by Andrea Moury
In the same way that shows like Modern Family, Glee, and The New Normal played a role in swaying public opinion towards supporting same-sex marriage, the TLC show Sister Wives may be partially responsible for Americans’ increasing acceptance of polygamy.
A new Gallup poll conducted from May 3-7 found that moral acceptance of polygamy rose by 3 percentage points during this past year alone, reaching a record high of 17 percent. Among the non-religious group of people surveyed, that statistic is nearly doubled, with roughly one out of every three (32 percent) thinking it is perfectly fine if a person chooses to be married to more than one spouse at the same time.
Gallup began asking survey participants their feelings on the morality of polygamy back in 2003. From 2003 to 2010, popular acceptance of polygamy wavered between 5 and 7 percent. However, in 2010 it began a steady upward climb to its current 17 percent level:
Over the last five years, the percentage of Americans who think polygamy is morally acceptable edged up from slightly more than one in 10 (11% in 2012) to just under one in five (17% in 2017).
Perhaps not coincidentally, a related event took place in 2010 — the premiere of the TLC show “Sister Wives.” During the seven years the show has aired, the amount of people who consider polygamy acceptable has climbed a staggering 10 percentage points. While hesitant to claim a direct causality between the TV show and changing attitudes regarding polygamy, Gallup does think that it is at least a noteworthy correlation:
Beginning in the mid-2000s, television shows began to feature polygamist characters — though these depictions were not always favorable. The TLC show “Sister Wives” premiered in 2010, and according to The Washington Post, humanized a family of polygamists. The show was successful and remains on the air. Notably, over the time it has been on the air, Gallup has seen support for polygamy rise by nearly 10 percentage points, although it is impossible to establish any direct causality between the show and changing attitudes.
This is not the first time that TV producers have used their medium to sway public opinion on marriage. Back in 2012, The Hollywood Reporter conducted a poll and found that “shows with gay characters, like Glee, Modern Family, and The New Normal, are helping drive voters to historically unprecedented support of gay marriage.” In 2009, the year that both Glee and Modern Family aired their pilot episodes, public support for the legalization of same-sex marriage began its sharp upward movement from 40 percent to its current 64 percent, according to Gallup.
By creating gay characters who are relatively good looking, happy, healthy, and relatable, producers have led Americans to widespread acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriages. While shielding viewers from the reality that gay men account for 83 percent of all new HIV diagnoses and 54 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses, and consequently have a life expectancy of 20 years shorter than the general public, these TV shows are partially responsible for convincing the public that being gay is normal and healthy.
The same is now being done through Sister Wives, a show on TLC that normalizes polygamous relationships. While same-sex marriage has been legalized nationally for over two years now, polygamy still remains illegal in all 50 states — so far. However, as the Gallup notes, it is already practiced in the United States by some Muslims and Mormons and is gaining popular acceptance at lightning speed.
The amount of influence that TV shows have on re-shaping our culture’s moral standards is astounding. First, “gay friendly” shows aired; shortly after that, public moral acceptance of same-sex marriage skyrocketed; and within a few years, same-sex marriage was legalized. Our country is already on step two of that three-step progression towards the legalization of polygamy as well. If past trends hold, it would seem to be only a matter of time.
Photo credit: flash.pro via Flickr, CC BY 2.0