, for legal purposes, as solely a religious phenomena. Indeed, if religion had nothing to do with polygamy, it might be considered less threatening, as it could be considered more of an act of free will, instead of an act of obedience to God's will. But, the reality is that over 90% of polygamy is practiced by Mormons, Muslims, and others as an act of faith and obedience to God's supposed commandments. For legislators, this is important, as it reveals that polygamy really is being conducted in obedience to God's will, in competition with both free will and the laws of almost all secular states. Polygamy is a religious phenomena, and needs to be treated as such by the state.
They would like you to think it means polygamy is a religious undertaking. But it doesn’t mean that at all. The fact of the matter is that it doesn’t mean anything, its just another illusion to justify a human desire.
The Biblical patriarchs practiced polygamy for economic, social and political reasons. Religion had nothing to do with it. To say polygamy is biblical is to say incest, rape and murder is biblical. You can find it all in the Bible." [see rest of article]
  • The Bible or Quran are read as instructing only patriarchal polygyny. The Bible and Koran support polgyny (one male many wives) but not polyandry (one women many husbands). The reason for this is clear – women are objects and a man can have more than one, but a man is more significant - he is head of the household. Therefore, it is wrong to support polygamy in accordance with the Bible or Koran, and this necessitates following a sexists, misogynist form of polygamy: polygyny only.

Whilst polygynous marriages are technically possible in the Muslim world, they are very rare - because the requirement that all wives are treated ‘fairly’ (Koran 4:3) is almost impossible to meet. It is not possible to love one person as much as another, impossible to give one person as much thought or time as another. The very low rate of polygyny in Islam points to the problems innate in polygamy more generally.

Consent: Does polygamy involve the consent of female wives?


  • Consenting adults should be free to engage in polygamy As long as consenting adults freely choose to engage in polygamous marriages, the government has little cause to intervene. It should be assumed that individuals will engage in contracts only when it is in their mutual interests. Some defend laws against polygamy on the basis that women are not actually freely consenting to polygamy, even if they say so; that social/communal and religious doctrine are forcing them to do so. But this assumes far too much, opening an unruly debate about what constitutes free will in decision-making. On a legal basis, only clear evidence that women are being forced to engage in polygamous contracts should be used to invalidate such contracts. Otherwise, polygamy should be legalized on the basis that the vast majority of these women claim to engage in polygamous contracts by free will.
  • Most polygamous women freely and eagerly join polygamous families There are thousands of accounts by polygamous women of their free choice to join a polygamous marriage for the very reasons that they continue to enjoy and approve of the relationship. Who is to say that these women are "brain-washed", acting on behalf of the priesthood, or otherwise not acting by their own free will? What about instances of women coming from outside of polygamist communities, where their free will could not be "corrupted" by environmental influence, and marrying into polygamous families. How could we call this something other than free will?
  • It can be ensured that all polygamists are of consenting age It is indeed a crime for girls to be forced to marry as minors. These crimes should be punished and the law should be enforced. But, that these crimes are occurring occasionally in polygamist communities is not an argument against polygamy. Existing laws can be used to ensure that girls are not forced to marry before a certain age. Serenity Valley. "The Argument for Legalization of Polygamy". Later-day Saint Liberation Front. February 28th, 2006 - "As a special category of marriage, maybe we could require all participants in polygamy to be of a certain age of consent—say, 18 or 20 years old. In combination with educational requirements, this could help ensure that all participants in polygamous marriages are truly consenting. Then, polygamy would have a chance of either becoming what most of us consider a safe lifestyle, or of dying out. (The latter seems more likely; just as childbirth rates fall among well-educated women, so might rates of polygamous marriage)."
  • Legal polygamy could require that wives consent to adding new wives It is an understandable complaint that polygamous wives are often subject to the unilateral decision of a husband to marry additional wives. But, with the consent of all existing wives, there is no consensual legal argument against polygamy. This consensual relationship could be protected by the law if polygamy was legalized and regulated.


