Amanda follows Jill in tackling the story of Warren Jeffs’ polygamist cult, wherein 14-year-old girls were married off to patriarchs. Like Jill, she uses this as a springboard to attack the entire practice of polygamy on the grounds that it’s a patriarchal arrangement.
The point of interest arises from a comment by One Jewish Dyke, who links to an article explaining that right now, the government only regards a Mormon patriarch’s first wife as a real wife, and as such, subsequent wives receive economic benefits of single mothers.
Deanna Beagley was raised in a polygamist family that included two mothers with 25 children. When she was 15 two girls told her at school that they heard she was going to be their “new mother.” Beagley later learned an FLDS leader had been given a “revelation” that she was to become the fourth wife of a middle-aged man she despised. Beagley asked for help from the principal of an elementary school in a nearby town. He adopted her.
In 1998 at 24 Beagley lived with her husband and three children on the outskirts of St. George, Utah. She had successfully established a new life. But she grew up on food stamps and welfare. She said, “I know women out there wouldn’t be having as many babies if it weren’t for the welfare. I remember being told that this was a work of God and it was up to the outside world to make us flourish.” To get more welfare money her father’s second wife lied, she claimed his first wife’s children were also hers to collect more, Beagley said.
According to federal paperwork, Colorado City is filled largely with unwed mothers without any visible spousal support. But Beagley said this has become a polygamist tradition, so that no proof exists of their many marriages through public records. Husbands marry only once in a civil ceremony. Other subsequent marriages are done “spiritually, but not legally. Beagley concluded, “It’s a way of life. You get married, you go on welfare, and that’s it.”
Polygamous women are treated as single mothers. “In terms of food-stamp eligibility, she’s not in a recognized marriage situation, and she’d be considered a single mom with kids,” said Mason Bishop, spokesman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Bush has said a few times that the best solution to poverty is marriage. In one sense, he’s right: if a single person needs X dollars per year to have a certain standard of living, then a couple needs far less than 2X to achieve the same standard, due to rent sharing, eating together, paying together for utilities, and so on. But by the same token, if a couple needs Y dollars, where Y < 2X, then a partnership of three needs less than 1.5Y.
I’m not saying that the government needs to encourage polyamory as an alternative to welfare. Puritanism is puritanism, regardless of whether it enforces the morality of Victorian England or this of a Heinlein novel. But what this shows is that in a country where welfare is distributed in inverse correlation to the number of adults in a household, polygamists should be the last on the dole line.
Of course, when cheating to get welfare is such an important source of income to polygamist communities, legalization alone won’t solve the problem of welfare cheating. But it will give the government the tools to say that since a certain woman isn’t really single but rather lives with a husband and another wife, she doesn’t deserve TANF benefits.