Polygamy: Is It Wrong?

polygamy polyandry group marriage

polygamy polyandry group marriage

I read an article last week that was particularly timely for me considering a conversation The Viking & I had recently regarding marriage equality. One of the most common arguments against marriage equality is it will open the door to polygamy, beastiality and paedophilia. Which is, of course, ridiculous as it’s not hard to amend the definition of marriage within the law from “a man and a woman” to “two consenting adults” without including the other afore mentioned items.

However, I was discussing this issue recently over lunch with my mother and my uncle. We all unanimously had agreed we are in favour of marriage equality between homosexual adults and my uncle, playing devil’s advocate as he consistently does to ensure we are truly thinking about what we are saying, asked about this issue of polygamy, beastiality and paedophilia. I piped up that we can probably all agree paedophilia is morally wrong, even if not everyone agrees on the line where that is drawn (in older cultures, for example, as soon as a woman could bleed she was expected to marry and bear children), and most people would agree beastiality is morally wrong, given animals are unable to consent, even if as Jacob Appel argued “People talk about animals not being able to consent. Your dog can’t consent when you play Frisbee with it either. Nobody evaluates the question in that term.” (Source) which I would personally disagree with as have you ever tried playing a game with an animal (a cat in particular) who does not want to be involved? They may not be verbal but they’re pretty direct about consent or not consenting. And I have a suspicion, should you try to copulate with one, they may not be so consenting in that equation either.

But when it comes to polygamy, I would like to be radical here and suggest that maybe we don’t have a right to say marriage cannot be between multiple consenting adults. Sure, it complicates things legally, and you’d definitely want an iron clad will if you were planning to enter into such an arrangement, but why not allow people to do it? Why make it against the law? Why make it a crime? Why do we think there is something fundamentally morally unethical about polygamy (polygyny being a man with multiple wives and polyandry being a woman with multiple husbands) or group marriage? I would argue, in fact, there isn’t anything morally unethical about it unless one or more of the adults was not consenting, which brings us back to the “consenting adults” aspect of the definition of marriage.

And, as a side note, the “consenting adults” aspect particularly applies in regard to cultures where polygamy is a form of forced marriage or a form of ownership of multiple women, as it were. That those forms of polygamy are not acceptable is particularly important as I’m sure we’re all aware of the subjugation aspect of polygyny and I don’t for a second advocate for that. It would also be important to ensure both polyandry and polygyny were legal, not just one form.

Monogamy is the socially acceptable norm and those who deviate from this norm with open marriages tend to keep it fairly quiet. And that’s fine, a social norm is to be expected as society can’t function terribly well without norms, and those who wish to conform to those norms are free to do so, personally I’m far too much of a jealous person to be able to deal with sharing my marriage with anyone else, but I don’t see why we must regulate something so personal as limit the number of consenting adults who are included within a relationship. I don’t see why the law should enforce social norms.

Probably I’m opening a can of worms here, actually I know I am, but I really wanted to open this for discussion: Even if you wouldn’t do it – do you think there’s something wrong with polygamy? If so, why?

What do you think? Is polygamy immoral? If so, why? Or would you allow it? 


  • http://www.jfgibson.com.au/ Jodi Gibson

    Can of worms indeed. It’s certainly not for me, I believe that if you want multiple partners, don’t get married, but that is a personal view. It’s not to say that if all parties are consenting, as you say, why should it be a problem?

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      It’s not for me either, but I’m intrigued by this whole conversation. Really interested to see how people respond.

  • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

    I’ve never understood why people have a problem with polygamy and polyandry… human relationships are complicated. If sometimes the standard model doesn’t fit, so what.

    What I don’t understand is why people think polygamy and polyandry are somehow the same thing as beastiality or paedophilia? I totally agree with you T… beastiality and paedophilia imply lack of consent… polygamy and polyandry, it seems to me, is much more about mutual respect… even more so than monogamy in some ways…

    As I’ve written before here on KK&T, ( http://kikiandtea.com/2012/05/who-owns-your-body-a-question-about-monogamy/ ) there is a selfishness to monogamy that I’ve never quite felt comfortable with… that each us feel like we have “ownership” over our partner’s body and their sexuality… but why should we feel that way? To me, polygamy and polyandry represent freedom and respect – allowing our partners the freedom to love other people, both emotionally and sexually… who’s to say that’s wrong?

  • Melissa Savage

    I completely agree with everything you’ve said. As long as everyone is freely consenting (ie each new marriage certificate must be signed by every person already in the marriage), it’s completely fine.

  • http://www.mummylovestowrite.com/ Michelle Holland

    I isn’t illegal for people to have multiple relationships at once….hell, many married people do it (with our without their partners consent). Making polygamous marriage legal is a completely different kettle of fish. I am pro-marriage equality for all couples – but I think it would be incredibly complicated with several partners. I believe in freedom of choice and people can live how they want to live. I just think it is a bit redundant to enter the institution of marriage on the basis of it not being between two people. Happy for a polygamist to weigh in differently…just my thoughts.

    • http://kikiandtea.com/ Tamsin Howse

      It is illegal for people to be married to more than one person at once, and that’s what I was referring to with my comment about it being a crime.

      I agree it would be incredibly complicated. I think that’s part of why I find it so interesting!

