Periodically, I’ve seen the argument come up in the discussion of the fight for same-sex marriage rights in the U.S. It usually goes like this: “if we allow gay people to marry and erode the definition of marriage, the next thing we know, we’ll have to recognize polygamy.” Some of this is becoming more poignant as more and more people are being removed from Warren Jeffs’ compound, and the polygamist Mormon offshoots are garnering more press.
There’s a similar storm brewing in Bountiful, B.C. where up to 1500 residents are considered to be practicing polygamy. But you know what? Canada has same-sex marriage. And strangely, nobody’s worried that this will empower the polygamists in the courts. No, the RCMP are worried, instead, that they would lose such a criminal case in court because the charges could be seen as violating freedom of religion, where they have a much stronger case.
Now, to backtrack for a second, I’m not completely sure what I think of polygamy. I know that I have seen polyamorous relationships work, and think that for a small few, this is a reasonable way of life (besides, how else can a bi- girl have her cake and eat it too?). But is it possible for someone to be married to two persons and for the situation to survive a test of time? I don’t know the answer to that, other than it’s “not my thing” (I don’t like to share).
I do know, however, that polygamy as practiced in the offshoot Mormon church (and in fact, in most situations in which it exists and is deified) is extremely damaging to the women (invariably, it is virtually always women who are taken advantage of in these scenarios) that are caught up in its grip. Kept ignorant of other ways of life, isolated, restricted and having to sacrifice all for one man’s benefit (we can see why he might think that this is a good thing…), they are quite often used, abused and enter a forced dependent or co-dependent sphere that one could hardly call consensual. [and maybe this is the premise on which the RCMP should prosecute: consent implies knowledge of the consequences, which in these cases are often stripped away and replaced with a regime of fear, intimidation and religious doctrine.] And then, there is an age-of-consent issue:
“The reality of polygamy in fundamentalist Mormon communities is there are significant concerns about exploitation of younger women and girls being forced into those relations and it’s very hard for them to leave.” — previously credited National Post article.
Now, perhaps the U.S. legal system understands this better than Canada’s, but religious freedom should not trump basic human rights, the laws of consent, the laws that protect from abuse in all its forms…
But all that said, I do think it cute that once again, the fearmongering about same-sex marriage proved completely empty.