Canada’s Polygamy/Polyamory Ruling

Thanks to Wikimedia and user slady for the image.

As you may or may not know, Canada’s courts recently made a decision on whether polygamy and other formalized non-monogamous commitments were to be considered criminal. Covered here by Polyamory in the News, the case has a number of fascinating features. The chief judge stated that the law is meant to protect women and children from the abuses that can result in the forms of polygyny practiced by some extreme Christian sects, whereas relationships between multiple consenting adults that are not formalized by marriage (such as a polyamorous triad living together) are not illegal.

Interestingly, the case created an unconventional alliance between polyamorous pagans and polygamous Christians, as pointed out in The Wild Hunt’s coverage of the case. As they point out, simply having a marriage ceremony could theoretically criminalize a multi-partner arrangement, which “Considering how many Canadian Pagan polyamorous families have had public marriage/handfasting ceremonies this interpretation of the law places them on the same legal footing as a polygamous Mormon (or Muslim) household.” From a legal perspective, all multi-partner arrangements might look the same, but most poly people would probably say that their relationships are based on principles of choice rather than religious dictates. Besides, it’s simply ridiculous to have a law that could persecute people in exactly the same living situation based on whether they’ve had a commitment ceremony–religious or not.

Poly folks are still debating what the ruling will mean for them. Some think the decision is reasonable enough, since it represents progress to have non-formalized arrangements not considered criminal. Others view it as a slap in the face, since they’re basically being told not to expect the same rights as “normal” people, much as gays and lesbians, and people of color, were once told to shut up and stop complaining.

I’m curious to see where this goes. I’m a firm believer in decriminalizing all sexual activity between consenting adults, and I think polyamory is no exception.

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About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.