How I learned to love polygamy
The Browns of reality TV show fame practice polygamy, which they call "plural marriage," for religious reasons.
December 18th, 2013
09:34 AM ET

How I learned to love polygamy

Opinion by Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN

(CNN) - When I heard a federal judge struck down part of Utah’s polygamy law last week, I gave a little squeal of delight.

To be clear, I'm an Episcopal priest, not a polygamist.  But I've met the family who brought the suit, and these people changed how I think about plural marriage.

Before I met the Browns - made famous by the reality television show “Sister Wives” - I had the kind of reaction most modern-day Christians would have to their lifestyle: Polygamy hurts women. It offers girls a skewed perspective of who they can be. It happens on cultish compounds. It’s abusive.

Yet when the Browns' show debuted, I began to question some of those assumptions, and when I had the opportunity to meet them a few years ago, I questioned them further.

In getting to know Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn, and their children, I saw that these parents were extremely invested in raising girls and boys who were empowered to get an education, become independent thinkers and have a moral compass.

Indeed, children were so important to them not because they wanted to create more young polygamists - the Browns want their children to choose their own beliefs - but because their children were the people who would join them in heaven, and they wanted to raise a family kind enough, good enough, to achieve that goal.

The result is four parents equally invested in their children, and a gaggle of young people who are neither spoiled nor timid, entitled nor brainwashed.

The result is also four parents who strive to model what being empowered people of faith looks like in contemporary America.

Since meeting the Browns, I have become a supporter of them and their lifestyle, though I certainly can understand why others remain opposed.

So much negative publicity has been generated - and rightly so - by fundamentalist Mormon Warren Jeffs and his followers that it leaves little room in the American imagination to think that polygamy could be something different.

When I talk about the Browns with my friends and colleagues, most are opposed to my position, believing that the women could not possibly be respected, that the children could not possibly receive the attention they deserve.

MORE: Judge strikes down part of Utah polygamy law in 'Sister Wives' case

But it’s crucial to remember that, when done well, polygamy works because the participants have a different goal for marriage than monogamous couples: Most Americans believe that marriage is for the purpose of cultivating intimacy between two people, both sexual and emotional.

But for the Browns that takes a distant second to the goal of cultivating a community that together can reach heaven. It’s a different way of thinking about marriage and family, but it’s not inherently an abusive one.

Ultimately, I support the decision to loosen restrictions on polygamy because families such as the Browns exist who endeavor every day to live kind, healthy lives that are not harmful, not abusive.

I also believe there are theoretical reasons why, as a Christian, it makes sense to support healthy polygamous practices. It’s a natural extension for those Christians who support same-sex marriage on theological grounds. But even for those opposed to same-sex marriage, polygamy is documented in the Bible, thereby giving its existence warrant.

Some might say that supporting polygamy means supporting the abuse of women. But saying that it is OK for Christians to support plural marriage is not the same as saying that they should condone its abusive practices. Indeed, Christians should not, and cannot, do this.

MORE ON CNN: It's time to reconsider polygamy

It does mean, though, that there is room for Christians to support the right of consenting adults to make choices about marriage that align with their religious beliefs in a country that prides itself on religious freedom.

Through their television show, the Browns helped America learn that polygamists are just like the rest of us - they dress like us, go to public school like us, eat at Olive Garden like us - they just have more people committed to one another than the rest of our families do.

Finally, like us, they want to practice their faith. And as long as that practice is in the service of cultivating loving, healthy relationships that strive to honor God and neighbor, I believe it is possible for even nonpolygamous Christians such as myself to support their calling.

Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an Episcopal priest and author of  "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom." The views expressed in this column belong to Tumminio. 

- CNN Religion Editor

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Bigamy • Christianity • Ethics • Faith • Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints • gender issues • Opinion • Religious liberty • Sexuality • Women

soundoff (1,215 Responses)
  1. 00 00

    "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

    i don't think so pal. prove u r not gay first!

    December 21, 2013 at 4:53 am |
  2. 00 00

    My nipplies explode in delight

    December 21, 2013 at 4:49 am |
  3. 00 00

    "Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom."

    i don't think so pal. prove u r not gay first

    December 21, 2013 at 4:47 am |
  4. Shockwave

    I oppose any and all marriages. Having a piece of paper stamped by the fat lady at the court house saying you are married, is still a form of control. If your going to do consenting adult "things" then you need to be an adult and take responsibility for any and all consequences that may occur. Silly humans and your paper work.

    December 21, 2013 at 3:52 am |
    • Jimmy Jazz

      I don't know about all marriages, but I oppose my last one.

      December 21, 2013 at 4:03 am |
  5. Stein

    Most women I know are very possessive of their husbands , men get into trouble all the time for the transgression of a 'wandering eye'. Women in a polygamous relationship must be from another world if they are willing to share the "love" of their life with another woman.
    As men it's tough to deal with the PMS of one woman, can't imagine handling this every single day, 365 days a year with four women. Other than that, there are practical problems with housing, finances and the like.

