Morality and Polygamy There are many people opposed to the concept of polygamous marriages. Polygamy is legal in some countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, but illegal in others, such as the United States of America. Many have personal, religious, and/or cultural reasons to disagree with such practices, but is the practice of polygamy morally wrong, or is it acceptable? Some argue that it is wrong because of the negative consequences caused by such marriages; yet ignore successful polygamous marriages altogether. I do not agree that all polygamous marriages have negative consequences.
I argue that the practice of consensual polygamy can be morally acceptable under these conditions; (1) All parties must be aware, in advance, of the arrangement they are entering into. (2) No one should be coerced into such marriages and must enter willingly. (3) All parties must approve of the new spouse(s) entering into the family. (4) All parties must have the option for divorce. The most common type of polygamous marriages is polygyny, where a man has multiple wives, as opposed to polyandry, where a woman has multiple husbands. Polygyny can be found in many Mormon and Islamic societies.
Some cultures do not give the choice of monogamy to the women entering marriage and strip them of the right to choose. In some cases, the women enter seemingly monogamous relationships, only to discover that their husbands already had or have recently acquired other wives. Often times, the wives do not have any vote on whom can or cannot enter into the family. In Islamic cultures, divorce is not an option for many women unless the husband is the initiator. My argument is not for any of these types of situations but only the ones that possess the 4 conditions I have stated previously.
Consensual polygamous marriages that allow the participating parties the freedom to enter and depart (as they please) do not violate the rights of individuals. These individuals are not disrespected or harmed by the practice of polygamy itself. There are many ways to determine the level of morality in any particular act or practice. There have been many experts on morality, such as the Greek Philosopher Aristotle, German Philosopher Immanuel Kant, and British Philosopher John Stuart Mill, but I will choose to adopt a Raymond Belliotti’s Sexual Morality in Five Tiers (S. M. I. F. T. to determine the moral permissibility of consensual polygamy. S. M. I. F. T. is a system that calculates the permissibility of sexual acts. Within the five tiers, each tier has a numerical value and all values are placed into an equation resulting in a number between zero and 350. Any number between 0 and 279 is impermissible and any number between 280 and 350 is permissible. The first tier is the Libertarian agreement, which encompasses freedom and autonomy. This is the most important tier because it expresses the importance of the consensual agreement of all parties involved.
The consent of the individual must be free of pressure, coercion, or desperation. If the decision to participate in an act or practice is not one hundred percent voluntary, then it immediately becomes morally impermissible. All parties must be legal adults and should be in a state of mind that allows them to make thoughtful and informed decisions. This tier has a numerical value of zero or one, and it is the only tier value that is multiplied by the subsequent values, not added, therefore if it has a zero value, it immediately voids the entire equation. Consent is the key in moral permissibility.
A husband or a wife must be clear about his or her intentions prior to the marriage. Each spouse must be aware of the situation they are entering and choose it willingly, without coercion. If the decision or idea of polygamy arises after the marriage, each spouse must have the option to leave the marriage if he or she does not choose to participate. So whether a couple decide to start their marriage knowing that it will eventually become a polygamous marriage or whether a monogamous couple chooses to end monogamy and enter polygamy, there must be absolute consent. If this is the case, this tier receives the high score of one.
There are some who do not see why a woman would agree to enter a polygamous marriage and believe that “only fear of superior force could bring a woman to ‘agree’ to the injustice of a polygamous marriage” (Vogel, Ursula 243). Although some women would only agree to such a lifestyle through force, many others invite and prefer the idea of polygamy to monogamy. Some women believe that the shared responsibility takes the weight off a single spouse and distributes it equally. Other women enjoy the sisterhood of their sister wives and appreciate having the company of other women within their marriage.
There can be many reasons why a person might prefer polygamy. So it is accurate to assume that some woman do choose polygamy willingly. The second tier is the general moral considerations. It consists of prima facie principles which are the obvious do’s and don’ts that most people have been raised with. For example, a person should tell the truth and not lie, be fair and not cheat, help and not hurt others, unless (in that specific situation) it must be overruled for a great reason. This tier is valued at zero to 100. In all cases, the higher the value, the higher the morality and its permissibility.
In this tier, basic respect for individuals must be considered. There are many issues that can fall into this category such as inequality, sexism, and economical risks. In the case of polygyny, equality comes into question because of the dominant role of the husband and often, the first wife. Sometimes, the subsequent wives do not have as much power in the relationship as the original. This can create inequality in the marriage and even lead to unequal division of labor. This is not the case in every polygamous marriage, and it is not the kind of marriage being evaluated here.
