Boy oh boy the Bloggernacle is sure excited on Polygamy this week. Devyn at Mormon Mentality has a big write up with around 100 comments, then at FMH (got to get my acronym right) there is another big discussion about it by ECS.
Now I do not think of myself as an expert on this, I felt I would combine my response to both threads here, and because I think I am feeling like I am on the outside with the majority. I look at the history of plural marriage from Joseph Smith’s liberal interpretation and the Puritan Plural Marriage as practiced by the Saints in Utah. I have no problem with either side.
I think being asked to participate, and in some cases, being told it was an absolute necessity made it tough to escape. Certainly for some men and women it was a cross which they were called to carry. However, I think we as modern people do not understand the origins of marriage.
Marriage in former days was a social contract. It was as much a contract with society as it was with the other person. The focus of the marriage was reproduction. The construction of marriage as love relationship is mostly a modern conception.
Therefore, taking that into account, we need to change our perception of what plural marriage was in that context. It is a social contract to help “replenish” society, to make sure the children of those relationships are brought up in a correct manner, at least in principle.
Since the modern era, not sure exactly when it happened but certainly since the later half of the 19th century the concept modified, in the 1950s thanks to the conformity of the era and the mobility of society we focused on the role of the nuclear family at the ignoring of other relationships. This to my mind is why the backlash in the sixties in part brought back the central role of the community (or commune) to the counter culture.
So my feeling when I hear a grandson of a polygamist, Mitt Romney, talk about his loathing of the idea of polygamy I am left wondering what his grandpa would say. Now for my wife the idea of a sister-wife is something she has no real problem with in principle. For me I would be very reluctant to do because of how much effort monogamist relationships are I would be dubious that I would want to double it. Certainly most members of the church seemed to be of that opinion.
Yet many sought out plural marriage, both men and women, because they felt it was a good thing as well as doctrinal. They felt it expanded their relationships and in some cases expanded the love relationships. Some felt it stunted those relationships and they wished for a change in their circumstances.
Men like Brigham Young were sensitive enough to put in ways to remove couples from a marriage that was failing, in one case, which either Van Wagoner or Embrie wrote, he stepped into the situation, made the man sign the divorce papers and give the woman $75,000 as a part of her marriage right. While there were cases of abuse, both physical and mental, of unhappy relationship which led to first wives getting quite upset at other wives getting time with their husband, it was not as common as we might think.
As I said in comments elsewhere the FLDS version of plural marriage, driving out the young men, and underage marriages were a not as common. So in the long run before we go on and on about plural marriage and consider it a horror maybe we should read some of the journals of those involved, and how they considered themselves as participants. Our instant negativity is a holdover built up by Anti-Mormons who wanted to destroy the church and not just because of polygamy.
And I say all this never wanting to be a polygamist, nor understanding those that do.