Monday, July 8, 2013

Plural Marriage

Title: Polygamy: Polygyny, Polyandry, and Polyamory
Author: Daniel Young, Sarah Young, and Kate Young
Publisher: Fifth Estate (
Genre: Non-fiction
Year Published: 2013
Number of Pages: 218
Binding: Trade paperback
ISBN10: n/a
ISBN13: 9781936533367
Price: $19.95 ($14.96 at
Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters
Okay, true confessions time.  I happened to glance at Fifth Estate's
home page a few weeks ago and came away shaking my head, wondering how
this publisher had escaped my notice until now.  Click on the Religion
and Theology tab under books and you'll see what I mean.  Although not
an LDS publisher, herein may be found a veritable treasure trove of
arcane and wonderful subjects.  I was mesmerized as I surveyed this
publisher's offerings.
Contacting the owner, Joseph Lumpkin, I discovered a very fine fellow
who was excited about having AML cover his offerings.  I was
delighted!  I quickly assigned several titles to our qualified
reviewers, but kept "Polygamy" to read for myself.
Now, the surname of the authors (Young) might lead some to think that
they are descendants of Brigham.  But this does not appear to be the
case.  The authors attend evangelical Christian churches, but have
found the plural marriage idea to be both workable and worthy of
closer attention.  Let's see how well they've done.
The first two pages had me hooked.  Something I didn't know -- "The
fastest growing population practicing polygamous marriages is not
related to or based on religion.  They are secular polygamists." (p.
8)  Startling!  At least to me.  Although I know several practitioners
of plural marriage, been in their homes and enjoyed meeting them
(including leadership of the Apostolic United Brethren), I don't think
I've ever met a "secular polygamist."  How does this work?  What is
their rationale for the practice?
Next comes a helpful summary of the various terms used in conjunction
with plural marriage -- see the book's title.  The terms are sometimes
used interchangeably, and so I appreciated the authors' nice summation
of the terminology.  The idea of "group marriage" as mentioned here
can be unsettling, but it appears to be something of a growing
movement in an America that seems to be distancing itself from
"traditional marriage" -- whatever that means!
Next is a brief look at marriage practices across the world religious
spectrum.  Fascinating stuff here.  Polygamy in Judaism?  In Buddhism?
 How does it work?  The authors offer up some fascinating insights
into attitudes different religious traditions have had toward the
An extensive section follows that looks at how various poly-families
work.  What are the dynamics of such relationships?  How do the
families function in society?  Gender roles play a big part here.
Studies done by anthropologists, and others cited in "Psychology
Today" and other behavioral science journals, are cited here to show
that researchers in the soft sciences have expressed interest in this
subject, creating some very interesting data on observed interplay
within these families.  My oh my!
In just over two short pages, the subject of sex within poly homes is
explored.  I don't suppose there are any real rules here, but certain
norms seem to have evolved over the years.  I'm guessing this can get
pretty edgy at times.
What follows is a glimpse at the logistics of poly-households.  How do
finances work?  How does one spouse share his/her time among the
families?  How do they function within the larger society, a society
that is not sympathetic to their lifestyle?  Having spent time with
polygamous families, I know the children are often uncomfortable with
having to hide their family structure from their friends.  Fear of
discovery leads many to live virtually double lives.  Very difficult
path, in my opinion.
A brief discussion of "Downfalls and Traps - The Undoing" looks at how
the whole enterprise can be spoiled from within.  Financial and
emotional independence are essential if the relationship will survive,
the authors insist.  These few pages are a virtual how-to guide for
those contemplating entering such a relationship.
How do different states view the subject of cohabitation?  The authors
offer a helpful guide, state by state, to their rules and regulations.
I'm a bit ashamed of myself at this point, but the final section of
the book was the most enjoyable.  I suspect it appeals a bit to the
voyeur in each of us.  Titled "Celibacy," it offers a perfectly
delightful view of the role sex has played in the history of the
Church (particularly Catholicism, and its somewhat spotted record when
it comes to randy Popes!).  Here we have a virtual rogues gallery of
Church leaders whose baser instincts left a trail of disappointed
partners and troubled offspring.  The authors even offer a list of
Popes who left behind progeny, calling into question the entire issue
of celibacy in the Roman Catholic priesthood.
Whenever I review a title from a publisher new to us, I like to make
some comments about the physical appearance of the book.  In this
case, the volume appears to be well constructed, and should last many
years.  No cheap paper or binding, as far as I can see.  The body text
of the book has lines spaced further apart than what is normal.  At
first, it was a bit disconcerting, but I soon acclimated myself to the
My only real critical comment has to do with what seems to be a lack
of professional editing.  This is not unusual for small press titles.
I wish it were the practice of such enterprises to have a professional
editor have a look at a manuscript before going to press.  To a
grammar nazi like myself, this can be a distraction.  But, in the end,
it didn't distract me from the fascinating discussion in this book.
"Polygamy" by Young, Young and Young is, in my view, a valuable
addition to the considerable corpus of literature on the subject of
plural marriage.  So many solid historical treatments of the subject
have come our way, and each makes its own significant contribution to
the discussion.  Scott Compton's "In Sacred Loneliness" and Kofford
Books' important 3-volume series "Joseph Smith's Polygamy" -- these
come to mind as deep, detailed studies.
Our current volume is different.  It gives audiences, both religious
and secular, a chance to peek inside the world of polygamous marriage,
presenting it in simple, clear prose that informs and, at times,
amuses.  In my view, the authors, and the publisher, have done the
public a great service by bringing this little book to life.
I think readers will enjoy this volume.  While the typesetting and
editing problems can be a distraction, in the end, there is a
tremendous payoff for the determined reader.  My thanks to the
publisher for making this review possible.
Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters