Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

December 12, 2010

Canada case continues unfolding

Canada's anti-polygamy test case continues in the British Columbia Supreme Court. Last week saw heart-wrenching testimony by abused and oppressed women who escaped the Fundamentalist Mormon community in Bountiful, B.C., which prompted the case. Also testifying were experts on bad social effects of patriarchal polygyny generally; see recent news stories.

Free, egalitarian polyamory has faded into the background after a bangup opening by the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association (CPAA) in the first week of the trial.

The group is looking for ways to get back into the debate. The anti-polygamy law is written so broadly that it criminalizes polyamory in "conjugal" situations (which the law leaves undefined except that they do not require sex) irrespective of whether anyone claims to be married.

CPAA member jbash has put together some numbers that might liven up the debate. He looked for the best numbers available and found that polyamorists outnumber Bountiful's polygamists by a huge ratio. On the CPAA's website:

30 to 1 or 500 to 1, we dwarf Bountiful. Why is it about them?

...“Polygamy” has one main face for the Canadian public: the fundamentalist offshoots of Mormonism in Bountiful, BC.

...There are probably about 33 polygynous families there, containing about 120 spouses… and those seem to represent most of the Mormonism-derived polygyny in Canada. There may be 10 or 15 independent families in “Mormon” polygyny outside Bountiful.

We have specifically identified 112 egalitarian, secular conjugal polyamorous families in Canada, including over 350 spouses. That was with a quick survey, mostly promoted on a few Internet mailing lists. Even that number is over three times the size of Bountiful.

We think the real number is much higher, perhaps somewhere between 1100 and almost 17000 conjugal families (and, of course, many more non-conjugal polyamorists).

For every single Bountiful family that might be doing something bad, the Government(s) would make criminals of at least 33 polyamorous families. That’s the low estimate. The high estimate is more like 510. None of those polyamorous families are accused of any real wrong.

He goes on to dig up numbers for Muslim polygamists in Canada.

Our best guess is that Canada may have roughly as many Muslim polygynists as secular polyamorists… assuming our lowest estimates on the polyamorous side. If our highest estimates are true, polyamory leaves the Muslims way behind.

Many activists, on all sides, prefer to say that “polygamy” doesn’t include conjugal polyamory, just patriarchal polygyny. That’s not the law’s definition, nor the dictionary’s… and probably not the public’s, either....

...We welcome any improvements or corrections to any of these numbers, but, please, only if you actually have better data or methods than we have....

He also examines African, Hmong, and Christian polygamy numbers in Canada. Although data are sparse, the numbers seem very small. Egalitarian polyamory really ought to be front and center in whether the law remains on the books as written. Read his whole article (Dec. 1, 2010).


Meanwhile, a certain amount of good publicity or at least thoughtful discussion continues.

● On the online newsmagazine Backofthebook.ca:

The polygamists down the street

By Jodi A. Shaw

...The women of Bountiful, in [law professor Angela] Campbell’s opinion, are not oppressed by their husbands but by the law. The anti-polygamy statute renders them silent and fearful to reach out for services or speak out against other crimes, for fear of exposing themselves as members of a polygamist family and put them at risk of having their children taken away.

It is a fear shared by other polygamists, including acquaintances of mine, who live a normal life, in a normal house, far from any polygamist community.

They live a life of secrets, Steve* told me. In order to feel safe and accepted in their community, they disguise their relationship and discuss it with few people. Not that they like it that way.

Steve and Laura* have been together for over 15 years, and have a child. Almost four years ago, Megan joined the family. While one of the women is more outgoing than the other, they are far from submissive, and Steve is not remotely sexist or domineering. All three entered the relationship respectfully and willingly.

I can’t personally imagine myself sharing my husband with another woman, but Laura and Megan seem comfortable and happy in their lives. When on their own with Steve, they are affectionate, jovial, and immersed in each other’s company. As a family, they go on bike rides and do yard work together, though they have to refrain from affection or anything else that would reveal their dynamic.

Since Steve and Laura are more established as a couple, have been together longer, and are parents to the child, Megan often has to take a back seat when they are in public or around people who recognize Steve and Laura as a couple, but are unaware of Megan’s role. It’s a step back that leaves her feeling somewhat ostracized and alone. That’s where the real oppression occurs, according to Steve.

...All three entered the relationship as individuals and consenting adults, and all three report that, while they may sometimes deal with issues and struggles that do not exist in monogamous relationships, they feel content and loved. The secrecy is taxing, but they do not complain. They acknowledge, though, that many of the complications and stresses in their lives would be resolved if polygamy were legal....

Read the whole article (Dec. 9, 2010)

● An editor at the Ottawa Citizen, a major daily newspaper in Canada's capital, wrote a clear, forceful editorial column:

What harms do polygamy laws prevent?

