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Making their bed

Some 16 groups take sides on polygamy in a landmark case


 
Making their bed

Photograph by Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press

The British Columbia government’s decision to test the legality of Canada’s 120-year-old polygamy law led to a shocking revelation for Karen and her two male partners. The 37-year-old Winnipeg-area mother, her husband of 15 years and a second male partner concede their arrangement is unconventional. She calls it a plural union based on equality, not religious ideas of male dominance. What she didn’t realize, until the B.C. court reference drew attention to the issue, was that they’re breaking the law by sharing a home. “This has been a real learning experience,” she says.

Karen, who doesn’t want her surname used in order to protect her children, is part of a constituency of polyamorists, one of many groups seeking standing in the B.C. Supreme Court. The case will determine if the polygamy law—Section 293 of the Criminal Code—is constitutional. It was triggered by the province’s failure to prosecute two polygamous bishops in the fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful, B.C., but its outcome could affect the rights of thousands.

Some 16 groups have submitted affidavits seeking permission to argue for or against 293 when a trial date is set—proving, if nothing else, that polygamy creates strange bedfellows. Some groups see the polygamy law as the foundation of the traditional family and a defence against the exploitation of girls forced into multiple marriage, as the province alleged happened in Bountiful. Others argue the law is unenforceable, does nothing to help the women of Bountiful, and that it imposes a moral code out of step with Canada’s modern, multicultural society.

Affidavits filed by James Oler and Winston Blackmore, who each lead congregations of about 400 fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful, claim the law violates their constitutional rights. Blackmore, alleged to have at least 19 wives and 100 children, calls the law an “unjustifiable infringement of my congregation’s and my religious freedom.”

Conversely, Nancy Mereska, coordinator of the Alberta-based Stop Polygamy in Canada, says, “Religious law must not trump civil law in a free and democratic society,” a view shared by its member group, the U.K.-based Women Living Under Muslim Laws. The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, in its filing, also states religious freedom “cannot be interpreted to allow for the abuse, exploitation or oppression of women and children.”

The secular B.C. Civil Liberties Association, on the other hand, says the “dominant morality” shouldn’t be imposed by law. “Criminal attacks on polygamy will simply drive it underground,” says an affidavit by executive director David Eby. His group calls the law too “vague and overbroad” to be enforced: the statute prohibits “any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,” even if those in the relationship aren’t legally married. (Adultery, also a multi-partner relationship, isn’t illegal under the law.)

REAL Women—which promotes “the Judeo-Christian view of traditional marriage and family”—argues polygamy turns women into “chattels.” A minority of cultures have historically allowed plural marriages, its affidavit says. “These have, almost without exception, given rise to a hierarchy dominated by older men with multiple younger wives.” That leads to “over-aggressive” males competing for a limited number of women,” it says. “Hence, polygamous societies are often violence-prone.” The Christian Legal Fellowship, a group of Christian lawyers, also supports the law. At issue isn’t religious freedom but the threat that male-dominated polygamy presents to equality rights, it argues.

Opposing the law is Paul Fromm of the far-right Canadian Association for Free Expression. Courts have supported the right to same-sex marriage in Canada, he says. Polygamy, with historic roots in many religions, is “more consistent with harmonious social relations that is any experience with the concept of same-sex marriage.”

Fromm’s group is uncomfortably in the same camp as the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, which includes many gay and lesbian multiple partnerships. Vancouver lawyer John Ince, legal counsel for the group, and in a polyamorous relationship himself, says the case will determine only if plural relationships are legal. What flows from that—the rights of multiple partners to pensions, adoption or immigration sponsorship—are issues for future rulings many years, and many appeals, down the road, he said.

From her home in Manitoba, Karen says she is offended that the law labels her and her partners criminals, yet it would have been legal, and more socially acceptable, to disrupt her family life by leaving her husband or having an adulterous affair. As much as she hates the attention, polyamorists have to take a stand in what promises to be a high-profile case, she says. “The irony is we’re really fighting for the right to be left alone.”


