Is polygamy becoming the new “gay” movement in America?
With television shows such as HBO’s “Big Love” and TLC’s “Sister Wives,” polygamy is the once-taboo lifestyle that appears to be gaining wider acceptance – especially on the heels of homosexual marriage victories across the nation.
Just this weekend, the website Pro-Polygamy.com declared Aug. 19 the 12th annual Polygamy Day. According to the site, since it began, “the annual celebration grew into a widespread and religiously-neutral individual celebration around the country among all forms of consenting-adult pro-polygamists.”
Historically, polygamy has had little support in the U.S. since the Republican Party in 1854 declared it, along with slavery, one of the “twin relics of barbarism,” and Congress banned it in 1862.
However, recent decisions of activist judges that thrust homosexual marriage on the American public are now being used, chapter and verse, to argue for legalization of polygamy.
While spouse collecting is still illegal in the United States, polygamy is apparently thriving – and not where most Americans might expect.
Polygamists in America
The mainstream media tend to focus on polygamists who belong to the Fundamentalist Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Utah, Arizona,Texas and Colorado.
Polygamy made national headlines in two high-profile cases in recent years: In 2007, FLDS leader Warren Jeffs was convicted of sex crimes charges. (Jeffs is estimated to have more than 50 wives and is reportedly issuing edicts from his prison cell.) And in 2008, authorities raided a Texas FLDS compound called the YFZ Ranch, and found six men guilty of child sexual assault.
Various estimates made through the years put the number of FLDS members between 15,000 and 60,000.
But Muslim men in America are marrying multiple wives as well.
In fact, a 2008 NPR report estimated between 50,000 and 100,000 Muslims in the U.S. live in polygamous families.
A search of a popular Muslim “singles” dating site revealed more than 1,000 results for married Muslim men – located in the United States – who are openly seeking additional wives.
For the parameters of WND’s search, only married Muslim men who live in the U.S. and are interested in taking another wife were selected.
The search returned more than 1,000 results – so many, the site recommending refining criteria because there were too many matches.
WND found active profiles for married Muslim men seeking additional wives in every U.S. state (and Washington, D.C.) – except Alaska.
Most of the men were in New York, New Jersey, California, Virginia, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
The dating site is based in Australia – where polygamy is illegal – and allows users to select polygamy as a preference under its “background/cultural values” section:
WND searched yet another popular Muslim dating site and found many more married men in the U.S. who are seeking additional spouses.
The Quran, Sura 4:3, states, “And if you be apprehensive that you will not be able to do justice to the orphans, you may marry two or three or four women whom you choose. But if you apprehend that you might not be able to do justice to them, then marry only one wife, or marry those who have fallen in your possession.”
Under Shariah law, a Muslim man may marry multiple wives, but he must provide for them equally.
The prophet Muhammad is said to have had dozens of wives.
Since polygamy is against the law in the U.S., NPR explains how Muslims still manage to have multiple spouses.
“Here’s how a man gets around the laws: He marries one woman under civil law, and then marries one, two or three others in religious ceremonies that are not recognized by the state. In other cases, men marry women in both America and abroad.
“Many women keep quiet for fear of retribution or deportation.”
New Jersey family law attorney Abed Awad told NPR many Muslim men see polygamous marriages as an opportunity to have many children, which is seen as a blessing in Islam.
Because the religion only allows men to have sex in a marital relationship, marrying multiple wives can be a way to legitimize sex with several partners. In some cases, men seek wives for temporary marriages called Mut’ah marriages or “pleasure marriages,” that can last for years – or merely hours. (Some imams condemn the practice of temporary marriages.)
“What is the problem? If he is not happy with the first marriage, why he stay all the life like this?” asked Mona, a Palestinian woman with six children who divorced and remarried into a polygamous relationship in Patterson, N.J. “You know, my religion is good because it gives man and woman another chance to be happy.”
According to NPR, the practice is also growing among black Muslims in Philadelphia, a city known for having a large orthodox black Muslim community.
Likewise, News 21 profiled a Muslim polygamous family in San Diego, Calif.
