Polygamy in America The Browns vs. Cults

    Current Trends

It began with the filming of TLC’s hit show Sister Wives giving viewers an in depth look at modern day polygamy, the life, times, struggles, heartaches and harmony of a plural marriage family; ultimately exposing them to the authorities and leading to their flight from Utah to Las Vegas. The Browns eventually filed a lawsuit alleging a violation to their privacy rights, also believing their religious freedom to have been attacked. Shortly before Christmas they won when a Utah court struck down part of the state’s long standing anti-polygamy law to headline making reaction. Despite going nowhere near legalizing multiple marriages, despite in no way sanctioning other illegal actions by more prominent polygamist factions, advocates, analysts and family values organizations alike are still alarmed about what this means for everything from traditional marriage to equality for women. Yet under the remaining sections of the law only cohabitation of polygamist families is legal and even that is provided they do not seek multiple marriage licenses; polygamy’s major facets are still illegal in all of Utah along with everywhere else in the United States. Truthfully many have forgotten that while yes, we have religious, Christian roots, polygamy and other cultural outliers have always existed; Mormons, polygamists have likewise positively and productively contributed to society. Most notably here, Brigham Young founder of the famous Brigham Young University. Yes, we have religious, Christian roots, still we live in a legal system that consists of a democratic republic vs. an exclusive theocracy where every law has a religious basis, where things are permitted or prohibited solely on moral, religious doctrine.  Translation you need a tangible reason to deem something illegal not make something legal. That may eventually result in removing the prohibition on polygamy, but that is a stark difference from allowing the cult behaviors demonstrated by Warren Jeffs and others. The bigger issue seems to be why it might make sense to institute a ruling like this, why perhaps it didn’t go far enough, why and where the debate has gained the wrong focus.

 http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/14/justice/utah-polygamy-law/

To begin with polygamist families are almost never targeted on the lone fact they actively advocate plural marriage, even less so in they have multiple wives, possess multiple marriage licenses; they are instead subject to police intervention when it is discovered there have been subsequent major laws broken, usually involving jeopardizing  the welfare of children. This is what garnered Warren Jeffs a lengthy prison sentence, false imprisonment not allowing members to leave, forced marriages, marriages of underage girls to middle aged men, plying children with wine, drugs in order to engage in child sex abuse, encouragement, condoning of pedophilia brought to light when young girls, and sometimes their mothers, escaped, women reached out to avoid their young daughters being married off to fully grown, old men, young girls sought escape to circumvent such a fate. On the other side, pockets of predominately Mormon, practicing polygamists exist throughout the country sans incident.  Kody Brown found himself nearly staring down the law when he opened his situation up to national television; admittedly not the smartest thing to do knowing how you live your life is considered criminal under the current legal code. While Kody Brown is the typical male head, leader of the family and key in the decision making about issues concerning his wives, their collective children, there is no worship of Mr. Brown, males in his similar position as there has been testified to with Mr. Jeffs. He holds no other title than dad, husband as opposed to prophet, seer, revelator “president of the priesthood,” all titles taken on by the former at some point in his running the FLDS church.  Not only do they, the Browns, not live in a vast compound, practically running their own city, not own huge swaths of land in order to build temples and related facilities to advance their brand of the Mormon faith, they are not constantly, continuously trying to co-opt, recruit people into their faith, congregation or their family for the purpose of increasing their numbers. Countering one survivor of polygamy, studier of the phenomenon perpetuated by Warren Jeffs and those who emulate his practices, neither is this a harem consisting of wives for the sake of having wives, or according to Jeffs FLDS doctrine, to get closer to heaven, it is in no way a hub/den for prostitution, there are no underage marriages in the family, nor were any of the sister wives underage when they married Kody. Likewise there is no false imprisonment, zero threats of physical violence, eternal damnation if followers decide to leave the faith or the marriage, attempted to obtain a divorce. Relatedly there are no strange rituals recorded going on in this home, letting children drink wine, calling it Jesus juice, related behaviors documented in any number of religious fanaticism communities. No sex abuse, physical abuse or neglect charges were ever alleged against Brown; police investigation was either done to ensure children’s safety based on television appearance or because they appeared on said show flagrantly breaking the law. By its very existence the lawsuit as well as the ruling are trying to draw clear distinctions between people, family structures represented by the Browns and the isolationist, separatist cult entities we automatically associate with both Mormonism and polygamy; differentiating between families who also happen to practice polygamy and radical religious organizations establishing their version of a church, that brainwash followers then commit other barbaric activities so commonly seen in the news.