 

Making their bed

  1. I see REAL women don't miss an opportunity to make fools of themselves.

    Surely we can have differing views on polygamy and its attendant rights without feeling that we should put people who practice it in jail? I should think the criminal aspect should be a no brainer.

    • <snark>But if we don't put people in jail for doing it, next thing MY SPOUSE will want to do it!</snark>

      People should get over their fears. Emotionally insecure people shouldn't be allowed to let their insecurities send others to jail.

      If the polygamists in Bountiful are committing abuse, prosecute them for abuse. If I burglarize a house, prosecute me for burglary — not for being polyamorous.

      –Polyamorous in the USA

      • polyamorous is not polygamy, nor are canadas polygamy laws the same as the usa's.
        I canada people can be polyamourous to their hearts content. They just can't claim to have 2 legal spouses because it protects individual and property rights to deal with 2 spouses at a time.

  2. Personally, I have a great deal of respect for the monogamous relationship. I try to be in as many as possible at all times.

    • LOL.. Love it!

  3. I see REAL women don't miss an opportunity to make fools of themselves.

    Surely we can have differing views on polygamy and its attendant rights without feeling that we should put people who practice it in jail? I should think the criminal aspect should be a no brainer.

  4. I don't see any possible legal grounds on which polygamy (assuming it's between consenting adults) can still be prohibited. There was a time when the argument that nature's arrangement of a two-parent family with both a mother and a father should be assumed ideal until proven otherwise, and therefore treated as sacrosanct by society and government.

    That argument, however, went by the wayside when divorce (without grave reason) became commonplace. Since then marriage has become a laughingstock with no particular purpose. Why, after all, should the government be involved in one's sex life unless there is a reason to link it to the wellbeing of children? Remove that link, and there's no particular reason for government to either recognize or ban any kind of sexual relation between consenting adults.

    • Polygamy doesn't have to do with sex lives.. Read the criminal code act.

  5. Polyamory is NOT the same thing as polygamy.

    • No, but they are closely related to each other.

  6. The fact that we are free to define our morality independently of what might be technically legal or illegal is exactly why section 293 needs to be scrapped and replaced with something more meaningful and enforceable.

    As for the assertion of what humanity is here to do, you and I may totally agree on every point and then totally disagree on how exactly those points would manifest themselves in our behaviour. "Short-sighted" is exactly the word for the assumption that multiple consensual relationships do not benefit the human race, and for the assumption that if it feels good, we'd better not do it because it might be immoral.

  7. Helena, with all due respect, expecting others to subscribe to your moral code is not of benefit to one another. Some folks' idea of morality based on their higher law would see women prohibited from reading and writing, while condoning multiple patriarchal marriages.

  8. Even is we concede that the people in Bountiful can lay claim to being "Mormons", how does the news media in good conscience refer to an extreme splinter group as "fundamentalist". Would they describe catholics who disagree with the Pope as Fundamentalist Catholics?

    • Because the group in question continues to follow the original teachers of Latter Day Saints founder Joseph Smith. From their point of view, this group didn't split off from their church; rather, their church split off from the orthodox teachings of original Mormonism, leaving behind a fundamentalist remnant. The "Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints" has been well established usage for decades. For more information, do a web search for
      "The Primer Utah attorney general"
      and click on the pdf file. It's a document filled with invaluable information.

  9. I think they should all be put in jail. Send a message, this is a serious crime. For if that is ok, why bother then with incest and… well, if that's ok too, why do you care if some men are attracted to young teenagers and childrens…. and if that's ok, why should you care if some want to rape women and children.

    Don't grade crime, this is a crime, period. If everything is A-OK, then nothing is wrong.

    You'll also prove the point of everyone who warned of gay marriage, they all said THIS would lead to THAT. Don't make them right. Gay marriage is fine. Polygamy will never be right. You can't condone it as a society, cause then, you don't have a "society".