      • http://www.mummylovestowrite.com/ Michelle Holland

        Oh yes, I knew you meant the marriage part is illegal. Sorry, my comment was just distinguishing that people are still free to have these relationships, just that they can’t get married. You mentioned later in your piece about social norms not being regulated.
        I find it all very interesting too. Not my cup of tea, I agree I would be too jealous as well.

      • http://www.mummylovestowrite.com/ Michelle Holland

        Quote “but I don’t see why we must regulate something so personal as limit the number of consenting adults who are included within a relationship. I don’t see why the law should enforce social norms.”
        I was saying the law doesn’t limit how many people can be in a relationship. But social norms dictate a marriage is between two people. I don’t compare polygamy to beastiality or paedophilia – I agree about consent on this issue. But I think that there would be a very small proportion of people that are a. in relationships of this kind and b. who would then seek to legalise it as a marriage. In my eyes, it is a much smaller demographic than homosexuality – which should be considered equal to any other relationship (legally) in my book.

  • TeganMC

    To me polygamy is like same sex marriage, I wouldn’t do it personally because it’s not my cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean I should stop others from doing it. If all parties are consenting, then I don’t see an issue with it. I also find it laughable that people are so worried that different views of what marriage consists of is causing the breakdown of the institution of marriage. No, people who cheat and celebrities who get married for 5 seconds are causing the breakdown of marriage. To me, marriage is about declaring your love for a person for the whole world to know, so why can’t it be same sex or with multiple, consenting adults.

  • http://www.VeryJane.com.au/ Very Jane

    I have a lot to say on this issue. Especially after a couple of wines. But given that it is just after 9am on a Monday morning, my approach to the subject will hopefully be a lot more balanced than it otherwise could be…!! Ok, here we go:

    I don’t have any problem with Polygamy, or Polyamory. In fact, I find the whole idea totally fascinating. I watched with keen interest, the tv show ‘Big Love’, mostly because of the polygamous aspect, and to study (despite the fiction context) how polygamy might work in practice.

    It is quite obviously an emotional minefield. And, like you Tamsin, it’s not for me.

    Having said that, I completely agree with John in that human relationships are incredibly complicated, much more complicated than the standard model of monogamy really allows, I believe.

    I do believe that human feelings of love evolve and change and attach to different people over the course of a lifetime. I actually think this is inevitable. Allowing for these feelings to be communicated at the very least is a loving act of freedom and respect. Allowing for these feelings to be acted upon is an even bigger leap of faith, and I think it represents enormous trust.

    I think one of the main reasons why love and feelings of attachment to people outside the relationship are such a cause for concern are because they represent a threat to the relationship. If you throw the model of monogamy out the window, and make it acceptable to have feelings for others, while posing no risk to the continuity of the current relationship, it is a whole different emotional ball game.

    Whilst I am not about to go and marry someone else, or begin an intimate relationship with them, I do strongly feel that relationships, especially the one with your significant other, should be based on an honest and complete understanding of each other. If that involves active polygamy or polyamory, then I don’t see what business it is of lawmakers to regulate matters of the heart otherwise.

    *quickly runs and hides*

    • http://johnanthonyjames.com/ John James

      I love this comment Jane…

      I’m like you… I’m not threatened by polygamy or polyamory, but I don’t practice it because I’m in a relationship with someone who doesn’t feel as open to the idea as I do… and I have to respect how R feels… not that I’ve ever been in a position where this has been an issue…

      But, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t feel comfortable with making rules about who my partner is allowed to have emotional and sexual relationships with… R is faithful to me because that’s who she is, but if she was a different type of person, why should I deny her the freedom to express herself physically and emotionally with other people in any way she wished… it would only be my feelings of jealousy and insecurity that would stop me giving her that freedom, and they are very selfish emotions. The logical extension of that respect and freedom is that if either of us wanted a third person to join our relationship – and we both felt comfortable with the idea – then it should be culturally and legally possible for us to do so, including marriage.

  • fender4eva

    I admire anyone, who can handle a polygamous marriage. I’m flat out, coping with one wife…..

  • Kim | Melbourne Mum

    Honestly, whilst it’s not my thing, if adults are consenting to whatever the hell arrangement they choose, and as long as it’s not hurting anyone physically or mentally, then go nuts. No pun intended. I don’t think it should be illegal, but I also think it’s endlessly complicated (emotionally, legally etc.). But then, so is the everyday garden-variety marriage. Kx

  • Kris

    My main thing with polygamy (as most of us know it, man with sister-wives, usually in a strict religious context) is the power. And I definitely don’t think I could do it, mostly because of the adoration of one by many aspect. I just don’t think that it could be a fulfilling way to live. Some people might be cool with it, and I have no problem if they’re consenting, informed adults. But yeah, it’s the whole “man at the centre of the world and family” vibe that I don’t like.

    • Kris

      Also, not coming from a religious background, I just feel like it’s using religion as an excuse to keep women down, and for the bloke to have sex on tap. I also don’t really know that it’s informed consent when in, say the mormons, that as women they find their way to heaven (not an exact summary, I know, but the gist) through their men.

      Jack Thompson famously lived in a menage-a-trois in the 70s, and I think ended up marrying one of the girls, and the other one left. I don’t have a problem with that, and I can understand falling for people independent of or linked to a current standing relationship and feeling that it doesn’t necessarily have to end.

    • Maree Talidu

      Kris I agree with the dominant male issue. Very controlling, seems like extreme narcissism.