There’s no proof that polygamy doesn’t work

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

THE AR­GU­MENTS against polygamy (Paul Val­lely, “I do, I do, I do…”, Jan­uary 9) may ap­pear to be rea­son­able – but on deeper anal­y­sis are both mis­lead­ing and prej­u­diced.

“It’s com­pletely at odds with the ideal of gen­der equal­ity,” is only true when ap­plied to polyg­yny, which, as the ar­ti­cle cor­rectly in­di­cates is the type more com­monly prac­tised; and is the type en­trenched in South African cus­tom­ary law. It should be noted that this also runs counter to the ideal of racial equal­ity.

As a white South African I would find it dif­fi­cult to marry un­der cus­tom­ary law and en­joy this type of polygamy (al­though I am not sure that I would en­joy polygamy of any sort – one wife was too much for me). South Africa’s mar­vel­lous con­sti­tu­tion al­ready al­lows for same-sex mar­riage. Per­haps, in time, and with enough ac­tivism, re­la­tion­ships of all types will be al­lowed in law.

The sec­ond ar­gu­ment, “it sends out the wrong mes­sage about the trans­mis­sion of HIV/Aids,” is com­pletely in­cor­rect. I ap­pre­ci­ate that our phi­lan­der­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma is a poor ex­am­ple, who has in­deed sent out the wrong mes­sage re­gard­ing HIV/Aids. How­ever, Val­lely con­flates polygamy with promis­cu­ity, and of­fers no ev­i­dence or fur­ther dis­cus­sion as to why he does so. There is no rea­son to be­lieve that a se­ri­ous polyg­a­mous re­la­tion­ship, where ev­ery mem­ber knows their sta­tus, would be any more likely to spread HIV than a se­ri­ally monog­a­mous one.

I am re­ally not sure what to make of this: “you could ar­gue that a woman hav­ing more than one hus­band is a good strat­egy for check­ing the world’s pop­u­la­tion growth”. Is this an ar­gu­ment against polygamy, or against polyg­yny? To me this is re­ally an ar­gu­ment for polyandry.

Right now, the strong­est ar­gu­ments against polyg­a­mous re­la­tion­ships are those that deal with the rights of the var­i­ous spouses and chil­dren – which can be­come com­plex to man­age and po­lice. There is lit­tle ev­i­dence to sug­gest how­ever, that there is more abuse in polyg­a­mous re­la­tion­ships than monog­a­mous ones. How­ever, I be­lieve that with enough ap­plied thought, the le­gal rights of all par­ties in a polyg­a­mous re­la­tion­ship can be prop­erly pro­tected.

As a coun­try we have al­ready moved be­yond the no­tion of a mar­riage be­ing be­tween one man and one woman sealed un­der the eyes of God – per­haps it is time to ex­tend that to sup­port fam­ily groups and re­la­tion­ships of all types. WHERE are the smiles? The first time I vis­ited Cape Town was in 1998, and I saw smiles ev­ery­where. The city ex­uded friend­li­ness. On each of my 11 re­turn trips I have found fewer and fewer smiles. What’s hap­pen­ing? Is it the econ­omy? There is a shift in the pub­lic “mood” of this beau­ti­ful city.

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