Sentences of interest

by on April 30, 2008 at 12:31 pm in Law | Permalink

The libertarian point is that the illegality and attendant marginalization of polygamy pushes it into isolated, authoritarian, quasi-state cult compounds where these kinds of crimes are most likely to take place.

That’s Will Wilkinson and the point reminds me of recent party debates on drug legalization.  I don’t mind legalizing polygamy (though I disapprove of the practice), but would such legalization prevent an FLDS type of episode?  Maybe the goals of the perpetrators are rape, abuse, and power-mad intimidation, rather than polygamy per se ("polygamy: merely a means to an end.")  In that case polygamy legalization won’t limit their ability to set up isolated, authoritarian, quasi-state cult compounds for their nefarious purposes. 

Alternatively, if illicit polygamy is a marketing point that draws people to the compound in the first place, legalization may well help.  Oddly legalization helps most when the religious belief (in polygamy) is relatively sincere and the abuse accumulates through evolutionary processes of increasingly bestial behavior; legalization helps least when the religious belief in polygamy is for cynical reasons of control and could easily be replaced by some other marketing point.

1 bartman April 30, 2008 at 12:50 pm

Yes, it is a means to an end. It exists for the purpose of letting 60-year old men rape children. It seems that there is always some number of mental weaklings in society, so utterly in need of affiliation to a group, who easily fall prey to evil charismatics (Jim Jones, Koresh, Solar Temple, etc.) and their messiah cults. Many of these cults have the common element of the leaders/elders having lots of sex with many different very young girls. It’s a helluva scam.

Of course, all organized religions are primarily power-and-control mechanisms, but these groups are obviously worse than most. However, it seems that this problem is going to manifest itself in human existence for the forseable future. As long as there is a supply of willing sheeep, wolves will arise to consume them.

2 jb April 30, 2008 at 12:56 pm

Some things are evil enough that they should be banned, even if they cause the formation of these cult compounds (i.e, even the moderate form is unacceptable), and that cult compounds that form in order to practice them ought to be snuffed out with military force.

Polygamy is not one of those, child rape is.

3 Bernard Yomtov April 30, 2008 at 1:04 pm

There is nothing illegal about “polygamous” unmarried cohabitation, yet we seldom see it, despite the fact that the “monogamous” version is quite common.

This might just be a clue as to how voluntary polygamous relationships in religious cults really are.

4 mpkomara April 30, 2008 at 1:21 pm

One way to avoid running into a slippery slope argument with respect to state intervention on polygamist cults is to altogether abolish marriage as a state-recognized institution. That way no one will have many many wives (at least recognized by the law), the state won’t have to bust up polygamy cults, and people will be free to make questionable decisions with their partner(s).

5 Great Zamfir April 30, 2008 at 1:26 pm

But Hodak, what is stopping women in polygamous relations from going to the police if they are beaten? I am serious, I am not American and laws might be different over at your side, but as far as know there is nothing criminal about polygamy over here. The second and later ‘marriages’ just do not have legal status, but that is no reason to stop anyone from seeing the authorities if they are beaten. Beating someone who is not your legal wife is still a crime.

6 d.cous. April 30, 2008 at 1:29 pm


I can’t say that this is the best or only point out there, but I see polygamy as being potentially harmful socially, as it increases the potential for a large-ish segment of the male population being disenfranchised, assuming of course that the norm for polygamy continues to be one male and multiple females, and also assuming that the phenomenon would gain some sort of prevalence.

From a less social, more personal standpoint (and of course I can’t speak for Tyler here at all), polygamy is totally out of line with my own (Christian) view of marriage as a total self-giving between two persons. Asking a woman to give all of herself to a man, and then expect back whatever of himself is left over from the other women in his life (and no, I’m not speaking specifically of sex) seems cruelly unfair.

7 David Wright April 30, 2008 at 2:40 pm

Word to mpkomara!

8 Steve Sailer April 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm

Try thinking less about the a priori morality of polygamy, and more about the economics of polygamy and you’ll make more progress. Polygamous societies tend toward the economics of the pyramid scam, with aspects of puppy mill, welfare fraud, municipal corruption, and confiscatory taxes thrown in. For details, see:

9 Ken April 30, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I think this case is very interesting because of the way people react to it. There’s the standard revulsion that people have and the linking of polygamy to raping children. This is a disconnect because polygamy doesn’t necessarily lead to this. Although, as the recent raid shows, sometimes it does. This, also, seems to be a confirmation bias, though, more than a real confirmation. Are polygamists really more prone to the raping of children than non-polygamists?

Also, the word rape gets thrown around a lot in a very loose manner. At the risk of sounding like a pervert, is it rape if the woman is willing, but considered underage? The age of consent seems very arbitrary. I know this is an old argument, but 150 years ago, it was standard fair for a 13 year old woman to be married to a 25 year old man. Once a woman reached child bearing age, she was ready to have sex and bear children. Why has this thinking changed so much? I don’t know how or why this norm changed, but we view young woman as unable to make a good choice when it comes to sex. As a society, we are treating people like children for longer and longer. I’m not so certain this is a good thing.

