Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Polygamy and Polyamory in Canada

From The American Spectator:

While the United States is occupied with the federal challenge to California's Proposition 8, Canada has its own pending marriage case, which is likely headed for the Canadian Supreme Court. Canada, which redefined marriage nationwide to include same-sex couples in 2005, against the backdrop of successful provincial lawsuits against the country's marriage law, could be moving on to bigger things -- literally. Specifically, polygamy and polyamory, as this case invokes the question of whether the government can continue to criminalize multiple-partner marriages. The case itself, initiated by the British Columbia Attorney General under a special provision of that Province's law, arises in the wake of failed prosecutions of polygamous sect members in British Columbia.

Advocates of polygamy and polyamory seem to have an ally in the Law Commission of Canada, a statutory body of government appointees who propose changes to modernize Canadian law and report to the Justice Ministry. In 2001, the Commission issued a report, Beyond Conjugality: Recognizing and Supporting Close Personal Adult Relationships, that questioned the continuing illegality of consensual polygamy in Canada.

Recently, the case has been uniquely complicated by an intervening interest group called the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association. The Association is seeking an adjudication of sorts that the Canadian laws regarding polygamy (one man with more than one wife) do not apply to polyamory ("multiple conjugal relationships"). CPAA's "twist" on the law is that polyamory is just fine, and ought to be allowed, while polygamy can remain unsuitable for Canadian society. The rationale for their argument is the contention that, beyond the social science data that shows it is harmful, polygamy promotes gender inequality, and often involves coercion.

"Polyamory," by contrast, is strictly egalitarian and consensual, according to CPAA, and thus does not involve or promote one gender over the other. Affidavits filed in court detail (1) a woman and her male partner who live and have relationships with two other adults in the household (they also have a child living in the home) and who have agreed that each can pursue relationships with others, (2) a woman who lives with two other men (two of her teenage sons also live in the home), (3) a husband and wife who live with another adult (and the married couples' two young children and the third person's teenage children), and (4) a man who lives with a woman and another man (with whom he is raising a two-year-old child). Polyamory advocates also tout a lack of social science evidence showing any harm from its practice. In other words, the CPAA is arguing that since you can't prove that polyamory is bad for society, it must be good.

If we take seriously the idea that marriage laws have an educative function, polyamory raises red flags. On each of the core functions of marriage -- promoting fidelity, providing a tie between children and parents, securing permanence for spouses and their children -- polyamory seems particularly harmful. Both traditional polygamy and polyamory promote types of infidelity (though the former is of a more orderly variety), of course, but the chaos of polyamory blurs distinctions of parenthood more significantly than does a setting where a child has an established set of parents and lots of half-siblings. The ethic of "choice" at the root of polyamory does not bode well for permanence either.

Read the full article here.


Current Affairs | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Polygamy and Polyamory in Canada:


Actually, Saskatchewan Canada has already legalized polygamy.
They claim their province has exclusive jurisdiction over dividing spousal property (true, visa vis federal powers). In effect, the provincial legislation defines who is and who is/are not spouses. They have allowed, sanctioned and assisted in creating subsequent and simultaneous unions where maried women can also be the spouses of single men at the sametime, and the family court judges see no problems with doing so. It is only a matter of time therefore, until civilly married spouses (in Canada common law spouses are treated identically in family law to civilly married persons)can also have mutliple civilly married spouse(s.

Posted by: Radcliffe | Sep 16, 2010 8:16:16 AM

I have two men who are partners to me. One is legally married to me, the other cannot be at the moment, but wishes to be. Both are my husbands, functionally.

You say marriage promotes fidelity, a tie between parents and their children, and permanence for spouses and children. I would agree with that, and submit that having only two people in a relationship is not a magical number for those things to occur.

We are fidelitous within our group of three. We have great love and care for each other, and sex is not happening outside of our triad.

Our children are very loved, very healthy, and very happy. They know exactly where they came from, and are able to come to any of us for attention and care. If anything, they benefit from having even more adult attention from their parents than most two parent households with working parents.

We are permanent. We want to be together forever, as anyone in marriage does. We want stability for our children, and a home, and a place to be welcomed in society. The adults in our home all have graduate degrees, good jobs, and the ability to support the others in case of job loss or illness. This makes us all feel more secure.

Polyamory is not chaos by definition. There are those who create chaos for themselves with polyamory, but there are also those who do that with monogamy - through cheating, divorce, and sustained abusive relationships. I support those who are able to have healthy monogamous relationships, and believe that monogamy is great for those who wish to be monogamous. I do not wish to be monogamous.

While I do not believe polyamory is right for everyone (nor does it need to be), it is right for our family. I do not believe it should be illegal for us to have a family like ours, and are disturbed by those who say it should be.

Posted by: Polly | Sep 21, 2010 1:03:26 PM

If you lived in Saskatchewan and ended up in family court for a divorce..from either partner...alot of your "security" might change.
You don't mention...which "partner" came first? In Saskatchewan the "subsequent spouse's" property (and some other) rights are subject to the first-in spouse. For example, if the "civil marriage spouse" wished to end the spousal relationship and he came after the "cohabitating marriage" spouse, then only after property evaluation and seperation of all property, could the subsequent spouse receive property benefit.
However, since his rights would be subject to the rights of the first-in spouse, then he would not receive portions of the "matrimonial"home, not any other property.
It might be easy to think now that these little matters of marital property and money are agreed upon by you three spouses..nut at divorce or parting time.. things change.
There would be no right to a speedy divorce..because there are not only two persons to deal with anymore and very very complicated matters will occur. Somehow, being a spouse and having my rights subject to the rights of the first in spouse..isn't very appealing. If you lived in Saskatchewan, you would not be charged with polygamy for claiming in family court to have multiple can have as many as you like and the family courts will recognize and sanction them. Try 3,4,or more...spouses and watch the family property law kick in. Spouses who THINK they are entitled to marital property will get a very sad surprise! If your men partners cohabitated as spouses first, then your property rights would be subject to the rights of the first in man.

Posted by: Radcliffe | Sep 23, 2010 6:04:42 AM

Has there been a decision one way or the other?

Personally, as far as I'm concerned if all the parties are of the age of majority for their current province of residence, and if all parties are in complete and free agreement to the arrangement then there should be no reason for Canadians to fear going to jail for being in a polygamous or polyamorous relationship. I do think that there are some logistical things to consider though. Things like taxes and the number of members in said union. I also don't think the government should be giving any special support for the extra spouses and children that come from a union like that. I say we decide what constitutes a legal polygamous/polyamorous family and leave it at that. Religion has no place in government. We're a multicultural country, so as long as the practice doesn't break any major laws like murder, rape, child abuse and the like let it be!

Posted by: Shannon | Jul 6, 2011 11:54:29 AM

Post a comment