Sep 182007

This started out as a a comment on Becky C’s post Polygamy: Sins of the Brethren over at her blog: Just a Girl in short shorts talking about whatever, but quickly became too long to be contained therein. So now it’s here at Philaahzophy. If you haven’t read Becky’s post yet, please go do so. I’ll wait…

Back? Okay then. I just discovered Becky yesterday and have a whole ‘nother post in process praising her Why I’m A Libertarian post, so don’t think I’m simply hatin’ when I say that today’s post on polygamy has got it all wrong. Nor am I a “supporter” of polygamy. I am, however, a supporter of freedom.

Let’s start with the basics. Fairly early on Becky states: “Polygamy is a tough issue for a libertarian.” No, actually it’s a pretty simple one, though it’s apparently a tough one for her. The government has no business interfering in contracts made between two consenting people. Period. Pretty darn simple. To quote from the Official Website of The Libertarian National Committee

Libertarians strongly oppose any government interfering in their personal, family and business decisions. Essentially, we believe all Americans should be free to live their lives and pursue their interests as they see fit as long as they do no harm to another.

Polygamy is a personal, family, and business decision. The official Libertarian stance is that government should not be involved in marriage. Couldn’t be much simpler.

However, Becky doesn’t rest on that statement alone, she next claims-

For one thing the practitioners of polygamy rarely make a rational liberty-based argument for their lifestyle choice. Polygamists are pretty much religious crackpots and have little concern for the freedom of women—or stuff the rest of us consider child sexual abuse. Their only real concern is for the right of the man to marry as many women as he wants.

Wow. The argument one makes for their right to be free should have no effect on whether or not a freedom loving individual supports their right to be free. The Bill of Rights was put into place not to protect the rights of “the rest of us”, but specifically to protect the rights of those “the rest of us” disagree with.

And, as for her later assertion that all polygamy is based in religion-

“Yet I doubt there is a single case in the United States of a non-religious plural family. I would be willing to wager money that every single polygamous relationship in the US is not secular—but religious based.

A little Google goes a long way here, Becky. From (the second result on my ‘secular polygamy’ Google search result) –

Isn’t Polygamy a religious matter?
Not at all. Polygamy is not limited to being a religious matter any more than monogamy is only a religious matter. Yes, a person should have freedom of religion to choose polygamy, just as much as they would have that freedom of religion to choose monogamy. But just as some people might choose monogamy for non-religious reasons, people may also choose polygamy for non-religious reasons too. It is simply a matter of personal choice for freely consenting adults, either way.

Frankly, I’m not interested in spending the time to find a specific linkable example of secular polygamy in the US (unless she’s serious about wagering some significant cash). But here’s a little hint –

Once done with the collectivism and blanket statements Becky does go on to point out all the problems she sees with polygamy that she would like Mommy Government to come in and “protect” people from:

  1. Economic issues-

    Imagine the economic strain on a family of one husband, ten wives and thirty children. These children are also a burden on society—because you can be sure the parents aren’t going to pay for their education or health care. Unless all ten of those wives are professionals—doctors, lawyers and such—we are going to pick up the tab.

    This is actually a Socialist argument, not a pro-freedom one. In a libertarian state we won’t be picking up the tab for anyone unless we choose to do so. The end of welfare is one of the primary planks of libertarianism.

  2. On the issue of consent she starts off with-

    is it true that a polygamist who marries ten consenting women harms no one? The thing is “consent” does not always absolve a person of harming someone else.

    A while back I read about a cannibal in Germany who murdered and ate another man with that man’s consent. The two of them even feasted together on the victim’s penis before the cannibal finished him off and cooked him up for dinner. Though there was consent the cannibal was still found guilty of murder and desecration of a corpse. I don’t think I am the only one who thinks this was a correct decision.

    Albeit that is an extreme case—but it illustrates that consent does not always absolve the guilt of the perpetrator.

    The problem with this illustration is that the cannibal was not convicted in a libertarian society, but an authoritarian one. Under libertarian principles, this man would not have been convicted. Or is she ready to outlaw S&M as well? After all, people get hurt practicing rough sex on a daily basis. That’s kind of the point.
    She then continues with-

    In statutory rape cases consent means nothing. That is how it should be.

    The problem here is that allowing polygamy does NOT allow statutory rape. Polygamy is, by definition, a contract entered into by consenting people. If the libertarian society you envision requires people to be of a certain age in order to consent, then that will trump polygamy every time.

  3. The full benefit of marriage-

    Polygamous marriage denies a woman and her children of the full benefit of marriage with one man. She does not have the complete access to economic resources that a married couple should share—nor does she have access to her husband’s undivided love and attention.

    Who are you, or the government, to decide what benefits a person should or should not receive frmo a contract? Personal responsibility is all about making wise choices for yourself. If you truly believe that people are unable to do so, then libertarianism is not the ideaology for you. Again, this is a perfect example of the Nanny State that Becky so often rails against.

  4. Becky’s conclusion-

    In sum—just because I am a libertarian and support gay marriage I don’t think I have to tolerate polygamy. The harm caused trumps any argument for freedom of the individual. Viewed from an ethical and rational standpoint polygamy by its nature degrades the family unit economically and morally.

    This is the exact argument that was made against interracial marriage and is being made against gay marriage. Supporting liberty for all does mean supporting polygamy.

