This introductory chapter provides entrée into the world of forbidden intimacies by considering how polygamy, and specifically polygyny—one man married to more than one woman—is a type of intimacy that presents challenges to nations in regulating it. It introduces the four cases that are compared—France, Mayotte, Canada, and the United States—as examples of racial projects, explaining how Western states govern forbidden intimacies to define themselves against a repudiated, racialized other. The idea of labyrinthine love, a structure of emotions that blends varying types of love, jealousy, and commitment, theorizes the existence of polygamies that challenge the assertion of a singular, harmful polygyny.
Chapter 1 theorizes the racial projects governments undertake based on Western ideals of "the family" and polygamy's repudiation. While racial projects define national identity, each government regulates polygamy ambivalently. In France, polygamy is racialized based on republican values that make it synonymous with a lack of assimilation. However, France ambivalently penalizes and rewards polygamous families by forcing divorce and rehousing secondary wives in more spacious accommodations. In the United States, fundamentalist Mormon polygamists are "one of us" as white Americans; however, they are "race traitors" due to their practice of polygyny. Utah officials have ambivalently governed these families by litigating polygamy when other crimes are present but decriminalizing it as a stand-alone charge. Canada put polygamy on trial, focusing on its harms to society and the institution of marriage, a surprising emphasis for a multicultural society. After charging two leaders, it showed ambivalence by giving them house arrest.
Chapter 2 focuses on polygamies in the United States and Mayotte to conceptualize how they are lived and experienced when they are "homegrown," emerging from religious and/or cultural practices in the societies in which they are rooted. In contrast to the way that governments tend to deal with polygyny as singular and retrograde, diverse polygamies depend on religious belief and social/cultural context. Conceptualizing polygamies, this chapter provides a history of polygamy among fundamentalist Mormons and the Mahorais. It explores how polygamies exist on a continuum of dysfunctional to thriving, a structural approach to understanding polygamies and how living them are shaped by labyrinthine love that mixes various styles of love and jealousy.
While polygamies take on a certain shape and form when they are homegrown, those that move from one country to another are often lived very differently. A polygynist family migrating from and to countries where polygamy is legal might not experience much dislocation. Conversely, polygamies that migrate from a country where it is legal to where it is prohibited present very different challenges. France offers an important case of a country in which a large population of families migrated legally from former colonies in West Africa, bringing one or more wives. Chapter 3 explores the ways that labyrinthine love and polygyny is complicated in a colonial and postcolonial context. For some, transnational relations between France and the country of origin are key; for others, space is front and center, as polygynous families squeeze into small apartments in France that are affordable.
At the heart of debates over polygyny is its gender asymmetry based on patriarchal kinship structures. One man can marry multiple women, often without the consent of those who came first, whereas the wife can only marry one man. Chapter 4 considers feminist debates over patriarchy and polygyny, and the possibility for women's agency within constraint. On the one hand, government racial projects make women's sexual agency suspect. For some women, agency is constrained by living in polygyny in ways that they describe as offering little choice. Other women actively fight efforts to make their agency suspect. Polygynous relationships that work embraced a conciliatory masculinity and homosocial femininity that provided the opportunity to balance power relations.
Stigma plays a central role in the ways that polygamies are lived and in how they are regulated. There is a moral dimension to stigma that is linked to ideals of what is seen as good and desirable and what is not. Chapter 5 examines the connections between individual stigma that is experienced by people living in polygynous families based on their religion and racial categories and the structural factors that push these families into clandestinity. It examines the contradictory ways that regulating forbidden intimacies draws on negative stereotypes of patriarchal control to illuminate the social consequences of prohibiting a highly stigmatized family structure. Regulating polygyny becomes a way to displace anxieties about current changing structures of intimacy onto a marginalized family form that is characterized as inherently harmful and outside the realm of Western ideals.
Chapter 6 considers whether and why groups fight for or against polygamy. It examines how national identities shape the ability for counter practices or social movements to flourish. In Mayotte, many criticize the French government's hypocritical manner of implementing polygamy's prohibition. This discontent manifests as counter practices where people live their lives outside the purview of the state. In France, the main activism has arisen out of associations that work with African populations to provide better living conditions. Some seek to abolish polygyny, but most remain neutral. In the United States, whiteness and citizenship status allow some polygynous populations to draw on dominant cultural repertoires of "coming out" to successfully fight for decriminalization. Legal consciousness is enabled by the conditions of belonging as white citizens. These cases illuminate how the law, race, citizenship, and regulation work together to create the social conditions that make contesting forbidden intimacies desirable.
This final chapter concludes with an assessment of the legal and policy implications of regulating forbidden intimacies in the context of other "progressive" intimacies that have become more accepted—same-gender marriage and polyamory. It reflects on the racial projects the book has outlined and the ways that racialized mononormativity enables states to outlaw polygamy and solidify a national identity of enlightened "Western" values. Considering the complicated ways that globalization has transformed polygynous lives—at times a chosen lifestyle that provides comfort and support and others a nightmare of jealousy and violence—it argues that the concept of intimacy must be broadened to consider the ways that multiple relationships within a religious and patriarchal structure adapt to specific cultural conditions.