Saturday, June 21, 2008

John Witte of Emory gets polygamy right, and wrong.

There is an interview of John Witte Jr. in "The Baptist Standard | The Texas Baptist Newsjournal." John is "a scholar of marriage law and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory Law School in Atlanta." He get's it right, and wrong. Not unusual. He is asked if any of the legal issues surrounding the case are about polygamy and gets it right. The answer is no. He correctly observes that no State is willing to push the issue for fear of losing the battle on constitutional grounds, so they stand pat on polygamy itself and push the edges of polygamy where the lack of legal marriage sanction is likely to produce other secondary violations of law. We've discussed here how another "child" can violate countless girls and how an adult can marry an underage girl. You just can't do that polygynously.

Then he is asked WHY polygamy is illegal in the United States, and comes up with this answer;

'The answer used to be that it was prohibited by the Bible and by tradition.

Scripture as traditionally interpreted required that marriage be formed by a union of twonot three or fourinto one flesh. Because of those Christian foundations, marriage had a particular form that couldn’t be renegotiated. The common law absorbed those teachings, and they were perpetuated in American federal and early state law."

John correctly identifies the issue as interpretation. Namely that tradition has held it is only the union of two, into one being marriage. But he is right, it's interpretation. I humbly offer myself as a scholar of the Bible, having read it in excess of 30 times. I do not read it that way. John goes on;

"It’s harder to press that case today. Some of the arguments against polygamy are about equal protectionWhy should a man be able to have multiple wives but a woman not be able to have multiple husbands?—or the transmission of sexual diseases or the difficulty of administering marriage law when there are multiple spouses."

John quickly raises three issues in rapid succession. This is the usual pattern with weak arguments, present them in a landslide. The first is Equal Protection. In our current climate of equal rights the practice of Polygamy which has almost always been Polygyny in the United States and INDEED in most of the world, presents an egaliterean problem. The idea is if I can have 5 wives, why can a woman not have 6 husbands, or even that if I can have 5 wives, why can't they simply vote the polygyny out of existance and turn it into a "polyamory" and add husbands?

The next issue is of sexually transmitted diseases, which is specious. The FLDS were not found to have sexually transmitted diseases. Marriage is supposed to be a closed system, with no participants from outside the marriage. If no one starts out sick, no one will get sick. It's as simple as that. STD's result from promiscuity, and promiscuity like it or not is not synonymous with polygyny.

The last is marriage law itself. It has evolved he observes quite correctly, around the idea of heterosexual monogamy. It has quickly deteriorated in recent years into a sort of pair bonding definition but all law surrounding marriage is based on that idea. When you add 3 wives to the mix, how does the law decide? For that I have offered repeatedly that WE have the solution. Polygynists that is. Marriage CONTRACTS. Namely, within the confines of the law and perhaps with some modifications we treat marriage as a contractual agreement that people get into with one another. Why is it for instance that I cannot enter into a contract where absent any criminal activity on my part I can specify custody issues in advance? As a retrograde neanderthal polygynist I claim custody in advance of all my children. Why not? If any woman has the bad sense to marry me and join that arrangement with my other wives, who's business is it anyway?

Marriage contracts would also protect traditional marriage types as well. There are knuckle dragging monogamists out there who see things pretty much the same way I do, except for the part about more than one wife. Any woman that wants to marry them, can go ahead. Otherwise they'd have to offer a more egalitarean contract.

"But the argument that really sticks today is the argument for moral repugnancy, that it’s just plain wrong for parties to be engaged in a polygamist union."

And that is where our friends in the FLDS come in. It may be demonstrated that there is no moral perversions among them apart from their polygyny. If that eventually is proven, as they now have a good chance of doing, it will be the begining of the end f the repugnancy argument.

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Disciple said...

The author's assertion that polygyny is "just plain wrong" is so brainless it leaves me gasping for breath as it were. To declare that something is "just plain wrong" shows that there really is NO INTELLECTUALLY LEGITIMATE BASIS for that declaration.

Question: Why is polygyny wrong?

Answer: Because it's wrong! That's why!


Disciple said...

Mr. Witte also asserted the following:

"In the Judeo-Christian tradition, monogamy came with the giving of the law on Mount Sinai—613 commandments that comprised the Torah. The Torah has a whole series of laws making it clear that marriage is defined as the union of a man and a woman."

Uh, yes, marriage is defined as being between a man and a woman ... but it most definitely is NOT defined as a man with ONLY one wife. Where are these laws? I haven't found them.

What I have found are laws which stipulate that:

1) If a man take another wife, his first wife's allotment of food, clothing and sex will not be reduced.

2) If a man have two wives and he love one more than the other and the less-loved wife has born his first-born, that first-born's rights as the first-born are to be respected.

3) If a man lay with an unbetrothed woman, he shall marry her and not be able to divorce her. (Hint: There is no condition for him to be single.)

4) If a man die without a son, his brother take his widow as wife and raise up an heir of his brother. (Hint: There is no condition for him to be single.)

Etc., etc., etc..

Now if it were true that the Law of God (which is perfect and just and holy and a lamp unto our feet and pure and utterly righteous) ... now if it were true that this Law enjoined monogamy-only, how is it that David, for example, could be a polygynist and it be declared of him that "he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the days of his life - except in the case of Uriah the Hittite"?

Come on, Mr. Witte. Read your Bible - and please start with Matthew 15 and Mark 7 where we are warned against following the traditions of men instead of the Law of God.

Hugh McBryde said...

Aw, you noticed.