Sister Wives and Schadenfreude

Sister Wives and Schadenfreude

Last update on Dec. 23, 2013.

I was not allowed to say, “I told you so” as a kid. If I’d had an argument with my siblings and ended up, somehow, on the right side of history… well, I was to be the bigger person and resist the urge to gloat. I am the oldest of five kids. I have been right before.

By the end of high school, I had learned the sophisticated German term for such gloating at another’s expense. I enjoyed the way the word rolled off my tongue—Schadenfreude. The word was fun to pronounce. The impulse, however, was to be avoided.

Here at Marriage Generation, we “understand that marriage is a lasting promise between one woman and one man.” Many people disagree with that understanding. Some are even dedicating their lives to changing our definition. They have been redefining marriage from several angles.

Our nation’s no-fault divorce policies have been dismantling the “lasting promise” part and we have begun to feel the cultural consequences. Our courts and culture have begun to dismiss us as bigoted for believing that marriage is shared only by a man and woman (rather than two consenting adults).

Some of us, or the public figures who share our commitment to marriage, have also been suggesting that polyamory could easily be the next cultural experiment in the redefinition of marriage. If marriage is open for redefinition, why not question its exclusivity between two consenting adults?

This prediction has been roundly scorned and dismissed. For a sampling of such scorn, simply scroll through the comments after Rick Santorum’s recent Tweet on the topic.

But, as it turns out, polygamy is turning out to be the next frontier.


On Friday, December 13, 2013, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups struck down Utah’s law making polygamy a crime. One of the plaintiffs, Kody Brown is the husband at the center of the TLC Show “Sister Wives.” He is married to four different women and moved his family (families?) out of Utah, to avoid being criminally prosecuted for maintaining a polygamous family.

In his 91-page opinion in Brown v. Buhman, Judge Waddoups ruled that Utah’s criminalization of cohabitation violated the due process and First Amendment religious freedom rights for Kody Brown and his family.

Brown v. Buhman does not require Utah to legally recognize polygamous marriage and issue multiple marriage licenses to the same individual. But Brown’s attorney and George Washington University Prof. Jonathan Turley has shown his hand: first decriminalize polygamy and then assert a right to its official recognition.

This is no slippery-slope fallacy. Legal analyst Ken Klukowski notes that Turley and Judge Waddoups chose to apply reasoning from Lawrence v. Texas (a court case decriminalizing sodomy) and other more recent legal developments regarding same-gendered marriage in order to trump previous Supreme Court ruling on polygamy. Klukowski notes the following:

 “As Turley explained in previous court filings, he believes there is a ‘right to self-determination of private relations and family matters free of government intrusion.’ He noted that many oppose polygamy, and goes on to assert that polygamists ‘are entitled to protection from such majoritarian animus and bias vis-à-vis their private lifestyles and relations. Their status under domestic law is a civil rights issue deserving the same protections afforded to homosexuals and other minority groups.’"

Some will whole-heartedly embrace same-gendered marital unions but look askance at the practice of polygamy. I imagine that many of my peers do just that. But our courts and culture are changing the definition of marriage to place an adult’s sexual preference and love above the stability of the family unit and the health of the next generation. Our courts are leaning on the same reasoning that they used to rearrange marriage to include same-gendered adult. I imagine that our culture will evolve and soon have fewer and fewer reasons to exclude polyamory as a legitimate form of marriage.

And so, we’re not laughing. Schadenfreude would be a waste of time. We don’t and shouldn’t wish to see marriage disassembled. We think a healthy marriage culture is good for our cities, good for our families, and good for kids (or our nieces and nephews… as the case may be).

So, since we’re not going to gloat, what should we do?

Admit that some people think polygamy is a good idea:

Let’s not put our head in the sand. Smart people are writing articulate op-eds and blog posts in mainstream publications. Jonathan Turley is one of them. But there are others. Mark Goldfeder thinks that “Morals-based legislation has been unconstitutional since 2003's Lawrence v. Texas, and so we cannot just continue ignoring the polygamists' clamor for acceptance.” Psychologist Nigel Barber suggests three reasons from his study of evolutionary biology. I know there are others and it’s entirely possible that their ranks will grow.

Be real about consequences of polygamy:

In her 2011 Wall Street Journal piece, Brown University political science professor Rose McDermott cautions against embracing such a family structure. She notes:

"When small numbers of men control large numbers of women, the remaining men are likely to be willing to take greater risks and engage in more violence, possibly including terrorism, in order to increase their own wealth and status in hopes of gaining access to women. 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."

For a deeper look at the cultural differences between monogamy and polyandry, you may wish to review Dr. Pat Fagan’s paper, “Culture Clash: Monogamy vs. Polyandry.”

And just last year Slate (not quite a bastion of traditional views on marriage) published a piece with the sub-heading: “A new study shows that despite what you see on reality TV, plural marriage isn’t very good for society.” Culturally, we’re not quite there yet.  

Do the next thing:

We appear to be right… marriage is under attack. Polygamy may be next. But there’s no Schadenfreude here. There is a patient, cheerful, faithful little life to be lived. There are marriages to strengthen, children to protect, court cases to be argued, blog posts to be written. Carpe diem, friends.

Media:
Jessica Prol

Jessica is an oldest sister, counseling student, writer, and Capitol Hill resident. Follow her on twitter: @JessicaProl.

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