I know I’ve spent most of this post picking apart Becky’s arguments, but here’s the simplest counterargument I can make…. Polygamy is currently illegal in the United States, but all of these problems you are so worried about are still happening. The government cannot prevent harm, only punish people (rightly or wrongly) after the fact.

Libertarians believe in smaller government. One of the ways to keep government small is to make as few laws as possible. Therefore the laws should specifically address harm to individuals and not try to prevent situations in which people may allow themselves to become harmed. If you’re worried about child abuse, make child abuse illegal; if you’re worried about economic standing then make laws about economic standing; if you’re worried about ability to consent to a contract, then make laws about that. However, outlawing a practice that may or may not lead to such things in every case is trampling on the rights of others and protecting no one’s.

  8 Responses to “Polygamy Is NOT A Tough Issue For Libertarians”

  1. Don’t mean to be cute–but the thrust of my argument was “consent”–polygamous marriages are not by and large consensual. The women (or underage girls) in that system are incapable of truly voluntary consent.

    If it was truly consensual I would have no problem. But there are no polygamous people in the US (or Islam) that are not involved in a sick male dominated fundie incestuous tribal barbarianism–making true consent impossible. It is built on the subjugation of women.


  2. If you have an issue with consent, then there’s no need to attack the entire polygamy community. Simply address the issue of informed consent. Though you still have to deal with the issue of anti-gay marriage types insisting that two people of the same gender can’t truly give consent due to their homosexual “delusion”.

    Don’t mean to be argumentative, but what do you make of all the single, non-religious women seeking the opportunity to share a husband on the website I linked to –

  3. Like I commented on my blog in the comment section, I am sure you could find an exception (and this one is a questionable one). It proves nothing. There were slaves that felt slavery was great. The institution of slavery is still a deprivation of the rights and liberties of a whole group of people. The institution of polygamy enslaves women and young girls (and actually men as well).

    As I have said before, as a libertarian you should be much more concerned about the tens of thousands of persons who are currently enslaved and denied freedom and liberty in a sick system. Not some abstract theory with the only factual evidentiary support being a questionable report of a secular polygamous relationship ( which I also tend to think, because of the gender relationships and dynamics, would tend to devolve into the same type of barbarianism as the fundie variety).

    It really doesn’t matter. There is never going be another prosecution in the Unites States based solely on polygamy where child abuse is not an issue.

    But it is so frustrating when people like you are attempting to fit obvious facts into a preconceived theory. Who does this remind me of? Marx?


  4. Not like matters if you disagree… It happens… Repubs disagree with homosexuality and look at them coing out of the closet like they are in a parade

  5. Wait a second, now I’m trying to make the facts fit my theory? What facts are those? You haven’t shared any yet, only your blind assumptions that all polygamous women are subjugated. Unfortunately, I went looking for the facts and found exactly the opposite. That single website has hundreds of exceptions. Many, many more can be found elsewhere (including the comment section of your own blog).

    As I’ve said before, libertarians primary concern should be for liberty. I’ve never claimed that all polygamous women are in a good situation, but that doesn’t mean that Mommy Government should be the organization to help them. People should help people, not inefficient corrupt gangs of thugs. Nor does it address the fact that polygamy currently being illegal has done nothing to prevent the ‘sins of the brethren.’

    And, BTW, I’m not a libertarian, though I was in the past, before I accepted that government can do absolutely nothing as well as the market can, so should simply be abolished altogether.

  6. I’m not sure whether you’re addressing me or Becky, but you do help make another point. If the very people making these oppressive laws won’t (or can’t) follow them, then what good are they?

  7. Well, Aahz,

    You are a man and a bit of a sexist one, and this makes you blind to the obvious situation.

    You are also a ideologue–who had no facts, had never even considered the idea of female subjugation in the institution until I brought it up. It is just the “freedom argument” in its simplest form always trumps in your general theory of politics and culture.

    So to counter my argument ( oh my god– I wouldn’t want to admit I might be wrong–my universe would shatter) you had to go out and find a very lame web site, that proves nothing.

    I am not going to give you cites. If you don’t understand the state of these women and children it is because of the unfortunate testosterone clouding your brain and your blind commitment and enthusiasm for the irrational egocentric idea that your theories have universal application.

    But at least you are generally a pretty good libertarian.

    I am not going to waste any more time tying to rationally discuss (and rationality is the bedrock of libertarianism) what, in 2007, is really an irrelevant issue with you.


  8. Well, I thought I’d chime in here even though I’m late in arriving (found the site while poring through my logs).

    I know quite a few polygamists. I can attest to the fact that most of the ones I’ve had contact with are not what the majority of the people have seen on the news. The families I know are made up of consenting adults who have chosen their lifestyle for religious, practical, and honest purposes.

    Their children go to college (yup, girls too) and some of them choose to enter the lifestyle…and some don’t. They are accepted as part of the family and loved no matter what they choose.

    No, they are not an exception to the rule. Don’t flaunt biases based on what you may have read or seen on TV. I may not be a polygamist myself, but I am adopted into a polygamist family and have lived with them.

    I am also a Libertarian and a Free State Project early mover to New Hampshire. Polygamy itself is NOT the problem. So please stop using the term to denigrate and marginalize an entire group of people. Also, true libertarians never use “gender” as weapon like I’ve seen here. It really puts you in a bad light.

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