In fact “many polygynists care for their spouses and.. strive to avoid unfair divisions of labor” (Strauss, Gregg 517). Another issue mentioned is the problem of sexism. Most polygamous marriages include a husband with multiple wives. The women are typically not allowed to marry other men. It is usually a one-sided deal allowing only men to have multiple wives. This can be seen as sexist. If a woman enters this situation knowingly and willingly, very little argument can be made against the marriage. It is a woman’s choice to choose whether she is comfortable with the arrangement or not.
If, she is not, she can find an arrangement where both parties can marry multiple spouses and the marriage can consist of many wives and husbands. The specifics are different in individual cases and are not determining factors in the morality of polygamy as a practice. Monogamous relationships can have sexism as well, where one sex undermines and dominates the other. Sexism is not exclusive to polygamy. Once again, it is an individual thing. Another argument, is that polygamy has large economical risk factors. Some claim that multiple spouses put a strain on finances that can lead to monetary collapse.
This is not a valid argument because this is not exclusive to polygamous marriages. Finance is a reality that every individual must address when growing a family, whether it is the addition of a new spouse in a polygamous marriage or simply a new child in a monogamous marriage. Therefore, this is not an issue exclusive to polygamous marriages. Nonetheless, typical polygamous marriages are not impervious to issues that arise in tier two. Polygamous marriages can create environments with higher risks of individuals getting hurt or jealous. Typically in polyamorous marriages, there is a single spouse linking all the rest.
This can cause a sense of competition amongst the linked spouses. In the case of polygyny, the wives might compete for the husband’s attention, and despite their willingness and desire to enter such a marriage, some discomfort, regarding attention and jealousy might arise. In every kind of marriage, each spouse must make a valiant effort to spread love and sense of security. Yet, despite a conscious effort on all parties to ensure fairness, equality, and honesty, it is likely that some feelings will at one time of another get hurt. The risk factors are reduced in the case of monogamous marriages.
Studies show that “women in polygamous marriages are at higher risk of low self-esteem, as well as depression, than women in [monogamous] marriages” (Brooks, Thom 110). Therefore some points must be deducted from this tier. I will give tier two 90 points. The third tier is sexual exploitation. When both parties do not have equal footing and one is being used for the benefit of the other, it is considered sexual exploitation. In this tier, one cannot be solely a means for the other’s ends. A great example is when an individual is being asked to perform sexual acts to maintain or attain higher status.
It does not matter if the one being exploited performs the act willingly or not. A number between zero and 100 also measures this tier. There is a possibility that sexual exploitation would increase in the case of polygamy over monogamy. An example, in polygyny, of a husband sexually exploiting his wife (wives) is if he threatens to take power from a specific wife if she does not perform a particular sexual act, or offers more power within the marriage if she does perform an undesirable or unwanted sexual act. The possibility of having more to lose or gain in a polygamous marriage can be increased due to the increase in the spouses.
Yet then again, the sex is often times between two married individuals, no different than sex in monogamous relationships. So if power and marriage politics are not involved, sexual acts are similar to other couples. In those cases, if sexual exploitation occurs, it is because of the misconduct of a spouse and it is not related to polygamy itself. There is much concern regarding underage girls who are forced to marry older men and enter polygamous marriages without full awareness and comprehension of what they are doing. Those marriages are morally wrong and are not evaluated here.
Those girls are not able to give full consent due to their lack of maturity, and are oftentimes forced into marriage. The cases being discussed here are of consenting adults choosing polygamy as an alternative lifestyle. I do not see any reason to deduct too many points from this tier, so I will give it a 95. The fourth tier is third party effects. Third party effects are the ways another person is affected by the acts or practices being evaluated. A spouse being cheated on is an example of how a third party can be affected. The severity of the act is once again measured by a numerical value between zero and 100.