Lastly, I read an interesting article (can’t find it, though, sorry), which points out the discrepancy between the moral condemnation of LDS as opposed to other cultures. LDS does seem to get a disproportionate amount of bad press, while other cultures/religions do the same thing and get a free pass on it. The question raised by the article mentioned above is: how big of a deal would people be making of this if the compound had been muslim, instead of LDS? Sad to say, I think that not only would it receive less attention, but wouldn’t even be run as front page news.

10 Robin April 30, 2008 at 3:22 pm


Bartman has already come up with a more cutting and succint reply than mine, but as far as people being treated as less mature until older ages, I think the investment of human capital required to be an adult capable of sustaining a family ecnomically has increased. Centuries ago, one could support a family as soon as he was able to do manual labor. Decades ago, a high school education might suffice. In many segments of our society, supporting a spouse and children requires one or both parents to have four or more years of post-secondary education. No wonder people are seen as children until 18 and adolescents until 28.

In some ways, it’s a good thing, in others it’s a bad thing. But the time of 25 year old grooms and 13 year old brides has vanished. As have slavery, horse-drawn carraiges, and roledexes.

11 Sean April 30, 2008 at 4:01 pm

In the age when marriage between 13-year-old brides and 25-year-old grooms was common, it didn’t matter if the 13-year-old was capable of consenting to sex because the decision to enter into the relationship was being made for her, not by her.

12 Ed April 30, 2008 at 5:34 pm

At least one 2008 Presidential candidate lives in a polygamous marriage. (He has a wife and a co-husband).

His platform [ ] says “… any two or more adults who have been living together for at least 2 years should be able to register as a “family.†”

13 Barkley Rosser April 30, 2008 at 5:49 pm

The polygamy issue raises issues both of historical and current interest, aside from these cases that appear to be more about child rape than polygamy, per se. A current issue, not yet come to the fore, is our society’s attitude to the Muslim allowing of polygamy (up to four wives only, though). When Muslims arrive from abroad who have already got multiple wives, what is or will be our view? What is it now? As the percentage of Muslims in the US population rises, what might it become?

Needless to say, historically polygamy was frowned upon and banned by a more traditional Christian society. This was one of the main reasons for the attacks on the LDS church when it first appeared, its polygamy, although there were also other reasons as well. In its pre-Utah days a split occurred when the founder, Joseph Smith, died. Curiously, the split looks a bit like that between Sunnis and Shi’a in Islam: will the leader be a descendant of the founder, or someone selected by the leading group? In Islam, the dominant Sunnis went with the second, while the smaller Shi’a went with the first. Similarly in Mormonism, the dominant group chose Brigham Young, who would lead his followers to Utah. When it became a state, a condition of statehood was to ban polygamy, which they did (even though Brigham Young himself had something like 28 wives, if I am remembering correctly). The splinter minority group followed Joseph Smith III, son of the founder, calling itself the Refounded LDS, and did not go to Utah en masse. The current polygamist factions are descendants of that church, which has been scattered around the US since then.

14 bartman April 30, 2008 at 7:01 pm


Involuntary child marriage and slavery have a lot in common. In both cases, the object was viewed as chattel. It was the gradual extension of individual liberty (the kind enjoyed by land-owning white males) to the previously denigratory classes (blacks, women) that led to the undermining and abolition of the practices in question.

Polygamy and child marriage are not the same. Polygamy can be entered into with informed consent by all parties. The marriage of children you describe can not. 12-year-olds maybe be physically capable of breeding, but in a post-tribal, post-agrarian society it is not necessary. The society (and the individuals) are much better served if children are allowed to reach something approaching emotional maturity before being forced into adulthood.

Apparently, you beg to differ. So be it. But I must ask, do you have any daughters? Are you interested in starting to breed them at the first signs of puberty?

Rex Rhino chimes in: Were children really being raped? Is there any real evidence of this?

For the love of God, man, please spend 5 minutes educating yourself about the history and well-known practices of these sort of groups before opening your yap.

15 Jason Malloy April 30, 2008 at 8:15 pm

Reminds me of this classic article from The Onion: ‘Polygamy doesn’t work’ says father of 77.

16 Please April 30, 2008 at 8:40 pm

I am concerned with the direction this thread has taken from a simple thought about how legality affects human behavior to discussions of how it is persecution to think a 13 year old shouldn’t be forced to make decisions about their entire future without adequate information or true freedom to choose. I belive the point of social and economic progression is to expand choice for individuals and promote freedom. Whether it is the catholic church, a religious minority or the government eradicating these freedoms and limiting choice I am against it. Not because I want to find the libertarian stance on the issue but because I am a humanitarian first and that is what makes me a libertarian. I don’t think the question is whether the legalization of polygamy will lessen these types of occurences, I don’t think it will. Nor do I think the legalization of drugs will solve all crime problems, but its a good first step. The truth is what were talking about is perversion of some sort. With drug legalization I imagine a reformed group of former drug dealers and distributors becoming respectable pharmaceutical sales reps. Some will find another way to stay on the fringe but I would prefer my doctor buy drugs from someone who had first hand knowledge of them rather than the journalism major that stumbled into pharmaceutical sales and has no real experience with said commodity. I think the element you can never control with legalization is for lack of a better word, the perverse element. These are the remnants of society that making the illegal or outcasted society they live in legal will simply choose a new manner of conducting themselves in another contrarian way. If we are going to apply these arguments to their conclusion regardless of the context or danger, perhaps we should ask if we could reduce perversion by making it legal?

