The Globe and Mail on Poly: The Ills Flow From What Exactly?

The editors at The Globe and Mail are apparently unable to distinguish one occurrence from all possibilities.  In “Draw A Legal Line on Polygamy,” they argue:

Testimony from three “sister-wives” this week in British Columbia underscores the ills that flow from this practice: the exploitation and coercion of teenage girls, trafficking of child brides from the U.S. into Canada, exclusion of young men and abnormally high rates of teenage pregnancy.

And without a doubt, many of the issues coming out of a BC court hearing a case discussing Canada’s polygamy law are serious.  Trafficking young girls across the Canada-US border for the purpose of marriage, coercion and exploitation in situations that hardly meet the standard of consent — all, if true, are urgent issues which need to be addressed legally.  And they are: human trafficking, child coercion and underage sex are illegal.

But they do not necessarily flow from polygamy.  They do, however, flow from a particular religious doctrine, which teaches the women involved that they need to behave a certain way, marry young, have many children and conform to and propagate these exploitive practices.  Something tells me that the Globe editors aren’t about to call for legally proscribing all religion.  Nor should they.

I discussed before how diverse the cultures of polygamy, polyamoury and ethical non-monogamy (and how all three are banned by Section 293 of the Criminal Code) are and have the potential to be.  The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association goes further;

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…

Of these — and certainly of those people I’ve known in poly relationships — there is no requirement that any of the practices taking place in Bountiful be replicated.  Just as relationships overall have a diverse range of how responsibilities are shared, how power and authority are exchanged among consenting participants, expectations and freedoms, agreements and obligations and ethical or unethical behaviour, so too are polyamoury, polygamy, ethical non-monogamy and polyandry open to a myriad of ways that adults are able to define their own relationships.  It’s remarkably short-sighted and unimaginative to believe that Bountiful represents the whole… and to believe that legislation against polygamy and polyamoury will appropriately address the kinds of abuses being questioned at Bountiful.

  1. I am afraid that I fully agree with the article. These women and children need to be protected and it is made clear that religious observance should not function as a cover to promote or sustain this terrible lifestyle. I agree that there are those that are living in polyamourous relationships that don’t subscribe to the exploitation of Bountiful but in a piece directly attacking fundamentalist Mormons I believe the separation is quite evident.

    • dentedbluemercedes
    • February 1st, 2011

    They absolutely do need to be protected, but I still maintain that criminalizing entire communities of unrelated people is not the way to do it. If our existing laws on human trafficking, coercion and the age of consent are inadequate to do so, then those laws are what need to be reassessed.

      • Jessica
      • February 1st, 2011

      But you see, that doesn’t get the sexy headlines and attention that “Polygamy equals abuse!!!11!” does. Simple soundbytes are the way to capture the mayfly attention spans of today’s media consumers. Simplification and conflation are the tools of the agenda-pushers who are savvy enough to exploit coverage in such a way as to further their goals. Truth is an early casualty, especially messy, complicated truths.

  2. The Canadian government is not running around arresting or otherwise attacking those that live in polyamrous relationships outside of the Bountiful compound. What law would suggest as necessary to make sure these people are forced to stop their behaviour? From the outside of a relationship it is very hard to distinguish if equality exists between to people let alone a clan of people. The one thing they know for sure is that polygamy as practiced by these Mormons is dangerous.

    I am extremely passionate about this issue and have spent years writing to government officials over the treatment of women and children in bountiful and right now I believe that we need to bear whatever the cost to save them from this pain and then deal with the fallout. We need to take care of those who are hurting first.

  3. The question that I’ve never found a satisfactory answer to is whether or not polygamy violates precepts such as individual equality.

    The historical record of institutionalized polygamy doesn’t speak favorably to it respecting that notion. Not just the Mormon concept, but also other cultures which have practiced polygamy, there tends to be a serious problem with men treating women as chattels.

    The more recent construct of polyamory might be less prone to devolving into a pseudo-tribal structure with one person “at the head”, I don’t know. (I’ll defer to someone with more experience here than I have – or better yet, does someone have access to any kind of decent sociological study?)

    In either case, I’m not convinced that criminalizing polygamy is an effective strategy for dealing with it. The polygamy laws in Canada have not been enforced effectively for decades, and the issues that are being raised now don’t seem to quite justify the amount of noise being made.

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