For most readers outside the United States, and probably many living there, the recent stories about the polygamous sect raided in Texas in early April raised several basic questions about multiple marriage and the law in America. Like any other Western society, the United States bans polygamy. Mainstream Mormons officially banned the practice in 1890, but several breakaway groups continued it. While informed readers may know that, it still came as a surprise to see there was a polygamous community of several hundred Americans living in a large compound right under the noses of the local police and politicians. And they were not the only ones — once-hidden polygamists are now pressing to have “plural marriage” decriminalised. What’s going on here?
Andrea Useem, author of the interesting blog Religion Writer, has come up with a fascinating look behind these recent polygamy headlines. She’s got links to blogs with names such as Polygamy Now and Introspection of a Plural Wife (at Heart). The most interesting part, though, is the long interview she has with John Witte, the director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory Law School in Atlanta. As she puts it: “He explains why polygamy laws are rarely enforced, how “moral repugnance” is one of the last arguments against polygamy, and why having a concubine is still legal.”