The two major issues raised that fall in the fourth tier are increased chances of STD’s and psychological harm to the children. According to Thom Brooks, “women in polygamous marriages have…been found to be at a greater risk of sexual diseases” (Brooks 110). This is not an issue of polygamy but instead an issue of infidelity. Any unfaithful spouse can increase the chances of sexually transmitted diseases regardless of the marriage structure. Therefore, polygamy cannot be blamed for the actions of these individuals. In fact, some polygamist husbands claim that their relationships with multiple wives curtail their desire to seek extramarital ffairs. I do not feel that this point is valid enough for the deduction of points. But, the consequences of a husband having an extramarital affair and possibly contracting a disease are increased with multiple wives. If he is dishonest about his indiscretions, instead of spreading disease to just one wife, he can possibly spread it to multiple wives. This could be a reason to deduct a few points. The possibility of psychological damage to the children born into polygamous marriages raises some concern, especially, in social settings where polygamy is not widely practiced. In the case of self-conscious teenagers, extra issues can surface.
Even in social settings that promote polygamy, the media’s reminder that the majority of the world practices monogamy can have negative psychological repercussions. In monogamous social settings, the negative impact can be disastrous. These children do not voluntarily choose to enter such marriages and are at the mercy of their parents’ decisions prior to their birth. Although, love and stability within the marriage can reduce or prevent negative psychological effects. Just as in the case of gay marriages, the mental stability of a child is oftentimes determined by the quality of relationships inside the marriage.
Though the increased chances of harm to the children causes me to deduct quite a few points from this tier. I will give this tier 75 point. The fifth and final tier is wider social content. This tier is measured by how the acts or practices affect society (or immediate surroundings) as a whole. This tier can be measured by effects ranging from oppression to the spread of disease. In the case of the fifth tier, only ? of the zero to 100 value is considered because it is not only difficult to determine the effects of a particular act on a given society, it is also difficult to blame a single act for its effects on a larger scale.
Once again, there are exceptions to every rule. This tier is the most difficult to assess. Social settings differ depending on the region and time period. When and where polygamy is practiced greatly determines its consequences. A concern might be polygamy’s insult to tradition and religion. This is not a valid claim. Some religions allow and promote polygamy, so it depends on the specific religion being discussed. The same goes for tradition, which tradition is the right one? Many cultures have included polygamy in their traditions. So this is not the most valid argument.
Any new idea, even when it is clearly beneficial to a society, can disrupt religious and traditional ideals. Religion and tradition are not determining factors in morality and ethics. They are just ways to compare one lifestyle to another. Once again, this tier is very hard to assess, and cannot truly be assessed unless a specific society or culture is being discussed. Being that not all societies, in fact the minority, practice polygamy, it is safe to assume that some disruption will occur in most of today’s western regions. Therefore, I will deduct 20 points and give this tier a total of 80 points.
Only half of this tier is considered, therefore this tier will receive a 40. The total points for all tiers is 300, which is above 280, therefore according to my assessment and use of S. M. I. F. T. consensual, respectful, and voluntary polygamy is morally permissible. There seems to be no argument that makes polygamy inherently immoral. Different scenarios might bring forth different outcomes but the major objections and issues seem to not lie within the concept of polygamy itself, but instead the conduct of those practicing it. So if polygamy is morally acceptable, it should be legal as well.
The fifth tier asks how polygamists affect society but the real question should be, “how does society affect polygamists? ” In fact, society damages polygamists more than the other way around. Most countries do not allow polygamous marriages, so individuals marry outside the law. This gives them very little protection and prevents them from the many legal benefits of marriage. This is an issue that homosexuals in the United States are also faced with. The government and the majority decide for the minorities what is permissible or not, stripping individuals of their right to choose.
Some studies show that polygamous relationships are in fact more stable and successful than monogamous relationship because the spouses are less likely to cheat, but that argument should not be necessary to legalize polygamy. If stability and success is the required criteria to legalize a particular type of marriage, then monogamous relationships should be illegal as well. The divorce rate is higher than ever and celebrity marriages are shorter than ever. The government should either legalize all types of marriage between consenting adults or ban marriage altogether.
The question should be the morality of an act, not whether society thinks it fits their description of what is socially acceptable. If polygamy is morally acceptable, and I feel this essay has shown that it is, it should be legal just like monogamy. Works Cited Brooks, Thom. “The Problem with Polygamy. ” Philosophical Topics 37. 2 (Fall 2009): 109-20. Print. Strauss, Gregg. “Is Polygamy Inherently Unequal? ” Ethics 122. 3 (April 2012): 516-44. doi: 10. 1086/664754 Vogel, Ursula. “Political Philosophers and the Trouble with Polygamy: Patriarchal Reasoning in Modern Natural Law. ” History of Political Thought 12. 2 (1991): 229-51. Print.