Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

April 27, 2007

Liberal Utah Polygamists?

In Utah, some Mormon polygamy advocates are trying to distance themselves from the abusive polygamist cults in the region. (Cult leader Warren Jeffs is in jail facing charges of "rape by accomplice" of a 14-year-old girl. The Jeffs group was dramatized by "the Compound" in the HBO series "Big Love.") From ABC4-TV News in Salt Lake City:

Most of the polygamist families that live in this enclave along the Utah-Arizona border are followers of FLDS Prophet Warren Jeffs. But not all.

There are those who have left his church but still practice "the principle." Then there are those who live just across the Highway 59 who have never followed Jeffs and never believed in his version of religion or polygamy. They are called "2nd Warders" and their collection of homes and businesses is called Centennial Park. They say they do not believe in underage marriage. Women are not treated as the property of men.... One of these "2nd Warders" is LeAnne Timpson.... [who] studied at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. "I am a feminist."

Article and TV report.

Meanwhile, the Deseret News, the daily newspaper of the mainstream Mormon (LDS) Church, published an article (April 25, 2007) on the outreach and cross-fertilization going on between pro- and anti-polygamy forces:

Forum focuses on polygamy woes

By Ben Winslow

ST. GEORGE — A town hall meeting brought politicians, polygamists, activists and community members together here to vent and share their feelings about reaching out to victims of abuse in closed polygamous communities.

Hundreds packed the Dixie Center to offer their opinions Tuesday night.

"Why is there a statute of limitations on rape and molestation?" a person identified as "victim" wrote in comments read to the audience. "How can the women and children get justice when the statute exists?"

Others pushed for decriminalization of polygamy. "I am not a lawbreaker, but I am practicing civil disobedience, " said LeAnne Timpson, a member of the fundamentalist community of Centennial Park, Ariz....

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff defended his office's approach to go after abuses within polygamy, noting that men have been prosecuted, resources are being offered to victims and some polygamous societies are working with authorities....

Arizona Attorney General Terry Goddard apologized again for the notorious 1953 raid on the border community once known as "Short Creek," where polygamists were rounded up by police and put in jail. "We are profoundly sorry that approach was taken ... setting up a situation for tyranny to thrive," he said, referring to Jeffs....

...The event had the feel of a convention, complete with vendor booths. Only those booths featured advocate groups like Mohave County Victim Services, Principle Voices, and the HOPE Organization. The pro-polygamy Centennial Park Action Committee set up a "hospitality room" where it served veggies and cookies and played a DVD featuring members of the community combating negative stereotypes of polygamists.

Earlier in the day, members of polygamous groups, activists and government social workers participated in a training on authoritarian groups and breaking through the isolation.

Read the whole article.

Incidentally, a note on nomenclature: The mainstream Mormon (LDS) Church denies that polygamists can be Mormons, because the LDS Church long ago banned polygamy — revoking founder Joseph Smith's revelation that a man must have three wives to get into Heaven (the "Principle"). However, the term "Mormon" properly refers to anyone who takes Smith's Book of Mormon as holy writ. Thus there are several Mormon branches, of which the LDS Church is only the largest.

Update April 29: These articles are prompting an important discussion in the polyamory world. Longtime poly writer and activist Pepper Mint had this to say on the Loving More Polyactive list (reprinted with permission):

I think we need to get a discussion started on what sort of relationship we want to have between polyamory and the nascent traditional polygamy movement. I've blogged on this a bit (link at the bottom) but I'll repeat my arguments here.

One of the primary things polyamory has going for it is that it is egalitarian. Not only does it give women free access to whatever form of nonmonogamy they desire, but women were significantly involved in polyamory's early history (Morning Glory Ravenheart, Deborah Anapol, Janet Hardy, Dossie Easton), and at least in my circles, women seem to do just as well succeeding at polyamory, however you might want to measure success.

Based on the work I've done introducing polyamory to people, I am fairly certain that the current (surprisingly high) credibility of the polyamory movement is directly dependent on it being egalitarian. People are often quite suspicious until they realize that women are having multiple relationships as well, and this is not just another way to give men access to nonmonogamy. This shows up in our media relations as well: we seem to do very well when a woman with multiple lovers is
profiled, and negative articles tend to profile men with multiple women lovers.

