Polygamy Comes Out in the Open

It’s time to put out the lights and head for the bed. Hubby moves to the bottom of the stairs where he bestows a goodnight kiss on one of his wives. She dutifully makes her way to her own bedroom to sleep alone in the knowledge that this is not her night.
That kiss is the signal that says tonight I sleep with wife number two.
Fiction? Far from it. The scene is part of a documentary recently screened on British TV. The programme was made with the consent and cooperation of the Mormons of Centennial Park, Arizona, who are growing tired of practising their unorthodox lifestyle in secret and now want to bring it all out in the open. In fact they would like to see the law changed to make polygamy legal and acceptable right across the United States.
The film brought us into households with one man and two or three wives, homes crammed with children where every mealtime was a scene of controlled chaos with separate tables for the adults, the children and the toddlers.
We also got a glimpse of the financial strains that can arise from very large families attempting to make ends meet on the income of a single individual.
There were frank exchanges with the interviewer on the emotional impact one woman can feel on seeing her husband choose the company of the other. ‘We are no different from other people,’ they said. ‘We have the same human feelings and emotions.’
One of the strangest aspects of the Centennial Park version of Mormonism is the practice whereby the woman gets to choose her husband. And when a woman picks a man, the man must bow to the new reality that this woman has been led by God to enter his life.
So what if he already has one or two wives?
So what! They must be prepared to move over and make room for the newcomer. This is how God wants it, so who are we mere mortals to challenge God’s will? In fact the more wives a man has and presumably the more children, the higher will be his place in Heaven.
Centennial Park Mormons are a breakaway community who split from a larger fundamentalist group in 1984. Today they number about 1,500.
While they refer to their lifestyle as the practice of polygamy, it would be more accurate to use the word polygyny. In other words, one man with more than one wife.
The other form of polygamy is polyandry, one wife with more than one husband. By coincidence I happened to watch another TV programme recently about the ancient tea road which traversed South West China and the remote areas of Tibet.
One particular episode featured a village in Tibet where the practice of polyandry is practiced. In this community it is common for one woman to marry two or more brothers (fraternal polyandry). Within this family group different functions are assigned to the individual members, an arrangement which tends to result in a self-sufficient economic unit.
Two billion people throughout the world practice polygamy which is legal in more than 150 countries. There are an estimated 100,000 in the US, with a similar number in Western Europe.
Although the practice is legal in some form in about fifty countries throughout the world, it is not permitted or recognised in Ireland where marriage laws are broadly in line with those of the United States.
The Priest’s Wife is not afraid to tackle issues like this. In fact the novel centres on an arrangement which can be seen as an informal acceptance of polygamy by the three main characters. This at a time (c.1980) when conservative attitudes prevailed in Ireland and the influence of the Catholic Church ruled society.
In my novel the people involved do their utmost to maintain secrecy, no easy task given the prying of curious neighbours and the disapproval of the wider community.
If for no other reason than to explore the emotional and other issues that can arise in such a set-up, it will pay you to read The Priest’s Wife to find how it approaches the topic of one man living with two wives.

2 thoughts on “Polygamy Comes Out in the Open

  1. A rather convenient interpretation of God’s word, if you ask me. I admire the way you link your novel to wider issues and the way outside influences feed into your work. You just never know when a TV programme, a film or even a conversation will spark off an idea for a story.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Derbhile. A writer’s mind is always open to a new idea that will find its way into the next novel or short story. Overheard conversations, TV programmes, books, films, songs, even classical music. They can all provide material, can all inspire a thread that will develop and grow into something new and wonderful.
    That’s the miracle of fiction writing.

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