A new study for the federal Justice Department says Canada should get rid of its law banning polygamy, and change other legislation to help women and children living in such multiple-spouse relationships.
“Criminalization does not address the harms associated with valid foreign polygamous marriages and plural unions, in particular the harms to women,” says the report, obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act.
“The report therefore recommends that this provision be repealed.”
Chief author Martha Bailey says criminalizing polygamy, typically a marriage involving one man and several wives, serves no good purpose and prosecutions could do damage to the women and children in such relationships.
“Why criminalize the behaviour?” she said in an interview. “We don't criminalize adultery.
“In light of the fact that we have a fairly permissive society ... why are we singling out that particular form of behaviour for criminalization?”
Granted, the report does not call for the outright legalization of polygamy, and it still deplores polygamy as a repugnant practice that victimizes the women caught up in it, many of whom want out.
But decriminalization removes a great deal of social stigma from the practice, just as it did with homosexuality. If people think that it's wrong because it's a crime, and not a crime because it's wrong, once it ceases to be a crime, people will start to tolerate and accept the practice thereof.
And it is not just radical Mormon sectarians and Islamic zealots who practice polygamy in Canada: polyamory , or polygamy for secular progressives, is already in the avant-garde.
And all the claims about same-sex marriage promoting equality and polygamy promoting inequality will become quite irrelevant. For if sex is considered irrelevant to civil marriage in law, of what greater significance is number?
And if capacity to consent is the issue, why assume a priori that the participants, if otherwise capable of consenting to a monogamous marriage, cannot offer informed and valid consent to a polygamous marriage?
For the time being, this report will be shelved and its recommendations not acted upon. But pressure will inevitably mount from an unlikely coalition of civil libertarians and Islamic zealots, whose numbers may not be large, and whose reasons for pursuing decriminalization and legalization varied quite opposed, but who will be well-organized and committed to the cause.
Legalized polygamy is not immediately around the corner, but the idea is no longer so far-fetched.
Source: Globe and Mail