By Sarah Foster Special to Published Sep 25, 2009 at 11:26 AM

I recently received a Talkback about a previous column on polyamory, the act of having multiple lovers. The writer wanted to know my thoughts on polygamy; which, in case you didn't know, is a Greek word meaning multiple marriages.

Many people confuse polygamy with bigamy, which also means multiple marriages. The difference between the two is that in polygamy, all the involved parties know about one another, which is often not the case in bigamy.

In this country, you cannot legally be married to more than one person at one time whether they know about one another or not. Bigamy is considered a misdemeanor and polygamy a felony (check out United States Penal Code (section 230.1). The opinions and confusion over polygamy stretch far and wide and have been thrust into the spotlight more and more due to recent court cases over the matter as well as popular television shows like "Big Love," which portray the ins and outs of polygamist families in a fictional setting.

One popular misconception is that polygamists are all of Mormon faith or of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In reality, both of these closely-related religions claimed to have turned away from multiple marriages some time ago and currently openly denounce polygamist groups claiming to be of their faith.

Polygamists should be called polygynists, which means one man having multiple wives. The opposite, polyandry is when a woman has multiple husbands, but you'd better believe that isn't the way it works out in Utah, which is a religious hub for both Mormons and Latter-day Saints and the polygamist groups that claim to stem from them.

Most polygamists get around prosecution by only obtaining one marriage license while being secretly married to multiple women. In public and non-supportive situations, the other wives will pretend to be single women with children. Clearly, this is difficult -- which is why most polygamists live in communities or compounds made up of only those that follow the same practices.

One of my issues with polygamy is that it's not human nature to want to share something that should be that sacred. There is a reason people go as far as to kill one another in the heat of passion; now imagine that the other woman, or women, are sleeping under the same roof. However, that's just my romantic heart talking (don't endorse killing anyone over love or marriage. There are far better methods of revenge). There are a lot more important and disturbing factors to this practice than the lack of monogamy.

For starters, polygamists practice the belief that women are somehow inferior to their husbands and men in general. From birth, women are taught that they must marry to get to the highest level of heaven as well as increase their social status in the community to help their husband's status and business dealings. Not only are they forced to marry, but they must also allow their husband to marry at least two other women. Oh, and did I mention he gets to have sex with these other women?

I don't know too many hard-working married woman that wouldn't appreciate some help around the house, with the kids and laundry, but I don't think this applies to the intimate aspects of life and marriage. The only reason I can come up with is that these women -- and by women I mean young women -- don't mind "sharing" their husband's affections is that the men are often much older than their wives. In some cases, we are talking multiple decades older and more than likely she did not know her husband until they were married, so perhaps your night in the master bedroom is a matter of drawing the short straw.

Many of these polygamist marriages are arranged between families without consent or input from the typically young girls involved. And by young, I mean not out of high school yet. Many of these girls don't even know the man they are being forced to marry, typically within days of being told they are pulled out of high school and married off to spend the rest of their lives being seen and not heard.

Do not be fooled by fantasies of "one big happy family" all pitching in at dinner time, with the laundry and sitting around camp fires together roasting marshmallows. Some of the more influential families have upwards of 20 wives and so many children that the patriarch does not know his own children by name. Is that every polygamist family? No, but does that really matter?

One only need know the charges against polygamist leader Warren Jeffs to understand the oppressive, brain-washing, nauseating nature of these communities and "families."

If you ask me, this is a safe haven for pedophiles with Jeffs as the ringleader. Jeffs is accused of arranging marriages between young girls and adult men, including a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin. He is also accused of being married to girls as young as 12. Gagging yet? I know I am. Jeffs himself is bad enough, but I must know what father and mother would let their 12-year-old daughter be married off to some much older man she doesn't even know... or worse yet, a family member.

We don't like it when they do this in Haiti, there is no way we should be OK with it happening within our own borders. Let's put it this way: the guy was on the FBI's most wanted list before his arrest in 2006, those of us with moral conscience likely wouldn't pick this guy as our future son-in-law.

Is this a matter of religion? Shouldn't we be able to practice our individual beliefs in this free country? It's not in my nature to tell anyone what they can and cannot believe. Religious beliefs are our own, no one has the right to tell us what to believe any more than they have the right to control what we think. However, this is not the first nor will it be the last time people have used God as an excuse to do the unthinkable.

You cannot expect me to believe that it's ever all right to force a 14-year-old into a marriage and allow her to be assaulted, that's rape any way you look at it, of a child no less, and it has got nothing whatsoever to do with religion.

Many young women have come out and said they had to "escape" from their polygamist families and communities because they knew what was going on behind closed doors was wrong and they were strong enough and lucky enough to be able to break free from this controlling and abusive environment.

Many of them report physical, emotional and sexual abuse throughout their entire lives and throughout entire families. There are non-profit groups dedicated solely to helping women escape and recover from polygamist compounds, because it can be incredibly difficult for these young women to adapt to life outside of the walls of the life they lived up to that point. These women and children are trapped in a world where they are told their vary salvation is dependant on their giving up all self-respect and desires for their own life and sacrificing everything to have the children of a man they don't know while sharing him with multiple other women. Boys in these communities are raised and conditioned to believe that incest and rape are their birth rights as men.

So my opinion on the matter should be pretty clear from this column. I do not believe that there in anything right or just about marriage and rape of minors; I do not agree with brainwashing others with lies of salvation and I do not believe that if this practice were so wonderful that those within would feel the need to escape. Therefore, I look at polygamy no differently than any other heinous crime in this country.

Perhaps when polygamy manages to separate itself from statutory rape, marriage of minors and it's general abuse of women and children, I may be more open to the idea, not for myself but for consenting adults that feel this is an acceptable for their own lives. Until then, the mere mention of polygamy will still make my skin crawl.

If you don't want to take my word for it, look it up. Research and hear for yourself the stories and facts surrounding polygamist communities and their practices.


Sarah Foster Special to

No, the sex columnist's real name is not Sarah Foster. (Foster is the model/actress that played an ex-lover of Vincent Chase in the first season of "Entourage.") In reality, our sex columnist is a Wisconsin native with a degree in journalism and a knack for getting people to talk to her.

Sarah never considered herself an "above average" listener. Others, however, seem to think differently. Perhaps she has a sympathetic tone or expression that compels people to share their lives and secrets with her despite how little they know her. Everyone from the girl that does her hair to people in line at the grocery store routinely spill the details of their lives and relationships to Sarah, unprompted but typically not unwanted. It’s strange to her that people would do this, but she doesn’t mind. Sarah likes that she can give advice even if it is to complete strangers.

So why the pseudonym? Simple. People tell Sarah these things because for some reason they trust her. They believe she cares and therefore will keep their secrets in a locked vault the same way a best friend or therapist would. Sarah won't name names, but that vault is now unlocked.