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Polys Between Rock and Hard Place, Canadian-Style

oday’s the big day that we’ve all been waiting for, for months, the day of the decision whether to uphold the Canadian anti-polygamy law.  Sadly, the news is very much NOT good for the polyamorous folks in Canada (and by extension and example, for anyone else): the judge upheld the law.  You can read a good analysis over in Alan’s Polyamory In the News blog: Polyamory in the News: Canadian Judge Upholds Anti-Polygamy Law. The ruling is extremely confusing, and discussion has been hot and heavy on many poly lists all day. The general conclusion, however, is that it is certainly not GOOD news for polyamorists.  The crux of the ruling from the polyamorous point of view seems to be this:

[1036]  From all of this, I conclude that properly interpreted, s. 293(1)(a) prohibits practicing or entering into a “marriage” with more than one person at the same time, whether sanctioned by civil, religious or other means, and whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage.

This essentially says that polyamorous relationships are just fine so long as no one anywhere tries to recognize it as a formal union of any sort.  This might seem ok (especially to those who don’t support ANY marriages), but it’s important to remember that, since the law has been upheld, anyone who even participates in a non-legally-binding “marriage” ceremony, e.g., a Wiccan handfasting, or a non-religious statement of commitment, could be interpreted as having broken the law (or in the case of the person performing the ceremony, to have aided in breaking the law, which would leave them open to losing their license to perform marriages and any other certifications they might have ) — this could even include the family and friends of the people making the commitment.

At the very least, this infringes religious freedom, in my view, since it disallows “spiritual marriages,” “handfastings” and other non-legally-binding unions which are common and sometimes hold religious importance for some non-Judeo-Christian groups.

It also seems a bit like “keeping polys in their place” in a similar way to the “separate but equal” doctrines around race prior to the mid-60’s in the USA.  The general tone of the arguments seems to go like this: “So long as you poly people ‘know your place’ and don’t threaten the status quo, we’ll tolerate you. But if you insist on fair and equal treatment, with the same privileges as your monogamous counterparts? Then we’ll happily fall back on a stricter interpretation of the law, criminalize your behavior, fine you, and maybe even throw you in jail. But hey, it’s up to you, poly folks: you can choose to remain ‘under the radar,’ not rock the boat, and ‘decline’ to utilize the services available to others, and then we’ll leave you alone.”  Just like black folks in the 50’s could choose not to drink at Whites Only drinking fountains or sit at the front of the bus, right? Or gays and lesbians can choose to remain in the closet, pretend to be “just housemates” and end up with a partner of 20 years unable to visit their dying partner in the hospital.  Uh huh.

(Note that I’m not suggesting that the physical violence that often marks racial and GLBTQ* discrimination is anywhere near as prevalent against polyamorous people.  I’m simply pointing out that the legal ramifications of demanding equal treatment are similar, and the arguments that staying silent is a choice are similar. Legal ramifications still count as discrimination in my book.  Emotional ramifications still count in my book. Threats of breaking up families are still threats, even if they are carried out by “the authorities” in daylight, rather than by vigilantes by torchlight. This stuff is real, and it is discriminatory.)

Additionally, Lucius Scribbens in the comments to the Poly In the News post, has a very chilling point:

Something that is still concerning is, even though Chief Justice Robert Bauman says it does not apply to non-married people with plural relationships, what about a married couple who have outside relationships. Canada’s adultery law reads:

Criminal Code – R.S.C., 1985, c. C-46 (Section 172)(1) Every one who, in the home of a child, participates in adultery or sexual immorality or indulges in habitual drunkenness or any other form of vice, and thereby endangers the morals of the child or renders the home an unfit place for the child to be in, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.

So even though a poly family may not be prosecuted under the polygamy law, they can still get up to two years in prison for cohabiting and fornicating if there are children also in the home.

So as it stands, polyamorous families in Canada are “free” to practice polyamory, so long as they don’t get “married” or have any sort of ceremony — even non-legally-binding — marking their union.  But if there are children in the household, then they’re STILL “behaving badly,” and deserve to be punished for exposing children to their “immoral ways”–the very same “immoral ways” that this law forces polyamorous families to maintain.

Catch-22, anyone?

Tomorrow, while at our American Thanksgiving dinner with our polyamorous family — with married partners, extra partners, children (some related to the married partners, some not) blood relatives, former partners, and non-partner friends — I will certainly be giving thanks for our own somewhat dubious American freedoms, and praying (in my tolerant, inclusive, but non-Christian way) that a successful appeal will be mounted, so that families everywhere might in the future give thanks in freedom for their shared love and support, with all the same rights and privileges accorded to families of any make-up, no matter their race, religion, sexual orientation, or number of family members (or anything else, for that matter).

In the meantime, I’d better get downstairs to cook the cranberry sauce, and move some furniture.  My family will be here tomorrow!

♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥

© 2011, Dawn M. Davidson

4 thoughts on “Polys Between Rock and Hard Place, Canadian-Style

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