In approximately 1075 the young Queen of Scotland begged the witangemot to change marriage laws. She feared being forced to marry her step-son in the event that her husband died.
The Queen cited papal precedent. Twenty years earlier, the pope had declared an impediment of affinity. As husband and wife were one flesh, blood relations of one spouse were announced to be blood relations to the partner. Thus the Queen’s hypothetical marriage to her step-son would be as though she were to marry her own son.
The witangemot was torn. The Bible was clear on the duty of a man’s family to provide for his widow. Throughout the western world at that time, marriage was understood as primarily the legal mechanism for caring for the children produced by sexuality. When a man died, kin were to step forward to care for the dead man’s wives and children. If the man had not engendered children, then kin were responsible to produce children with a wife to carry on the man’s legacy. 1
Queen Margaret changed the law, eliminating a key motive for regicide. As for King Malcolm McDuncan III, he invited the would-be assassin to go hunting. When the men were alone, the King told the assassin the plot was known and offered forgiveness if the man were to spare the King’s life. Between the Queen and King, the plot was thwarted.
While monogamy had long been an ideal and norm, Queen Margaret’s plea eventually made monogamy the legal standard. She caused the separation of marriage from the legal responsibility a man’s family previously had for wives and children. It was a sufficiently abrupt change that Queen Margaret was canonized a Catholic Saint for the deed (along with four other miracles). 2
Lawns were another mechanism royals adopted to protect themselves. When trees and shrubs were eliminated from the vicinity of a stronghold, there would be no place for attackers to hide. Lesser Lords and commoners had to use the grounds around their dwellings to produce food. Kings and Queens, on the other hand, could tax people for the food they needed.
And so we arrive in modern America, shaped by the fashions of European royals who died many hundreds of years ago.
Why does this matter? Because modern folks are irrationally loyal to the habits of ancient Kings and Queens.
When it comes to lawns, America wastes significant resources (e.g., water), pollutes unnecessarily, and depletes opportunities for crop production. Lawns are defended with passion and even mandated by law in many locales. Even if desert regions, many homeowners will maintain large lawns.
When it comes to monogamy, marriage is often seen as a quaint and unnecessary agreement, with popular media encouraging the idea that sexuality may occur between almost anyone, in a variety of gender and number configurations. (Abortion is encouraged as a means of avoiding certain consequences of sexuality, but that is a subject for another post.) But if marriage is to occur, most agree it should be monogamous at any given point in time.
I’m good with the position that mortal marriages should be monogamous. But there are those who feel this monogamous standard should be enforced on eternal unions.
An example of this is Kathy Bence’s recent article in SquareTwo, where she tries to prove that monogamy should be the rule, even in the eternities. The idea of polygamy, she asserts, is like finding a cockroach in your dessert. Much argument and many scriptural references follow.
I agree with Ms. Bence that it is unlikely that polygamy (specifically polygyny) will characterize a majority of eternal marriages. One has to presume massive wickedness of men and significant righteousness of women to support any argument that a large percentage of eternal marriages will necessarily involve polygyny. There have been approximately 60 billion individuals born on this planet. If anything, the number of males born slightly outpaces the number of females born, if we extrapolate current statistics to the pre-historic past.
On the other hand, Ms. Bence wishes to entirely reject the idea that there will be any plural marriage in eternity. I vehemently reject this position.
Ms. Bence is not alone. Once upon a time I spent significant time on Facebook. In one group, women tried to argue that every righteous woman will have her own monogamous spouse in eternity. They spoke of Kristen McMain [Oaks] and Wendy Watson [Nelson], asserting that in eternity these women will “get to have their own husbands.” Supposedly they would no longer be respectively married to Dallin Oaks and Russell Nelson, each of whom has a beloved prior wife. Instead they would supposedly get to be the only wife of other men to whom these women were not married to in life.
Now, if God were to link people up in eternity to maximize the number of monogamous pairings, that’s fine with me. I figure I’ve known all my spiritual brethren for an eternity. I figure I have affection for all of them. I suppose I would be willing if God asked me to unite with someone other than my mortal spouse for eternity. That would fall under the heading of “Thy will be done.”
However I find it terribly corrosive for people to promote the idea of such eternal fungibility, an eternity where individuals are essentially interchangeable and indistinguishable from one another. I particularly find this corrosive as the people who propone this possibility do so in order that they need not fear ever needing to share their beloved mortal spouse with another.
Why Plural Marriage?
Most folks figure plural marriage was and is about guys getting to have sex with multiple women. They forget that plural marriage was about guys taking responsibility for multiple women (since sex with multiple women is as old as the hills, as common as dirt, and has never required marriage).
