Because Polygamists Are Queer People Too, Goddammit

Nicky, why can’t you just smile and join the pride parade? I must hear this refrain at least ten times a day from people both inside and out of my community. With all the progress, with all the popular approval, why can’t I just be one of those happy Queers you see on TV? Why must I insist on being such a fucking bummer? And sometimes I wish it was that easy too. That I could just put on a pair of heels and embrace the simple pleasures of mainstream inclusion. The only problem is that I know way too much about the history of Western Civilization to pretend that progress isn’t a fucking trap.

I can’t pretend that the globalized corporate culture that defines the collective West isn’t a moral desert defined by commercialism, conformity and assimilation. I can’t pretend that this culture isn’t the direct descendant of the White Anglo-Saxon Puritan culture that wiped out the pagan tribes who once revered my people for what made us unique, and I can’t pretend that being Queer isn’t defined by our long history of resistance to this culture and that allowing ourselves to be absorbed into it would be tantamount to genocide.

Every right that these people have given us has been rigged. We have the right to state protection from bigotry as long as we consent to recognizing the authority of an institution that violates the rights of more Queer people than every Bible Belt fag basher combined in the form of the Prison Industrial Complex. We have the right to serve openly in the straight man’s army as long as we consent to the wholesale slaughter of other marginalized people that defines its very existence. And of course, there is the most sacred right that a Queer person could possibly ask for, what every little trans girl dreams about, the right to marriage.

This was the right on full display just a few weeks ago when Joe Biden officially signed the Respect for Marriage Act into law. A bipartisan smash hit, this law codified federal recognition of same sex marriage as well as interracial marriage after the Supreme Court reminded us all of the unpleasant fact that the Founding Fathers were a bunch of sexist bigots like them with the overturning of Roe V. Wade.

Once again, I can’t pretend to be impressed by this thing called marriage. I’m an anarchist for Stirner’s sake. The state’s approval of who I love and how I love them is about as meaningful to me as receiving the blessing of the Mafia. But I have nothing against the institution in and of itself and consenting adults should have every right to enjoy it. Kali knows the weird shit that turns me on isn’t every Queer’s cup of tea. But there was something that just wasn’t quite right about this picture.

The sight of all these shiny, happy, camera-friendly Queers whooping it up on the White House lawn as Cindy Lauper belted out the hits couldn’t erase the fact that many of the Beltway ghouls who invited them to the party, including our hero Joe Biden, had long and economically fruitful careers defined by fucking us over with sickeningly bigoted laws like DOMA and FOSTA-SESTA. I mean, after decades of drowning us in pigs’ blood, the cool kids invite us to a party in our honor and this doesn’t seem weird to you?

I know, I know, Nicky is such a fucking downer. I’ve heard. But I can’t seriously be the only faggot asking, ‘what’s the catch?’ here. The answer to this million-dollar question can actually be found in the fine print of the bill itself. The Respect for Marriage Act codifies any marriage between two people into federal law. It also explicitly forbids the recognition of polygamy in no uncertain terms. In other words, our marriage rights come at the expense of someone else’s.

Who cares about a bunch of dusty old Mormon bumpkins, right? Well, you should if you have any respect at all for the cultural institution of Queerness. After all, what is a Queer person? A sexual and/or gender minority whose existence runs against the grain of the Anglo-Saxon Puritan order. And what is a polygamist? Say it with me now, people- a sexual and/or gender minority whose existence runs against the grain of the Anglo-Saxon Puritan order. Polygamy is a form of polyamory, love between multiple partners, that is as Queer as any lifestyle you’re likely to find at your local fetish ball.

The fact that your average American polygamist is a Fundamentalist Mormon fag basher shouldn’t matter anymore than the fact that your average radical feminist lesbian thinks that I’m a male chauvinist pig for having a prick under my dress. They are still our people whether they realize it or not and we can’t pretend to support marriage equality while we throw other consenting adults under the state’s bus.

