Crucial polygamy case thrown out in Canada
As we reported last January, a Canadian prosecutor brought charges against leaders of a Mormon polygamous cult that would have tested, for the first time in memory, Canada's ancient anti-polygamy and anti-polyamory law. The law mandates up to five years in jail for people who merely live as if they are plurally married, whether or not they have held a marriage-like ceremony. The penalty is the same for anyone who "assists" at such a ceremony. For instance, bringing potluck food to a triad's handfasting party would qualify.
Now the case has been thrown out of court though not in a way that tests the anti-polygamy law. (A judge ruled that the authorities had improperly shopped for a special prosecutor.) For Canadian polys, this is a good thing. The polygamous cult leaders would have made a horrible test case; they're suspected of statutory rape and abuse of women, among other things. Now that they're out of the picture, a much more attractive test case may someday be brought to knock down the law.
This morning Xtra, a chain of gay newspapers in Canada, presents a detailed review of the legal and political issues as they affect queer folk. The article calls for Canadian polyamory activists to organize, and concludes:
...Over the course of forty years of court-centred activism, gays have learned a hard lesson: test cases matter. A sunny, ethically-minded lesbian threesome the [polygamist] Blackmore family is not. The sinister undercurrents of their religious practices — even if they remain outside of the scope of the court case — would have undoubtedly coloured the court's decision.
Perhaps more importantly, [the dismissal of the case] gives queer and poly people a chance to organize across the country. While there are poly groups in every major city in Canada (including poly potlucks at Breathless in Ottawa), few have a political mandate and none have a national scope.
If polyamorists, people in open relationships, and swinging singles want to make a submission to the Supreme Court of Canada, how would they do so? Considering the increasingly conservative scope of rights-based groups like Egale Canada, can sexual non-conformers can still count on the gay lobby group to defend their interests? Would that even be desirable?
Now, without the threat of an impending court case, those in unconventional relationships have a chance to organize. Will they mount their own Charter challenge? Or will they make the case for a Trudeau-style omnibus bill decriminalizing polygamy as part of a push to liberalize the country's outdated sex laws?
Whether through the courts or Parliament Hill, Canada's poly communities are going to have to come out of the closet to make the case to a Canadian public that has, until now, seen few positive representations of their way of life. In the meantime, with charges dropped against the bishops of Bountiful, they will certainly breathe a sigh of relief.
Read the whole article.
Update, Oct. 24: With his case dismissed, the attorney general of British Columbia is now seeking a ruling from the B.C. Supreme Court on whether polygamy is legal or not. The Canadian federal government will participate to support the anti-polygamy law.
Hearings are expected, at which interested parties may have a chance to speak. Polys, this means you. Article.