‘I now pronounce you man and wives’: Canada and polygamy

Mohamed Osman, 2010

A court in British Columbia is currently deciding whether Canada’s anti-polygamy laws are unconstitutional. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-11776534) Those in favour of the legalisation of polygamy suggest that by not allowing it, Canada is failing in its duty to guarantee the freedom of religion for its citizens (there is a large Mormon community in Canada). If polygamy is legalised, then Canada will become the first developed country to allow it.

82% of Canadians oppose legalising polygamy, but this is not due to sheer disgust for alternative lifestyles. The opponents argue that polygamy harms women and that the men who are ‘leftover’ will be unable to secure a wife for themselves. Interestingly, the debate has not focussed on the more fundamental issue of how far the state should be able to intervene in determining how adults arrange their lives. Furthermore, the lawyers are debating polygamy – one man being married to several women. It is unclear from the news reports whether the legalisation of polygamy will entail the legalisation of polyandry – one woman being married to several men. It seems likely that it would entail equal rights for both sexes but the focus of news reports and of the lawyers has been only on polygamy. Is this because of a presumption that women would simply not want to marry more than one man or that men just would not stand for not having their wife all to themselves?

Polyamory seems to be talked about only within the framework of polygamy and religious freedom versus harm to women. However, despite being significant in number, polyamorous people (http://www.polyamory.org.uk/) are a group that are rudely ignored by all facets of society (Microsoft Word doesn’t even have the word in its dictionary!) If Canada does pass pro-polygamy legislation then their rights may come more into the public domain. The legalisation of polygamy, polyandry and group marriage could therefore, be one more step towards a more liberal society where politicians intervene less and less in the private matters of its citizens.

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