  • Polygamy ordains men to dominate and abuse wives The basis problem with polygamy is that it is almost always connected to religions in which men are religiously empowered as superior and dominant beings. This is often related to the Biblical story of eve's original sin in eating the apple in the garden of eden. This is a sin that polygamous fundamentalists believe carries through all women today, rendering them inferior to men. This is couple with a belief that men have a divine connection with God no held by women. As such, men in fundamentalist polygamous communities are placed in a position of absolute dominance over their wives, which opens the door to any variety abuses, which can be justified in terms of either man's superiority or his divine revelation. This is an inherent problem in polygamy.
  • Women are forced by God's "commandments" to perform polygamy. Polygamy has to be viewed in its predominantly religious context, in which women are led to believe that God has "commanded" that they marrying into polygamous unions. The punishment for disobeying this "commandment" is eternal damnation in hell. Presented with a choice between being expelled from their Church's and communities as well as eternal damnation and joining a polygamous marriage (which only entails foregoing certain individual rights guaranteed by a man-made constitution), these women will obviously choose to obey God's commandment. That's why there is not really a "choice"; the only way they can "choose" against polygamy is if they forswear their churches, communities, friends, and the "God" that they have been taught.
  • Many women defend polygamy on orders from husbands or the priesthood.
  • Polygamist wives are often forbidden from using birth control so have not choice in conception.
  • Polygamy often takes the form of men essentially buying their wives.
  • The priesthood sometimes has the authority to take polygamous wives away from their husbands.

Abuses: Are abuses exceptional and open to prosecution under existing laws?


  • Polygamy is not intrinsically abusive With an examination of the best case scenarios of polygamy, one will find that polygamy could not be intrinsically abusive; or how could these great, strong, and happy polygamous families exist? Instead, some of the individuals in polygamous marriages end up being abusive, just like they are sometimes abusive in regular marriages.
  • Crimes in polygamous communities can be policed with existing laws Rapes, child-molestations, domestic-crimes, forcing women to marry against their will, and other non-consensual acts can all be enforced within ordinary laws today. Of course, part of the problem is that the illegality of polygamy drives polygamous communities into backwaters where the policing and prosecution of crimes becomes much more difficult.


  • Polygamy is abusive in depriving women of the right to consent (above).
  • Polygamy is abusive in depriving women of many individual rights (above).
  • The polygamous "sleep rotation" schedules are abusive to sexual rights. Women in polygamous families often have to participate in "sleep rotation" schedules, in which they are given a time and night in which they have to sleep with and have sex with their husbands. This is abusive to the dignity of womens' reproductive organs and sexual wishes.
  • Polygamy creates a competition for women that lowers age of marriage Polygamy puts an inherent pressure on men to stretch age boundaries, marrying women at an every younger age so as to "claim" them before anyone else does. This risks men marrying children or teens while they are still minors. That polygamy creates an inherent structure for this to occur should be of serious concern.
  • Polygamy facilitates the practice of forced marriages. In the religion-inspired, male-dominated communities in which polygamy thrives, the practice of forced marriages is rampant. Male-dominated priesthoods effectively control the women they marry. The priesthood effectively transfers a woman to a man to marry, whereupon the man effectively "owns" that woman.

Marriage/family: Does polygamy conform with principles of marriage/family?


