Friday, February 24, 2006

Do you have HBO?

Do you remember that kid in second grade who went around asking everyone in the class if they had HBO? Remember how if you said yes (which I didn’t cause we didn’t), he’d say: “You have Human Body Odor!” and laugh like he’d just invented the whoopie cushion? Yeah, me too.

I still think of that malodorous acronym every time people talk about “having” HBO. This is relevant because I suddenly find myself wanting to have HBO—the programming, not the stench—because of this new show.

Predictably, lots of Mormons are upset about it.

I don’t think they should be.

Speaking as a Mormon, I think we collectively try to distance ourselves from our polygamous past. We perpetrate myths about why the early saints practiced plural marriage ("to care for the widows"), or minimize the extent of the practice ("only 10 percent"). But our caginess just makes the topic seem more mysterious and unsavory than it needs to be. If we believe that prophets led the church then as they do now, why are we so uncomfortable saying: “They were following the commandments as they understood them.” Why do we say instead, “We don’t do that anymore.” What should be a testament of our ancestors' faith in the face of opposition has become an embarassment.

Let me be clear: I’m glad I have just one husband, and I’m pretty sure Coach is glad to have just one wife. If we were to get a call from our bishop suggesting changes to that arrangement, I’d have a thing or two to say about it. I want no part in plural marriage. But I do think people who do should be able to. Plural marriage should have been legal in 1870, and it should be legal today. What right does the state have to restrict individuals from practicing their religion?

I'm also compelled by an argument I've heard from practicing polygamists. If society takes no legal stance against a man fathering children with several female partners, why should it object to that same arrangement undergirded by a legal commitment to love and care for all of the wives and children involved?

Opponents of polygamy (by my count, that’s pretty much everyone but me and the polygamists) talk about the abuses and deceptions that often accompany modern polygamy, but I maintain those are not an inherent part of the system, and should be treated separately. Spousal and child abuse are illegal and immoral; polygamy doesn’t have to be illegal to prosecute perpetrators of such acts. Welfare fraud falls into the same category.

It's not that I’m against changing a law or two. I think polygamy should only be practiced by consenting adults. Where necessary, legislative changes (such as raising the legal age for marriage with parental consent, requiring judicial approval before young teens are allowed to marry, etc.) should be made to ensure that young women are not coerced into marriage. (Utah has made some such changes, somewhat recently, I believe.)

Political stuff aside, my bottom line is this: polygamists are real human beings who choose this lifestyle because they believe it is what their God has commanded them to do. It doesn't matter whether I believe in it or not. What matters is that all Americans should be allowed to worship according to the dictates of their own concience, how, when, and what they may.

So to HBO I say: Bravo! (the exclamation, not the network). I think it's about time we (Mormons, Americans, whatever) looked at modern polygamists as real people with convictions, not backward nymphomaniacs waiting for the apocolypse.

And also, let me know if you have HBO.


Coach said...

I would like to clarify, since you claim to be "pretty sure" that I do not want multiple wives, that after careful consideration I have decided to break off my 47 other engagements. Turns out your assumption, though a bit presumptuous, was on target.

I really like this post. It invites me to consider the difference between what I think I should think with what makes sense. And lest anyone reading this get upset, please keep a light heart when you read around here. I have a feeling the two way road of asking for tolerance for ourselves and tolerating others who differ from us will be a common theme on this blog in the future as it has been in our household conversations for some time.

John said...

Very thought provoking... I never looked at it that way before. It does make a lot of sense, especially if men are allowed to marry men why can't a man marry 2 women? I think we need to do a better job of accepting those around us for who they are and not for what they do.

Peanut said...

Our weekend "camping" trip had us staying in a hotel that did have HBO. I saw this show advertised and wished that I did have HBO at home so I could watch it. Also--I like this post.

B said...

I wish I had HBO so I could watch the show!
Your post was very thought provoking. I remember when you were working on your big paper about women in polygamy. And I have to admit that I haven't done much thinking about the practice since then, except to note when there was a (another) news story about a polygamist going to court, for one offense or another. But it is interesting to note that All stories/mention of polygamy are negative here in the "Beehive state". I guess that's not too unexpeced, but certainly prejudicial if you're not really hearing ANYthing positive. (As a matter of fact, the most recent story they did on TV was about the birth defects that seem to be a growing problem in the polygamist communities of Hilldale, UT/Colorado City, AZ...pretty sad.)
Sorry this ended up being so long, but thank you for the reminder to be tolerant.

Tarimisu said...

I beg tolerance for myself - it seems I'm the only non-Mormon here! And it seems my comment is not so much about polygamy as it is about tolerance itself! The whole tv show thing got me thinking about a similar incident at our church / in our community about a month or so ago. A show called The Book of Daniel aired, and let me tell you, all the dyed-in-the-wool Baptists were up in arms, what are you talkin' about! I should really have done / should do more research about the show, but I think it was something about an Episcopalian preist and his family, which included some drug-dealing and homosexuality. I was getting e-mails left and right from people saying to write the broadcasting company and demand it be taken off the air. The show was discussed in my Sunday school class, and I said something like, "We can see things that are just as offensive on Desperate Housewives, can't we?" But we hadn't boycotted that show! But someone said something like, "But there's not a negative portrayal of Jesus on that show," or some such comment. And I'm thinking, "Who cares - if it offends me, I'll just turn the darn thing off!" I guess I'm just too simple-minded for my own good. Should I be a Christian activist? I think God has been doing a great job of defending himself for many, many years without my help! The Book of Daniel actually was pulled from the network. I don't know - I think it was on during bathtime/diaper changing time/bedtime snack time . . . who knows. Somehow I missed the opportunity to see if I really hated it or was offended by it or not. Well, this is just a silly little rant. I've probably totally veered off the path that Boss wanted to stay on. I say let's just all be polygamists who watch offensive tv shows if we want to. Or not and don't. But for crying out loud, let me figure it out for my own darn self. Oh, and I do not have HBO.

Boss said...

No worries about being the only non-Mormon around here, Amy! I'm pretty sure at this point you're also the only visitor who's not related to me. (That is to say 1) our readership is small and 2) however few their numbers, I can vouch for them being nice folks.)

Anyway, I saw previews for the Book of Daniel, and was curious about how well it'd do. It never made it onto my TV schedule, though (packed as it is), so I never saw what the to do was about. It often seems a little controversy helps the ratings, but apparently that wasn't the case here. It will be interesting to see if Big Love suffers the same fate.

Boss said...

B.: It's interesting to hear about the coverage of polygamists in the news. We don't get much of that here in the Hawkeye state. I guess it's not terribly surprising that the incidence of birth defects is higher in the isolated (and shrinking!) communities polygamists usually live in. They probably don't have great access to prenatal care, either. I do think legalizing plural marriage would ameliorate some of those kinds of social problems. But I'm just speculating.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post!

I'm Shana's sister, by the way, and came her via Catherine's blog.

I definitely agree with your message of tolerance, whether that be in relation to polygamy or other life choices. Unfortunately, that kind of forward thinking doesn't sit well with a large percentage of the population. We're a quick-to-judge/slow-to-change kinda country.

Peanut said...

Did you notice that the last name of the family in Big Love is Henrickson?

Boss said...

I did notice that! It amused me a little bit.