    • This is a serious crime? Because 2 people love each other get married live happy together that is ok. But God forbid you are so lucky to have 2 people love you then you are guilty and should be put in prison? Why is that?

      Gay marriage has lead to this sure.. because nothing is wrong between consenting free willed adults! Saying I want to marry a child that cannot legally consent, or causing harm or injury to another party is still a crime. We are not arguing that if some husbands are abusive that they should be charged, and punished. but punish them for those crimes because it has nothing to do with the marriage.

      In fact several times I have see women view 2 women consenting to sharing one man as a feminist choice. Because they are making a choice to share 1 good man instead of forcing 1 or the other to go settle for one the retarded redneck men that beat them.

      Women can be equals in any relationships if they choose it, it is not something men must allow to happen.

      R

    • Yeah yeah, slippery slope. You know what? I don't mind slippery slopes. Laws should be based on preventing harm. If it causes no harm, it should not be illegal.

      Bountiful? That's a tough call. Is there harm? There might be. This is not a great model of polygamy in my view.
      Someone wanting to form a life commitment to 2 simultaneous partners in which all live with mutual respect? Absolutely no harm, and thus, should be 100% legal.

      The laws therefore should not block polygamy flat out. Articulate what aspects of how it is practiced cause harm, and target those behaviours. A lot of the issues with Bountiful are already covered under other laws. We have laws concerning age of consent for example. If they are breaking those laws, then you don't need polygamy laws to come after them.

      As to the rest of your slippery slope, use the same yardstick. Does it cause harm. Let's go from the bottom
      Rape (women or children) – HARM, and will forever be illegal because of it.
      Consensual sex with children – definite harm, children don't have the self awareness to properly consent and understand
      Incest – questionable harm, and quite frankly I am not convinced this should be illegal

      Yes, I went there. Ask yourself, who does it hurt. If you can't articulate a clear and logical answer, then you can't defend it as a law.

  10. With polygamy presently illegal , it leaves governments and society at large, in quite a quandary. Particularly in view of it having existed untouched for a very long time. I tend to agree with those who say that if abuse becomes apparent ; deal with that rather than the polygamy. The right wing groups like REAL Women have forever lost any credibility with the absence of any of their dire predictions for same-sex marriage. If Glen Beck were to have a gender reassignment , he could head the group.

  11. Polygamy in Canada is CLAIMING to have more than one spouse at the same time. That spouse could be in a civil union or a "common-law"..same thing. Cohabitation as spouses, married, whatever..same thing. A person can be married and live common law with another person and not be spouses with the single person. But, if they claim under family law courts to have 2 spouses, then they are in a polyygamous union and should be charged with a criminal offence. Polygamy isn't about underage or anything else. It is not about men. The women in bountifyul who CLAIM to be spouses of a polygamous person would also be guilty of polygamy. If they just live together communal like.. that's legal. Canada's system of property laws and marriage/divorce are based on ONE spouse per person at a time.
    Inh Canada only Saskatchewan creates polygamous unions. If a "bishop" in bountiful creates a celestial type union that CLAIMS to unite persons as spouses when already married to another.. then that is criminal too. I guess the Saskatchewan judges who force persons to be spouses of already married persons would also be guilty. RCMP..are you listening?

    • "if they just live together communal like… that's legal"

      That's not correct. Criminal code section 293 makes it a criminal offense for more than two people to live in a conjugal like arrangement. The language is vague and it does nothing to protect people that need protection.

  12. The reality is that no person living in a polyamorus relationship has ever been charged and there has never been a threat of such. The irony, contrary to what Karen and John Ines' group claims, they are being left alone. Ironically now that they have brought attention to themselves, depending on the outcome of this court case they might no longer be left alone. If that happens they will have brought it upon themselves.

    • Being left alone because no one really knows you are there and being left alone in spite of the fact that everyone knows you are there are two entirely different things. The latter is preferable and is more consistent with Canadian culture. I accept the risk that goes with being a part of that transition.

