Why is polygamy illegal? Marriage used to be defined as one man plus one woman with the potential, in principle, to have kids. Then we opened it up to include two men or two women. With the miracle of science, it could even be one man who used to be a woman and one woman who self-defines as a parrot. And yet even as the biology of marriage evolves rapidly, we still keep a limit on numbers. Not so the fundamentalist Mormons in Channel 4’s Three Wives, One Husband (Thursdays, 9pm).
A few years ago, one would’ve watched this show for a laugh. Modern times dictate that we do so with an open mind. And what is so awful about Abel Morrison, his three wives and 12 children who reside in the desert of Utah? The kids live as kids should – like savages – and the adults pray together, laugh together and are remarkably frank about the flaws of their system. No one is kept against their will; the women could walk off and take the kids with them.
This isn’t Salem, 1693. It’s more like San Francisco, 1968. Take philosophy, tradition and God out of the marriage debate and it becomes hard to justify telling other people how they ought to live. Nowadays, we leave it up to others to figure out what does and doesn’t work. There’s a reason why barely a single 1960s commune is still going. Human beings don’t really want to share every aspect of their lives with strangers, and as our flesh gets old and saggy, constant nudity loses its appeal.
The strains are also showing in Utah. There’s conflict between wives; it’s not a team of equals. Knowing that your husband is upstairs making love to a woman half your age is a test of faith that few people could pass. I’m surprised Abel hasn’t come home to find a bunny boiling on his stove. The only thing that stops his commune from descending into outright war is its religion. And that’s ironic, isn’t it? Most religious people would denounce the Morrisons, yet it is religion that keeps the Morrisons together.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.