Consensual non-monogamy, that is romantic relationships with multiple partners, has long been a prime candidate for the next battleground in America’s on-going culture wars. The issue got an unexpected push from the traditionally conservative state of Utah, whose Republican-dominated Senate recently voted unanimously on a bill that would remove the threat of imprisonment for polygamy.
Utah has an unusual relationship with this issue, being largely settled by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and its off-shoots. The church permitted, and indeed encouraged its male members to marry multiple women in early days, but years later banned the practice and excommunicated those who engaged in it. Fundamentalist Mormon sects still engage in the practice and some 30,000 people are believed to live in polygamous communities in Utah. Unfortunately this practice has often been coercive, with young girls forced to marry much older men.
The Utah legislature has justified the decriminalization of polygamy as a means of making it easier for such abuses to be reported, while maintaining punishment for such related crimes as coerced marriage. Indeed, decriminalization of previously illegal activity does help to curtail it’s more harmful features. As with restrictions on drugs, immigration and more infamously alcohol, prohibition leads to black markets which are often plagued with violence as those involved have no legal recourse for addressing wrongs done to them.
This is largely a move in a positive direction and it is relevant to much less conservative communities than traditionalist Mormons in Utah. Consensual non-monogamy, or polyamory is a growing lifestyle, with countless variants, and the laws of a free society should not interfere with the wide range of relationships people form.
Ultimately the state should get out of the business of who should and should not get married as this should be a social institution between individuals, and their religious organizations, if they so choose. US law grants married couple’s numerous taxation, immigration, inheritance, Social Security and death benefits. Consenting individuals making their own choices, and facing the consequences of their actions will ultimately make the decisions that work best for them. By heaping benefits on some forms of relationships the state engages in a form social engineering that does not adhere to the values of a free society.
An unfortunate aspect of the discourse surrounding Utah’s new bill is the emphasis on men with multiple wives. While the bill applies to all genders, there has been little discussion about the freeing of women to have multiple husbands, or different combinations of the same or both sexes. The possibilities are limitless, and it’s time for the law to reflect this.
This increase in freedom is a positive step, that hopefully spreads throughout the US. It is always a welcome change when the state moves away from intruding into the personal lives of consenting adults. Sadly the same Utah Legislature went the opposite direction concerning adult entertainment. At the end of the day the state is an institution rightly associated with corruption, violence, and clumsy heavy-handedness. The less of our lives it touches the better.