    December 20, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • NYC

      Jealous much?

      December 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm |
      • Gumby


        December 21, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
  6. TexMarine

    The author needs to go back to the seminary. While The Bible does speak of polygamy, it is not a prescriptive.

    December 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • Gumby

      The bible upholds King David, Abraham, and Gideon – all of them polygamist. In effect, the bible promotes polygamy.

      December 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  7. HH

    Polygamy should be legal so long as all the spouses are of adult age, and all of them consent to the marriage.

    The government has no business regulating private, contracted (marriage is a life contract) relationships between consenting adults.

    FAR MORE women are being abused in traditional marriages by religion than in polygamous marriages.

    December 20, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • Well said

      We need a lot less government over all.

      December 20, 2013 at 7:42 pm |
    • lol??

      The gubmint pharisees claim authority in marriage. Wait til junior gets a group divorce and the judge tells him he owes for college educations for all the children. Those educratists are schmart!! Guaranteed high living!!

      December 20, 2013 at 7:43 pm |
    • Saraswati


      Marriages are not private contracts. They bestow immigration rights, special court privacy protections, estate rights and govern military housing and other benefits. These are all issues that would have to be worked out were polygamy made legal.

      1. If I marry 1000 people in a mass ceremony in Korea or Ghana are they all given immigration rights?
      2. If I'm in the military must they all be provided housing?
      3. Do these military and housing benefits go also to their spouses they married independently of me?
      4. If I marry a woman who marries 2 other people am I also married to those people?
      5. Do those people have parental rights over any children we have? Does a spouse of a spouse of a spouse I haven't met.
      6. Do all partied have to agree to the 30th, 40the member in this complex network?
      7. Do we all have to agree on a divorce?

      To allow polygamy we first have to define it, and in a modern society that will allow both polygyny and polyandry just defining the construct will take decades.

      December 21, 2013 at 12:01 am |
      • Gumby

        Nope, it only takes one sentence:

        Adults can marry any other consenting adult.

        December 21, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
        • Saraswati

          Sorry, I can't tell if you are playing dumb or serious?

          December 22, 2013 at 8:22 am |
        • Oh Brother ^

          He's not playing.....

          January 4, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
  8. Reality # 2

    Said topic is complicated. See for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/02/science/monogamys-boost-to-human-evolution.html?_r=0

    An excerpt: (It is all about our brains?)

    Once a monogamous primate father starts to stick around, he has the opportunity to raise the odds that his offspring will survive. He can carry them, groom their fur and protect them from attacks.

    In our own lineage, however, fathers went further. They had evolved the ability to hunt and scavenge meat, and they were supplying some of that food to their children. “They may have gone beyond what is normal for monogamous primates,” said Dr. Opie.

    The extra supply of protein and calories that human children started to receive is widely considered a watershed moment in our evolution. It could explain why we have brains far bigger than other mammals.

    Brains are hungry organs, demanding 20 times more calories than a similar piece of muscle. Only with a steady supply of energy-rich meat, Dr. Opie suggests, were we able to evolve big brains — and all the mental capacities that come with it.

    Because of monogamy, Dr. Opie said, “This could be how humans were able to push through a ceiling in terms of brain size.”

    December 20, 2013 at 7:52 am |
    • Science Works

      But it is easy to find out if interbreeding happened in our bloodlines but creationists do not believe facts.

      Neanderthal Genome Shows Early Human Interbreeding, Inbreeding

      Dec. 18, 2013 — The most complete sequence to date of the Neanderthal genome, using DNA extracted from a woman's toe bone that dates back 50,000 years, reveals a long history of interbreeding among at least four different types of early humans living in Europe and Asia at that time, according to University of California, Berkeley, scientists.


      December 20, 2013 at 8:02 am |
      • Reality # 2

        Inter or intra breeding?

        For $199, you can find out if you are part Neaderthal- not kidding:

        As per National Geographic's Genographic project:

        " DNA studies suggest that all humans today descend from a group of African ancestors who about 60,000 years ago began a remarkable journey. Follow the journey from them to you as written in your genes”.

        "Adam" is the common male ancestor of every living man. He lived in Africa some 60,000 years ago, which means that all humans lived in Africa at least at that time.

        Unlike his Biblical namesake, this Adam was not the only man alive in his era. Rather, he is unique because his descendents are the only ones to survive.

        It is important to note that Adam does not literally represent the first human. He is the coalescence point of all the genetic diversity."

        For your $199 and a DNA swab:

        "Included in the markers we will test for is a subset that scientists have recently determined to be from our hominid cousins, Neanderthals and the newly discovered Denis vans, who split from our lineage around 500,000 years ago. As modern humans were first migrating out of Africa more than 60,000 years ago, Neanderthals and Denisovans were still alive and well in Eurasia. It seems that our ancestors met, leaving a small genetic trace of these ancient relatives in our DNA. With Geno 2.0, you will learn if you have any Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA in your genome."

        December 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm |
  9. Douglas

    Patriarchy on steroids.

    This is sin...plain and simple.

