Are the Snowdens Married? (Or the Alldredges, or the Brineys?) – What is Marriage?

In the first episode of Seeking Sister Wife we are introduced to the Snowden family, Dimitri and Ashley.  A little after 7 minutes in Dimitri tells us that after dating for 2 years they, “Committed [themselves] to each other.” Additionally, on TLC’s, Meet The Families of Seeking Sister Wife, page we learn they have purposefully abstained from a legal marriage under the eyes of the law in order to ensure equality with their future wife.  They consider one another spouses, they have 3 children together, they share finances and many other things, and they also let us know that they have no marriage license from the state of Georgia (or any other state).

We Committed

In light of the several comments and questions my posts have generated (see here and here) about the nature of marriage – especially in the Snowden family, but also in the Alldredge and Briney families as well (and all other plural families too), I have decided to write a post on my views about what constitutes a marriage.

A few years ago (November 2015) some friends of mine decided to rededicate their marriage.  They threw a big party and asked if I would “officiate” at their ceremony.  It was a relatively informal event; I said a few words, and they renewed their vows with each other.  It was a beautiful thing, but the reason they were doing it was a bit disappointing.  You see, they had just left the LDS Church (the reason why is unimportant to this post), and the validity of their Church marriage (specifically their sealing – more about this later) was being called into question by some of their acquaintances.  This is sadly not an uncommon occurrence.  When the Church kicked us out we had the same experience.  Concerns were expressed to us that we had broken our covenants and now we were adulterers, had lost all our blessings, no longer had the Holy Ghost with us, etc.

This post, and my future post about the Mormon concept of Sealing, are adaptations of the words I prepared for that marriage rededication ceremony.  Here it goes:

In 1774, Thomas Jefferson said these words, “A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.” This was two years before the Declaration of Independence.  At the time these were radical words – treasonous words even.

The common model of government at the time was that no rights existed for the common people – except those granted to them by the King.  The King owned all the land, the people were subject to his mandates, and any privileges the people had were granted to them by their Sovereign Lord.  He in turn received all his power from God by virtue of the Divine Right of Kings.  Alas, there are many unfortunate parallels between government and religious authorities.

As powerful as they think they may be, governments are run by men – mortals all.  Governments do not possess any powers unless those powers have been delegated to it by the people who are governed.

The preamble to the Declaration of Independence correctly proclaims this fact.  It reads in part:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Eleven years later these ideas were crystallized in the Constitution of the United States of America.  It was the fulfillment of the promise made in the Declaration of Independence.  And yet, despite the Constitution being the founding document of our nation’s government, our Constitution is widely misunderstood; and here is the misunderstanding:

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The Constitution does not grant you the right to free speech.  It does not give you the right to print what you please, or to choose your own religion.  The Constitution does not grant you the right to carry arms for your defense, to assemble or associate with whom you please, or any of the other things we have imagined it to grant to us.

If you will take the Bill of Rights, and actually read it, you will discover that in every case, the rights mentioned are not granted.  It does not say anything to the effect that, “the citizens of the United States are hereby granted the right to worship as they choose…”  No, No!  On the contrary, it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”  It does not say anything like, “you may carry arms for your defense.”  Rather it says, “the right shall not be infringed”, and on and on.

Indeed, the government cannot grant us anything we do not already have – we, in fact, are the ones that have granted powers to the government – the government does not have anything the people have not given to it.  Rather than being granted, all the rights mentioned are protected.  They are not extensions of our privileges, they are limits and restraints upon the government!

Well, what does all this talk about government and rights have to do with marriage?

The truth is: if the government has any authority at all, to marry anyone, then they have received that power from the people, and their receiving of that power from the people in no way diminishes the rights of the people (unless we let it).  The powers are delegated, yet still retained by the people – because they are inalienable.  They cannot be separated from us.  They are inherent both to our being and to our existence.

The sanctity of marriage is reduced by getting the government to protect it.  Orthodox Christian theologian Davd J. Dunn writes,

“Today’s Christian conservatives seem to be worshiping America, or at least a certain idea of it, when they ask the government to protect the ‘sanctity’ of marriage. In doing this, they have vested the state with the power to sanctify…Christians who demand the state take up the task of defending marital sanctity are effectively making the state their god. They seem to think that their local capitol can perform miracles when [in reality] only the Holy Spirit has the power to sanctify.”

Well, there are some, no doubt, who do not feel the same way about things.  They are upset with anyone who does something out of the ordinary.  And in particular with anyone who exercises their rights while ignoring the religious or civil authorities.  There are many who feel that marriages are illegitimate without the approval of the government, or the Church, or both.

