Can or will polygamy ever be legalised in Australia if same – sex marriage is?

Newscorp journalist, Andrew Bolt warned (again) about the increasing demand for the legalisation of polygamy, and that proponents of same – sex marriage won’t be able to resist it based on their arguments for same – sex marriage. He’s argued this again and again. I’ve got to say that the blog post he published on Monday nearly had me convinced, or at least open my mind to his concern. Then, I did some research… and now… not so much. Still possible, but…. I’m less convinced.

Let’s get one thing on the table first (which does make sense, but I didn’t know conclusively – the difference between polyamory and polygamy (plural marriage). According to “Love Outside the Box”, there are similarities between polygamy and polyamory, but also, quite significant differences. They include:

Similarities

  • Multiple partners
  • Deserving of human rights (I’ll get back to this point when talking about polygamy in more depth)
  • Lack of government and social recognition as a family status

 

Differences

This is where things get a little interesting

  • While polyamory is deemed egalitarian, polygamy is patriarchal
  • Polygamy is often based on religious ideology rather than secular freedom of choice
  • Partners in polygamous structures exclude people who identify LGBTQ. It’s heterosexual – based whereas polyamory can be practised by people of all orientations and gender identities
  • Polyamory is permitted in the US, where as polygamy is largely outlawed
  • Polyamory is based on romantic/ sexual relationships and desires, where as polygamy is generally about family
  • Polyamory isn’t necessarily cis – normative, whereas in polygamy, all members are expected to fit the male/ female gender binary

These differences sound benign, yeah? Maybe apart from polygamy being LGBTQ+ exclusionary. People may also be uncomfortable with a supposed lack of equality between men and women in polygamous relationships, if this list is anything to go by. And family and children? I”ll talk about that shortly, because that is one issue that is raised frequently in the debate of same – sex marriage.

Polygamy vs Bigamy

I wonder if these terms get mixed up. Bigamy – the act of having more than one legal spouse is not legal in any country that has permitted same – sex marriage. According to lawyers.com both polygamy and bigamy are illegal in the US. However, it’s impossible to police and implement, as was proven in one case.

According to Huffington Post, a polygamous family featured in “Sister Wives” unsuccessfully overturned Utah’s anti – polygamy laws. The initial 2013 ruling by Justice Clark Waddoups was overthrown earlier this year because the Brown family hadn’t been prosecuted in the first place. The family’s attorney and legal scholar, Jonathan Turley said in a blog post that he’d challenge the ruling.

Countries, like Canada, have taken a strict stance. Section 293 under the Criminal Code outlaw both bigamy and informal multiple – partner arrangements. In 2011, Chief Justice Robert Baumann ruled that the anti – polygamy law be upheld due to fear of the effect that polygamy has on women, men and children. The claim that this ruling has been in breach of Canada’s “Bill of Rights” has fallen on deaf ears. Ironically,  prolific polygamist and fundamentalist Mormon leader, Winston Blackmore, has come out in support of Chief Justice Baumann’s decision, saying that polygamy exploits women.  Blackmore has been charged under the anti – polygamy laws in 2007 (which were dropped), and 2014. The 2014 charge is still pending, with no trial date being set as of 3 August this year.

The fear about the treatment of women in polygamous/ bigamous settings are not uncommon, nor unfounded. According to The National – UAE, a survey of 100 women conducted by associate professor in the department of English at the American University of Sharja Dr. Rana Raddawi, revealed that many women who took part in the study felt neglected and experienced jealousy.

According to Zainab Al Hammadi, some sociologists have suggested that in some communities, polygamy (as in polygyny – one man, many wives),  has economic and productive advantages and is widespread particularly in agricultural areas where the inhabitants’ education is limited. Howver, Al Hammadi’s LinkedIn article tends to echo the gender inequality of other studies:

Polygamy refers also bias gender and why males are allowed to marry one wife, two or three wives; this indicates males have advantage in bearing responsibility, so that they have ability to take decisions in their marriage type. The main problem may face wives that men are always love new wife in particularly young wife. This desire changes in men’s desire toward older wives. As in indicated in the “Her Three Days”, story narrated by Numbe, said Mustafa had married a younger women. This sudden realization of the facts sent a pain to her heart, a pain of anguish.” (Sembene) (sic)

According to Al Hammadi, the feeling of neglect by older wives in a polygamous family is common. Studies indicate that the jealousy gets so intense that it can cause women to be physically harmed and sometimes some may take their own lives due to the distress. The first wife is particularly vulnerable.

Children are often negatively affected, due to aggression that can be present polygamous households. Drug and alcohol abuse and other problem behaviour isn’t uncommon among teenagers in the Middle East who live in polygamous households. In 1985, a study in Kuwait found that women in polygamous households were over represented in needing mental health care. I think you get the idea. It’s not a pretty picture. You can read the whole study here. Other negative effects that have been shown in areas where polygamy is widely practised include: overpopulation (McMahon, 2010), the struggle to maintain rate of sexually transmitted infections (Beamer and Calder, 2013). Polygamy has even shown to  negatively affect men. They face issues such as alcoholism, bought on by psychological problems (Jencks and Milton, 2010), and they often have lower education levels than monogamous counterparts. However, women are said to be more negatively in polygamous families.

 

Now, I have to be fair. These studies I’ve just (tried) to summarise refer to strictly polygyny; one man, multiple wives. It does not take into account arrangements like polyandry (one woman, many men), or any polyamorous/ LGBTQ+ – friendly groupings. So, what are the studies and what do they say? In 2013, Elisabeth A. Sheff PhD, CASA, CSE published an article in Psychology Today on a study she conducted on poly – families.  Her findings I thought were interesting. Now it is important to note that Sheff admits early on in the article that the sample (which was voluntary), included people who were generally happy and well – adjusted in their poly families. She also admits that information that she could get from American universities was restricted because of confidentiality protocols, so the respondents couldn’t be directly contacted after the study or give further information. Issues such as people only being in a poly lifestyle for a certain time naturally dropped out of the study, which also affected the sample.

Findings

The participants were middle – class Westerners and many were highly educated. This contrasts with polygamous families in the U.S. where some children don’t even finish primary school. This is an interesting finding, and in my opinion, does create a bit of contrast between polygamous/ polygynous families versus polyamorous families. Education allows people to make choices and maintain independence and autonomy.

The overall finding was that children in poly families  were not any worse off than traditional/ monogamous families. This is an interesting contrast compared to the negative effects of polygyny on children in countries where it’s widely practised. As I pointed out above, abuse, spousal neglect and drug and alcohol abuse seemed to be common concerns repeatedly raised in those studies.

However, some people disagree that children are not affected in poly families. James Lopez of “The Stream”, argued that children are worse off in poly families, arguing that a child is best off with his/ her biological parents. It gives one point to marriage traditionalists. In short, he uses the argument that children are best off when raised by their two (preferably married), biological parents and that children who are not in that sort of environment are at higher risks of abuse, neglect, and in some cases, homicide.

So, married biological parents are best environments for children. So, that excludes same – sex parents, yes? Academically, a number of studies have been done on this topic. 74 out of 78 of the studies recorded that there was no significant difference between children raised by same – sex parents and children raised by heterosexual parents, while four did suggest that children were adversely affected. One study was by Mark Regenerus from the University of Texas, who’s “study has been praised by conservative Christian organisations such as the Family Research Council. However, Regenerus’ study has come under fire for using flawed methodology. Professor Simon Cheng (University of Connecticut) and Brian Powell (Indiana University), accused Regenerus of mis – classifying many of the people used in the studyIn part, Powell and Cheng noted:

Research communities in the social sciences have long been aware that methodological decisions can potentially affect the inferences of survey research (Firebaugh, 2008). This threat to the validity of research inferences is particularly challenging for studies that focus on a very small group of interest, such as some racial minority groups, atypical families, and same – sex families (Cheng and Powell, 2005 and Cheng and Powell, 2011). In such research, even a tiny percentage of measurement errors for the small subsamples could powerfully distort patterns from the surveys, and other methodological choices can similarly affect empirical results. When research findings from these analyses are used as policy guidelines, the threat goes even beyond scientific communities, It is therefore incumbent for scholars to critically assess the impllicatoins of these decisions in their own work as well as that of others.

On Regenerus’ study:

Below, we first discuss the NFSS and Regenerus’s measures of family types using the data. and highlight the difficulties in using the NFSS to accurately distinguish between family types, using adoptive households and intact biological families as illustrations. We then discuss the challenges in accurately identifying same – sex families. We follow this discussion with a closer look at the NFSS survey and demonstrate the potential for misclassifying a non – negligible number of respondents as having been raised by parents who had a same – sex romantic relationship. Finally, we assess the cumulative implications of these possible classification errors and other methodological considerations from from various stages of the research process by reanalyzing the NFSS seven steps.

These reanalyses provide a “reality check” regarding the conclusions from the original Regenerus study. The patterns from these reanalyses offer evidence of the fragility of these conclusions – so fragile, in fact, that they are due primarily to methodological choices made by Regenerus. Or, to put it another way, when equally plausible and, in our view, preferred methodological decisions are used, a different conclusion emerges: adult children who lived with same – sex parents show comparable outcome profiles to those of other family types, including intact biological families. That this (sic) revised conclusion is consistent with those reported in most previous studies and inconsistent with Regenerus’s findings illustrates how the accumulation of research decisions throughout the research endeavor – and, in particular, measurement decisions that overlook inconsistent information within the data – may lead to questionable conclusions, even with a population-based large sample.

(All emphasis mine).

A year later, Regenerus himself admitted to (ironically) Focus on the Family that the findings in his study were “too weak to draw the conclusions that many have made”. I can hear/ see critics now blaming Cheng and Powell for being biased against Regenerus because of his Christianity, etc, but either the facts stack up or they don’t. And clearly, in this situation, the study conducted by Regenerus wasn’t done to a satisfactory standard.

Going back to the slippery slope argument in general – I have yet to be convinced. Frankly, I think a lot of it scare mongering. Then again, I guess no one can know for certain that it’d never happen. Personally, I won’t hold my breath, considering much of the information I’ve linked to and written above. In regard to same – sex marriage in general – it’s most likely going to be a plebiscite in February, or if Labor block it, nothing until at least 2019 if Labor win the next Federal election. Until then, my hope is that the LGBTQ+ community stay strong. For non – LGBTQ+ allies, families and friends, please be there for your LGBTQ+ family members/ friends if it all becomes a bit too much. For anyone who needs help, the Lifeline number is 13 11 14. For support and information, you can also look up Beyond Blue and, QLife. If you need help please get it.

To finish off, I want to quote Ellen Degeneres. “be kind to one another”.

 

 

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