Chronicles From Graham.Law’s Couch: Tiger King

Tiger in pond staring at camera.

What Is Tiger King?

Are you kidding me??

As one of the millions of Americans staying home in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19, I’ve been enjoying more than my fair share of binge watching (arguably) awful TV. From Star Trek reruns to previously aired baseball games (the Orioles’ 1983 world series win was recently re-broadcast!) I started to think I was running out of shows that would truly keep my attention for another month.

But then, it happened. Netflix released Tiger King. A show that combined tigers, cults, murder for hire, a missing person, and polygamy, all surrounding the backwards, back woods flare that is Mr. Joe Exotic. Collectively, as a nation, we quickly agreed that these are a few of our favorite things. 

At this stage I believe every American has either finished watching Tiger King (at least once) or seen enough Facebook memes to get the gist of what goes down in the show, so I won’t bore you with those details. But what I did want to know more about was the polygamy aspect of Joe Exotic’s relationships. Is polygamy legal in Oklahoma? Or was this a dedicated polyamorous union that was simply advertised as polygamy, presumably for ratings? 

Polygamy v Polyamory

Quickly, let’s identify the difference between polygamy and polyamory:

  • Polygamy is the practice or custom of having more than one wife or husband at the same time (Wikipedia).
  • Polyamory is is the practice of, or desire for, intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the informed consent of all partners involved. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.

So the real difference here isn’t the number of intimate partners one has, rather the number of partners who are your husband/wife.

Is Polygamy Legal?

Currently polygamy is illegal in all 50 of the United States. Polygamous marriages are completely void here in Colorado. The Colorado Family Law Guide has an article addressing the requirements to enter into marriage. And if a marriage is polygamous, the marriage is void and the would-be spouses can obtain an annulment.

When Tiger King was filmed in Oklahoma starting in 2014, polygamy had long-since been illegal. And as same-sex marriage was not yet legalized throughout the nation, Joe Exotic’s marriage to both husbands was void as polygamous, and his marriage to his first was also void as it was same-sex.

Final Thoughts

My takeaway on this is simple: Tiger King had every element of “you can’t make this up” — so why did Netflix have to make up the polygamy portion? Its still top 5 on my list of shows I’ve watched while social distancing, so I’m obviously not that frustrated by it, but in a time where accurate portrayals and descriptions are highly valued, why not educate the masses by describing his relationships as simply polyamorous? I’m confident all us cool cats and kittens would’ve still binged it in one sitting. 

And, just to confirm, while I may be writing these “chronicles” from my couch, I’m watching Netflix purely for research reasons. Or during my own time – whichever is more convincing to the boss. Graham.Law has been utilizing cloud management for years, allowing our staffers to work from home whenever necessary, better enabling us to be available for our clients. So please, call or email me if you ever have any questions. I promise I won’t be watching shows to blog about until well after 5pm!

Tiger King & Criminal Law

It looks like my idea was not unique. Attorney Stewart Salwin has written a thoughtful blog on the same topic, but from a criminal defense perspective: Tiger King and Criminal Law: What Questions Does the Show Raise About Criminal Justice? And any post which ends with this is worth a read: “hopefully, I gave you some food for thought—and you don’t even have to put sardine oil on it.”


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