But it has not always been that way.

Marriage in the scriptures, and for most of human history, has simply consisted of a man and woman (usually with the consent of the woman’s father), living together and attempting procreation.  No priest, no license, and no registration.  These are all recent innovations within the last 500 years.  The Catholic Church did not require marriages to be officiated by a priest until 1563.  The Anglican Church did not get around to making this requirement until 1753.  For most of human history, marriage has simply been an agreement (contract), recognized or arranged by the immediate families, for a man and woman to live together.

He calls her wife, she calls him husband.  They share a home, they share a bed.  They have and raise children together, and they have cast their lots together for good or ill.  They are married.  Are the Snowdens married?  Absolutely yes!

Does that mean that any two people can just live together and call it marriage?  The answer is no; that’s just called shacking up.  The other elements are required also, namely the commitment to live as husband and wife – with all the duties and privileges that are connected thereto.  Shacking up, without commitment – without the man taking the woman as wife, is sin.

You could classify marriages into three sorts: social marriage, religious marriage, and civil (or government) marriage.  Social marriage is rooted in the ideas of Common Law and Natural Rights, which I have discussed somewhat above.  It has probably been the most common type of marriage thruout the history of mankind, and perhaps the oldest as well (tho this is debatable I am sure).  Either way, it is certain that of the three, civil marriage is by far the late comer to the party.

What about all this business with government issued marriage licenses then?  When did that become a thing, and why?  First, let us take a look at the legal definition of the word “License”.  From Black’s Law Dictionary (2nd edition, published in 1910) we have:

“A permission, accorded by a competent authority, conferring the right to do some act which without such authorization would be illegal.”

In other words, a license is permission to do something which would otherwise be illegal.  The problem is that the Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that marriage is a fundamental right for all.  And even without the Court’s decisions, marriage (both monogamous and polygamous) has existed for thousands of years as a fundamental aspect of human life and society which stems from our rights to associate and to contract.  Marriage predates all our modern laws, governments, and licensing requirements. How then can getting married be illegal?  Of course the answer to this question has everything to do with polygamy.  Licensing of marriage by governments had its origins in efforts to stamp out plural marriage among the early Mormon people (and also to prevent interracial marriage – which is beyond the scope of this post).

In closing, here are some questions you may want to ask yourself (or your friends and family – if you like those stimulating sort of conversations).

If my right to marry is fundamental, why do I need permission from the government before I can get married?

If I get a marriage license, what does that marriage license give me permission to do that I could not do before I got the marriage license?

Who is giving me that permission?

Where did they get the power to give me that permission?

And perhaps the most important question,

If I get married without a marriage license, is my marriage still lawful?

When there is no structure available to you, then make your own.  There is no approval needed from any man, or government, or religious institution.  And despite the disapproval that may be shown by some, it is our God-given, and natural right to do so.

Where Are the Men?

First the Snowdens:

Extremely unfair.  Those are the words I used to describe what I saw in the interaction between the Snowdens and their prospective wife, Joselyn, in this most recent episode (Seeking Sister Wife, season 1, episode 5).  I thought the way they treated her was in very poor form.  The Snowdens talk a lot about doing things together – which is good, but if they are truly keen on family unity, then they ought to be including, as far as possible, the potential new family member.  Otherwise, the new relationship is built with an imbalance from the beginning.

Ashley complains that Joselyn did not talk to her about being intimate with Dimitri, but I never saw Ashley initiate any conversations about it either!

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And whose responsibility is it?  If you invite someone to come play a game with you, and they accept the invitation, but only you know the rules, who should initiate a conversation about the rules of the game?  Perhaps there is responsibility on both sides, but Ashley certainly has nothing to accuse Joselyn about in that area.  Joselyn did not know the rules of the game.  She was not privy to the conversations the Snowdens had without her.  As far as she knew, she was playing by the rules – since Dimitri was the representative of the Snowden Family.  The whole mess is tragic.

When they were at the restaurant, Dimitri completely threw Joselyn under the bus.  What was she supposed to say?  Again, she was not privy to the conversations had by the Snowdens about it.  She did not know what Dimitri and Ashley had already talked about (or even if they had talked about it).  Furthermore, Dimitri had apparently not talked to Joselyn about what happened on their date.  The poor girl was thrown into the situation completely blind.  How is she to know what to talk about?  Again, she doesn’t even know if Dimitri has already talked to Ashley about their intimacy.  Should that announcement come from Joselyn?  Of course, she does not want to ruin what they have started by saying the wrong thing.  She does not want to throw Dimitri under the bus.  Unfortunately, the concern was not mutual.  All during their very uncomfortable date, Joselyn keeps looking to Dimitri for cues.

