Was flipping through the local rag here in Tempe while waiting for my fast-food teriyaki chicken to arrive, and noticed an article about polygamy.
More specifically, it was about a town on the Arizona-Utah border, called “Colorado City” which is pretty much run by one of the branches of Mormon fundamentalists that are big into bigamy. Since the local police are owned by these gentlemen, Arizona and Utah law enforcement have teamed up to send police there that will be unaffiliated with any of the locals, in order to try and crack down on the very nasty underage polygamy going on there.
Apparently it goes like this–if you’re a man in this particular religion, you only get really really enlightened if you have at least three “spiritual wives.” (You can’t actually marry them in the U.S., ‘cos of bigamy laws, but the religious rituals are followed.)
Now, to put on my anthropology hat for a moment, there are cultural situations where polygamy works as a social system, just as there are situations where polyandry works, but it requires a very specific set of conditions. You gotta have way more women then men to support polygamy, and the normal way to get this is for your young men to have a very high attrition rate. If many fewer young men than women survive to adulthood, such as in sexually segregated warrior cultures, then polygamy is a culturally viable method of dealing with the problem. It often spawns some nasty side effects, mind you, and it’s hardly my notion of utopia, but it works, (and by “works” I mean it’s inherently a stable system.) Polyandry requires a rather different set of circumstances, and is rather rarer–among a Tibetan semi-nomadic group, for example, a set of brothers will marry a single woman, because food is so damn hard to find that it requires several breadwinners at a time to provide a safety net for a single woman and child. And hey, I got no problems wi’ dat.
In a situation such as this town, however, you don’t have high attrition rates in young men, so you’re screwed for women. And the solution that is always hit upon in these situations is to marry ’em younger and younger, until you get people selling off their teen and preteen daughters to curry favor with the spiritual leaders. (often in hopes of getting their own “spiritual wives” later in life.) And that’s what’s happening in Colorado City. Lots of kids run away, lots of them get brought back, lots of them wind up forcibly married within the week.
This sorta thing scares the living crap out of me.
I mean, that this happens someplace in the world, I know, and while I wish it didn’t, it’s like leprosy–I’m sorry it happens, but it happens way far away, and I am just not capable of dedicating my life to eradicating it. There are social causes going back for a thousand years that I can’t fix. I do art, that’s what I’m good at, that’s what I AM, and while I will happily donate money to whatever causes present themselves, a painting will never cure leprosy. I hope to some day be successful enough that I can donate lots of money to places, but at the moment, I can just about keep body and soul together as it is. (I know all the homilies, yes, this probably does make me a bad person, but meh, I can live with myself.)
That this sorta crap is happening a couple hundred miles away, in the same goddamn STATE as me, that in the bloody 21st century in America, we’ve still got people raping children in the name of God–now, that makes me twitch. This is the sort of thing you expect in the middle of Taliban country, or a thousand years ago, not in places that have heard of indoor plumbing. I’m as religious tolerant as the next person, but I don’t care what your God tells you, you don’t get to screw children in order to go to heaven. That’s so far over the line you can’t see the line from there.
Who knew this kinda crap still happened in the civilized world? I mean, if you read this in a Sheri Tepper novel, you’d roll your eyes and go “Sheesh, that’s pretty heavy handed…” but there it is, large as live and twice as creepy.
So anyway, they’re getting new police in there, and they’re hoping to make a dent in the problem. Evidentally this has been going on for over a century. Ultimately, of course, such systems are self-limiting–there’s a point where you simply can’t marry ’em any younger, and inbreeding starts to be a problem–but I’d just as soon that law enforcement got involved before waiting for the slow hand of evolution to take a role, and I’m more than a little miffed that the government evidentally KNEW THIS WAS HAPPENING and didn’t go in with flamethrowers and cult-sniffing dogs before now. I mean, sweet mother, freedom of religion is one thing, but…well, anyway, nothing I can say can possibly do anything but trivialize the matter, so I’ll shut up.
Annnnyway, charity of the month is Tapestry Against Polygamy which is dedicated to helping people trying to get away from these weirdo situations, so if any of you are looking for a place to drop twenty bucks, keep ’em in mind.