The Polygamist in the White House… and next door

We may never know if indeed it was a first.

At the White House on Tuesday the president awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, to an esteemed American and de facto polygamist.

His name is Warren Buffett.

In case you didn’t know, for more than a half-century, right up until her death, the celebrated multi-billionaire investor was married to his beloved Susie. And for a quarter-century, at Susie’s behest and with her full approval, he also maintained a committed, intimate relationship and publically shared a home with Astrid.  Holiday cards to friends were signed “Warren, Susie and Astrid.” Upon Susie’s death — which was devastating to Buffett — he and Astrid were able to be formally married.

Warren, Susie and Astrid are a rare exception: most committed, long-term triads are not so public.  Of course, there was no violation of any bigamy statute and no tax fraud. One legal marriage at a time, one spousal tax deduction.

High-profile polygamists — married de facto, if not de jure — may not be running the marriage rights flag up the flagpole, but the Buffetts are not alone.

So respectable a figure as Karl Barth, the twentieth-century Protestant theologian widely held to be the greatest mind in Christendom since Thomas Aquinas, shared the entire second half of his 80-year life in a household with two women.  

When the greatest German composer of the second half of the 20th century, Karlheinz Stockhausen, died in 2007, it was his two common law wives, Suzanne Stephens and Kathinka Pasveer, who jointly announced his passing.

Still, attention in the news media to the subject of polygamy has focused on a single stereotype: fundamentalist Mormons who live on compounds in remote parts of Utah, Arizona and Texas, and on crimes and allegations of crimes by men such as Warren Jeffs against women and children. They are news worthy, sadly real and utterly abhorrent.  But they appear not to be the norm, and according to social scientists who have studied them are not the basis for polygamy.

This is no longer the only image of polygamy in the American media.  The fictional Hendricksons of ‘Big Love’ and the real-life Browns of  ‘Sister Wives’ portray polygamy in a more All American life-in-the-suburbs light. They are for the most part at least approachable and very often endearing. Still, both high-profile TV shows are about families living the Mormon principle of plural marriage as a religious tenet.

The Buffetts’ polygamy is not based on Mormonism. Nor was the Barths’, nor that of the Stockhausen family. And it’s fair to say that none of the women in these three men’s lives was coerced into an underage union against their will by a manipulative prophet or tyrannical patriarch. It was for each of them a life they chose.

As a boy growing up I couldn’t imagine that I knew anyone who was a homosexual.  The thought of meeting one kind of scared me. When I learned that a man I was working with and respected was gay I could barely believe it: he was pretty much like everyone else.  He wasn’t scary. These days, everyone knows someone who is gay. My eldest son is gay. He’s out. No big deal.

I suspect there are polygamists, or would-be ones, in your town, in your neighborhood.  Maybe you know them and maybe you don’t.  And maybe you know or suspect they’re really — de facto — polygamists and maybe you don’t. But chances are they aren’t drawing a lot of attention to themselves and aren’t much like Warren Jeffs — or for that matter Warren Buffett.  Chances are they’re more like you and me.

Perhaps you’re one.

Or perhaps you would be, if you felt you could.

Advertisements

2 Responses to The Polygamist in the White House… and next door

  1. Carson says:

    Nice article David. In a way, I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. I’m polyamorous, which simply means that my love is not limited to one person, or even two. When I tell the truth about this heart, it falls at the drop of a hat. I can look into the eyes of a stranger, in a photograph, whom I’ve never met, and notice that I love them with all my heart. No kidding. I’ve stopped BS’ing people about that. I’m committed to the truth, even when it doesn’t fit into someone’s conceptual box for “good people.”

    But marriage, with more than one person? Either I’m not the right kind of person, or I haven’t met the right kind of people. I’ve had two marriages; each lasted approximately seven years; the first lost her mind; the second had a change of heart. I salute people who are able to be married without living a life of compromise and buried resentments. My past would suggest that I haven’t been a good candidate, at least not yet. ~Carson Boyd

  2. DAVE KREILING says:

    I can’t seem to find a single soulmate. So I can’t really can’t comment. The poly groups do seem to be looking for someone while they have someone when they find greener pastures they leave the former. I’m not sure about it. i am open for discourse.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: