Incest and Polygamy

Recently a young woman interviewed me for a paper she was writing on polygamy. One of her first questions involved incestuous marriages. People tend to equate polygamy with incestuous marriage partly because of the widely publicized Kingston case, when a sixteen-year-old girl protested being forced to marry her uncle. But not all polygamous groups condone incestuous marriages. In my father's religious group (which later became the Apostolic United Brethren, or AUB) any sort of incest was taboo, as it is in most cultures. As a doctor, my father knew the hazards of genetic coupling and he wouldn't support the marriage of second cousins, let alone closer relatives. As the attending physician in many fundamentalist communities, he had witnessed horrific births when polygamous people ignored this taboo, where children came into the world with severe and heart-wrenching deformities. Despite his lectures and strong advice, many patriarchs stubbornly continued the practice.

Now that two of the men arrested in Texas are charged with marrying underage girls who were also relatives, the question rises again: Why do polygamists figure they are exempt from the ancient and scientifically-sustained taboo against marrying and bearing children with members of one's own family? The answer has to do with the same entitlement that accompanies polygamy in general: a belief in eugenic breeding. In these circumstances, eugenic breeding is rooted in the idea that people who are "called to live the Principle of Plural Marriage" are somehow superior to other members of the human race: more intelligent, better looking, physically superior, etc. If the idea seems familiar, look to Germany during the Holocaust. Eugenic breeding was used to justify the murder of millions among of mental patients, political activists, retarded people, and various ethnic groups, including gypsies and Jews so that the "Aryan race" could retain its "purity."

As for me, I think people who go to such lengths to justify their "superiority" are covering deep-seated fears of inferiority. What do you think?

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