    The LGBTQ are thrilled that another unconventional lifestyle
    is celebrated and approved for use as "marriage".

    Sin is sin!

    December 20, 2013 at 6:46 am |
    • nomadd

      Sin is an imaginary construct from your book of plagiarized fables.

      December 20, 2013 at 7:02 am |
    • Saraswati

      Are you looking at a statement from an LGBTQ website praising and supporting polygamy? Please provide the link or any data showing a difference in support between gat and straight people of the same religious background.

      December 20, 2013 at 7:27 am |
    • Akira

      "The LGBTQ are thrilled that another unconventional lifestyle
      is celebrated and approved for use as “marriage”."

      I am sure you have your finger in the pulse of the LGBTQ community.

      Please do as Saraswati asks and provide the evidence for your "projection". Because, as usual, you're opining on something I suspect you know nothing about.

      December 20, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  10. Keith

    No problem is that is what you want, even the desert cults approve of polygamy.

    December 19, 2013 at 10:29 pm |
    • Saraswati

      They only allow polygyny. We would be allowing polygyny and polyandry here which would be much more complex if this actually became a legal issue. However, this was not a ruling about marriage but just about cohabitation which isn't a legal issue in most places.

      December 20, 2013 at 7:29 am |
  11. Elliott Carlin

    The article writer has no business being the pulpit.

    December 19, 2013 at 9:38 pm |
    • ClevelandJeff

      You have no business judging.

      December 19, 2013 at 9:41 pm |
      • lol??

        Overconfident much, CJ??

        1Cr 6:3 Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?

        A&A's are fond of putting their brains on the shelf.

        December 20, 2013 at 5:04 am |
        • sam stone

          And christians do so by quoting iron age comic books

          December 20, 2013 at 6:18 am |
        • Nexus974

          "And christians do so by quoting iron age comic books"
          Bronze age

          December 20, 2013 at 12:45 pm |
        • ClevelandJeff

          You, ESPECIALLY you, need to revisit Mathew 7, 1-5.
          Your brain obviously needs to be dusted off, since you haven't used it for anything good that I can see. If pure bitterness and snark gets you farther with The Lord, you may have a chance. Sadly, that's not how it works.

          Now do go play in your sandbox and let the adults chat.

          December 20, 2013 at 6:56 pm |
        • Charlie

          Talk about snark remarks, what a hypocrite..

          December 21, 2013 at 1:06 am |
  12. Lionly Lamb


    December 19, 2013 at 7:44 pm |
  13. Sam Bo

    Where's that faith/hharri/Curtis swine anyways? Ben tellin ya all 2 donkey punch her and stanky batch!

    December 19, 2013 at 6:24 pm |
    • faith

      Ska bib tink wabbo jrunk. Niscar dehy liu nant frouche.

      December 19, 2013 at 7:32 pm |
  14. Sam Bo

    Where's my suicide guy? CNN? Dag nabit! I told ya 2 use 12 gaugers, u fools. Leaves less brain guts 2 clean up!

    December 19, 2013 at 6:22 pm |
    • faith

      Hutv betio mrsti resm qadao mopr

      December 19, 2013 at 7:36 pm |

    Sin sells, baby. Ask teddy. Take a half naked good looking chic and plan e her next to a soda can and watch the resuLTS flow!

    December 19, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
  16. lol??

    Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio had this column approved by her hubby??

    December 19, 2013 at 5:55 pm |
    • lol?? Translation

      "Get off my lawn!"

      December 19, 2013 at 7:29 pm |
  17. lol??

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Holy wood ought to bring in octomom if things get too boring for the lad.

    December 19, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Piccolo

      Why are so many of your comments awaiting moderation? Troll much?

      December 20, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  18. lol??

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    Blessed are the Cheesemakers sayz.
    "I agree Charm, funny how Lawrence suddenly dissappeared from this thread when asked how to resolve the theological dispute."

    1Cr 1:20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

    December 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

      God and his followers certainly work very hard at making wisdom foolish.

      December 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm |
      • lol??

        If you think Death's first act is funny, you'll get a charge out of the second.

        December 19, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Ooooo......proxy threat.

          December 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm |
        • lol??

          No threat needed for moldy cheese.

          December 19, 2013 at 6:57 pm |
        • Blessed are the Cheesemakers

          Then why did you...?

          lol = lack of logic

          December 19, 2013 at 7:14 pm |
  19. Babykins

    How do you learn to love something if you've never been in one?

    December 19, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
    • Danny

      Read Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer....let me know what you think after reading her book.

      December 19, 2013 at 5:48 pm |
    • lol??

      Your comment is awaiting moderation.
      Blessed are the Cheesemakers sayz.
      "I agree Charm, funny how Lawrence suddenly dissappeared from this thread when asked how to resolve the theological dispute."

      1Cr 1:20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?

      December 19, 2013 at 5:49 pm |
    • Tim

      No, you can't love something that you have not experienced.

      With that ti/tle the author's assessment is misleading.

      December 19, 2013 at 6:15 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.