Contrastingly here is clearly a singular family not a cult comprised of many, intermingled, potentially inbred families; the wives who were brought in to the singular marriage, to Kody, over the years were brought in because they contributed something to the collective relationship, and not just an extra pair of hands, another woman to bear Brown’s children. There appears to have been both a discussion and a consensus when it came to bringing another person into their family dynamic, and there is an undeniable cohesiveness to the Brown’s way of life. Further all the women say they wanted this type of lifestyle, this type of marriage for the support, camaraderie, the bond also existing between women, not just husband and wife. They are shockingly normal tackling everyday issues in most modern American families; all the k-12 aged children attend public school, not a Mormon run institution in Nevada or a compound school similar to the Jeffs establishment in Texas. Brown’s children are involved in school activities, are not only allowed to, but encouraged, to have non-Mormon friends, watch T.V., play video games and there is at least one laptop and one i-pad in the house. All family members dress in a modern style; women aren’t barred, discouraged from wearing pants or cutting their hair. Again completely opposite FLDS sects adopting a dress code akin to the Amish, looking like they just stepped off the set of the 80’s T.V. series Little House on the Prairie; comments, conversations on friends and dress mimic any parent, especially parents of teenagers. Worry stems from a desire to know who their friends are, who is influencing them, hoping they have instilled their values well; concerns on fashion trends, popular styles, teen trends centered around modesty in terms of what is appropriate for a teenage girl, alert for safety issues, perceptions given off by some clothing, valid problems regardless of religion, regardless of what shape your family takes. Whether it’s just a mom, just a dad, a mom and dad, two dads, two moms, being raised by grandparents, uncles, even older siblings in some cases or, in a polygamist environment. There are no child brides, there are no young girls married period, in the family, and certainly not to 40-70 year old men; thus none of the Brown males are being sent away from home to accommodate the aforementioned arrangement, creating so called lost boys roaming the Southwest. Instead the oldest son left home matriculating, spreading his wings as an adult by attending college; he is subsequently not being pressured to find a wife, to get married, to start a family, begin having children performed as a duty to god or to the church. He has stated numerous times he is unsure if he will embrace a plural marriage relationship; still no one has excommunicated him. 

http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/12/17/cnns-jake-tapper-suggests-rick-santorum-rightly-blamed-gay-sex-for-polygamy/     

There is no subjugation of women; though this was said by critics in reference to the consequences of potentially legalizing polygamy and the resulting immigration from Muslim countries that likewise practice plural marriage; one, persons from those countries described will not come here because they are the same ones who call us the great satan. 2, even if they came here, should they engage in domestic violence, hitting their wife, locking her up for going out without her head covered, being in public without the company of a male relative, dressing too western, attempted an honor killing, arranged an underage marriage, permitted a child to be part of an underage marriage; they would go to jail, period. Finally 3, the above scenario is the antithesis of the Brown family unit; they conform themselves to their husband’s wishes no more than the average wife does when it is one man and one woman. They discuss things, by mutual agreement they ask permission before doing specific things, usually spending large amounts of money, they alert Kody to needs and developments, functioning like an average married couple only there are 4 wives. Women come and go as they please, make many decisions independently, drive cars, use cellphones, pay their bills, hold jobs. In fact watchers of the show got to see one wife taking her real-estate exam to become a licensed realtor; two more wives began their own business My Sisterwife’s Closet selling jewelry and other merchandise to the public based on the show. Lack of interest in the project from other family members centered on revenue generation, could it support them, was it worth the time and effort needed, it just not being the other women’s forte to sell jewelry; the wife ultimately not gaining a job as a realtor was about hours she would be mandated to work and her responsibility to her children. What parent doesn’t go through that; never once was there a moral objection or reason for those who wanted to try it not to, prohibition of a wife having a job or career. The Brown young women also attend school learning skills, knowledge besides domestic duties, arguably exclusively what they would learn at a Jeffs compound, on property school; two already knowing what they want do with their life, pursue as a career, something that is not shunned in the Brown household. The oldest Brown budding woman wants to be a doctor and is attending college; another got accepted to a specialty high school for fashion design, her parent’s agreement to her attendance only predicated on typical parameters of good behavior, demonstrating a capability to handle the responsibility. One teen girl already knows she will not participate in the plural marriage portion of her faith because she doesn’t want to share her husband, when she finds the right man for her. Sure her parents are saddened it, hope she changes her mind; however, they have no intentions to disown her for her choice. 

http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/women-endure-surprising-bias-workplace-21186867

