Watch How One Polygamous Family Changed the Law | The New Yorker Video | CNE | Newyorker.com

I’m so proudly that I have three wives, I’ve raised between them 25 children, and between those children, we now have 16 grandchildren...


I’m so proudly that I have three wives,

I’ve raised between them 25 children,

and between those children,

we now have 16 grandchildren.

17.

I did the count, it’s 17.

[laughing]

That was with Maddy’s?

[slow music]

So.

There is a false narrative that the Nuclear Family

is the typical family,

and that’s not really true.

People seem to think that Leave It To Beaver

was a documentary, it wasn’t.

You know you have a very wonderful father, don’t you?

Oh sure mom. Oh, sure mom.

It was an idolized representation

of what people aspired to,

and since that time the nuclear family

has been held to be the ideal,

and all other families have been held up against it.

Families like ours weren’t supposed to speak up,

and if you did speak up,

you could either be put in jail,

or there was more often the prejudice you would experience.

One of the false narratives

that goes around about plural families

is that there’s no choice,

and that everybody that’s in them are either a victim

or a perpetrator.

And the lack of understanding

that’s gone on about plural families

has really caused that narrative to grow.

Different legal systems have kept people quiet

and afraid to come forward and say,

That’s not us, that’s not who we are.

[beeping]

All right, it’s ready.

Let’s have blessing.

Kay, go ahead and say it.

Dear heavenly father,

we bless the food medicine.

It is a love story for me.

We’ve all came from plural families,

and you know I just graduated from high school.

[slow music]

I really was focused on school,

I wasn’t looking to fall in love.

[Alina] I knew Joe, he was friends with my brother

and then Vicki is my cousin,

and I have 100s of cousins.

So, I think I saw Vicki and Val

twice when we were kids.

[upbeat music]

When we got older, Vicki and I became friends.

[Joe] As the relationship of the two of them blossomed,

they decided they’re gonna come out

after me together.

And, that was very conferring for me.

It was a surprise to all of us.

But we were just like,

let’s kind of see where this goes.

We’re just opened to the lifestyle,

so I might as well look into it.

We both believed in it,

and so we were like, Why not look at it

and see how it can work?

[upbeat music]

We were married for 10 years

and then this gal comes, shows up.

I came along.

She had come out of divorce

and was coming over,

and I saw her life for the first time for me,

and we were both really confronted.

I wasn’t looking for another wife.

I felt a zing,

and then I was like, What was that?

No.

[upbeat music]

Shortly she joined the family along with five kids.

And we became a plural Brady Bunch family.

[dramatic music]

The crime has traditionally been

if you report to be married.

So, it was a law against language rather.

So, we couldn’t even talk about it.

You didn’t say anything about your family.

You didn’t want to lie,

but then you felt this pressure,

like I can’t own who I am,

I can’t say who I am.

And I think when you do that to a culture,

you do that to people

where they’re not even able to speak who they are,

or be proud of who you are.

It really marginalizes

and then leads for that culture to be exploited.

[upbeat music]

I’m writing a book now in which I try to look

at ways in which people who consider themselves family,

have to contend with the system

that tends to give greater validity

to mainstream families.

And I’m interested in the idea

that this nuclear family really was an invention

of the 20th century.

They originate from a 1950s idea

that there was such a thing as an ideal family,

and they originate a lot from the idea of normality.

And it began in mathematics,

and in mathematics it meant that the thing

that occurs most frequently.

Check the longest.

That idea of normality was very much celebrated.

People wanted to fit in,

they wanted to be the same eccentricity was devalued,

originality was devalued.

And while the pressure on human beings was significant,

it was nothing compared to the pressure placed on families.

[Narrator] Oh, here’s Tommy’s father home from work.

And here comes mother to say hello.

Every week father comes home with money

for Tommy and for mother.

Families had a way they were supposed to look,

and there were roles,

there was a breadwinner father,

there was a caretaker mother,

there were a couple of children, maybe three.

There was a dog,

there was a cat.

It was idealized in media representations,

and the assumption was that in these households,

free of disability,

free of difference,

free of so many of the things in which we have sense

come to find meaning,

that it was in these households

that people would have the best, the optimal,

the most wonderful experience.

So, we came to a very sentimental

and a very narrow notion of what it meant to be a family.

Married to three women.

Isn’t that illegal?

You have never seen any family like the Dargers.