According to the report, Debra Mubashir Majeed, associate professor and chair of philosophy and religious studies at Beloit College in Wisconsin, has surveyed more than 400 black Muslims and interviewed more than 15 polygamists.
“‘Most African American women who are into polygyny [the term for a relationship in which a man marries multiple wives”] do so by choice,’ says Majeed, adding that their reasons range from their interpretation of the Qur’an, to desire for independence, to needing a father for their children.
“She says a shortage of marriageable black Muslim men is one reason polygamy is embraced.
“‘With the high number of African-American men in prison, on drugs, out of work, or unavailable in some other way … the options are limited,’ she said.”
On the blog Altmuslimah, Muslim woman Mehrunisa Qayyum, who worked at the United States’ Government Accountability Office for four years, argues, “[A] Muslim man who can take on the responsibility for financially and emotionally caring for a second wife is at least willing to be held accountable to both wives and to society at large; after all, a polygamous marriage is certainly preferable to fornication or adultery.”
‘Allah has already legalized it’
Despite its illegal nature, some in Muslim communities in the U.S. practice polygamy as part of their religious beliefs. In October 2011, a news article was published in Muslim Link titled, “Polygamy: Tis the Season?”
Hassan Amin, a Baltimore imam who performs polygamous “marriage” ceremonies, told the Link: “I don’t have any problem with that because it’s Deen. I’m doing it for religion.”
Amin argued that polygamous relationships may be the answer in impoverished cities where single women often collect welfare payments to provide for their families.
“We have in the world more women than men and if a man has the ability to take care of more than one woman he should be able to do that,” said Amin. “As far as legalization, I think they should. … We should strive to have it legalized because Allah has already legalized it.”
The Muslim Link conducted a survey on polygamy. According to the paper, 42 percent of respondents admitted to being in polygamous relationships or knowing others in such marriages in the Muslim community.
Thirty-nine percent of respondents said they would join polygamous relationships if they became legal in the U.S.
The paper added, “Although those who said they would engage in polygamy if it were legal are the minority, nearly 70 percent said they believe that the U.S. should legalize polygamy now that it is beginning to legalize gay marriage.”
In her 2007 Slate.com opinion piece, “What To Expect When You’re Expecting a Co-Wife: Why American Muslims don’t care to legalize polygamy,” Andrea Useem writes, “American Muslim polygamists are still a group to watch.
“For one thing, they may be almost as numerous as the fundamentalist Mormons who make all the headlines (and score big ratings for HBO). … And while Muslim polygamists are quiet now, their political awareness may grow over time; after all, fundamentalist Mormon polygamists lived for decades in disparate and secretive communities, only recently emerging to claim their place at the civic table. …
“American Muslim polygamists are unafraid of prosecution, and they sometimes seem almost puzzlingly unconcerned with the illegality of their conjugal life. Azeez takes only minor steps to conceal her husband’s identity, and only then to ensure his job is not jeopardized. ‘It’s not like everyone is being rounded up and thrown in jail,’ she says — in stark contrast to fundamentalist Mormons who recall the raid of the Short Creek, Ariz., polygamist community in 1953. …
“And prominent American Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who was the first Muslim cleric to ever offer the invocation at the U.S. House of Representatives, was quoted in Paul Barrett’s 2007 book American Islam as saying that he performs polygamous unions at his Al-Taqwa mosque in Brooklyn, N.Y. ‘If a man can have a hundred girlfriends, and it’s legal, I don’t say you can’t have more than one wife,’ he reasons. Of course, Wahhaj is in the minority on this point; most mainstream imams would not condone the open flouting of the law.”
However, Useem argued that most Muslims are reluctant to jump on the polygamy legalization bandwagon.
“Many Muslim women, of course, are frankly relieved that the law of the land forbids husbands from taking multiple wives. But Muslim religious leaders, who are by definition male, may have slightly different motivations in accepting the legal status quo. At a moment when leading presidential candidates can suggest the routine wiretapping of mosques and nearly half of the American public has a negative view of Islam, championing polygamy hardly seems like a winning strategy.