Women’s equality will stagnate or go backwards based on far more than a ruling about polygamy, far more than legalization of multiple marriages to the same husband when we currently have employers who remain unwilling to provide maternity leave, much less paternity leave for a dad wishing to stay home with the new addition, and who are under no legal compunction to provide either one. Women will continue to be under threat when the opponents to the redefining of marriage, i.e. lifting the ban on polygamy, are simultaneously opposed to women making decisions about their own bodies even if having an abortion prevents their own death, oppose women having access to contraception in order to treat her medical condition rather than solely preventing pregnancy. Women’s rights will stay exactly where they are unless and until we change our ingrained, antiquated gender stereotypes; where men are seen exhibiting positive character traits but a woman exhibiting the identical behavior, identically dressed, who is identically credentialed, possessing the same style résumé will be viewed negatively, even by fellow women in the workplace, women bosses, on top of not getting the job. Facts backed up by a recent hair care ad gone viral and recreated via a Yale University hiring experiment; boss vs. bossy, persuasive vs. pushy, a man is neat a woman vain, a man is considered dedicated a woman selfish, confident, self-assured, exuding competence vs. aggressive, arrogant, overselling. This is what women are up against when competing for management positions, trying to access career mobility; conditions that aren’t going to change considering successful women repeatedly betray the sisterhood of women, the sisterhood of the feminist movement writing books saying the only way you can get into said positions, achieve is to do it the way men do. Think Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In; reinforcing the problem, female CEO’s like Marissa Mayer taking away tools allowing women to contribute their company, the lager workforce to the best of their ability banning telecommuting at Yahoo. Leading a trend and a national debate about the merits of adjacent policies regarding working at home, flex time. Let us not leave out the conservative/ religious politician from this either; beyondthe push back to birth control, abortion, Todd Akin’s appalling, ill-educated comments on rape, there is Mike Huckabee’s bashing of actress Natalie Portman for being a single, unwed parent, there is Rick Santorum who wants to take the tax deductions for families back to 1920’s, good old hockey mom Sara Palin side by side  Michele Bachmann projecting to young women the best thing they can be, become is married, barefoot and pregnant. Ideals that are not originated in polygamy, Mormonism, cult factions of same, but Christianity, the moral standard they want to hold to concurrently sounding an alarm on women’s rights? An economic war on women is playing out right now and will continue to do so while single parents, predominately women, are forced to turn down promotions in order to work stable, consistent hours, provide for themselves financially and adequately take care of their children; hints the fight for 15 protests demanding a higher minimum wage. It’s not about the cigarette in her hand, it’s not about the brand name Oreo’s her child was eating in the video below, nor is it the Medicaid she should be able to get for her children, the school breakfast/lunch program they should qualify for not mentioned by CBS Sunday Morning; the larger picture is about their findings, in 1970 the standard fast food worker was a teenager, woman who did not have to, but wanted to, work and America’s new normal encompassing your average fast food worker today is a working adult, 25 plus, many of whom have children yet are trying to survive on minimum wage. 

 http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/battle-for-a-living-wage/ 

Neither is it the notion we shouldn’t be raising the minimum wage she should increase her skills if she wants economic mobility; it is about no matter how much, or what, education you have economic mobility is less possible for everyone, especially women like her. It is that most of the high paying, benefits available jobs are in things young people haven’t heard of, forget a worker her age; even high demand jobs, certification, licensure programs, degrees come with the issue of there is no place for them to get the practical experience completing the process, manifesting into getting that better job. Conveniently overlooked, the reason we have so many people, independent of gender, employed in fast food, minimum wage, convenience store type jobs is because they are easy to get, the formula for obtaining them is well known. You don’t need post-secondary education; you don’t need a network of associates, former coworkers, business connections to be made aware of the job opening, to be deemed a viable candidate. You don’t need to know a minimum of 2 dozen computer programs, 3 languages, basics in marketing, business school, have a current driver’s license, access to a vehicle, ability to lift between 10-50 pounds, sales skills to show apartments, mechanical inclination to assemble items, set up displays, operate a fork lift as advertised in other low wage, 8-10 dollar an hour, glorified paper pushing employment bizarrely combined with specialty talent, what amounts to former job experience. You do need the ability to assemble sandwich contents quickly, manage a drink station, exhibit rudimentary customer service, most importantly, show up for work every day. Still judgment of this woman, this sector of women reigns, instead of understanding  all factors; though it is entirely possible she bummed the cigarette and doesn’t buy them, she doesn’t have a grocery store within walking distance of her neighborhood only a convenience store housing brand names, admittedly doesn’t own a car. She stated her job doesn’t carry benefits; maybe she was speaking only of herself, since as an adult you have to be profoundly sick, classified disabled to be eligible for Medicaid. Equally possible, she makes too much money for her or her children to qualify; filming was done in the summer when children are not in school and therefore cannot take advantage of school meal programs. Somewhat relevant are comments enquiring about the children’s father, but ring overly critical seeing that she has 2 kids no more, gets childcare help not welfare, is divorced instead of never married, indicating she tried to create a family, wasn’t just “sleeping around.” They doubtless divorced for good reason, he could be incarcerated, abusive or fail to pay child support simply because he cannot obtain a job, like her works fast food although sans seniority, then must keep a roof over his own head, no money left over. Commenters on CBS’ story failed to elaborate where she is supposed to get money for additional education, how she is supposed to work full time, care for her children, go to school all at once, not to mention what is she supposed to do in the meantime. The same people who either don’t watch the news or haven’t been paying attention to know, retail, which pays on par with fast food, is where the bulk of the job growth has been seen since the 2008 financial crisis and resulting recession.               