17 Please April 30, 2008 at 8:52 pm

In theory the legalization of polygamy should reduce its incidence due to the high costs of divorce, which turns out to be the ultimate redistribution of wealth. Would a man really want 5 wives if they could collude and wipe him out in a divorce settlement? Another question is why don’t you see women wanting 5 husbands? Could we have polygamy where a woman stays at home and 5 husbands support her? That would be nifty.

18 Anthony April 30, 2008 at 9:44 pm

If plural were to be legalized anywhere in the U.S., it would have to be legalized in a way which didn’t require the marriage to have 1 man and 1 or more women – marriages of one woman and more than one man, or “group marriages”, with more than one man and more than one woman, would also become legal. While I think that biological imperatives will end up creating more polygynous marriages than all other plural marriages combined, the others will relieve some of the social pressure on gender balance. Legalization will also make it harder for people in poygamous marriages to get welfare benefits, and easier to “divorce”. (Dissolving plural marriages will make lots of money for some divorce lawyers – plural marriage will be technically far more complex than same-sex marriage.) Both of those things will make the formation of communities like the FLDS communities rather more difficult, and make it easier to prosecute FLDS types for statutory rape or child abuse.

19 jorod April 30, 2008 at 10:45 pm

The Christian Ethic has brought prosperity. freedom and the protection of individual rights to the West. Why go backwards now?

20 mpkomara May 1, 2008 at 5:53 am

T– You don’t need a piece of paper from a governemnt to define your special relationship.

21 laughorcry May 1, 2008 at 8:15 am

You guys are forgetting the most portentous implication of legalizing plural marriage, the immigration effect. In a thought experiment, I could marry the entire female population of, let’s say, St. Petersburg between, picking some random numbers, 21 and 35 and sponsor the bunch for spousal visas. For those whose greatest desire is even-opener borders, this is the nuclear (but not nuclear family) option.

22 ChurchyLeFemme May 1, 2008 at 1:19 pm

d.cous mentions one of the most important side effects of imbalanced polygamy (where one sex marries multiples of the other sex). Removing issues of choice and assuming that only people 18 and up will get married you still have a problem. If men are able to take multiple wives, and marriage is based on purely rational “who can successfully raise my children”, older more men with more established lives leave younger men with very few choices of wives. And worse gives the older men an incentive to chase the younger aggressive men men out of the community. You end up with a society similar to Lions. Eventually the men shift most of their effort to protecting a awkward position leaving the women to maintain the family and household.

Legalization would not alleviate any of the problems of polygamy. Drug legalization solves most of the problems created by an underground economy and treats the remaining problems (addiction and the behavior that goes with it) as medical/social problems. Polygamy’s problems begin as soon as more of one sex is married to the other sex. To treat it the same as drugs, we would have to treat anyone who was willing to have multiple partners of the opposite sex, but not of the same sex as a medical/social problem that needs treatment the same as addiction. Even if I thought that was a possible option (I’m far to monogamist for that) I don’t believe that society as a whole would adapt to such a viewpoint.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the immigration/social security issues particular to the US and other industrialized countries.

23 Ziggurat May 1, 2008 at 7:48 pm

What about polyamory?

Ayn Rand also had some interesting theories.

I have tried to ignore this, but I am not so sure that the women are treated awfully, in general. The ex cult woman that shows up on Anderson Cooper is pushing the abuse angle for all it’s worth.

24 Andrew May 2, 2008 at 3:47 am

1 woman with 5 MEN supporting HER?

There’s a different name for that. And we want to legalize that too! 😉

25 Rex Rhino May 2, 2008 at 1:51 pm

It didn’t happen by magic. And it didn’t happen through war or politics. It happened through a change of mindset.

No, it happened through the industrial revolution. The abolition of slavery seems to map out almost perfectly with industrialization. Once you have mass-production and abundant goods, it becomes cheaper and easier to pay workers than enslave them.

Equality of women seems to correspond with the availability of birth control and of home consumer products (you no longer need to bake bread, make soap in your home).

Hopefully, 150 years from now, the thought of banning non-violent victimless crimes and the results of prohibition will be better accepted, and we’ll have less banning and less unintended consequences of prohibition.

Society *WAS* moving against the thought of banning non-violent victimless crimes… unfortunately, the same people campaigning for sexual freedom, against drug prohibition, etc., where also campaigning for the collectivization of health and welfare. While the old puritanical arguments against sex and drugs where defeated, we replaced them with the “Well, if you do drugs and we have socialized medicine, it isn’t a victimless crime anymore because society has to pay for your health problems!”

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