Some people have written in expressing concern about this week's Come Follow Me lesson in which we address our beliefs about polygamy. In my work with Latter-day Saint women, it is clear how many women privately and quietly struggle over this topic. Our collective understanding that God ordained polygamy historically and, on a more personal level, believing that polygamy might be a part of our future, points to a troubling view of God, and more specifically how God views women relative to men. This is the meaning that many women have suffered under.
Many clients of mine have feared that if they were to die ahead of their husbands, he could become sealed to a second wife. She would then involuntarily have to share her husband in the next life. Others have husbands who believe plural marriage will indeed be a part of heaven and an acknowledgment of spiritual stalwartness. Anticipating this kind of heaven not only creates insecurity within a committed monogamous marriage, it fundamentally makes the marriage unequal. What does it mean if a man can open up the marriage to another woman? He has the power to undermine her standing. What does it mean that a man can have two wives in the next life but a woman cannot have two husbands, even if she married twice on earth? If we believe God could ask and support this, how does God view women? If we could be asked to give up our primary place in a partnership to instead be one of several wives with our eternal partner, does it not mean that one woman is not enough for one man?
The problem with polygamy is that it is, of course, fundamentally unequal. You can’t create an intimate marriage if in the face of conflict or difference, the man can go to another woman. The system is inherently imbalanced. This is especially true if a woman has chosen plural marriage because she believes a male God is commanding her to do it, even at the expense of her own happiness and integrity.
We have two competing models of marriage in our faith--one is of intimacy and partnership—two beings equally yoked working together to love and support each other---and the other is of marriage as hierarchy and roles. A role-based marriage is one where men and women participate in distinct roles that build up the kingdom. The woman is dependent upon the man for spiritual guidance and financial support. The man is a leader in his home, in his marriage, and in the church. She is dependent and rears children and supports the man towards this end. Of course, even in intimate partnerships, individuals specialize and take on different tasks. However, an intimate marriage is created on equal ground without hierarchy or dependency. It is based on the ability to truly choose.
If you are looking to create intimacy and intimate friendship, then you must be on equal footing. There is no other way. You cannot choose someone if you depend upon them. It cannot be a choice if you cannot choose otherwise. We must not continue to justify inequality between masculine and feminine or male and female. There is no way to achieve Zion--that is truly peaceful association--without genuine equality, choice, and collaboration.
It is natural to want to defend our existing beliefs, attempting through justification of the principle to keep our spiritual anchors in place. But we must be careful that the anchors we hold onto are in fact the most valuable and help us see God, ourselves, and each other truthfully. If the tenets or principles we claim work against us, work against our happiness and our ability to create an intimate partnership, we must have the courage to reject them. Even if one can argue that polygamy had a place in our history, it cannot have a place in our future if intimate marriages and honest human development are our goal. I believe these are the central goals in a meaningful faith--and require the beliefs and ideals that pressure us to grow into people more capable of love. In my view, that means the most ideal marriage will always be equal, choice-based, and monogamous.