At the same time, addressing the moral elephant in the room, for those who follow persons such as representative Rick Santorum, believing, like striking down anti-sodomy laws opened the door to polygamy, polygamy will open the door to legal challenges favoring incest, bestiality, pedophilia; keep in mind our legal code is woven under more than moral arguments steeped in religious definitions. There are medical, scientific reasons behind disallowing incest and pedophilia both, bestiality likewise included therein. Those biologically designated first degree relatives, bothers sisters, fathers daughters, first cousins should not have sexual relations with each other because the potential children could have scores of genetic anomalies, birth defects and diseases; aside from that scientific standing, there are the psychological effects visited on children who are victims of incest, satisfying the notable harm requirement for making it against the law. Pedophilia presents much the same danger; though not leading to genetic diseases probable with incest, both can, and often do, lead to bodily harm. Pain, torment and revulsion are feelings commonly associated with these types of sexual abuse, but they can also result in permanent damage, maiming, mutilation of genitalia, scars to anal area, loss of bowel control, function, inability of young girls to have children later in life. Depending on the extent of abuse suffered chronic urinary tract infections and other medical problems. Were the consent laws not structured as they are, meaning minors cannot consent to, sign legal contracts, cannot work legally below a certain age, are not eligible to vote, cannot consent to sexual acts even among same age minors, there would be the studied psychological fact children are mentally, emotionally unable to handle the impact of sexual intercourse; noted too, the skewed level of development between child and adult, seen clearly as the former taking advantage of the latter. Thus appropriately rendering all such acts illegal. Bestiality is prohibited because it can spread animal disease not normally found in human populations, transmit human diseases not normally found in animal populations; sex with animals is also logically categorized as traumatizing, hurtful and abusive to the animal, on top of being solely for the gratification, pleasure of a higher order human, who can find aforementioned pleasure elsewhere not involving lower order, innocent animals. Yes Mr. Santorum you have the “right” to adultery; meaning not that it’s the most moral thing to do, just that no one is going to arrest you for it, repugnant though you may find both concepts. Why this is so shocking is unknown since there are many things legally acceptable, legally neutral and morally not. Bigamy unlike polygamy and the less common polyandry, is predicated on deceit, living double sometimes triple lives, filing for multiple marriage licenses; wives don’t know about each other, there is no communal relationship, all translating to fraud already banned under legal code indicating strong it will stay that way.      

Delving into the effect the Mormon, plural marriage lifestyle has on children, remove all cult, ritualistic, criminal parts present in Warren Jeff’s like sects, nowhere within the Brown family, and you have a group of well adjusted, happy, capable of functioning, contributing to society, kids. These children, completely opposite their FLDS counterparts, will not come into adulthood ignorant of how to drive a car, obtain a license, operate a T.V., computer, get a job, they are capable of forming their own opinions, making decisions without church elders or husbands virtually directing traffic for them, lost and overwhelmed by the world.  They are less apt to get tangled up in drugs, drinking, premarital, pernicious sex, teen pregnancy, the plethora of risky behaviors tied to their age group owing less to their religion and more to a strong family unit; the plural marriage aspect of their faith does not garner any more scrutiny, ostracism than your Muslim or Sikh child called a terrorist at school, though they were born here and want nothing to do with suicide bombers, al-Qaida, them, their parents immigrated here to rid themselves of  that toxic environment. Continuing on based on the strictly moral tenets the Brown household is no more detrimental than numerous situations children are born into and left to suffer, poverty, domestic abuse, overused corporal punishment, yelling, screaming, men or women in and out, because absent clear signs of neglect, abuse, in this case a taboo religious element, people have a right to raise their children as they see fit. To say nothing of the ones in abusive situations never caught by social services, borderline neglectful homes undetected, unreported sexual abuse, physical abuse. True the Brown parents did open their lives up to public view, judgment causing their relocation, subsequent turmoil; however, equally responsible for the upheaval is society and police reaction, because we fail to comprehend the difference between participation in polygamy and participation in a cult. Likewise had the police investigation continued and the children been removed, split up, placed in foster care, even temporarily, it would engender hated for government, morality and  the Christian moral standard trying to be imposed. This is by no stretch of the imagination a moral defense of polygamy; it is recognizing  that, at its core you have a family who  just wants to practice their religion, raise their children and isn’t freedom of  religion part of what America was founded on?    

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About Natasha Sapp

Proclaiming an edgy voice of reason to America,while bringing back the common sense to social issues.

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