  • The idea that a man can love only one women is artificial and false. Some say that a man with multiple wives is unable to dedicate the same quantity of love to each of his wives that they dedicate to him. But, is it quantity or quality of love that matters? As long as the quality of love from a man is high, shouldn't the quantity be irrelevant?
  • Polygamous women love their sister wives as well as their husbands. Sister wives often express a love for each other as well as their husbands. In a sense, marrying into a polygamous household entails marrying both sister wives and the husband. And, why should love for sister wives be considered any less valuable than love shared with a husband? There is no need to explain love in simply sexual terms. Therefore, in a large family with many loving sister wives, it is possible to argue that the total amount of love is greater than in simply a monogamous marriage.
  • Monogamous marriages don't legally require love; why would polygamous ones? Much of society seems to judge polygamous marriages on the basis that they don't meet the standards of "love" that are somehow associated with or required in monogamous marriage. This is the premise underlying arguments such as, that it is impossible for a man to love all of his wives in proportion to the way his wives may love him (the premise being that "love" is the point or is required). But, this is a faulty requirement. Love is clearly not a serious tenant of modern monogamous marriages. Many monogamous marriages are based simply on convenience, compatibility, stability, the ability to procreate, money, or other factors that can be seen as mutually beneficial, but have nothing to do with love. So, if monogamous marriages don't require love (both in social and in legal terms), why should we hold polygamy to such a high standard? This would apply a hypocritical double standard. It is acceptable both legally and socially that polygamous marriages be based on factors other than love. Polygamous marriage are, just like monogamous marriages, about establishing marriage contracts in whatever terms are deemed mutually beneficial by the participating parties.
  • Polygamy is O.K. as long as multi-partner relations of all kinds are also allowed. These could include women marrying multiple husbands, or gay, lesbian, and even bisexual partners. This openness to all kinds of multi-partner relations would combat any concerns that polygamy is merely patriarchal (with the man at the top). If all varieties are possible, it is impossible to argue that the law is biased toward patriarchy in polygamy.
  • Polygamy can't undermine marriage any more than it is undermining itself The institution of marriage is already broken, with divorce rates as high as 50% in many countries. Therefore, what exactly are people trying to protect against polygamy? The "institution of marriage"? What institution? It doesn't seem that there is much to protect, so polygamy shouldn't be held up this account.
  • Polygamy is not about sex, but about strong and stable families.


  • Polygamous men cannot reciprocate equally the love they receive from their wives. Carrying for a wife is about more than supplying her with material needs, something polygamist husbands are frequently capable of doing for their many wives. It is also about more than treating all wives equitably and even "loving" them equitably. It is, rather, about providing a wife with reciprocal attention, love, sexual attention, and feelings of individual value and meaning. This is reflected in the notion of the yin and the yang; parity and complementarity between two partners. A man with even just two wives is incapable of reciprocating equally the love and care he may receive from each of them. He will fall short to some degree with each of wives and violate the notion of reciprocity in marriage.
  • Polygamy sacrifices love between mates to other considerations Women in polygamous marriages are frequently known to consider marrying a polygamous man because of his wealth and status. Men, in turn, see the size of their "flock" of wives and children as an expression of their power and wealth. Beyond these superficial reasons, there are real practical considerations that women have, such as the fact that they will find friends among "sister wives" and a sense of community. This community, in turn, is also a consideration as far as the sharing of household and "day-care" duties. But, these practical considerations all cloud the main purpose of marriage, which is to consummate love between mates.
  • Polygamy leaves some men with no women to marry; socially destabilizing With an essentially 1:1 male to female ration in the world, a man that accumulates three wives can be seen as depriving two other men of wives. In this zero-sum reality, polygamy is unsustainable, and results in many social frictions as men compete intensely for the "scarce" wives and as many of them fail to secure them.
  • Polygamy does nothing to reduce the impulse toward adultery outside of the household. Adultery is based on a desire for the ‘other’, for something outside the known, outside the home. Polygamy does nothing to combat this; adultery still occurs in polygamous societies. Indeed, polygamy encourages adultery as it dilutes the idea of fidelity from being loyalty to one person, substituting the legitimacy of intercourse with many.

Male interests: Does polygamy meet or undermine male interests?


  • Men have an inherent desire to have many wives and "multiply". Men have an inherent desire to mate very frequently. But, it is not possible with a single wife to have multiple children in rapid succession (or as frequently as a man wishes to have sex and thus procreate). Clearly, men have a desire to have sex and procreate more frequently than every nine months, the period of time that a man would have to wait if in a monogamous marriage. Thus, the only way for a man to satisfy the inherent desire to procreate with a high frequency is if he marries multiple wives, whereby he can satisfy his desire to have and and procreate in rapid succession.


