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Love Times Three - A Peek Inside Modern Polygamy

by Cyndi Paxton Johnson

Mention "Polygamy" and people start laughing, waiting for the punch line. The guy stutters, right? I Do, I Do, I Do..... I DO! Beer lovers can indulge in the plural with Polygamy Porter, and the motto "Why Have Just One?"  

Polygamy has been a media hot topic, lately. On the small screen we had the successful HBO series, "Big Love" (which had some good moments) and the reality show "Sister Wives" (which I found as stupid fascinating as every other reality show). For print, there's a LOT of memoirs like "Stolen Innocence" and "Wife no. 19".  The books I've read have always solidified the mainstream viewpoint as polygamy as evil, a way to imprison women and control children by marrying them off at age 12 to old men.  In no way do I want to minimize the women who had that experience - nor their bravery at seeking a better life. But perhaps their story of abuse is not the ONLY story of polygamy. 

I just spent a day reading Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage , an autobiographical look into a plural marriage. The book is written by Joe Darger and each of his three wives, Alina and twins Vicki and Valerie Darger, along with journalist Brooke Adams. There's talk that Joe and his family were the inspiration behind "Big Love", and indeed, some scenes from the show came directly from Joe's experiences. His mother DID win a state award for mothering, only to be "outed" during the awards ceremony. Not surprisingly, Joe and his three wives all came from a polygamous background. They remember their childhoods fondly, full of fun, love and companionship. 

The book details their courtship and marriage from each unique viewpoint, and doesn't minimize the jealousies and misunderstandings that MUST be part of a plural relationship. The many (24!) children go through normal rebellions, made more poignant by the taunts of other children - and adults.  The organization and efficiency needed for such a large family to function boggles the mind - and leaves me wondering why I have difficulty managing merely one spouse and three children - and various critters, of course. 

Plural families have a long history of secrecy. Not only will the neighbors NOT understand, but in many states, polygamy is defined as bigamy, and is illegal.  Technically, bigamy is taking two or more legal spouses. Polygamists have only one legal wife, the rest are married in private, religious ceremonies. Historically, the state has taken women and children away from their husbands in well-documented raids. Fear of discovery is a tangible presence in a plural lifestyle. 

So why has this family left the shadows to tell the world about their lifestyle? Besides writing this book, they’ve appeared on syndicated talk shows such as Oprah, Larry King Live, and 48 Hours. Why would a family deliberately put themselves out in public view, knowing that most of the reactions will be negative?

I'll let them explain their actions:

 

Val Darger:

My goal is for people to see how human I am, to realize I could be their neighbor, and to understand that I deserve as many rights and as much respect as they do. (p.270)

I am not asking for plural marriage to receive official state approval, but I believe unique bigamy laws that make polygamy a felony are unfair.(p.271)

Decriminalizing polygamy would … bring the practice out of the shadows so that families like ours can live openly and honestly. It would also make it more likely that when problems do occur, people who need help can seek it without fear… (p.271)


Joe Darger:

The current bigamy laws are not stopping the religiously based practice of polygamy: all they do is force believers underground, into isolation and secretive behavior. Such laws will continue to make abusive behavior more difficult to detect and give cover to men and group leaders who are unscrupulous.

The debate about polygamy often overlooks personal choice and constitutional liberty rights. I want the right to structure my family and my personal relationships with other consenting adults as I see fit. I want tolerance for unions like mine, entered into freely and willingly by consenting adults who are motivated by religious belief and whose conduct cannot be shown to pose any substantial harm to the state or to those under its protection. (p. 280)

Like them (my wives), I am no longer willing to let our family and our beliefs be defined and defiled by detractors, the uninformed, and those who fled unhappy plural marriages and broken families. I hope telling our story increases public understanding of our lifestyle so that our children, whether they choose to follow our example or not, will be spared the prejudices, misconceptions, and fears we have endured.

This is, after all, a country founded on religious freedom, a country that proclaims respect for personal choice when it comes to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. (p.281)

 

Nicely stated, Val and Joe! I high-lighted the phrase, consenting adults, because I believe it is the heart of the issue. I’ll be the first one to fight for the rights of children who are being controlled by more powerful adults – but what adults CHOOSE to do in the privacy of their home is simply none of my business!

Women once had to fight for the right to vote. African Americans fought for civil liberties in a long and bloody battle. Gays are currently fighting for the right to marry – and winning. None of these groups overcame the prejudice and hate until OTHER people got involved. The way to get mainstream folks involved is to risk all to get their attention.

I don’t believe any group is inherently good or evil. Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays – and polygamists - include both sincere, honest people – and abusive controllers. Historically, we’ve learned that the criminalization of an activity allows the abusive to gain power and control, since the good guys rarely seek that power.

We’ve come so far, it feels odd to reconsider the centuries old practice of a group of people that hide in the hills of Utah. Which is why the Dargers are no longer hiding.

Read their book, Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage  – also available in the Kindle version, if you don’t mind giving up the pictures. Personally, the family pictures serve as a reminder that these are real people, not a fictionalized account.  Visit their website. You can even follow them on Twitter!

Share the book, and this article, with others. Let’s help this family get their story told! We may not agree with plural marriage – but that doesn’t mean it should be a felony. Let’s get the government out of the bedroom and focus on what’s really important….

Protecting the children.  Yours, mine – and the Dargers’.

 

This book caught my attention and made me re-think what I know about polygamy. Since it’s autobiographical, I wonder what’s been left out (I’m suspicious by nature).  The wives wrote seemingly freely about their faults and short-comings – and how they worked to resolve the issues.

I found the husband, Joe, amazingly perfect. Maybe even, a little too perfect. If indeed, he works so hard to connect with his wives (date nights!) and his twenty-four children without losing his temper or his sanity – he is a true gem, and should be cloned! (or perhaps that’s what the 24 kids are for?) Personally, I figure he has an annoying, disgusting habit or two.  C’mon folks……surely his feet stink, or he hogs the bathroom or leaves wet towels on the bed?

Not that annoying husband habits alter the basic premise…. That consenting adults have the right to form families that may or may not conform to social norms – such as families with gay parents. That, as long as neither adults nor children are being abused: EVERYONE has certain inalienable rights, among these, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Thank you, Dargers, for giving me – and others – something to think about!  

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