On the other hand, traditional "polygamy" (really polygyny) is blatantly sexist. Sexism is built into its core rule that men can have multiple spouses but women cannot, so this is not a kind of sexism that is going away any time soon. Even worse, traditional polygamy is sexist in a way that modern culture finds repellent: women these days expect and demand to have the same standing in relationships as men. (The traditional polygamy movement realizes this problem, and has been foregrounding women for this reason, and feminist women when they can do it.)

So here's the danger. To the extent that polyamory is associated with traditional polygamy, it will hurt our movement. It will hurt our rising credibility in the media and in mainstream circles. It will prevent women from joining our community, and possibly men too. (Particularly queer women, who loathe any kind of system that privileges men.) It will piss off people already in the community.

For this reason, I am opposed to any kind of alliance between polyamory and traditional polygamy. I have zero interest in helping out the traditional polygamy movement. The informal information-sharing that has been happening so far has been fine (since our movements actually do impact one another, due to legal overlaps), but that's as far as it should go. I know that people generally support "strange bedfellows" political alliances, but this is one we cannot afford. In a very real way, polyamory is directly opposed to traditional polygamy.

Furthermore, I think that any polyamory activist who discussed traditional polygamy should start with a statement that points out the sexism of traditional polygamy. "Polyamory and traditional polygamy are very different because polyamory is nonmonogamy for both men and women, while traditional polygamy only allows men to have multiple spouses." So far, even when media sources have listed both in the same article, they have clearly distinguished between them. Let's keep it that way.

Here's my blog post of a month ago that addresses this question:


That post prompted vigorous pro-and-con discussion. How we decide to define ourselves to the world now will indeed affect what happens to the polyamory movement in the future, as awareness of it spreads among the general public.



Blogger Alan said...

Here are my own impassioned thoughts on what should and should not be called "polyamory" (cross-posted from the Loving More Polyactive discussion).


The purpose of a word is to communicate: to clarify, not to confuse. Ever since the word was coined in 1990/1992, "polyamory" has denoted a particular modern, Western, egalitarian, ethical, sex-positive, love-centric form of multipartnering.

We (especially we males!) have all had to deal with public MISconceptions that "polyamory" means being a cheater, or a sexist macho "playa," or a Mormon-like polygamist. The word was invented to *distinguish* us from these other forms of multipartnering

A case of awfulness resulting from an overly broad definition still gets talked about in Family Tree, a Boston-area poly social group that I'm in. A new guy came to the monthly discussion group in someone's home and said he'd rented a motel room down the road. He made his way around propositioning every woman there and dangling the motel keys. Every woman turned him down and quietly freaked. He finally stormed out saying "You're all phonies" and "You're all talk and no action", slammed the front door of the house and roared away in his car.

This is what happens when people get an overly broad definition of what "polyamory" means in actuality. The guy could have been spared time and expense, and Family Tree could have been spared an ugly scene, if "polyamory" had been more accurately defined for him -- by what it denotes in real life, instead of by its literal Greek/Latin roots.

The "polyamory movement" as it exists now is, I think, a remarkably good thing we've got going. Historically, it's pretty damn extraordinary. As word of it spreads (and this is happening whether we encourage it or not), there will be a growing influx of new people with, naturally, their own goals and agendas. We should be willing to protect what we think is good/ethical/valuable from being washed aside by the coming waves, or pretty soon we won't just be unable to explain ourselves clearly -- we won't even be able to find each other.

Other multipartnering subcultures already exist, based on other words of self-definition, and we can help direct people to them according to what people are looking for: swinging/lifestyling, polygamy, polyf*ckery (there's a huge tribe.net group by this name), play partyers, etc. There will surely be new subcultures in the future, built around new self-definition words.

Often we'll overlap and/or make common cause. Great! (For example, I like the poly-swinger term "swolly.") But let's also keep this wonderful thing we've got.

--Alan, the word person

(...who makes his living as an editor. Fixing text so that words are used precisely is something the world values enough to pay for my nice middle-class life.)

April 30, 2007 1:55 PM  

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