It is an unalloyed joy that marriage equality is spreading across North America. I know how this subject personally touches many contributors and commenters to this blog, and I revel in the joy they are expressing. Greater still is the ten years worth of evidence that Canada can offer demonstrating that marriage equality destroys neither heterosexual marriage nor society. As nations, states and major religions embrace same-sex marriage, there are fewer and fewer arrows in the quiver of the defenders of “traditional” marriage.
There is just one argument left that has not been sufficiently rebutted by the proponents of marriage equality, and that’s the slippery slope argument. For if we are to allow same-sex marriage, that could open the door to polygamy and group marriage.
And of course the proper response is: Bring it on.
It would get absolutely messy to try to suddenly recognize plural marriages. There would be an incredible problem with definitions and categorization. Are we talking about polygamy? Are we talking about group marriage? The legal ramifications would be similarly confusing. How are parental rights assigned among participants in plural marriages? What happens with divorce? Inheritance? These issues would take time to sort themselves out. Society would have to experience a critical mass of plural marriage to understand how our legal regime should recognize and administer these relationships. But, ya know, we’ve got to start somewhere.
Throughout Canada and the United States, all forms of polygamy are illegal. We are not talking about “illegal” in the sense that the government won’t give you survivor benefits; we’re talking “illegal” in the you’re-committing-a-felony/misdemeanor/crime sense. That such relationships are illegal is a farce.
When we think of plural marriage, our thoughts tend to go to Hildale, Utah or Bountiful, British Columbia. We worry about child brides, rape and human trafficking. All grave concerns, no doubt, but guess what, all those things are already crimes, regardless of plural marriage. To suggest that we need to outlaw polygamy to rid ourselves of human trafficking is the equivalent of suggesting we need to outlaw heterosexual marriage to rid ourselves of violence against women. It’s absurd.
Further, the laws are not necessarily tailored to outlaw polygamy-cum-child-rape. Let’s look at Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada:
(1) Every one who
- (a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
- (i) any form of polygamy, or
- (ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
- (b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
So there are two incredibly ridiculous (or ridiculously incredible) parts to this section. First, if you form a sexual relationship with more than one person at a time, you can go to jail for five years. Let’s just get this out there, many of us have had multiple ongoing sexual relationships at the same time. Should that really be a crime?
Second, if you celebrate this kind of relationship, you can go to jail for five years. Seriously. Raise your glass to a plural marriage, that’s you going to the clink.
These are just the lingering impulses of the neo-puritanical streak of North America (we might think it’s dead, but it’s twitching up a storm). We are really bad about dealing with sex. We’re even worse with the idea of actual people having actual sex (yet we’re awesome at sexualizing people – way to completely fuck things up North America!). There may be many things wrong with partaking in multiple conjugal relationships at the same time, but can anyone offer up an excuse for the government intruding on these relationships?
(And if the government is so worried about deviant sexual behaviour, rather than inventing more crimes, maybe attack the scourge of prison rape instead.)
Consenting adults need to be considered just that, consenting adults. They can consent to celibacy, monogamy, serial monogamy, polygamy or just lots of sex with lots of people. No crime can justifiable come from this.
But, Jon, the neo-puritans will wail, what about all that human trafficking and child rape? Well, Bountiful, British Columbia isn’t the actual face of plural marriage. It’s just the sensationalized home of Evil Polygamy. All the rape, kidnapping and human trafficking is illegal, anyway. Canada and the U.S. are none too fond old men conscripting young girls into sexual service. If we suddenly wipe polygamy laws off the books, we’re not sanctioning some kind of perverted underground railroad to Utah. We are simply recognizing that many adults choose to establish relationships outside of our traditional norms. No biggie.
So grab your Crazy Carpet and take a ride down that slippery slope. It’s the only way to bring some sanity to our laws – and our perceptions – of sex, relationships and consenting adults.