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She was looking for him to step up, to be a man, to lead the conversation, to help her know what to say, and what to talk about.  And indeed, he should have stepped up, and opened a conversation about what happened.  Instead, he just threw her away.

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While there are obvious differences, I am reminded of the incident between Amnon and Tamar recorded in 2 Samuel 13 (NIV).  Amnon burned with desire for Tamar.  He allowed his desire to grow until he exercised it upon her by deception and force.  When the deed was done,

Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

“No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her.

Now for the Brineys:

I love all the Brineys, my wives love them, and my children love their children.  My family and I have interacted with them in person on several occasions, and it has always been a pleasant and rewarding experience.  But honestly, I cringe when I see the Brineys’ interactions with one another on TV.  No doubt, there have been glimmers of family unity and domestic felicity, but mostly it’s just been painful to watch.

I hesitate to comment about them at all; first, because they are my friends, and second because I know how difficult plural marriage can be.  My own family has certainly had its share of internal discord.  Nevertheless, I have been shocked and dismayed to witness how willing they’ve been to publicly criticize and belittle one another.  I hope things are getting better for them, I hope their experience will ultimately be positive for their family.  Every episode I watch just makes me so grateful that it is not my family’s life that is exposed to the public’s scrutiny!  They are either very brave or very foolhardy – perhaps both.

Having said all that, I do not think it is a good policy to expect one wife to mediate the arguments between other bickering wives.  That is the husband’s job.  This is not a good family policy any more than sending a child to settle a dispute between other quarreling children.  It will not, in general, improve the situation – very likely it will make it worse.

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Settling disputes between children is a parent’s job.  Sometimes children can settle their disputes on their own, and that’s always nice for a parent to see, and that is certainly ideal, but when the children can’t come to a resolution on their own, and the argument is dragging on and even escalating, the parent needs to intercede (see Mosiah 4:14-15).

It does seem like Drew is becoming more involved, at least in talking one-on-one with the wives about their problems, and that has been good to see.  For the long-term good of their family relationships, I hope Drew can find a way to get even more involved and mediate the disputes a little more directly.

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See here for my continuation of this post.

Dimitri and Joselyn

Note from the blog owner: Joshua is my husband and he is a new contributor to the blog.  This is his first post.  

I’d like to express a few thoughts about the recent interactions between the Snowdens and their new prospective wife, Joselyn.  There has been a lot said about it already (and much of it deleted already as well).  I agree that it was certainly a mistake for Dimitri to have been intimate with Joselyn so quickly, especially given the agreement that he and Ashley already had in place about it – Dimitri himself says as much.  It was impressive how open he was with Ashley about it all.  Even tho it was uncomfortable for sure (and so much about plural marriage can be), he came forward about it on his own, and I think it shows how strong their marriage is already.  Ashley handled the announcement with grace to spare (altho, I also choked on her tea just watching it!), and tremendous kudos goes to her for that.  Ultimately, the resolution of this problem is between them and Joselyn,

So, a mistake was made.  This no one doubts.  But what exactly the infraction was, and how serious, are other questions.  Actually, I think two offenses were potentially made by Dimitri.  The first was toward Ashley, and the other was potentially toward Joselyn.  Time will tell on the second.

There is a tremendous amount of imprecision in our language, and this can lead to controversy when it comes to sorting out the details of things.  To make things worse, in many cases the imprecision has grown over the generations as meanings of words have shifted, while still retaining their historical significance.  This is especially true in regard to words having to do with sexual intimacy.  Some of the accusations hurled at Dimitri are “cheating”, “open marriage”, “not a true polygamist”, etc.  But those insults are not words that we find in either the Bible or our civil codes.  Rather than using these terms, it would be more helpful to actually name the sin, or the crime, that was committed.

Of course the big two are usually adultery and fornication.  So, was it adultery?  My answer is, certainly not.  Adultery can only happen when a married woman has sex with a man who is not her husband.  That is the original, and best, definition of adultery (after all, it is the scriptural usage of the word), and as Joselyn was not married, then neither of them would be guilty of adultery.  So, it must be fornication then?  My answer is, not at all.  Fornication (as used in the scriptures) is referring to prostitution, and since Dimitri probably didn’t even pay for the date (the tab was likely picked up by TLC), I think they are both safely clear on this charge as well.  I realize the meanings of these words have been changed by our modern society and that the strict scriptural usage of these words has largely been lost to us – but I’ve always been a – reject the philosophies of men mingled with the scriptures – kind of guy.  I’ll do a separate, more detailed post at a later date about the scriptural usage of these terms.

