why prosecution of polygamy is wrong

Sunday, April 27, 2008 

The Toronto Globe and Mail published an editorial by Tom Flanagan titled “The biological and philosophical reasons why we should prosecute polygamy” in which Mr. Flanagan laid out arguments in defense of the prosecution of the Eldorado Mormons and in defense of laws against polygamy, though his arguments are only valid against polygyny.

Mr. Flanagan’s arguments against the Eldorado sect follow a very uncontroversial line: that the wives are held either in fact or in effect against their will by strong social pressure, managed education, and arranged marriage which is also implied to be against their will. They are “treated as breeding machines,” he says.

These arguments apply equally to any coerced relationship, whether monogamous, polygynous, or polyandrous. Coercive monogamous relationships vastly outnumber coercive relationships of any other form; the few coercive polygamous relationships that come to light merit comment only out of prurience.

Mr. Flanagan goes on to posit an argument against polygamy on the basis of biology and philosophy that is so hypocritical that it seems more plausibly a straw man defense of polygamy.

Humans, he says, are biologically predisposed to polygyny on the basis of sexual dimorphism and as evidenced by the bulk of history; conversely, he fails to note adaptations for polyandry such as the coronal ridge, sperm viscosity, and noradrenaline.

The argument is that this predisposition to polygamy would, left unchecked by social edict, tend to accrete breeding females around a small number of alpha males, leaving the majority of beta males mateless, thus shiftless, and therefore more inclined toward crime and violence. And so, to protect society, we must assign women to a single male, even a beta male, lest she by following her animal urges plunge society into chaos.

It is not clear why this model does not, in fact, treat women as chattel and “breeding machines” whose distribution to desperate men is mandated by social pressure and force of law.

This argument is false. There is no evidence that women’s rights are protected by enforced monogamy, nor that civilization is threatened by polygamy: monogamy arose as a property right and polygyny was the norm at the founding of civilization.

While society has an obligation to intercede on behalf of the coerced, government has no place interfering in the private behavior of consenting adults.

Posted at 22:36:39 GMT-0700

Category: Politics