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Polygamy pays (in more ways than one).
February 8, 2008 10:57 AM   Subscribe

It's been going on in Britain for a while. Now hundreds of men in Toronto are receiving welfare for each wife. Is this what Rowan Williams has in mind?
posted by gman (46 comments total)

 
There is give and take. I believe polygamy ought to be allowed, and welfare ought to be proportional to households, so this is a good idea. As Rowan Williams says, some aspects of Sharia law are unavoidable, even preferable.

But both our western societies and immigrating Muslims must compromise. Were I the lawmaker here, I'd say this: welfare for each wife, and give it to the wife, not the husband.
posted by koeselitz at 11:17 AM on February 8, 2008


Polygamy is a great idea if you're the guy who's got four wives, but it sucks if you're one of the three guys who by necessity would be left out in the cold.

Then it's a great idea again if you're recruiting soldiers and hey, look at those three guys without wives and children. They'd make great cannon fodder.
posted by mullingitover at 11:21 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


mullingitover, i think you overlooked someone(s) else for whom it sucks...
posted by butterstick at 11:27 AM on February 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, this isn't proper according to Sharia law either (pace the racists). The Qu'ran says that you can only have more than one wife as long as you can support your household in the proper dignity, with your own money. Clearly, these guys can't--so why is this even an issue?
posted by nasreddin at 11:32 AM on February 8, 2008 [11 favorites]


welfare for each wife, and give it to the wife, not the husband.

That's exactly what is happening. All but the "main" wife -- the one legally recognized as his wife during immigration, are receiving welfare as independent people.

The article is very misleading in that regard.
posted by tkolar at 11:38 AM on February 8, 2008


The Toronto Sun (i.e. T.O.'s NY Post) covered this story with their characteristic tact and sensitivity.
posted by The Card Cheat at 11:38 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


nasreddin writes "Well, this isn't proper according to Sharia law either (pace the racists). The Qu'ran says that you can only have more than one wife as long as you can support your household in the proper dignity, with your own money. Clearly, these guys can't--so why is this even an issue?"

You underestimate mankind's capacity to do whatever the hell he wants and rationalize it later.
posted by mullingitover at 11:39 AM on February 8, 2008


A couple married in a state with a lower legal age than Britain would also be recognised, as would (legal) Mormon polygamous marriages. Should I be outraged about that too? Or is that only applicable to Muslims?
posted by influx at 11:43 AM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


You underestimate mankind's capacity to do whatever the hell he wants and rationalize it later.

Nah, I know all about that. What I'm against is making this into some sort of LOLISLAMAMIRITE thing.
posted by nasreddin at 11:43 AM on February 8, 2008


influx writes "as would (legal) Mormon polygamous marriages"

Isn't this an oxymoron? The proper, legal Mormon church gave it up so Utah could be a state, and the only branches that practice plural marriage now (illegally) are the wacky Mormon fundie cults.
posted by mullingitover at 11:53 AM on February 8, 2008


yeah, but is pretty lollastic anyway
posted by matteo at 11:56 AM on February 8, 2008


Ceding sovereignty of the law to anybody for anything (e.g. religion) never works out, sorry. Either I, as a non-Muslim, can go down the street and receive tax dollars for each and every one of my babys' mommas or nobody can.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 11:57 AM on February 8, 2008


I'd say this: welfare for each wife, and give it to the wife, not the husband.

in muslim culture, the male handles the finances. a sharia/welfare-state combo is win-win.
posted by gman at 12:01 PM on February 8, 2008


The families receiving benefits didn't want their identities released because it can lead to questions by authorities on how they entered Canada and can mean an end to their benefits, Ali said.

the outrage is right here, illegal in the country AND receiving sizable benefits.
posted by seawallrunner at 12:08 PM on February 8, 2008


Given the coercive nature of male/female relationships in fundamentalist Muslim (and Mormon) culture, polygamy actually shouldn't be allowed. To me it's completely insane that this is going on in 2008 in supposedly liberal democracies. Talk about appeasement!
posted by Spacelegoman at 12:19 PM on February 8, 2008


This PC, it's gone mad?
posted by influx at 12:21 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Spacelegoman: Given the coercive nature of male/female relationships in fundamentalist Muslim (and Mormon) culture, polygamy actually shouldn't be allowed. To me it's completely insane that this is going on in 2008 in supposedly liberal democracies. Talk about appeasement!

