A Word on Polygamy

In discussions about marriage reality, people often express concern that the redefinition of marriage will lead to legalization of polygamy. That is possible, since the word “marriage” now means merely a committed relationship between two people, disconnected from children and family. Why should it be restricted to just two people? But this problem can be best addressed by simply promoting the reality of marriage.

In today’s over-sexualized culture, many look at polygamy as a perversion. But remember, one thing is common in every polygamous marriage: every child has a married mother and father, i.e., an institution that unites children with their mother and father. Polygamy is not just a committed relationship between adults as the word “marriage” is defined today. It is serial marriage reality — between a man and a woman, and another woman, etc.

Recall that polygamy was practiced by the Old Testament patriarchs. They were holy men, and certainly not practicing a perversion. St. Thomas Aquinas therefore concluded in his Summa Theologiae that one-man, one-woman marriage can only be known by Christian revelation, not Natural Law.*

However one-man, one-woman marriage can be known by Natural Law, but only if we look at it with the aid of our own experience as a child. The child knows reality — mom and dad are not only irreplaceable to the child, but from the child’s perspective irreplaceable to each other. The child knows by his nature that polygamy is wrong.

Aquinas recognized — and our experience as a child sees clearly — that the good of the child suffers from the loss of exclusivity and fidelity. That and injustice for wives is why polygamy was banned. The memory of such injustices still exists, but the reality of marriage as the institution that unites children with their mother and father has been forgotten.

*St. Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologiae Supplementum, 65, “Plurality of wives”.  From Article 1 answer, “It is therefore evident from what has been said that plurality of wives is in a way against the law of nature, and in a way not against it.” Also, “from Deuteronomy 21:15, ‘If a man have two wives,” etc. Therefore, they were not transgressors through having two wives; and so it was lawful. Further, this is confirmed by the example of the holy patriarchs, who are stated to have had several wives, and yet were most pleasing to God …”