  13. I think its pretty neat to see such discussions being played out in mainstream society. Religous polygamy versus people who prefer polyamorous relationships are worth comparing for their similarities and differences.

  14. Forerunner..
    Not true..conjugal means "married-like" under the family property type laws of each province. These provincial laws state the definition of "spouse". It is illegal to CLAIM to be a spouse, you can live with someone without intention of being a legal spouse.

      • Thanks Forerunner,
        However, I know that provincial law….family laws are different in each province. All provinces in Canada allow "common law" type conjugal unions to have same rights as "married".. and yes, common law type or chabitation as spouses type relationships are equivalent to married under the law. But these laws specifically state that onle ONE type of union is recognized at a time.. between any sex partners.
        Saskatchewan allows MULTIPLE conjugal unions however. It is the only province in Canada that allows and promotees polygamy as such. They use section 51 of their family property act to justify polygamy.

  15. ANYONE who assists in the creation of a conjugal union while one or both of the parties are married already, is guilty of polygamy. This would include a family court judge in Canada I think.

  16. Saskatchewan has always had trouble counting how many players can be on the field. Marriage or football.

  17. The hypocrites' day of reckoning is nigh!

    They are caught between a rock and a hard place – whether to admit that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is simply a sham, or admit into Canada the second, third, and fourth wives of Canadian Muslims, their children, and their extended families

  18. After reading a lot about polygamy and polyamourus relationships and I keep thinking one thing (and I always ask myself thse kind of questions of who decided this or that) who decided it was right or wrong.

    Here is what I mean: You take 3 people. They are completely honest to each other and vows fidelity to each other as would a monogamy relationship work. They work their polyamourus relation exactly like a monogamy relation would work but with 1 more person. If all 3 agree to this, then techinically, their are living a happily trycouple (needed an expression, find me the right one).

    Take the 10 commandments for example with one of them saying this: You must not commit adultery. Now, what is adultery? For most people, it's infidelity which is lying to your partner/s. If your partner/s is aware and consenting without any pressure or whatever, shouldn't you be happy for those people since they are happy in how their relationship works.

    The only problem that I agree with about polgamy or polyamourus relationships is subjects like pension, adoption, insurance, …..

    But even there, in a polyamourus situation, in my opinion, lets say one of the 3 partner dies. The death insurance doesn't need to be split in two since there'S more than one partner. Why? Because the 2 remaining will (technically) still live together as a couple.

    • Manilas — the usual word is "triad". I like trycouple although it sounds too much like an attempt rather than a "do". ;-) You've made some pretty amazing leaps there in understanding.

      Adultery, literally, means to adulterate or introduce something that is harmful or changes the original. Well, if it works for a triad or quad or whatever, then it isn't adultery.

  19. Its almost like no brain exists on these posts! Folks.. polygamy wrecks personel property laws that exist.
    That might take too much thought for you all.

    • Hi Wilma,

      Well, actually, most of us have pretty good brains, thanks for checking.

      Your suggestion, then, would be that people should not live as they want because it makes a bunch of laws that are there to protect people more complicated? I don't think that people should be told how to live for the convenience of the legal system. It is the other way around.

      Most lawyers will be more than happy to help people arrange wills and other financial agreements so that it works for their purposes. The law has been dealing with multi-person partnerships in business for centuries. The financial resources of a marriage or poly relationship aren't particularly different.

      Many poly folk aren't really interested in messing with existing property and financial laws and processes; benefit plans, adoption, wills, etc, aren't on the radar. The issue here is one of a law being in Canada's criminal code that outlaws people living together in multi-partner relationships.

      • Canada's law against polygamy does not outlaw people living together in multipartner relationships. One needs to define partner. Any number of folks in Canada can live together as "partners"..just not in multiple legal spousal relationships. Spouses have property laws applicable that other civil laws do not define nor contend with. Only Family courts in Canada deal with spousal property and children laws..that type of thing. So, when unwilling and/or unsuspecting single persons have a marioed live in person who lays legal family claim to also be the single persons spouse (while married)..that is polygamy. They should go to jail as property laws in Canada are tied to the family court system.

