06/16/2013 03:00 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day: Polygamists

Modern polygamist families are creating a social shift in society. Reality shows like Sister Wives and Polygamy, USA have led to a better understanding of this lifestyle choice. At the very least, the revealing of their relational dynamic under public scrutiny, has shed light on the normalized aspects of the family unit. During this Father's Day, dads will experience praise and honor for their dedication to their respective families. Do polygamist fathers receive more or less praise for their contributions? In Polygamy, USA, Michael Cawley maintains the responsibility of 3 wives and 18 children.

In an interview with ABC Correspondent, Cecilia Vega, 19-year-old Rose Marie Cawley explains her spiritual journey to finding the polygamist husband she is meant to be with. She looks forward to her prayers being answered and marrying the polygamist man of her dreams. Vega, ABC News Correspondent, asks Michael Cawley if he would mind if his daughter married a 70-year-old man.

Cawley answered: "If that's what the answer is that comes from our father in heaven, great."

This statement can instigate much shock from the public despite the normal aspects of a modern polygamist family. Many perceive the relationship between a 19-year-old woman and a 70-year-old man appalling, despite religious convictions.

However, there have been numerous accounts of younger women marrying much older men, void of spiritual reasons. Typically, these cases possess a financial element in the decision process. Although society may still consider this type of non-religious relationship unsettling, do we differentiate between the two scenarios? In other words, does it matter if a woman chooses a man for religious reasons vs. financial benefits?

Michael Cawley decided to expose his polygamist life to the public in order to decriminalize polygamy, as it is illegal in 50 states. He mentions it should be regarded as a religion, not a crime.

If a father allows his daughter to marry whomever God chooses for her, where does the law intervene or does it? With 18 children on his hands, Michael still plans on having more, while searching for more wives. Should one man have the freedom to have as many wives as he chooses along with numerous children? This leads to public discussion around population control, economic shifts in family dynamics, legal concerns and environmental impact.

ABC News Correspondent, Vega, asks the first wife if she has a choice in how many wives can join the family.

The first wife states: "Not really, because the way I came in was that I believed that I belonged to Michael, and I can't say that there's nobody else who belongs to you. That's between Michael and God."

Women's agency in a polygamist relationship is regularly debated among scholars, commentators, feminists and critics. As Vega reveals, although women have the right to choose their polygamist husband, this is delegated by a male figure, God, who they refer to as 'He' and 'Father.'

Given Michael Cawley's acceptance of his daughter's hypothetical choice (God's choice) in marrying a 70-year-old man, what does this imply about future compromising situations? For example, what if that older man abused her but excused the act as God's will? Would Michael Cawley be accepting of such a proclamation? This highlights the importance of how this particular relational construct impacts society.

Although it's impressive that Cawley is capable of raising and providing for 18 children, let's not forget he has the dedicated assistance and loyalty of three wives.
Kody Brown, father and polygamist, in the reality show, Sister Wives, is quoted, "Loving multiple wives is like loving multiple children."

This unscrupulous remark causes a hindrance in legalizing or accepting this familial dynamic within society. Society already allows oppressive relationships to legally operate within the heteronormative constructs of monogamy. Do we welcome the freedom for a family to choose their lifestyle even if it denies individual rights within the unit?

Father's Day is about thanking, respecting and honoring the men who have raised us. On this day, does it somehow become more laudable to be a polygamist father?