Friday, March 17, 2006

The Not So Lovely Big Love

The byline to the London Times article reads:

Polygamy is played for laughs on the small screen, but for many women the reality is bleak.
A sobering reality check to all the fun, glitz, glamour, and giddiness leading up to HBO's Big Love premiere. The Times article explores some of the realities behind some of the communal polygamists as opposed to the Hollywood version--and those realities are stark. The Times points out that Big Love is based on a breakaway group from the LDS Church, known as the Apostolic United Brethren:

Loosely based on a brand of polygamy practised by the Apostolic United Brethren, a breakaway Mormon group that has its headquarters half an hour’s drive south of Salt Lake City in Bluffdale, Big Love should prove “bizarre enough to get an audience”, says one former member of the group.

But it masks a far bleaker reality endured by many women trapped in fundamentalist sects across a swath of North America from British Columbia to Arizona.

Another hour’s drive into the mountains from Bluffdale, Pauline Strong and her daughter, Rachael, live as outcasts from their former congregation, the True and Living Church of Jesus Christ of Saints of the Last Days (TLC), in Manti, a farming town founded by Mormon pioneers in the late 19th century.

Until last year, Pauline, 60, and Rachael, 21, were both married to Jim Harmston, a former property developer and lobbyist to the Reagan Administration, and founder of the TLC.

Rachael was 11 when Pauline left her first husband to become Mr Harmston’s third wife. Later, the TLC’s self-styled prophet told Rachael he had known he would marry her from the first day he saw her.

She was 17 and already unhappily married to a much younger member of the church when Mr Harmston convened a meeting of his wives and told them that Rachael needed to be married to him to receive “ordinances” from Christ.

In 2004, she was, bringing Harmston’s number of wives to 21. Like all his marriages except his first, this was not legally binding, protecting him from prosecution for bigamy, which remains a felony throughout the US. But it made Rachael his.

“He said I had to marry him right away because the end was coming and he had to set the house in order,” Rachael says. “And then I had to sleep with him right away.” She moved in with Angie, at 16, Harmston’s youngest wife.

“He made schedules; he gave us our calendars and scheduled our nights. And he’d just come over on those nights, sleep with us and get up really early in the morning before anyone was up.

“Growing up (in Manti) he made me call him Dad. He played my stepfather, he did all the things a stepfather does. To go from that to having to sleep with him was absolutely the most horrifying thing anyone could do.
This is not your father's Big Love series by any stretch. I'm glad to see at least one article focusing more on the realities of polygamous life than Hollywood's creations. Watching only HBO's version of polygamy on TV limits my understanding of the polygamous live of thousands all over the southwest, and to an extent in Mexico and Canada. Yes, I know there are the compound scenes in Big Love, which are indeed interesting; but, the series clearly focuses on the more "normal" and "acceptable" versions of polygamy as found in the Hendrickson families.

The troubling part, at least for me, about Big Love, and polygamy's acceptance is the tie in with gay marriage, its legalization, and subsequent deconstruction of traditional marriage, and the fundamental unit of society: The family. The relationship is overt, and has been discussed in the national press, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. (I'm sure I've probably missed others--feel free to post them in comments if you wish.) Here's a couple of more I just located, Charles Krauthammer:

WASHINGTON -- And now, polygamy.

With the sweetly titled HBO series ``Big Love,'' polygamy comes out of the closet. Under the headline ``Polygamists, Unite!'' Newsweek informs us of ``polygamy activists emerging in the wake of the gay-marriage movement.'' Says one evangelical Christian big lover: ``Polygamy rights is the next civil-rights battle.''

Polygamy used to be stereotyped as the province of secretive Mormons, primitive Africans and profligate Arabs. With ``Big Love" it moves to suburbia as a mere alternative lifestyle.

As Newsweek notes, these stirrings for the mainstreaming of polygamy (or, more accurately, polyamory) have their roots in the increasing legitimization of gay marriage. In an essay 10 years ago, I pointed out that it is utterly logical for polygamy rights to follow gay rights. After all, if traditional marriage is defined as the union of (1) two people of (2) opposite gender, and if, as gay marriage advocates insist, the gender requirement is nothing but prejudice, exclusion and an arbitrary denial of one's autonomous choices in love, then the first requirement -- the number restriction (two and only two) -- is a similarly arbitrary, discriminatory and indefensible denial of individual choice.
For a couple of different takes see Ann Althouse, and Eugene Volokh. See also Volokh's law review article here.

It has also been discussed overtly in the bloggernacle, here, here, and here. (If there are others, please let me know so I can add and acknowledge). Many may not share the belief of a relationship between gay marriage, polygamy, and the deconstruction of traditional marriage and family; however, I think it unmistakable. And, it's not so much I am opposed to polygamy per se. I'm opposed to its use by so called "civil rights" activists to deconstruct that which recorded history for thousands and thousands of years have proven to be successful; however, in a sense I feel that polygamy is much more a civil rights issue than is same sex marriage.

That said, I still fall back on the Proclamation as the guide to which we need to adhere in traversing these stormy waters. I think the years to come (and not too many of them) will vindicate the argument that traditional marriage, and the basic family unit is in fact under serious and relentless attack from very real forces of evil. Quite frankly--I'm not all that optimistic.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It makes one think that Hollywood's portrayal of other "alternative lifestyles" might also be far removed from the more common every-day reality of the vast majority of people in those lifestyles.

Monday, March 20, 2006 7:01:00 PM  
Blogger Guy Murray said...

I have no doubt that is in fact the truth. There is very little about Hollywood that is "real." I recall, several years ago, my family and I were on the old game show "family feud." I was struck about how strictly choreographed, and contrived every step of the program was, from the detailed pre show interviews, to the instructions of how to act, react, stand, even kiss the program host, and everything down to the last detail.

As I watch more and more of the Big Love series, I am struck about how "normal" the shows producers are trying to portray the Big Love family. How they are striving to reach that "social acceptance" of everyday society.

Monday, March 20, 2006 7:26:00 PM  

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