If you outright reject what I have said thus far as too repulsive to even consider, well, to each their own.  I claim the privilege of living according to my own conscience, and allow you the same.  If you are still considering things, then you may be asking, “Well it sure seems like something is wrong here, what is it then?”  His first offense is simply that he violated the agreed order of things which he and Ashley had put in place.  As Ashley has already put so well, he only has to answer to himself and to her about that.

Ashley knows how hard Dimitri works to support and care for his family.  She knows how loving he is to his children, and to her, and I think anyone watching the show can see these qualities in him as well.  He is a loving husband and a devoted father.  She does not forget all the good in him for the sake of one mistake.  In fact, she feels like, “there’s really nothing to forgive” and that’s good enough for me.

Now, what about the possible offense towards Joselyn?  The scriptures do say something about what happened.  Not that the Snowdens are necessarily concerned with what the scriptures may say – as I realize that they are not especially religious people (please correct me if I am wrong here), but this will perhaps be of benefit to some of the fans who may be concerned with the scriptures.  Here it is:

Exodus 22: 16 And if a man entice a maid that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely endow her to be his wife.

You will notice that this verse is about an unmarried woman (and who is not engaged to be married), otherwise the intimacy would be adultery.  The sin associated with this act would essentially come if there were a lack of follow thru – he should endow her to be his wife.  Premarital sex is a crime if there is no intention to marry, or if it leads the woman along when there is no intention of marrying her.  This is the main deterrent against premarital sex in the Bible.  If a man has sex with a woman, then he was supposed to add her to his family, and support her as a wife.  If a man can’t handle adding a wife to his family (whatever the reasons may be), then he shouldn’t be sleeping with single women.

I hope Joselyn stays, and I hope they can work it out.  I think they are a potentially amazing fit.  I know Joselyn has received advice online that she should, “Drop that Zero, and marry a Hero.”  The truth is, Dimitri is not a Zero (ask any woman in her late 20s or 30s what the dating pool is like).  I don’t think Joselyn could do better than the Snowdens (this is a compliment to the Snowdens, and not an insult to Joselyn).

So, there you go.  You thought I was saying that intimacy between unmarried people wasn’t that big of a deal, but it just may be that I think it’s more serious than many of my readers do.

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You should know me by now

Throughout the Seeking Sister Wife episodes so far, Ashley Snowden frequently talks about how she and Dimitri are looking for a sisterwife “together.”

I remember when I thought plural marriage was going to be a team effort.  I thought the 3 of us would spend all this time together.  I definitely thought we would all live together.  I saw the theoretical benefits of having another mom around to help with kids.  I imagined that my husband having another wife might mean I would get more time alone with my husband (because my sisterwife could watch the kids, instead of me always taking care of the children and my husband and me never getting time alone as a couple).  At one point I even fantasized that I would share Melissa’s (teenaged) children with her the same way she would share my little kids with me, that we’d all just be one big happy blended polygamous family.

Boy, was I wrong about all of that.  I remember realizing that, no, I was going to be left out of plenty of things.  It wasn’t going to work out for us to live together.  I wasn’t going to get the benefits of another woman around to share the workload.  I wasn’t going to be included in every event and every date and every decision.  I wasn’t going to get more alone time with my husband while my sisterwife babysat my kids.  And her teenagers certainly weren’t going to consider me their second mom (wow, was I naïve about stepchildren).

I’m not saying that to highlight the negative.  I just see similarities between what happened in my family with Melissa, and what’s happening in Ashley’s family with Joselyn in episode 3.

Ashley is very much in control as the steps are taken to begin dating Joselyn — the setting up of the online profile, the checking of their dating website messages, the responses to Joselyn, etc….

Then, when Joselyn is coming to visit the Snowdens in person, Ashley insists that the first “date” be with both herself and Dimitri.

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“I think it makes sense to do the first date together.”

I’m not criticizing Ashley.  I love how gung-ho she is about living in polygamy, and she’s one of my favorite people to watch on the show because she’s confident and well-spoken, and I think she and Dimitri are cute together.  I just see so much of myself in her!  I too was pushing and involved and confident and gung-ho, and I had this vision of how things were going to go, that we were going to do everything together.

And then my reality set in.

I don’t know.  How Ashley’s family turns out will probably be different than how mine turned out.  Perhaps her life will actually end up looking the way she currently envisions.  I only know mine hasn’t, not at all, and there are a couple of moments in this episode that I watch and think, Oh, I know how she must be feeling!  