“Back in 1890, when the federal government was preparing to dissolve the Mormon church, confiscate its property, and possibly even disenfranchise all its members in large part because of polygamy, the church’s then-president, Wilford Woodruff, publicly declared his advice to all Latter-Day Saints to ‘refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.’ Although American Muslim leaders have not been backed into such an uncomfortable corner, they are quietly issuing their own 1890 manifesto: consenting to theological accommodation as a price of American belonging.”
Websites advocating legalization of polygamy in the U.S., including NationalPolygamyAdvocate.com, ChristianPolygamyMovement.com, Pro-Polygamy.com, 2Wives.com, TruthBearer.org, BiblicalPolygamy.com and LoveNotForce.com, can be found online.
However, polygamous relationships are disastrous for women’s rights, according to Rose McDermott, a professor of political science at Brown University. In her column, “Polygamy: More Common Than You Think,” published in the Wall Street Journal, McDermott writes:
“My research over the past decade, encompassing more than 170 countries, has shown the detrimental effects of polygynous practices on human rights, for both men and women.
“According to the information I have helped to collect in the Womanstats database, women in polygynous communities get married younger, have more children, have higher rates of HIV infection than men, sustain more domestic violence, succumb to more female genital mutilation and sex trafficking, and are more likely to die in childbirth. Their life expectancy is also shorter than that of their monogamous sisters. In addition, their children, both boys and girls, are less likely to receive both primary and secondary education. …
“Whatever their concerns about protecting religious freedom, or demonstrating cultural sensitivity, Western nations should think twice before allowing the kinds of family structures that lead to such abuses.”
Parallels to same-sex marriage
Homosexual activists may cringe when they hear polygamy advocates cite same-sex marriage decisions to argue for legalization of plural marriage, but it happens frequently.
Jonathan Turley, the George Washington University law professor who has represented the “Sister Wives” polygamists in a widely reported lawsuit against Utah, based his arguments for legalization of polygamy on a 2003 Supreme Court decision on homosexuality.
“Both the Brown family and the people of Utah can now expect a ruling on the power of the state to criminalize private relations among consenting adults,” Turley wrote in a recent blog entry after a judge refused to dismiss his case against Utah.
In his 2003 dissent of Lawrence v. Texas, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia predicted that the Court’s ruling on sodomy laws would open the door to homosexual marriage and polygamy.
“State laws against bigamy, same-sex marriage, adult incest … are … called into question by today’s decision,” Scalia wrote.
And when the California Supreme Court ruled in 2010 in favor of homosexual marriage, a dissenting justice warned that it would not be illogical to expect that support for polygamy soon would follow.
California Supreme Court Justice Marvin Baxter explained:
The bans on incestuous and polygamous marriages are ancient and deep-rooted, and, as the majority suggests, they are supported by strong considerations of social policy. Our society abhors such relationships, and the notion that our laws could not forever prohibit them seems preposterous. Yet here, the majority overturns, in abrupt fashion, an initiative statute confirming the equally deep-rooted assumption that marriage is a union of partners of the opposite sex. The majority does so by relying on its own assessment of contemporary community values, and by inserting in our Constitution an expanded definition of the right to marry that contravenes express statutory law.
That approach creates the opportunity for further judicial extension of this perceived constitutional right into dangerous territory. Who can say that, in 10, 15, or 20 years, an activist court might not rely on the majority’s analysis to conclude, on the basis of a perceived evolution in community values, that the laws prohibiting polygamous and incestuous marriages were no longer constitutionally justified?
More recently, former GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum made headlines in January when he suggested legalizing homosexual marriage could lead to legalization of polygamous relationships.
“So, everybody has the right to be happy?” he said. “So, if you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that OK?”
He added, “God made man and woman, and men and women come together to have a union to produce children, which keeps civilization going and provides the best environment for children to be raised.”
Several groups attacked Santorum for suggesting the link between the two lifestyles, even though polygamists are actively making that connection in court.
The trend can be seen in other countries as well.
Canada’s decision to legalize homosexual marriage in 2005 became the basis for polygamists’ arguments for having multiple spouses.
