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.)
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.