Monday, December 6, 2010

Update on Canadian Poly Trial

You can keep up on the trial by checking in on the blogs I list in this post. But I am continuing to pick through some of the coverage.

A professor who interviewed nearly two dozen women from the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C., said they have happy, healthy lives, as well as control over their marriages, when they got pregnant and over their education.

But, under cross-examination Wednesday at a constitutional reference case that is weighing Canada’s law against polygamy, McGill University law professor Angela Campbell admitted she had done little fact-checking to support the women’s stories.

She interviewed the women involved. If anyone would have a complaint about being a wife in a polygynous marriage, it would be one of the wives, correct?

Campbell said not only did she believe the women’s claims that they were happy and in control of their bodies, she said it was on that basis that she concluded polygamy ought to be decriminalized.

It should be decriminalized because we should all have the freedom to marry.

Campbell argued the criminal sanction against polygamy stigmatizes the women and leaves them reluctant to access needed services or report other crimes for fear of being prosecuted or having their children taken away.

Bigots claim poly marriages are harmful, but the harm seems to be coming from bigotry. Convenient, no?

Campbell insisted the women have full control over their reproductive decisions, even though contraception violates fundamentalist Mormon beliefs.

Someone who chooses to be vegetarian for religious reasons still has full control over their diet.

Although Campbell testified that, based on her interviews, the practice of child brides was a thing of the past, she said under questioning that she had no empirical evidence to support that.

She had not, for example, looked at teen pregnancy rates, she said.

Well if teen pregnancy is an indication of being a child bride, then I guess there are many, many child brides in a lot of places in Canada and the US, including within a certain family in Alaska.

Beall describes the fundamentalist Mormon sects as cults and notes that anyone who stays within the group is more likely to have positive things to say than those who leave.

He says independent thinking is shunned. Privacy is limited. Emotional expression is undesirable. Personal desires are unwanted.

So the problem being described would be cultic behavior, not the freedom to marry.

From another article

Campbell said women in plural marriages valued their relationships with their husbands’ other wives, referred to as "sister wives," who share in domestic responsibilities such as childcare.

Perhaps some of these marriages are superior for all involved to many monogamous ones.

At any rate, Campbell said the law against polygamy wasn’t working.

How about a letter to the editor?

Hugh K.M. Macdonald, Tsawwassen wrote

The two types of polygamy -- polygyny (one man marries two or more women) and polyandry (one woman is married to two or more men)

He forgot group marriage.

-- both incarcerate women in unequal power relationships with men.

This is what some people have been saying about monogamous marriage for decades, if not centuries. As long as women (and men) are legally free to enter or leave a marriage, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.

And now for some good stuff. Kate Heartfield asked, “What harms do polygamy laws prevent?”

The harms to be prevented include forced marriage, rape of young girls, expulsion of young men, and unequal family dynamics.

Forced marriage and rape are already illegal.

I've read the argument that we need the polygamy law because the police and Crown aren't enforcing other, sounder laws at their disposal that prevent forced marriage, or child abuse.

It is kind of a strange argument.

It's true that it can be difficult for victims to testify against abusers who are in authority over them.

That's true outside of polygamous contexts as well, and it's something the justice system must work to overcome, without requiring the clumsy workaround of an extra law that allows the state to keep one small but irksome peephole into the nation's bedrooms.

Yes, get the government out of the bedroom.

If some jerk who lives in a polygamous commune, or some other fundamentalist society, has only one wife, and she's 13, and he hits and rapes her and tells her to shut up and keep sweet -- well, all of that is illegal and should be prosecuted, even though the 13-year-old might be brainwashed and terrified. But you tell me how a polygamy law can help that girl.

Strengthen the laws, or the enforcement of existing laws, against rape, abuse, neglect, false imprisonment, kidnapping, etc. Don’t deny consenting adults this freedom to marry.

The polygamy law manages to be both overreaching in principle (criminalizing consensual behaviour) and inadequate in practice (it hasn't stopped the abuse it supposedly targets).

That’s exactly it. If anything, the denial of this right to marriage helps perpetuate the abuse.

The relevant question, for the law, is not the number of people in the relationship, but whether they're adults who have freely consented. If the women in relationships of any number are being compelled or detained -- well, again, there are laws against that, and they ought to be enforced.

Yes! Thank you, Kate Heartfield. Let Canada move forward to full marriage equality.
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