In 2009, the Associated Press reported, “Canada’s decision to legalize gay marriage has paved the way for polygamy to be legal as well, a defense lawyer … as the two leaders of rival polygamous communities made their first court appearance.”
“If (homosexuals) can marry, what is the reason that public policy says one person can’t marry more than one person?” argued Blair Suffredine, a lawyer representing a man who was charged with marrying 20 women.
Just recently, a senior member of the South Australian Catholic Church warned that legalization of homosexual marriage will open the door to polygamy, Australia’s Herald Sun reported.
Port Pirie Diocese Bishop Greg O’Kelly argued, “If people are to be entitled, as the premier says, to express their identity in any way they wish, and that is all that constitutes marriage, then the gates are open to all sorts of arrangements like polygamy and polyandry, and the weakening of the family as the basis of society.”
The Scottish government has announced its plans to authorize homosexual marriage by 2015 – becoming the first in the UK to legalize it. According to the Scottish Catholic Observer, Hugh Gilbert, Catholic bishop of Aberdeen, blasted the government for what he believes is a “slippery slope” precedent.
“Why is it alright for a man to marry another man, but not alright for him to marry two women? If we really want equality, why does that equality not extend to nieces who genuinely, truly love their uncles?” Gilbert asked.
“And, if you say that such things don’t happen, that they are mere freaks of nature, extreme examples dreamed up for the sake of argument, I say you need to spend more time in the parish.”
In the U.S., with the expansion of the legal definition of marriage to include homosexuals, now other groups are advocating for polygamy.
After New York legalized homosexual marriage in 2011, Moein Khawaja, executive director of the Philadelphia branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, tweeted: “Easy to support gay marriage today bc it’s mainstream. Lets see same people go to bat for polygamy, its the same argument. *crickets*”
The Muslim Link reported:
“While some choose to quietly live their lives as they please, married legally only to one woman but to others only through religious ceremonies, there are murmurs among the polygamist community as the country moves toward the legalization of gay marriage.
“Just as the gay community has fought for equal treatment under the law, polygamists argue the same. As citizens of the United States, they argue, they should have the right to legally marry whoever they please, or however many they please.
“In the same regard that the gay community faced stark opposition from religious organizations that diligently fought, and continue to fight the idea of gay marriage on religious grounds, polygamists communities face similar religious stigmas.”
John Witte Jr., Emory University professor and one of the world’s foremost experts on church and state relations, wrote a column on the subject of legalizing polygamy, “Can America Still Bar Polygamy?,” in Christianity Today.
“The harder question is whether criminalizing polygamy is constitutional. … Can these criminal laws withstand a challenge that they violate an individual’s constitutional rights to private liberty, equal protection, and religious liberty? In the 19th century, none of these rights claims was available. Now they are, and they protect every adult’s rights to consensual sex, marriage, procreation, contraception, cohabitation, sodomy, and more. May a state prohibit polygamists from these same rights, particularly if they are inspired by authentic religious convictions? What rationales for criminalizing polygamy are so compelling that they can overcome these strong constitutional objections?”
While homosexual activists haven’t been as quick to endorse polygamy, the Brown family of TLC’s “Sister Wives” recently told Fox News they wholeheartedly support homosexual marriage.
“It is something I have thought about a lot, and I feel very blessed that I have been able to chose love and the life that I want to live and be married to the people that I want to be married to,” husband Kody Brown said. “It’s not for me to decide or stop anyone else from marrying the person they love.”
Each of Brown’s four wives agreed.
Societal acceptance of homosexual marriage and polygamy
Some argue polygamy will follow the same path to societal acceptance that the homosexual marriage movement has paved.
According to national polls on support for homosexual marriage since 1996 located in the PollingReport.com database, the American public is warming to the idea of legalizing homosexual marriage – especially in the last eight years.
The New York Times averaged results from nine polls on the subject conducted in the last year. The paper found that “50 percent of American adults support same-sex marriage rights while 45 percent oppose it.”
The Times noted “support for same-sex marriage has been increasing, and opposition to it has been decreasing, at a relatively steady rate of perhaps two or three percentage points a year since 2004.”
