2 min

Get rid of Canada’s polygamy law

Failed poly prosecution at Bountiful showed all the signs of a typical sex panic

Is cheating on your girlfriend illegal under Canada’s polygamy law? Are threesomes? Open relationships? Polyamory? 

Would any of these count as a “conjugal union with more than one person at the same time”?
Over the next few months, one of the country’s top courts will look into Canada’s vague, amorphous polygamy law. And depending on what they say, gays and lesbians could be in trouble. 
The wheels of the justice system grind slowly, but they are creaking into motion. After the botched prosecution of a pair of fundamentalist Mormons, the BC government asked the province’s top court to clarify the federal polygamy law last fall. Is it fair, they will ask. Is it legally binding?
If the law is upheld, we can expect it to be applied far more often than it is now.
It’s been a long, long time since anyone in Canada has been convicted of polygamy. But with legal clarity (likely after an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada), police and prosecutors will be on the lookout for cases that smell like polygamy. Let the witch-hunt begin.
Will it result in police chasing people in open relationships, their mistresses (and misters) and polyamorists? I’d rather not find out.
Up till now, the queer response has been tepid. The best we’ve got so far is a group of gay-friendly polyamorists in Vancouver that is applying for intervener status.
That group is Van Poly, and they have the help of Sex Party leader John Ince. Their position is that the law as it could be applied to them should be struck, but that the larger provisions could stand.
In December, a representative of Van Poly told Xtra the following: “If a law is to remain on the books to deal with forced patriarchal polygamist situations such as Bountiful, it is our view that such a law should not infringe on the rights of polyamorists.”
They are right to be worried, since the law is stuffed with vagaries.
You can be charged as a polygamist even if you are not married at all, let alone married multiple times.
Consent — and this is where the hairs on my neck start to tingle — is not a defence.
You can be charged even if you’ve never had sex and don’t intend to have sex with your so-called brides.
Even non-participants, if they attend a poly wedding-type ceremony, can be charged.
These are the untidy details that the Van Poly crew wants clarified. But if religious polygamists can’t have multiple partners, why should gay people be allowed to?
As I’ve argued in the past, the polygamy law is a proxy. People are worried about spousal and child abuse at Bountiful — and if those things are happening, they should be prosecuted.
But we don’t need to protect people from polygamy; we need to protect them from asshole dads and violent husbands. And guess what? Those laws are already on the books. 
The failed poly prosecution at Bountiful shows all the signs of a typical sex panic: fear of social contamination, anxiety about child participation, coercion and the like. 
Van Poly’s position does not go far enough. Multiple marriages should be decriminalized, period. Let police use child and spousal abuse provisions to arrest the men of Bountiful if such a case can be made.
Is half a loaf enough? When is it worth pushing for the whole thing? At what stage is it okay to start deal-making?
The government is still looking for people who have an interest in the case. Folks who have a stake in the law have several options, but the most hands-on is for them to become interveners. If you want to intervene, the deadline for doing so is Jan 28. Let’s get a group of gays together and get involved.