America has been at war with polygamy for as long as it’s been at war with every other form of Queer love and the Mormons have been savagely persecuted for generations for once daring to recognize it. In 1838, the governor of Missouri chased them from their original homeland on the threat of extermination in what can only be accurately described as an act of Queer ethnic cleansing. A few years later, their founder Joseph Smith was lynched by an angry mob in Illinois and the Mormons escaped the Midwest to the deserts of the Great Salt Lake in search of a safe space where they could simply exist in peace.

Polygamy was officially banned by the federal government with the Edmund’s Act in 1862. When a few brave Mormons challenged this law as a clear violation of their constitutional freedom of religion in 1878, the Supreme Court upheld the law in the Court’s first decision to limit religious freedom with reasoning that is sadly still sited to this day. This reasoning included the justices referring to the practice of plural marriage as “odious” and claims that it offends polite society that should sound strangely familiar to all ears. It seems that constitutional rights like religious liberty are only sacred when the people practicing them conform to the puritanical confines of our slave-raping Founding Fathers. Who knew?

The Mormons attempted to peacefully secede and established their own sovereign communities in what is now largely modern-day Utah, but the United States government just wouldn’t let them be. President Buchanan invaded the Deseret with 2,500 soldiers to put down the “Mormon Rebellion” and forcibly confiscate church land. This persecution only received a brief reprieve during the Civil War but Abraham Lincoln’s bloody suspension of Habeas Corpus to keep the Union whole made it violently clear that secession was another institution that the American government was willing to kill to suppress. In 1890, the Church of Latter-Day Saints finally bowed to pressure and traded one of the founding principles of their faith in exchange for the safety of mainstream inclusion.

But all this carnage was about much more than just one guy shacking up with two wives. Much like with all Queer rights, the government’s animus had a lot more to do with social cohesion than anything else. Early Mormon society was far from utopian, but it was defined by a form of pious collectivism that placed the community before the state and every straight man’s favorite fetish, capitalism.

Families were larger and more powerful than any one government institution and women and children generally enjoyed more independence than the lesser captives of most 19th century monogamous communities. Any degeneration from sexual and gender mores poses a direct challenge to the carefully constructed western class system that evolved out of the rise of patriarchy during the agricultural revolution. This is why Queer people of all kinds are only ever left with two choices, conformity or persecution.

The Church of Latter-Day Saints chose conformity and lost a society that was nearly entirely autonomous from the wickedness of the western world that now ravages the streets of Salt Lake City with crime and addiction. The Mormons who chose to embrace this assimilation embraced the federal government that killed their ancestors as a divinely inspired institution while the few who chose to resist were chased by this divine institution into the shadows where they could be easily poached by rapacious creeps like Warren Jeffs.

Polygamy remains a felony on the books in all fifty states. Refugees whose ancestors have practiced this form of family values since long before Joseph Smith wore short pants are denied citizenship and deported. Families continue to be forcefully separated and shattered by the federal government in routine raids on polygamist compounds. These people cling to their faith because everyone but God has forgotten them. Speaking as a genderfuck outcast who spent the better part of her childhood at the mercy of Catholic creeps not unlike Warren Jeffs, I can’t help but to believe that my community owes these people a little better than this. Hell, we owe it to ourselves too, because polygamists are Queer people too, goddammit and if we don’t look out for each other, no one will. Certainly not Joe Biden.

The problem with mainstream inclusion is that it always comes at the price of the persecution of those who wish to live their lives outside of the confines of mainstream society. State-sanctioned marriage comes with benefits that should belong to all of us by birthright, regardless of how many people we love or how we choose to love them. If Queer people abandon our rebellious principles for this conformist sacrament, it won’t just be at the expense of a bunch of forgotten pioneers, it will be at the expense of our own sacred identity as renegades against puritanical conformity. Call me a fucking bummer ten times a day, but I would rather die like an odious apostate than dance on their graves for a White House photo-op any day of the week.

Nicky Reid is an agoraphobic anarcho-genderqueer gonzo blogger from Central Pennsylvania and assistant editor for Attack the System. You can find her online at Exile in Happy Valley.