Support the Café

Search our Site

Should Christians support healthy polygamous practices?

Should Christians support healthy polygamous practices?

Episcopal priest Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio supports the striking down of part of Utah’s polygamy law, in a suit brought by the family of the reality show “Sister Wives”. Excerpted from her CNN Belief Blog:

When I talk about the Browns with my friends and colleagues, most are opposed to my position, believing that the women could not possibly be respected, that the children could not possibly receive the attention they deserve.

But it’s crucial to remember that, when done well, polygamy works because the participants have a different goal for marriage than monogamous couples: Most Americans believe that marriage is for the purpose of cultivating intimacy between two people, both sexual and emotional.

But for the Browns that takes a distant second to the goal of cultivating a community that together can reach heaven. It’s a different way of thinking about marriage and family, but it’s not inherently an abusive one.

Ultimately, I support the decision to loosen restrictions on polygamy because families such as the Browns exist who endeavor every day to live kind, healthy lives that are not harmful, not abusive….

Tumminio goes on to suggest that it’s appropriate for Christians to support the right of consenting adults concerning choices about marriage and religious freedom:

…like us, they want to practice their faith. And as long as that practice is in the service of cultivating loving, healthy relationships that strive to honor God and neighbor, I believe it is possible for even nonpolygamous Christians such as myself to support their calling.


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Chris H.

There are watershed moments in life and I really think gay marriage is one of them. Of course, acceptance of divorce and invention of birth control also helped, but lets not pretend that gay marriage isn’t a big change in society. It is, and various polygamy, polyandry and other minority advocates have been waiting for gay marriage to become accepted before pushing their own agendas. Don’t pretend it doesn’t have anything to do with it. If one group can change the definition of marriage others can too. Just because people don’t like the slippery slope argument doesn’t mean it doesn’t sometimes describe the way things work out. So does the law of unintended consequences.

Chris Harwood


Chris writes, “gay marriage arguments changed the definition of marriage to a contract of adults ”

No, actually, same-sex marriage did not do that. The change of the definition of marriage to a contract of equal adults–that is, the de-genderization of marriage– preceded the moves to LGBT equality in this regard.

As the scholar of marriage Stephanie Coontz writes, same-sex marriage didn’t make any changes. The changes that straight people made, ensured that same sex marriage inevitable. Once men no longer owned women–no longer could rape their wives — once we allowed men and women to choose their partners, rather than a father use his daughter to make an alliance–that’s what changed marriage. We already took gendered roles out of it.

She writes,

“We are near the end of a two-stage revolution in the social understanding and legal definition of marriage. This revolution has overturned the most traditional functions of the institution: to reinforce differences in wealth and power and to establish distinct and unequal roles for men and women under the law.”

and goes on,

“People now decide for themselves who and when – and whether – to marry. When they do wed, they decide for themselves whether to have children and how to divide household tasks. If they cannot agree, they are free to leave the marriage.

If gay marriage is legally recognized in this country, it will have little impact on the institution of marriage. In fact, the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage – an indication that it’s not just the president’s views that are “evolving” – is a symptom, rather than a cause, of the profound revolutions in marriage that have already taken place.”

( source)

Straight people need to stop blaming LGBT people for the changes they have themselves created.

-Susan Forsburg

Matthew Buterbaugh+

From what I read this morning, this ruling decriminalizes the practice of having more than two adults living under one roof. It does not grant legal marital rights to multiple partners.

The question of how to respond is interesting, though. There is a part of me that sees this as an issue of freedom, somewhat separate from our faith. I don’t know why consenting adults can’t have an arrangement they all agree to. This is particularly interesting when it is something that they find a matter of practicing their faith freely. I think it makes it difficult for us as a society to tell them they cannot practice their faith in the way that they see fit.

For those of us for whom this is not a practice, it may not seem to matter. But as a matter of faith, we are hard-pressed to make a biblical argument against a form of marriage that is all over the Bible. The part that is tricky is the exploitative nature of such relationships. As has been pointed out a few times in this thread, these relationships stereotypically are one man with multiple wives. This is a very patriarchal system that is foreign to our culture and quite unfeminist. However, I wonder if all things being equal, what we might think of a polyandrous relationship. Is that exploitative of the men in it? If people of any gender are free to enter into such arrangements willfully and this is fulfilling to them, is it exploitative at all?

I don’t know that I have an answer to these questions, but I suspect these are questions that we are going to have to wrestle with at some point in the church, especially if this ruling has wider implications down the road.

Leslie Scoopmire

The purpose of polygamy as it is practiced in the cases before us is based upon women and children being mere props and ornaments for a man’s satisfaction and status (on a secular basis) and salvation (on a religious basis). The system only “works” if the majority of child-rearing and household-making falls upon those same women and children. It is about the women and children accepting less so that the man may have more. It is exploitation.


I’ve always thought it very odd that many supporters of “traditional marriage” see it as a divinely appointed institution while at the same time insisting that the only thing that insures it’s continuance is the power of the State. You’d think divinely appointed institutions, like marriage or the Church, wouldn’t need the State to hold their hands.

Then again, so very many opponents of gay rights seem to think that homosexuality is so alluring that if society stops demonizing gay people that the bulk of the populace will abandon male-female relations in favor of the heady pleasures of sodomy. It’s as if both (overlapping) groups saw heterosexual acts and relationships as some sort of drudgery that most people have to be coerced into engaging in.

Bill Dilworth

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café