  • Polygamy allows men to avoid controlling their sexual impulses Men should be able to control their sexual impulses with reason and control. This is very important to avoiding an obsession with sexuality and a distraction from other important elements of life. Philosophers throughout history have stressed the hazards of uncontrolled sexual impulses. Yet, polygamy allows men to let their sexual impulses loose without control and reason guiding the impulse to have sex and procreate. This damages discipline among men, allows their sexual impulses to become a controlling obsession and distraction, and allows sex, procreation, and child-rearing to become the dominant factor in a man's life. This is unbalanced and unhealthy.
  • Polygamy leaves some men with no women to marry; socially destabilizing Polygamy is unsustainable, or at least inequitable in this way. With many women marrying a single man, many men will be left without wives. Certainly, this would be depressing and even disastrous for these men. The injunction against premarital sex means, for men, no sex, ever in your life. In other societies, this would not present such a drastic problem, but wide scale polygamy would at a minimum, result in severe depression for a large segment of the male populace. And make no mistake, it would eventually become common.
  • With a lower availability of women, polygamy creates bitter competitions between men When a few men win all the wives in a community, many men are left without wives and the opportunity to live fulfilling lives with a lover, sex, and children. Realizing the costs of failing to secure wives, men will compete viciously for a scarce supply of wives. This competition can prove nasty, violent, back-stabbing, and socially damaging.

Female interests: Does polygamy benefit the women that engage in it?


I imagine that across America there are groups of young women preparing to launch careers. They sit around tables, talking about the ideal lifestyle to them in their aspirations for work, motherhood, and personal fulfillment. "A man might be nice," they might muse. "A man on our own terms," they might add. What they don't realize is that there is an alternative that would allow their dreams to come true. That alternative is polygamy, the ultimate feminist lifestyle."
  • Polygamous women can choose the right husband, even if he is married Women shouldn't have to pass-up a man that they fall in love with simply because they are married. Polygamy allows them to attempt to marry that man, thus satisfying their desire to be with the one they love. The same applies to men, who may fall in love with multiple women.
  • Polygamous wives have security of husbands not having to divorce to re-marry Women, being aware that men are promiscuous and desirous creatures, worry that their husbands will fall in love with other women, and divorce them to be with those other women. But, in a polygamous marriage, they don't actually have to worry, as their husbands can marry other women without divorcing them.
  • Polygamy is only appropriate when a man can provide for more than one wife "Polygamy means to protect, to take care of and maintain the wife. He told one social worker that polygamy was not illicit. But, Srila Prabhupad explained, only if the man is able to maintain his wives. Otherwise, if he cannot maintain another wife, then to want another wife is not actually for protection. Then all he wants is to have sex only. That is irresponsible and thus illicit sex. Even if a man cannot maintain one wife, but has sex with her and gets her pregnant, this is not good. Who will maintain the woman and child? Then it is irresponsible sex, and that is illicit. But, if the man can properly maintain additional wife, then it is not illicit, then it is proper religious marriage, protection, of the women.


  • Polygamy is abusive in depriving women of the right to consent (above).
  • Polygamy is abusive in depriving women of many individual rights (above).
[...]After marrying and sacrificing all for her husband, no woman should ever have to feel that she is still not good enough."
Oh, tremendous. We were all required to live in the same home, and there's just a lot of dominance that goes on about who has the right to rule. And, of course, the woman who has the most favor with her husband is going to rule over the other wives and their kids."
  • Polygamous men cannot reciprocate equally the love they receive from their wives. Carrying for a wife is about more than supplying her with material needs, something polygamist husbands are frequently capable of doing for their many wives. It is also about more than treating all wives equitably and even "loving" them equitably. It is, rather, about providing a wife with reciprocal attention, love, sexual attention, and feelings of individual value and meaning. This is reflected in the notion of the yin and the yang; parity and complementarity between two partners. A man with even just two wives is incapable of reciprocating equally the love and care he may receive from each of them. He will fall short to some degree with each of wives and violate the notion of reciprocity in marriage.
He also quoted the oldest wife, who was nostalgic for the days when she didn't have to share her husband with this army of younger wives."
  • Polygamy leaves women sexually unsatisfied and prone to adultery Women have strong sex drives; often equally as strong as men. It is difficult for them, therefore, to have to share their husband with other wives, and go many nights and sometimes weeks without sex. Such sex deprivation can create an impulse among polygamous women to seek sex elsewhere in affairs with other men.

