Polygamy & Civil Liberty

From Canadian Press (at The Star):

A civil liberties watchdog group is calling on the Crown to immediately drop polygamy charges against the leaders of a controversial B.C. religious sect.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler, leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bountiful, B.C., were charged last month with practising polygamy.

Blackmore, 52, is accused of having 19 wives and 44-year-old Oler, three.

But the B.C. Civil Liberties Association said Monday that the 1892 law that the two men have been charged under violates religious freedom.

“The Criminal Code provides adequate provisions for protecting vulnerable women and children without invoking section 293,” the group said in a statement.

“We should not… stand by quietly while the anti-polygamy law is used in a selective fashion to intrude on religious freedom and/or on responsible adults who make relationship choices that alarm or puzzle other Canadians.”

The association called the law barring multiple marriages “archaic and over-vague,” and said the prosecutions were “ill-advised.”

“The provisions are drafted very broadly. Their original intent was to keep Mormons out of Canada,” association policy director Micheal Vonn said in an interview.

“They have the potential to be used again in a discriminatory fashion.”

The association said it has long been concerned about allegations of child abuse by the sect, a breakaway of the mainstream Mormon church which abandoned polygamy more than a century ago. The group urged police to lay appropriate charges if there is any evidence of abuse.  [more]

I’m inclined to agree that the polygamy law is discriminatory and not likely to stand up if challenged (and it will be).  The law was originally drafted to protect vulnerable women and children and, as this article says, to keep certain religious groups out of Canada.  If there is evidence of the abuse of women and children, the B.C. Crown should, indeed, lay those charges.  They’ve had long enough to gather that evidence – “interest” in the community at Bountiful, B.C. is longstanding.

I’m certainly not “pro-polygamy”.  It does strike me as a particularly patriarchal practice.  Men are in control of their wives and families and, of course, of women’s sexuality.  No doubt religious views are used to regulate women’s behaviour.  Nevertheless, to the extent that women say that they freely choose polygamous relationships, they have a right to do so.  It’s not clear to me that living in polygamous families is abusive to children, per se.  Not any more so than living in families where mothers and fathers practice serial monogamy.  I don’t like that.  But it’s not against the law.

Note that these two men are not being charged with bigamy – they have committed no fraud and have not attempted simultaneous or serial “legal” marriages.  As far as the law goes, there is one legal wife; the women thereafter are co-habiting with legally married men.  To insist that it’s not in their best interests to do so is to infantilize them.  If we can ban these relationships, why not polyamoury?

How the family laws of the provinces would deal with these parents and spouses upon family breakdown is not a matter that we’ve had to face, since these families do not appeal to the courts to regulate their relationships.  Again, if there are child protection issues here, the problem ought to be dealt with in that way and there’s little doubt that regulating these relationships would cause problems – there are just too many people in loco parentis.

I’ve yet to be convinced that these families necessarily do a bad job of raising children – not more so than any other demographic.  And thus far, living according to the rules of patriarchy is not a crime, for men or for women.

Unlike many gays and lesbians, these people are not asking to have their marriages recognized at law.  Though if they did, I’m not sure on what rational grounds they could be denied.  In fact, if we want to regulate these relationships, we should recognize them as legal marriages.  Get it?

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2 thoughts on “Polygamy & Civil Liberty

  1. Pingback: Blue Like You » Blog Archive » Andrea Calver and Feminism today

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