By Kate Heartfield

The polygamy reference case has already made a valuable contribution: It has focused the debate on the question of harm. Apologists for the current law are now having to try to show that polygamy, in and of itself, always and necessarily hurts people. I don't believe they're succeeding, but I do see this as a promising first step toward creating a rational and effective legal strategy for dealing with abuse in polygamous communities.

Modern law -- and modern secular ethics, which defaults to some version of the Golden Rule -- is heavily influenced by the principle articulated by philosopher John Stuart Mill: "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

...Crown counsel Craig Jones tried to cover all the philosophical bases he could, and made a fine mess in the process, saying the law must be upheld to confirm the government's right to "impose some fundamental codes of moral behaviour for the protection of the vulnerable and to promote and advance our highest aspirations of equality and social justice." The "protection of the vulnerable" bit is in there to make John Stuart Mill happy.

The harms to be prevented include forced marriage, rape of young girls, expulsion of young men, and unequal family dynamics.

Forced marriage and rape are already illegal.

...Many laws, the polygamy law included, sometimes require the co-operation of victims. It's worth noting that the polygamy law is rarely enforced and has not prevented any of the harms we're all talking about.

The polygamy law manages to be both overreaching in principle (criminalizing consensual behaviour) and inadequate in practice (it hasn't stopped the abuse it supposedly targets).

As for unequal family arrangements, that's a more difficult question.

If we make polygamy illegal because, most of the time, polygamous unions involve patriarchal gender roles, are we also going to make patriarchal gender roles illegal in monogamous unions? If so, we're going to have to build a lot more prisons.

The relevant question, for the law, is not the number of people in the relationship, but whether they're adults who have freely consented. If the women in relationships of any number are being compelled or detained -- well, again, there are laws against that, and they ought to be enforced....

If we Canadians decide to uphold the polygamy law... we'll be guilty of shrugging off the harm principle when it seems inconvenient.

Which principles, then, will form the basis of our law? In the absence of secular liberalism, which culture or religion gets to impose its sexual morality on the rest of us?

That's why it's important to strike down this law, and replace it with a sound legal strategy to enforce existing laws, to put abusers behind bars without incidentally criminalizing consensual sexual behaviour.

This case tests our willingness to tolerate needless exceptions to the principle that the government can only compel our behaviour when that behaviour affects other people.

At the core, this case isn't about freedom of religion, or freedom of association. It's about freedom, full stop.

Read the whole article (Dec. 3, 2010).

● An editor of Macleans, Canada's national newsmagazine, weighs in:

Why should polygamy be a crime?

We don’t need to ban polygamy to ban rape: it’s banned already.

By Andrew Coyne

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I’m against polygamy. I think it’s wrong, and harmful, for all the usual reasons: that it devalues women, impairs the trust on which marriage and family life depends, upsets the sexual balance in society at large, and is broadly incompatible with the egalitarian, individual-based political values of Western civilization.

So when it came to opening statements in the landmark British Columbia Supreme Court reference on the issue, the government lawyer had all the best arguments, in my view. And yet I found myself agreeing with the conclusions of the amicus curiae, the lawyer hired by the court to represent the other side of the case.

...At bottom the issue is the role of the criminal law in regulating conduct.... In a free society, we should always prefer the least intrusive means of correcting harmful behaviour, consistent with getting the job done.

...The practices listed... it will be noticed, are all crimes in their own right, under other sections of the Criminal Code. We don’t need to ban polygamy to ban rape: it’s banned already. Granted, there are practical concerns about the chances of successful prosecutions in these cases, given the exploitive nature of polygamous relationships and the difficulties in getting witnesses to testify. But the ban on polygamy is too crude a proxy....

Read the whole article (Nov. 26, 2010).

P. S.: The CPAA needs your donations.




Anonymous jbash said...

A correction, I'm afraid...

Unfortunately, the CPAA's witnesses will NOT be giving live court testimony. We've filed only written statements.

The witnesses to be called were identified in advance. At the time we had to name the witnesses we'd call, we were used to focusing almost entirely on the litigation, I don't think any of us understood how this would play out in the press, and we didn't feel we had the resources to put people and lawyers in the courtroom.

I don't think we can change that at this point. That's not critically important for the litigation itself. The legal issues are technical ones. Judges aren't immune to emotional images, but they're a lot more resistant than the general public. However, we are definitely taking a public relations hit for every "anti-polygamy" witness showcased in the press.

Had I known then what I know now, I think I'd have suggested that the CPAA either call live witnesses, or file video affidavits similar to the ones the BC Attorney General is using. But I don't think any of us really knew.

The Amicus will have some live experts. The FLDS will be calling some "personal experience" witnesses... which of course won't do anything to showcase polyamory as we practice it, or to reduce the public impression that the case is about the FLDS.

December 12, 2010 12:35 PM  
Blogger Alan said...

> Unfortunately, the CPAA's witnesses will NOT
> be giving live court testimony.

Correction made.

December 12, 2010 12:52 PM  
Anonymous Christopher Ryan said...

That's a shame. Hope things improve soon.

December 13, 2010 6:49 PM  

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