The organizations conducting the polls claim there’s been a dramatic shift in public approval of homosexual marriage in the last decade and a half.
While there aren’t as many national polls to indicate public opinion on the issue of legalizing polygamy, in March, a WND/Wenzel Poll, conducted exclusively for WND by the public-opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies, indicated there is a surprisingly high level of support for polygamous marriage developing across the U.S.
A full 22 percent of the respondents said there is no legal justification for denying polygamy, based on the fact that legislation and judicial decisions have affirmed the validity of same-sex “marriage” for homosexuals.
Another 18.7 percent were uncertain.
Further, 18 percent of the respondents said there was no moral justification for denying polygamy, and 14.5 percent were uncertain.
The scientific telephone survey, conducted March 10-13, had a margin of error of 3.72 percentage points.
While only 6.1 percent said polygamy is a “preferred” lifestyle, another 15.9 percent said it is an “equally valid lifestyle.” Across America, that would mean tens of millions accept the idea.
Polygamy in other Western nations
Polygamy has also advanced in Canada, where it is considered a criminal offense. However, polygamists are very rarely prosecuted.
In 2005, the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Center suggested Canada make polygamy legal, arguing that criminalizing the lifestyle would violate citizens’ constitutional rights. However, the Supreme Court of British Columbia upheld Canada’s polygamy laws in 2011.
While polygamy is illegal in Britain, the state recognizes polygamous marriages to Muslim men, who may have as many as four wives. Britain recently increased social welfare benefits to those polygamous households to accommodate the extra wives and children. (Notably, a 2011 poll revealed many British Muslims now express a degree of sympathy for homosexual “rights,” despite the fact that mainstream interpretation of the Quran indicates Islam condemns homosexuality.)
While polygamy has been illegal in France since 1993, an estimated 150,000 to 400,000 people live in polygamous households there. Polygamists in that nation simply rely on single-parent welfare payments and state housing benefits for each of their wives.
Polygamy is illegal in Norway, but the Directorate of Immigration reported an increasing number of men with multiple wives in the nation in 2005. According to reports, men are often allowed to bring their second wives into Norway.
“The reason is married men travel to countries where polygamy is legal and then add a wife, ” reported the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. “[T]his is something that Norwegian authorities cannot prevent,” said UDI spokesman Karl Erik Sjoholt.
The paper reported that the Oslo-based Islamic Cultural Centre Norway, or ICCN, which is government funded, has even recommended polygamy, saying it “is advantageous, and ought to be practiced where conditions lend themselves to such a practice.”
In Australia, where polygamy is illegal, the federal government recognizes polygamous marriages that have been recognized in foreign nations. Therefore, additional wives and children may claim government benefits.
In the Netherlands, polygamy is illegal. However, Dutch authorities have recognized, and often register, polygamous marriages of Muslims who have several wives.
In 2005, the first polygamous “civil union” of three partners was conducted and registered in the Netherlands.
“Meanwhile in the Netherlands polygamy has been legalized in all but name,” the Brussels Journal reported. “… Victor de Bruijn (46) from Roosendaal ‘married’ both Bianca (31) and Mirjam (35) in a ceremony before a notary who duly registered their civil union.
“‘I love both Bianca and Mirjam, so I am marrying them both,’ Victor said. He had previously been married to Bianca. Two and a half years ago they met Mirjam Geven through an internet chatbox. Eight weeks later Mirjam deserted her husband and came to live with Victor and Bianca. After Mirjam’s divorce the threesome decided to marry.
“Victor: ‘A marriage between three persons is not possible in the Netherlands, but a civil union is. We went to the notary in our marriage costume and exchanged rings. We consider this to be just an ordinary marriage.’
“Asked by journalists to tell the secret of their peculiar relationship, Victor explained that there is no jealousy between them. ‘But this is because Mirjam and Bianca are bisexual. I think that with two heterosexual women it would be more difficult.'”
Incidentally, the Netherlands was the first nation in the world to grant full “marriage rights” to homosexuals.