Whenever I talk with colleagues (mostly male) about plural marriage, I go straight to that point, that it was about taking responsibility. Most immediately assert that they can’t handle the one spouse they might have and lose all enthusiasm for plurality.
The logical purpose of permitting “plural marriage” in eternity is to allow all children and their parents to be sealed together as part of the family of mankind. There have been too many messy families. If we tried to seal together the family of mankind using monogamy, there would be numerous women and children for whom we wouldn’t be able to find a place.
The necessity of sealing each individual into the family of mankind is asserted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and there are some who believe in Christ who don’t care what the Church asserts. But most Christians do believe that baptism is required for individuals to return to God.
If we don’t bother sealing inconvenient women and children into the family of mankind, then we are less likely to bother performing ordinance work for these individuals. Again, ordinances performed on behalf of deceased individuals is unique to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. One of the great questions of traditional Christianity is why God would allow individuals to be born who had no mortal chance to embrace baptism. The Church provides an answer.
But if we decline to seek out “non-monogamous” relatives, we won’t be doing their temple work. We quickly devolve to the traditional Christian position where tens of billions of individuals have no hope of access to the ordinance of baptism.
I Don’t Want to Share
There are those who find the possibility of sharing an eternal spouse to be “icky.” That’s fine.
Such people are perfectly free to reject any individual who has been with another partner in the past. Such people are free to require that their spouse eschew any possibility of companionship with another partner should the spouse become a widow or widower.
What I find abhorrent is the idea that people who don’t like sharing will require all the rest of us to live with their prejudices. Can no widower or widow remarry? Can no individual who remains sealed to a prior spouse hope for companionship after the prior spouse is no longer married to the individual?
Case in point: Hyrum Smith married Jerusha Barden in 1826. Jerusha died in 1837 after giving birth to six children. Jerusha was well-loved by Hyrum and his extended family. Though Hyrum mourned Jerusha, there were small children to care for. A short time after Jerusha’s death, Hyrum married Mary Fielding, an English woman whose family had emigrated to Canada before their conversion.
Weeks before Hyrum was killed, he spoke of Mary Fielding’s feelings regarding being the wife of a man who was previously married. Hyrum reported that she was more than willing to be Hyrum’s wife, even knowing that Jerusha had a prior claim.
If you were insisting that eternity must be monogamous, to whom would you have Hyrum be united, Jerusha or Mary?
There are literally millions of other such instances of note in recent centuries.
Then we have the question of women who have no opportunity to marry in this life. What is to be their fate?
Once upon a time I was faced with a prompting to leave my abusive and adulterous first husband. When I questioned the wisdom of this, 3 I felt prompted that the time would “soon” come when I would find a man to love and cherish who loved and cherished me.
Years later, when the yelling and threats had subsided and there were no more coercive suicide attempts on the part of my former husband, I was left wondering when this “soon” would occur.
For the first time, I told someone of the prompting. I confided in my mother. As soon as the words left my mouth, she started to laugh.
“The Lord told you ‘soon?'”
Before she finished her sentence, I understood. In the Lord’s eyes, it would be “soon” if I were the last woman united with a spouse on the afternoon of final judgement. I mentally dubbed my future spouse “Mr. Lowery” and wondered if he would be someone who had died as a newborn or possibly a man with other family commitments 4
It was therefore a surprise when I started dating Bryan Stout, a 36-year-old bachelor who proposed five months after meeting me (light speed for a deliberate man like him).
To paraphrase Mormon, he or she who supposeth that no man may be sealed to more than one wife “is in the gall of bitterness and in the bonds of iniquity; for he (or she) hath neither faith, hope, nor charity…;”
Feel free to conduct your own life according to standards of strict eternal monogamy. But don’t presume to revoke the promise of God’s prophets that a woman and her children can aspire to be sealed into the family of mankind through the Abrahamic Covenant. Don’t propose to sever a woman from her beloved husband merely because he was previously married. And don’t refuse saving ordinances to ancestral kin who don’t fit your mental model of eternal monogamy.
As for lawns, don’t maintain them where they make no sense other than to betray your slavish aping of royal fashion.
- This biblical history is explicit in the stories of Tamar and Ruth. The law is given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Property passed to the man who assumed the role of caring for a man’s widow (c.f., Ruth in the Bible. Also the story of the Queen of the Lamanites in the Book of Alma). In Queen Margaret’s lifetime this is seen in the case of Lady MacBeth, whose first husband was murdered by MacBeth. ↩
- Margaret’s role in changing the law is documented in the biography her royal daughter commissioned Margaret’s confessor to write after Margaret’s death, a biography cited when she was canonized. ↩
- I dreaded returning to a “singles’ ward.” ↩
- Specifically, I joked I would become Mr. Lowery’s third wife on the 11th hour of the last day of the resurrection. ↩