Children: Do children in polygamous families benefit or lose?


  • Anti-polygamy police raids traumatize children. Raids by police of polygamous sects, and the division of children from their mothers is a highly traumatizing experience for children. If the interest of the state is to, in part, protect these children, their raids are doing more harm than good.
  • Legalization will allow polygamist to send children to mainstream education. The illegality of polygamy forces polygamists to live in the shadows of society. In these shadows, children are unable to obtain a proper education. If polygamy is legalized, polygamous families will come out of these shadows and will be able to send their kids to proper schools.

The children lose because they are being forced to work and doing things that they don't want to.Some children are being forced either to marry at 14 to their own relative like cousin or even brother. Some girls start having children before the age of 17. Many children are basically not living a normal childhood and are suffering.Some children even try to escape the polygamy world in order to start a new life.


  • The children of older wives suffer when new wives enter a polygamous marriage New wives in polygamous families are often the subject of great attention from their husbands. This draws attention away from the children of other wives. And, as new children are born by the new wife, attention is taken away from the other children. Children are aware of this, and respond resentfully to new family members.
  • Polygamy subjects children to an environment of rivalry and insecurity Children realize that the attention they receive from their father is conditioned in large part on the presence of other siblings and the nature of their mother's relationship to the father. This builds resentment and competition between siblings, which is unhealthy and potentially dangerous.

Gay marriage: How does gay marriage play into this debate?


  • If gay marriage is being legalized, so too should polygamy.


Civil Marriage Benefits: Would Giving Polyamorous Groups Civil Marriage and Therefore Its Legal Benefits Cause Problems?



  • Argument: Legally Recognizing Polygamy Would Result In a Host of Legal Problems Regardless of whether polyamorous relationships are appropriate or if it's appropriate for people to have polygamous marriage ceremonies in religious institutions the benefits provided by legally recognized marriage pose serious problems. A group of people, such as a street gang, corrupt public officials, corrupt businessmen, or even a terrorist cell could get legally married to avoid testifying against each other in court. Divorce proceedings would be complicated. Even if just one spouse was getting a divorce since marriage involves sharing property so the court would have to figure out who brought what into the marriage to protect the property of the spouses not getting divorced. Determining child custody would also be difficult. Which spouses are eligible for custody rights? All of them? Just the two that had the child? Any spouse that was in the marriage at the time the child came into their custody? Determining how to divide inheritance would also be complicated. Furthermore it has a greater abuse potential in immigration law than monogamy. A person could bring in thousands of people just by marrying them. This could pose a grave threat to national security, since a terrorist or spy could use this to get his associates into the country easier, and combined with spousal immunity obtaining evidence in order to stop them could prove difficult.

Pro/con resources



Andrea Sachs. "Polygamy Survivor Carolyn Jessop". Time. Oct. 24, 2007

Pro/con videos


"Polygamy in Islam: A safety net for society" November 20, 2006[4]

"Freedom to Choose Polygamy". Posted on YouTube February 22, 2008.[5]

"Polygamy: Man's Natural Instinct". Posted on YouTube, June 8th, 2007.[6]

"Understanding Mormon Polygamy Pt 1-Early LDS Church Polygamy". Posted on Youtube January 15th, 2007.[7]


"Part 4: Many Wives: Vows of Silence"[8]

Flora Jessop on Fox News. Posted April 18th, 2008.[9]

Underground Polygamy Railroad Fawn & Fawn Run!. September 24th, 2007.[10]

"The Underground Railroad Escaping Polygamy" Posted on YouTube September 27th, 2007.[11]


This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alex Deane. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


  • This House would legalise polygamy
  • This House believes monogamy is not the only way
  • This House believes that three isn't a crowd

In legislation, policy, and the world:

Related pages on Debatepedia:

External links and resources:


Problem with the site? 

Tweet a bug on bugtwits