Love times three,

our true story of a polygamous marriage.

We have The Dargers here.

The Dargers were willing to come out as polygamous,

at a time when almost nobody did.

They said the representations

that are out there of us are wrong.

There are people who are suffering in polygamous marriages,

there are people who find them joyful.

Those stories need to be heard.

Only the stories of people have been miserable

are being heard right now.

What really got us all inspired

to become more public,

and try to change the narrative

was my daughter, Kiera.

She died when she was five months old.

[slow music]

The investigation and the way that we were treated

and the fears that we had

of interacting with other agencies,

it was really, really painful.

They went in and they pulled out

all the kids from the same last name

in the schools around to interview them.

I was only 30 at the time,

and I just didn’t know what to do.

I had seen some other families

where there were some cases

where the people had had something happen to their child,

and were being accused of some kind of abuse,

and they chose to kind of go deeper and hide.

The fear just made them go,

We don’t dare talk to anybody,

we hardly even dare go out of the house.

That’s not gonna be healthy.

We can’t do that.

I wanted do that,

because I was really scared.

But, Joe was really angry,

and all of us were kind of wondering what to do,

but we just knew it couldn’t stay the same.

It just couldn’t stay the same.

[Man] Joe, do you constantly smile?

Huh?

I mean.

We realize that narrative

that we talked about is so strong,

that if we didn’t start doing more interviews,

or being public or talking about it,

even though it was a risk to talk about.

If we didn’t do that,

it was not a chain.

[upbeat music]

We really tried to examine what we had to do

to change the law,

we did a lot of politicizing,

we got a lot of people active in politics.

[Woman] So, I want to thank Joe Darger for the invitation

to speak on this really important issue.

We had to really focus on the republican party

to get any kind of influence,

and get people to see that we had a voice.

When these crimes do happen in plural families,

they are often not reported,

because of the widespread fear

of the media and law enforcement.

Joe has had a number of insights

were crucial to bringing

about decriminalization in Utah.

In the first place he said,

We have tried for many years,

the freedom of religion argument,

and it has never worked.

He said, The freedom of religion argument

does not in fact cause people to open up

and say that they want to accept those of us

who are practicing polygamy.

It was defeated by the Supreme Court

in the Reynolds decision,

in the late 19th century,

it has been defeated in courts over, and over again.

He said, Polygamy is a free speech issue.

He said, Nobody gets in trouble,

because he has slept with a bunch of different women

and had children by them.

He said, I have children with three women

and I call them my wives.

And it’s because I use the word wives,

that our lives are stigmatized.

He said, That is a free speech issue,

I should be able to call them whatever I want to call them.

And so, it was the revelation I think

that this could be negotiated as a free speech issue,

that was his great primary insight,

and the beginning of the shift toward decriminalization.

A lot of people know there’s no way

you’re ever gonna change the law in a Mormon legislature,

and we had that unanimously passed in the senate.

Overwhelming passed it in the house.

Polygamy is not legalized to be clear,

but it is decriminalized.

[upbeat music]

We got it to go from criminal, felonious,

to now it’s an infarction, in 18 years.

[slow music]

So, you’re taking Christian, Tori.

Christian, Tori and then Tess.

Wherever we take her.

A lot of times the fact that it was criminalized

was used as a license to then discriminate.

Well it’s not religious discrimination,

because you’re illegal.

So, I can deny you housing,

I can deny you job,

I can deny you a loan,

because you’re involved in a felonious lifestyle.

So, now that we’ve been able

to alter that just this year,

we’re hoping that more people can come forward

and own who they are,

and they we can put an end to this kind of narrative

that continues to exist,

from keeping people quiet.

[slow music]

If we just hold on to the nuclear family

versus being more accepting,

then we continue to ignore

what is in society.

What is is single parents, polygamous families,

it’s gay families, it’s polyamorous families.

So, if we’re going to continue to ignore what is,

then what we’ll continue to do is then resist it,

which then turns into hating it,

which then turns into more strife.

[upbeat music]

However somebody wants to organize themselves

to create the future,

we need to accept that,

because that is America,

and that is who you can be for the world.

[upbeat music]

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Newsrust: Watch How One Polygamous Family Changed the Law | The New Yorker Video | CNE | Newyorker.com
Watch How One Polygamous Family Changed the Law | The New Yorker Video | CNE | Newyorker.com
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