Big Love to Tiger King: Polygamy in the Media

How polygamy is portrayed in the media doesn’t reflect every real-life experience.

In the United States, where monogamy is the standard, polygamy is still viewed as something of a taboo. When portrayed in the media it runs the gamut from the outrageous, like the recent true crime documentary, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madnesswhere two very different forms of polygamy are shown, but not heavily discussed; to the religious, like HBO’s hit series,Big Love.

Polygamy exists in three specific forms:

Polygyny, wherein a man has multiple simultaneous wives.
Polyandry, wherein a woman has multiple simultaneous husbands.
Group marriage, wherein the family unit consists of multiple husbands and multiple wives of legal age.

Though I’ll add, I believe group marriage can also include multiple partners of the same sex.

Religion isn’t a requirement, though you would think so, based on what you see on television.


Polygamy and religion

In 2006, Big Love shined a light on polygyny practiced in America by FLDS (Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints) in modern times. It’s not that we didn’t know it was happening, but it wasn’t advertised.

Polygamy (called plural marriage by Mormons in the 19th century) was practiced by leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) for more than half of the 19th century, and practiced publicly from 1852 to 1890 by between 20 and 30 percent of Latter-day Saint families. — source

The church and the US Government were at odds over the practice, owing to public opinion. The church stated it was their right, due to religious freedom, to practice plural marriage, while the government maintained public opinion should prevail.

What it boiled down to was a matter of morality. The government of the United States said plural marriage wasn’t moral, regardless of religious beliefs.

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