With the “gay marriage” decision essentially saying that marriage is whatever you say you want it to be, the next step will be polygamy.

A lot of fantasy goes along with the idea of polygamy, usually tinged with the teenage fantasies of men who write about it. The sexual revolution has distorted society to see sex as an amoral activity, whose main benefit is pleasure for those involved. So if a man wants two wives, why should anyone care?

The answer is that human nature doesn’t change.

Few women, if they have a choice, will be a second or third wife. Women can still be brainwashed by cults to agree to the practice, as the cult in Texas shows, but few women will prefer to share their husband if given a choice.

The point is that dire poverty gives women few choices in countries that still allow legal polygamy.

Few Americans realize that without a nanny state, there is a need for strong family that helps protect it’s members from dire poverty and even starvation.

A third world woman without a husband, especially if she is pregnant or has children, has few ways to support herself except for prostitution. So in most countries, all women must marry if they want to eat, and a good father will arrange a good marriage with a man who seems to be a good man is able to support her.

Hence the “ask her father for her hand in marriage” custom that persists even in the West, where the suitor impresses the father with his financial prospects as part of the deal.

When marriage is seen as the only way for women to live, customs such as arranged marriages, polygamy, and marriage of young girls to an older man makes sense. Remember “Fiddler on the Roof”, where Tevya arranges his oldest daughter to marry a kind, gentle but older rich man? Tevya and his wife saw a life without hunger for his daughter; she saw an old man and was horrified.

Where is the girl in all of this? Taught from childhood to be obedient, and knowing she has little choice in the matter,she will obey. What’s love got to do with it?

One of the little known reforms of Christianity was that the church insisted that the woman give consent to the marriage. Women were spiritually equal with men, and because marriage was a sacrament ordained by God for human happiness, women were allowed to refuse a marriage.

Most girls, taught to be obedient,obediently married their father’s choice, but some did not.Such stories are not limited to medieval times: We always had  a few of these girls working at our mission when I worked in Africa: girls fleeing arranged marriages.

Another group that often worked in our missions were those with physical defects. In traditional African society, such girls often became the second/third or forth wife of an older man, who would use her to have more children. As Christians, they chose not to be married in this way, so the mission found them work.

However, there still might be men to marry them, as I found when I delivered a cheerful Albino woman. Who is her husband, I asked. Answer: a man blind from a work accident who received a pension. The children were beautiful, and they were happy.

Marriage was often practical. Often a man would find he had too much work for one wife, and he would marry a second, often a sister or cousin so that the wives could help one another in the gardens and child care. Or he would take a second wife if his first wife was barren.

But some carried this a bit too far. Another case was a businessman who owned some stores. Each time he would open a store, he’d marry a wife to run it. The idea is that you could only trust family. When we asked the nurses why someone would marry such a man, they laughed and said: Instead of hard work in the fields all day, you can sit and gossip and drink coca cola, have babies, and get a new dress every year.

He had dozens of children, of course, and the happy news is that most of the kids actually looked like him. The downside of all of this was seen when he was killed in an accident: The children and women were left destitute. His brothers could simply not marry that many women.

Again, remember in the Bible, there are laws about a brother marrying his brother’s widow. That custom is practiced by many African tribes, for the same reason: Because a man might not accept the children of a stranger, but an uncle (which in Mashona custom is also called father) will accept and raise the children as his own. So he will marry the widow so that she can have sexual and physical support.

She had a choice of course: a painful one.  She would have to leave her children be raised by the father’s family, and go home to her parent’s home.
But what about a man who chooses to marry a young girl because his wife is older and he fell in love, or simply because he wanted more children? Often the first wife, who had no where to go, would become miserable. Since she was the senior wife, she could boss around the new wife, and make her miserable too. The children often would feud.  But what we also saw was that the older wife would refuse the arrangelment,  leave her husband and live with her sons.

The point is that polygamy is a custom of poverty in marginal societies.It is not desirable, but like divorce, tolerated as a lesser of two evils. And it is less about lust and orgys than about the welfare of women and children.

Islam  allows polygamy is the welfare of women and children, but many countries that practice Islam do not.  In societies where men are often killed in wars or at work, polygamy will allow all women to find a spouse. Also, recognizing that men will seek another wife, not just out of lust, it protects the welfare of the first wife and children. Yet even Islam allows the first wife a divorce if she does not approve of the second wife. And Muslim feminists point out that Islam has strict laws saying that all wives must be treated equally: something that is rarely possible given human nature…which is why many Islamic countries don’t permit it at all.

The point is that, in a society where women are equal to men, polygamy is intolerable. It implies women are inferior to men, children who can’t care for themselves. It is a step backward for women’s rights.

Finally, there is a “down side” of polygamy  for men: In corrupt societies, women will marry (or their families will marry them to) the richer man, who is able to have several wives. This leaves fewer available women for younger men who tend to be more poor. Notice how few teenaged boys lived in that Texas cult? The girls were coerced into marriages with the older men, not the young men. The young men were thrown out to fend for their own.

By it’s very nature, polygamy sees women only as sex objects, not as equal partners in marriage. Women often say they are happy, yet when women are asked in private about their marriage, one hears stories of sadness and anger. Few would chose it if given the choice, which is the point.

Like the US equivalent, (easy divorce and no negative consequences for infidelity),  polygamy distorts the relationship between the sexes so that a marriage of true minds and bodies becomes impossible. And it is the women and children, not the powerful male, who suffer.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines.

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