Polygamy support grows, despite court cases: Poll

The Mormon fundamentalists who live in the mountains and deserts of B.C., Utah and Arizona have been in the news a lot lately, after being convicted of various crimes involving polygamy and under-age wives.

But a surprising poll shows support for polygamy is actually climbing. A small but increasing number of people appear to consider the practice of multiple wives, or husbands, a little bit cool.

A Gallup poll conducted this summer shows U.S. support for polygamy is at the highest rate on record.

Even though illegal, polygamy is now seen by 17 per cent of Americans as “morally acceptable,” up from 14 per cent in 2016.

Although low, the May 2017 polling result is the strongest show of support for polygamy since Gallup began surveys on the multiple-spouse question in the early 2000s, when approval hovered between just five and seven per cent.

Gallup analyst Andrew Dugan said the gradually rising support for polygamy “may simply be the result of the broader leftward shift on moral issues Americans have exhibited in recent years.”

To many social conservatives, Dugan said, “warming attitudes toward polygamy is a logical consequence of changing social norms — that values underpinning social liberalism offer no compelling grounds for limiting the number of people who might wish to marry.”

Dugan notes how North American attitudes have fundamentally changed on a number of social issues since 2001 — “most notably, gay/lesbian relations, having a baby outside of wedlock, sex between unmarried men and women, and divorce. But these attitudinal changes did not occur in isolation.”

Americans who do not identify with any religion are most accepting of polygamy. Thirty-two per cent of Americans who do not associate with a religion say polygamy is “morally acceptable.” This, Dugan said, follows the general tendency for those who are less religious to be more liberal on social issues.

In addition to North Americans responding to the availability of television series that humanize polygamy, such as Sister Wives, Gallup also found the portion who considered polygamy “morally acceptable” jumped by four percentage points when Gallup changed how the word was defined in its survey.

“Prior to 2011, polygamy was defined as being when ‘a husband has more than one wife at the same time,'” Dugan said. “Beginning in 2011, this definition became gender-neutral, instead identifying polygamy as when ‘a married person has more than one spouse at the same time.'”

Although polygamy remains illegal in all 50 U.S. states and Canada, Gallup recognizes that covert polygamous marriages do exist in North America. But, Dugan said, “they are uncommon and are largely confined to some immigrant Muslim groups and Mormon sects that have broken away from the mainstream church.”