Social Science Data on the Effects of Gay Marriage and Polygamy on Society

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"Social Science Data on the Effects of Gay Marriage and Polygamy on Society"
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"The Persistence of Polygamy" and "Gay and Lesbian Marriage"
The articles "The Persistence of Polygamy" and "Gay and Lesbian Marriage" both display two controversial points of view on highly debated topics. Polygamy is illegal, yet still practiced by a minority. Homosexual marriage is being approved through civil union laws in some states, while others have banned the concept. These issues prompt concern for the integrity of our culture and our future as a society by some; other groups want their personal and religious freedoms to be legally and socially acceptable
The section "Gay and Lesbian Marriage" is presented in two parts. The first article is "Sex & Consequences: An Anthropologist Vindicates the Traditional Family" by Peter Wood. Wood claims that his fellow anthropologists have kept silent about ethnographic data; he stresses modifications to the family structure through gay marriage and polygamy will have major negative consequences. The institutionalization of male homosexuality has been adapted by many cultures but there are reasons why this may not work in our society.
Homosexuality is commonly associated with pedophilia; Wood insists that societies that have institutionalized something like gay marriage have done so in the form of older men taking adolescent boys as their partners and that to think the United States could accept gay marriage without also encouraging this form of eroticism is a kind of fantasy. Wood coins this idea as the libertarian illusion; the alteration within a society's decisions about which sexual practices are allowed will have large social consequences.
These ominous social ramifications are realistic ones. It is important that children are born and properly raised and the occurrence of that scenario in a sexually unrestricted world is the exception, not the norm. Wood believes that society would place a very low value on women's reproductive capacity, and the family structure would collapse even more so then it has in recent years. If you believe history repeats itself inevitably, then certainly Peter Wood's words on same-sex marriage are a realistic way to view the problems institutionalizing the practice would create.
The second article in the section is entitled "Why Marriage?" by Ellen Lewin, a woman who traveled to Toronto to become legally married to her spouse. In contrast, she emphasizes not only the importance of state approval, but also the significance of celebrating commitments. By not being allowed legal marriage, same-sex couples are denied over a thousand specific rights mainly involving important next of kin statuses. More importantly Lewin believes that the symbolic ritual has even greater rewards. The act of making it official in front of God or family, receiving wedding presents, wearing wedding clothes, even having the marriage certificate is just as meaningful.
Public opinion on the acceptance of homosexuals is on the rise, this evident by turning on the television. People are finding more common ground, and same-sex couples have begun starting families including children. Many other cultures, mainly small scale, deem homosexuality socially acceptable. The United States does not differentiate between sexual preference and sexual activity however, which is a factor in some cultures homosexual behavior.
Peter Wood also chimes in on the topic of plural marriages in his article. The social consequences of the relationships between men, women, parents, and children are widespread. He sums polygamy up as "a system by which powerful older men assemble a household of young desirable women. Polygynous marriages almost always are part of a system of arranged marriages in which the women have little or no say about the matter." According to Wood this is absolutely inevitable in all polygamous situations because of simple human nature. Men naturally seek sexual variety and to be dominant, taking young wives solidifies their status.
Even more problems arise from polygamy, Wood notes, they are often violence-prone societies. Young men must compete for wives to raise their status, jealousy between the wives, competition when they all are simultaneously widowed and co-wives along with children have to fight for inheritances and land claims. Peter Wood is nearly patronizing in the way he repeatedly states that the "fantasy" of this country overcoming the disastrous effects of changing socially acceptable sexual practices might be possible, but he doubts it.
"The Persistence of Polygamy" by Timothy Egan is aptly named as this article recounts the history of polygamy in the United States. Joseph Smith Jr. founded the Church of Mormon in 1830, believing he was a prophet whom God was speaking through. One of those messages from God was that a man could take as many wives as he wanted. His followers carried on with polygamy and established themselves largely in what is now Utah. The rest of the country strongly disapproved of the Mormon practices, and began taking action against the Mormon Church. As a result of this, polygamy was denounced by the state of Utah and Mormons in 1890. Polygamy survives in America today despite the fact that it is a felony. Pockets of polygamist families can be found throughout the west, and population estimates reach from 200,000 and 600,000 people.
Multiple cases of women who have escaped their lives in polygamist families are presented. Common themes in their recollections include being deprived education and knowledge of the outside world, incestual relations, statutory rape, child abuse, and indentured barbarism. Leaders of polygamist clans claim they live only by the true word of God and that cases of abuse are rare, and abuse of the same nature is found throughout society. Ex-wives of polygamists have united to form an outreach and advocacy group called Tapestry of Polygamy. One of the founders, Laura Chapman, described modern day polygamy as "organized crime operating under the cover of religion." Still, known polygamists are not prosecuted, in fact many seem strikingly unconcerned.
Polygamy results in extensively large families consisting of a husband, multiple wives, and usually dozens of children. These families form large clans including hundreds, even thousands of members in the kinship system. Polygamists have a different way of defining who is in the local kin group outside of which they are to marry. The case of the sixteen year old girl who was forced by her father to become the fifteenth wife of his brother, or the sisters who were married to the same man, are perfect examples of this. When it comes to defining obligations between kin it may get complicated being that a single person can take on multiple kinship roles to another person. For example, the two sisters had offspring from the same man; their children would be half siblings and also cousins.
Polygamy embraces masculine and feminine gender roles and extreme gender stratification. A wife of a polygamist man, commenting on if she was in love with her husband said "It is business. Produce the babies. Don't question your husband." While many anti-polygamists see this gender ideology as exploitive to the wives, polygamists maintain that it's a rare occurrence. Other supporters of polygamy insist that men are biologically designed to desire multiple partners and "In polygamy, men are properly channeled."
I personally believe that polygamy is not an unnatural thing, but I am certainly not an advocate of incest or sexual abuse. Since polygamy is already illegal in our country, I am baffled why it isn't prosecuted. I don't necessarily want consenting families of adults and children to be split up, but there has to be some sort of monitoring of polygamists at least to ensure the civil rights of their children who are born into.

*Talking about People 4th Edition, Haviland, Gordon, and Vivanco

More about this author: Jessica Fernquist

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