Are polygamous or polyamorous relationships immoral?
Choosing your partner is more often a personal choice rather than a societal obligation. Outside of some rare tribal and/or religious groups, most communities allow their society members to choose their partners independently based on their individual preferences. Unlike other rituals or obligations, it is not a “sacred duty” to select a single partner, as some might believe. Laws in most countries state that any consensual relationship is valid. It is not considered criminal and/or seriously unethical in these constitutions. In fact, several countries legally accept polygamy. It is legal in 58 out of nearly 200 sovereign states, the vast majority of them being Muslim-majority countries in Africa and Asia.
How many partners one has come down to choice and fulfillment of physical, material, emotional and sexual needs. If someone is not happy in a single-person relationship, denying them the right to fulfill their wants in a non-harmful, consensual manner could create problems in the relationship and society at large.
Some older adults believe only younger generations practice polygamy, but records show many tribal communities have been practicing polygamy since ancient times. These communities openly accept multiple partners, and the practice is not viewed negatively. They are happy with this arrangement, and their relationships thrive.
If somebody is dating multiple people without their partner’s knowledge, that is cheating, but if both parties agree to see people outside the relationship, it is no longer exclusive. Consent is a great determiner of where the line between polygamy being acceptable and unethical lies.
Despite their differences, polygamy and polyamory share a common trait: they go against the societally accepted standards of moral behavior in relationships. Both practices take their toll on individuals as well as the societies in which they reside.
First, polygamy and some forms of polyamorous relationships tend to be unfair due to an imbalance of power. Men play a more powerful role in polygamous marriages. For instance, they can dissolve a legal partnership as they please. Similarly, hierarchical polyamory can affect secondary partners through problems such as less time with one or more partners and trouble maintaining self-worth.
However, in both relationships, partners may struggle with jealousy. While effective time management is a recommended solution, only 17% of individuals track their own time. This means the remaining 83% may not effectively manage multiple partners. Beyond partners, children of polygamous or polyamorous individuals may also be affected. Some of the problems children of polyamorous families face include prejudice and confusion, resulting in children rebelling against the lifestyle.
Moreover, the change in partners takes away the consistency they need to be emotionally at peace. Some may even develop feelings of abandonment and rejection, which further leads to lowered self-worth and self-confidence.
As for society, non-monogamy can result in conflict. A study by the London School of Economics indicates a strong link between plural marriage and war. Theoretically speaking, if the wealthy 10% of society takes at least four women each, the bottom 30% will not have many partners to chose from, frustrating lower classes.
Therefore, despite the increasing acceptability of poly relationships, it is vital to remember the three aspects at stake. Tolerance should not come at their expense.
- Polygamy is “the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time,” while polyamory is “The practice of engaging in multiple romantic (and typically sexual) relationships” with consent of everyone involved.
- Gallup polling reports how public approval of polygamy has rises from 7% in 2003 to a whopping 20%, or one-in-five US adults, in 2020—an all time high.
- A March 2021 NewYorker article credits the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision for American polygamists being “more vocal about achieving legal rights since the legalization of same-sex marriage nationwide.”
- 2020 Pew Research data shows that currently 2% of the global population are polygamous, usually found in sub-Saharan African territories and have Muslim majorities.
- US marriage rates have been on the decline since the 1970s, with the recorded 2019 rate being 2,015,063, or a 6.1 rate per 1,000. The number of Americans living with an unmarried partner reached about 18 million in 2016, up 29% since 2007.