For those of you following the marriage debates in the United States or thinking back to my posts on polygamy and American anxieties about the nuclear family (somehow melted down during AAA ’07)….breaking news!
Warren Jeffs’ compound has been raided again following reports that a 16-year-old woman/girl was being sexually abused by a 50-year-old-man (they are/were husband and wife). News reports are not clear as to whether the girl in question had been found during the raid. However, “Texas Child Protective Services have now removed 137 children and 46 women, who are being questioned.” It is not clear, according to the BBC, that these women and children left the compound voluntarily. While the ages of the women involved raises reasonable concern (and sometimes outrage) in my mind (and probably yours), the tight focus on “polygamy” as the most important aspect of this group (and “what’s wrong” with them), brings our analytical attention back to the questions about dominant (and, more to the point, legal) models of idealized households, descent, and affiliation in the United States.
The raid focuses our attention on a different aspect of the marriage debates in the United States: the specter of polygamy, which is often rhetorically paired with same-sex marriage. Polygamy assumes the rhetorical role as the sort of limit or horizon of possible depravity in some discourses around same-sex marriage in the United States. The unquestioned legal status of polygamy in the US (basically, “no, no, no”) points to limits in the potential role of “anthropology” or comparative data about exotic forms of marriage to speak to the status of same-sex unions (see Strong’s recent posts, linked above). Obviously, the anthropological record is full of examples of polygamy, both polygynous and polyandrous. However this data (and, of course, limitless ethnographic examples of women marrying relatively young to men by far their senior) does not appear relevant to discussions of the what constitutes a legal and acceptable marriage in the United States.