So let me get this straight. You find one aspect of Islam (which I'd suggest, by the way, that you don't even understand very well anyhow) to be terribly offensive, so you believe that every aspect of Islam ought to be suppressed?

Fantastic idea. We should do that, suppress every aspect of any culture we have even the slightest discomfort about. We can call it "fascism." It'll be fun.
posted by koeselitz at 12:38 PM on February 8, 2008


I understand to some extent your outrage, nasreddin, but could you please elaborate your position a little? I'd like to know a little bit more about your position.

(Not being facetious; genuinely curious)
posted by grubi at 12:41 PM on February 8, 2008


So let me get this straight. You find one aspect of Islam (which I'd suggest, by the way, that you don't even understand very well anyhow) to be terribly offensive, so you believe that every aspect of Islam ought to be suppressed?

Um, do us all a favour, and show where he said that? Because, y'know, he didn't. Nice try though.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 12:45 PM on February 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


The families receiving benefits didn't want their identities released because it can lead to questions by authorities on how they entered Canada and can mean an end to their benefits, Ali said.
the outrage is right here, illegal in the country AND receiving sizable benefits.


And best of all, completely anecdotal!

I know I guy who saw a woman draped in diamonds get out of a limousine and go into a 7-11 to buy alcohol with foodstamps.
posted by tkolar at 12:49 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


Uh, "I know a guy..."
posted by tkolar at 12:50 PM on February 8, 2008


Polygamy is not the norm among the world's muslims, it only exists in pockets. Furthermore, it's accepted Sharia law that each country or community can make their own edict on whether polygamy is acceptable; the TO muslim community or the Mufti of Canada can say that Polygamy is not officially recognized.
posted by cell divide at 1:03 PM on February 8, 2008


As a white boy of English and Irish peasant stock I've never related to UK law either and it doesn't reflect my cultural norms. If Rowan Williams' idea flies, I look forward to being judged by the standards of my peers: small-town wasters, petty criminals, layabouts and druggies.
posted by Abiezer at 1:12 PM on February 8, 2008 [5 favorites]


I understand to some extent your outrage, nasreddin, but could you please elaborate your position a little? I'd like to know a little bit more about your position.

(Not being facetious; genuinely curious)


I'm not really invested in what the law does or does not allow, but I am opposed to high-and-mighty posturing about the supposedly coercive relationship between men and women in Islam. First, even if it was coercive, that's not an argument for banning polygamy altogether: researchers have shown that in African societies, for instance, polygamy gives women a network of alliances to counteract male power in the household. Second, it isn't as if monogamous marriage is a beacon of non-coercion, and you don't see mouthbreathers asking to abolish that. Finally, if the relationship between men and women in Islam is coercive, then how will requiring monogamy mitigate that in any way?
posted by nasreddin at 1:43 PM on February 8, 2008 [3 favorites]


dirtynumbangelboy: Um, do us all a favour, and show where he said that? Because, y'know, he didn't. Nice try though.

What he said was:

Given the coercive nature of male/female relationships in fundamentalist Muslim (and Mormon) culture, polygamy actually shouldn't be allowed. To me it's completely insane that this is going on in 2008 in supposedly liberal democracies. Talk about appeasement!

Which is an insane red herring. He equates polygamy with "the coercive nature of male/female relationships in fundamentalist Muslim (and Mormon) culture." As though (for example) there aren't incredibly coercive and abusive relationships within monogamous relationships within Islam (and Mormonism, and elsewhere) and as though there aren't polygamous relationships, Islamic, Mormon, atheist, Buddhist, whatever, that aren't coercive or abusive.