One of the moments is when Dimitri suggests that he and Joselyn go on a date that evening, just the two of them, and Ashley stay home with the babies.

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Dimitri suggests he and Joselyn go out sans Ashley, and he waits to see how she will answer.

Of course this was going to happen at some point.  But it seemed to catch Ashley off guard.  Maybe she thought when it happened that it would be her idea?  After hesitating, she responded with a not-so-confident, “[Of] course.”

Obviously my husband was going to spend time one-on-one with my future sisterwife as well.  He had a relationship to develop with this new woman.  But it was still a time of intense emotion for me, when the theoretical became real, very real, and I wasn’t always thrilled with how things were playing out.

Dimitri knows Ashley well, and in a scene outside the restaurant, he asks her several questions directly: “You’re not just, like, passively okay? You want me to go?  You’re, like, cheerleading me to go on a date?  Pom-poms, Team Snowden?”

And to each one, Ashley says, “You should know me by now.”

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“You should know me by now.”

Dimitri concludes, “She makes the I’m-not-feeling-it face.”

I remember Joshua asking me if I was sure I was okay with what was happening.  And I was absolutely convinced that I was doing what God told me to do, so I wasn’t about to change my mind, and I always answered, “Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure,” even when I was crying and didn’t know how to handle the strong feelings I was having.  (My poor husband.)

Ashley does go on to say, “You go on your date.  Have a great time.”  This is her being brave.  This is her trying to be supportive, staying the course, and holding in the emotions.  The emotions are hers to sort out, not Dimitri’s.

Y’all have your own castle

In the episode of Seeking Sister Wife called “Risky Business,” Ashley tells her mom Donna that she and Dimitri are starting to date again.

“When I’m doing something I know my mom won’t approve of, I just love telling her about it!” said no one ever.

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I think the conversation between Ashley and Donna went pretty well; here’s what Donna said [timestamp 33:23], and it is my favorite SSW moment thus far:

You a queen and he a king and y’all have your own castle, so you make your own decisions, and you do you.

– Donna (Ashley Snowden’s mom), Seeking Sister Wife, S1E2

What better response could you expect from a parent?  I absolutely love this.

Parents need to let go of having control over (or even having a say in) their adult children’s lives.  I’m happy for Ashley that her mom could be so mature and accepting of a lifestyle she wouldn’t choose for herself or her daughter.

I’ve had my share of similar dialogues.  They can be very difficult.  In our house, we’re not allowed to complain, but we’re allowed to say that something is “not my favorite.”  So I’ll just say… Conversations like that one are not my favorite.

When we tell people about our polygamy, we never know what to expect, and we have gotten a whole spectrum of responses.

Some responses were laughable, some were cringe-worthy, some were supportive, some were hurtful, and some were memorable enough that they’ve become classic stories in our family.  We’ve been cursed (literally); we’ve had people overcome with the Spirit and gain a testimony that we’re doing God’s will; we’ve had people shrug as if we just told them we like to eat spaghetti for dinner; we’ve had the cops called on us; we’ve had our Church leaders called on us; we’ve had DCFS (child protective services) called on us; we’ve had people stop talking to us; we’ve had people tell us about Dreams they’ve had about us; we’ve had people act shocked; we’ve had people nod and say, “Yeah, I figured.”  We can never be sure how a person is going to react, but we always learn something about the person by how they behave towards us after they find out we’re polygamists.

Strangers have been easier for me to tell than people whom I’ve known my whole life.  I suppose it’s because with a stranger I have nothing to lose: if they respond negatively, the relationship ends before it even begins.  But with a long-time friend or a family member, I’ve invested in the relationship and will suffer a great loss if they reject me.

And rejection has been in plenty.  Perhaps I will describe the depth of it in future posts.  For now I’ll keep it on the positive side and share one of my favorite stories of a person’s reaction to my polygamous status:

We were at a large gathering and were meeting a lot of new acquaintances.  Joshua and Melissa met this guy and got introduced as husband-and-wife, and 5 minutes later I met the same individual.  He asked who I was married to, and I pointed out Joshua.  He was confused and said, “But… I thought she was his wife…” and I just stood there nodding and smiling, and it slowly dawned on him what that meant.  He said, “So… You’re polygamists?!”  I confirmed and waited to see what his reaction would be.  Pause… pause… pause… “That’s awesome!

All these experiences, both positive and negative, help us figure out who our true friends are and who it is we want to continue having in our lives.  And maybe my sisterwife Melissa is right when she says, “We are a test for people, to see whether or not they will be kind to us.”