In this Sunday’s episode of Sister Wives, the Browns attended a discussion panel at the Anthropology Department of the University of Las Vegas Nevada. The Browns, public polygamists, faced off against anti-polygamist speakers, which included Christine Brown’s estranged aunt; a young man who escaped from the Warren Jeffs-led FLDS polygamist sect; a young woman who left her arranged marriage and polygamous sect three years ago; and a woman who had been tricked into polygamy by a love interest.
The dynamics were awkward, to put it mildly.
The Browns have made it clear from day one that they are not looking to “recruit” people to plural marriage, that it is not for everyone, and that they just want the freedom to live their lives as they see fit. The anti-polygamy group, however, were much more intense in their approach, making it clear they do not feel polygamy should exist at all. They do not believe there are happy, functional plural families, and they feel the situation is nothing but abuse and heartbreak. While the Browns made a point to understand where the opposing side was coming from, the anti-polygamist panel members would not (or could not) see things from the Brown’s perspective.
And here is where my problem with this episode comes in.
While I wholeheartedly understand where the anti-polygamy people are coming from, I do not feel that it is their place to force their beliefs on others. Just because they had a negative experience in their plural families, they don’t have the right to project that onto others, just as polygamists do not have the right to force plural marriage on others. Each side is entitled to their beliefs, and they are also entitled to live their lives as they see fit.
I am not a polygamist; it is not part of my belief system, nor is it something I could reasonably handle (without a jealous-rage induced emotional breakdown, at least). There are so many facets that go into plural marriage, and it is something all parties must be willing and able to work at selflessly. Clearly, polygamy is a challenging lifestyle to lead, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but for those who choose it willingly, leave them in peace. I wholeheartedly support the notion of ‘live and let live’.
No religion, lifestyle, or family type are inherently perfect. Happiness and heartache, love and neglect exist in all types of families (a point the Browns tried in vain to discuss). You cannot accurately declare one belief system, one family dynamic, or one specific lifestyle as the epitome of a single experience. However, the anti-polygamist panel could only attach abuse and misery to the practice of polygamy, “painting” the entire belief system with a “broad brush” of judgment- as the metaphor was used- because they had had such awful personal experiences.
Religious beliefs are highly personal, family cultures and lifestyles are unique, and everyone’s experience is different. Just because you don’t subscribe to a belief, that does not mean you must therefore seek its demise. As long as someone is safe, happy, protected, and has freedom of choice, no one else should get to dictate how that individual lives, and that is the only broad brush that should be painting anyone’s lives. This is a country founded on religious freedom, with a constitution protecting privacy and the “pursuit of happiness”. Whether your happiness is one spouse, multiple spouses, or no spouse at all, that is your freedom to exercise.