      • Your analogy of "people being told how to live for the convenience of the legal system" is interesting.
        I guess a sililar analogy might be murder. The legal system shouldn;'t outlaw murder because it ttells people how to live?

  20. Legal does not actually mean moral. Many people misunderstood morality with regards to legality.

  21. REAL Women—which promotes “the Judeo-Christian view of traditional marriage and family”—argues polygamy turns women into “chattels.” A minority of cultures have historically allowed plural marriages, its affidavit says. “These have, almost without exception, given rise to a hierarchy dominated by older men with multiple younger wives.” That leads to “over-aggressive” males competing for a limited number of women,” it says. “Hence, polygamous societies are often violence-prone.” The Christian Legal Fellowship, a group of Christian lawyers, also supports the law. At issue isn't religious freedom but the threat that male-dominated polygamy presents to equality rights, it argues.

    • REAL Women are incorrect. 83% of cultures have historically allowed plural marriages (_Anatomy of Love_, Helen Fisher). Plural marriage didn't give rise to hierarchy. It was the other way around. In a hierarchical society, women (or their parents) chose to ally themselves with wealthier and more powerful men who could better provide for them, rather than poor men with no power. Furthermore, plural marriage was often a way to deal with gender imbalance caused by men being killed off in wars. Too many widows with no men to head their households? Solution: allow the widows to marry the few men still left alive, even if those men are already married.

      Today we have a different understand of women's roles and rights in the general society. Today, a woman can choose two partners as easily as a man. The argument that polyamory "creates a gender imbalance" can be made only be people who aren't listening. And if REAL Women are talking only about the polygamy communities, then maybe they should think more about how to invite those communities to interaction with the rest of society, instead of pushing them further back into isolation.

  22. Very much needed and valuable points.

    Opposing the law is Paul Fromm of the far-right Canadian Association for Free Expression. Courts have supported the right to same-sex marriage in Canada, he says. Polygamy, with historic roots in many religions, is “more consistent with harmonious social relations that is any experience with the concept of same-sex marriage.”

  23. It's true that some 16 groups have submitted affidavits seeking permission to argue for or against 293 when a trial date is set—proving, if nothing else, that polygamy creates strange bedfellows.

  24. Some 16 groups have submitted affidavits seeking permission to argue for or against 293 when a trial date is setproving, if nothing else, that polygamy creates strange bedfellows. Some groups see the polygamy law as the foundation of the traditional family and a defence against the exploitation of girls forced into multiple marriage, as the province alleged happened in Bountiful. Others argue the law is unenforceable, does nothing to help the women of Bountiful, and that it imposes a moral code out of step with Canadas modern, multicultural society.

    Great info.

  25. I don't see any possible legal grounds on which polygamy (assuming it's between consenting adults) can still be prohibited. There was a time when the traditional marriage premise (that nature's arrangement of a two-parent family with both a mother and a father should be assumed ideal until proven otherwise) could be used to argue that marriage between one man and one woman until death do them part should be considered sacrosanct by society and government.

    That argument, however, went by the wayside when divorce (without grave reason) became commonplace. If parents can't resolve petty differences for the sake of their children, after all, then why should people limit themselves to one partner (of either sex)?

    Since then marriage has become a laughingstock with no particular purpose. Why should the government be involved in one's sex life unless there is a link to the wellbeing of children? Remove that link and there's no particular justification for government either to recognize or ban any kind of sexual relation between consenting adults.

    Great info by the Gaunilon.

  26. The BC Attorney General is now saying that only "patriarchical" polygamy should be illegal. The gander can have as many spouses in law as she wishes!

  27. Yes, obviously Polyamory is NOT the same thing as polygamy.

  28. the polyamorists are not breaking the law unless they have a ceremony.

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