The always-informative Religion Clause blog points to a Vancouver Sun article about closing arguments in the B.C. Supreme Court case concerning Canada’s law banning the practice of polygamy. I’ve taken an active interest in this case because Pagan families and clergy in Canada had been filing affidavits in support of decriminalizing the law under the assumption that it affects polyamorous families in addition to the stereotypical fundamentalist Mormon groups. Indeed, the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association has sought clarification for some time as to whether governmental defenders of the anti-polygamy statutes think polyamory falls under their definition of polygamy.
“The CPAA wants to know if polyamorists will be caught under Section 293 should it be determined that the section is constitutional. CPAA lawyer John Ince told Bauman the attorneys general for Canada and BC have not delineated what their thinking is on the polyamorists.”
However, the Canadian and B.C. attorneys general have been tight-lipped on the subject, until now. In his closing remarks, Craig Jones, lead attorney for the B.C. Attorney General’s office, made very clear that polyamorous families would be treated like polygamous families in the eyes of the law.
“When multi-partner, conjugal relationships are like “duplicative marriages,” Jones said they are criminal regardless of whether the individuals are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Although he said ‘duplicative marriage’ need not be “exhaustively defined in advance,” Jones said all conjugal relationships involving more than two people are criminal if they go beyond “mere cohabitation” and have some form of imposed consequences related to entering or remaining in the relationship.”
So now we know the true stakes in this decriminalization effort, and very likely why they kept this viewpoint under wraps until the very end. They aren’t simply seeking to crack down on abusive forms of polygamy, they see all “duplicative marriages” as criminal and potentially open for prosecution. Never mind that polyamory isn’t the same as polygamy, isn’t patriarchal, isn’t intergenerationally normalized, and isn’t restricted by gender pairing or sexual orientation.
“This law is not just about people living in Bountiful, British Columbia as the media and the Attorneys General would have us all believe. This law impacts many many people who have loving healthy families and live right next door to us. This law would break up families who are doing no wrong and just dare to love and build solid healthy empowering relationships in a different manner than perhaps you do. This law impacts our rights and paints us with a wide brush that is both terribly unfair and terribly inaccurate.” – Dear Polly Amorie
If you think that since you’re not Mormon, you’d never get prosecuted under the polygamy law, think again. Canada has had no seeming qualms charging people with antiquated laws against “pretending” to practice witchcraft, so tacking on a polygamy charge when you’re already under arrest for something else isn’t out of the question. The failure to end criminalization of polygamy could have far-reaching impacts on Canadian Pagan poly families and Pagan clergy willing to perform multiple-partner ceremonies. However, even if this current effort at decriminalization fails, I think the defense made a tactical error by lumping all “duplicative marriages” together. This may create more outrage, new activists, and new trials now that the scope of the law is interpreted as expanding beyond a fundamentalist Mormon context.
Closing arguments continue through this week. You can see live-streaming of the trial, here. Hundreds of transcripts and documents from the trial are available online. I’ll update you once I have more.