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Cultural Anthropology/Marriage, Reproduction, and Kinship Essay

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Despite being banned both by law and mainstream Mormon doctrine, the practice is not only thriving in heavily Mormon Utah and other parts of the U.S. West but appears to be growing. Underage marriage, incest, emotional and physical abuse towards the wives, and child neglect are some of the few things that are quite common within polygamous communities. One simple way to help prevent these things is to keep marriage a bond between two people, not one man and ten wives or one woman with ten husbands, by enforcing the laws banning polygamy.

Firstly, prosecutions of polygamists in modern times have been rare and tend to be restricted to cases where only underage marriage is practiced and rape or child abuse is suspected. Some of the brides are also forced into marriages with a close relative. (“Polygamy”) In 2007 Warren Jeffs, then the leader of the dissident 10,000-member Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), was imprisoned in Utah after he was convicted of having been an accomplice to rape for his role in arranging marriages between adult male followers and underage girls. In April 2008, more than 460 children from an FLDS compound in Texas were removed by authorities from the custody of their parents after an anonymous tip to an abuse hotline. (“The Perils of Polygamy”) Another issue that had burst into the open with the high-profile trials of two brothers, David and John Daniel Kingston. One of John Daniel\’s daughters, then 16, told police he had forced her to marry her uncle David–who already had 14 wives. When the girl fled home after four sexual encounters with her uncle, she testified, her father beat her with a belt. Amid a blaze of media attention, John Daniel pleaded no contest to child abuse charges in April, and is now serving a 28-week sentence. On July 9, David was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison for incest and unlawful sexual conduct with a minor.

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Also, in polygamous families, the man of the households all of the power, creating an environment prone to physical and emotional abuse. (“The Perils of Polygamy”) Carmen Thompson, now 41, spent 13 years as one of a Salt Lake City Mormon man\’s eight wives, a harem that she says included the man\’s sister and 14-year-old niece. She finally left him, taking their five children, after what she describes as years of beatings, poverty and emotional neglect. Last year, Thompson helped found Tapestry of Polygamy, the first-ever support group for women and children leaving polygamous marriages. Since the beginning of the year, the group has fielded over 300 calls from people seeking help. \”In polygamous families, the patriarch has all the power,\” says Thompson. \”When there\’s that kind of imbalance, abuse comes naturally.\” Even supporters concede polygamy has its downsides. \”The jealousy was very hard to take,\” admits Elaine, Harmstons first wife, with whom he had been married over 30 years before taking his subsequent wives. Thompson, the anti-polygamy activist, says the result is a kind of brainwashing. \”It\’s incredibly emotionally degrading to lie in bed and hear your husband having sex with another woman on the other side of the wall,\” she says. \”But you\’re taught that jealousy is a sin against God that you should fight. You learn to deny your emotions.\” (\”Canadian Court Rules That Polygamy Ban Is Constitutional\”) Women in polygamous relationships face higher rates of domestic, physical and sexual abuse, died younger and are more prone to mental illnesses when being compared to monogamous marriages.

Finally, besides underage marriages and abusive environment, the children in polygamous marriages suffer from different types of neglect. (¨The Perils of Polygamy¨) Lillian Bowles was miserable growing up as one of 40 children in a cloistered polygamous community near Salt Lake City. Her father had eight wives and she saw him only once a week, on Saturday nights when it was her mother\’s \” turn.\” \”He had very little interaction with our lives, but an incredible amount of control,\” says Bowles, 26. \”We couldn\’t even play at a friend\’s house without getting his permission. You can talk about consenting adults, but the kids have no choice.\” Finances are often a problem, too. It is hard to find, let alone afford, housing for a family that includes three or four wives and a dozen or more children. \”We\’d go dig food out of the dumpster behind the grocery store every week,\” says Bowles. \”There were lots of other families who did the same.\” Most families in polygamous situations are on welfare or food stamps. The men in these families cannot financially support all the women and children, and the women are generally not permitted the freedom to choose a career and work outside the family compound.

On the other hand, as consenting adults, they should have the right to live however they want as long as they\’re not breaking any other state or federal laws. (¨The Perils of Polygamy¨) \”We abhor abuse of any kind,\,” says Mary Potter, formerly one of a policeman\’s three wives and recent founder of a pro-polygamy women\’s group, the Women\’s Religious Liberties Union. \”But abuse is also rampant in monogamous marriages. Why blame our religion?\”

Lastly, underage marriage, neglect, and abuse can happen in any family\’s household and some polygamous families may not condone to any of those things, but there are too many families that do agree that it’s the patriarch\’s decision of who marries who and who does what.

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