It's just silly to suggest that we should disallow things like polyamory or polygamy just because some people practice it who've been unjust. There's nothing essentially unjust about polygamy. What we should be doing is trying to get to the root of the abuse itself, not banning what is at most a symbol of an emblem of a representation of something distantly related to coercive behavior.

Outlaw spousal abuse. Stringently require that women be given the same rights as men. Give women a platform to voice their abuse if it does happen. Give them avenues by which to be as liberated as men. These are the things we should be doing. Outlawing polygamy has nothing to do with this. It's about as useful as outlawing communion wine or something.
posted by koeselitz at 2:04 PM on February 8, 2008 [2 favorites]


Maybe you should talk to the three gay men I met last year who are in a 'three-way' relationship. There are three of them, and if they chose to make it official, they'd be polygamous. I guess that makes them 'coercive.' They'd find that funny, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 2:06 PM on February 8, 2008


Abiezer: "As a white boy of English and Irish peasant stock I've never related to UK law either"

The modern Irish legal system is derived from the English common law tradition. Are the two countries so very different? Sure, we have some historical antagonisms, but Ireland-England is surely closer than Ireland-France or Ireland-Pakistan.
posted by alasdair at 3:36 PM on February 8, 2008


koeselitz: You aren't making any sense. You accused Spacelegoman of wanting to suppress Islam upthread, but now you are making a completely different argument about polygamous relationships in general when challenged. If you want to defend the point you've made previously, you are going to have to read it over again.
posted by ssg at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2008


Reminds me of the articles you read back in the Reagan years about inner city folk with welfare stables, only then religion had nothing to do with it.

But it does raise a bunch of questions, mostly of fact and therefore harder to answer. Is there anything written out there about the everyday lives of these families? Where do they come from? Why do they come to Canada? Are the husbands working? Are the wives working? Are they allowed to work (allowed by either husband or state or innate skills)? Where do they live? What are their ages? Do they speak English or French? If not, are they learning, or encouraged to learn? What do they do all day? How do they come to be married? Do the wives think it a good way to live? Do the wives want out? Is the government doing anything for those who want to get out?

Just curious.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:37 PM on February 8, 2008


The best approach to this problem is to sidestep it entirely: get the state out of the marriage business. Let anyone perform whatever ceremony they want involving consenting adults. Allow special tax benefits to whatever group of people assume responsibility for a child and to any group that live together and pool their finances. There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.
posted by ssg at 3:47 PM on February 8, 2008 [4 favorites]


alasdair - I was more making a joke about the class-based nature of our legal heritage than its particular national or ethnic roots. The law traditionally imposed a morality on the lower orders that wasn't necessarily their own.
I'm of the conventional view that all within a given polity should be should be equal before the same law, particularly now that the democratic mechanisms exist for changes to be made should they be deemed necessary due to changing social mores (and I'm with ssg on the state and marriage).
posted by Abiezer at 3:57 PM on February 8, 2008


Just wanted to mention, many feminists in the Islamic world do consider ending polygamy (and divorce, which is a very different thing from, say, American divorce due to the social and financial structure) to be very much a women's rights issue. While I agree with koeselitz in theory, and am poly myself, I don't think we should ignore the words and thoughts of the people who are in the midst of a particular situation, and judge it entirely by our own standards.

For example, according to the Moroccan feminist Fatema Mernissi:

"In the summer of 1992, a Moroccan women’s association (L’Union d’Action Feminine) ... that had collected one million signatures against polygamy and divorce became the target of the fundamentalist press, which issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for the women’s execution as heretics ... The fundamentalist press’s defense of polygamy and divorce is in fact is in fact an attack against the right of women to participate in the law-making process. Most Muslim governments, and their fundamentalist oppositions, even those that call themselves modern, keep polygamy in the family law codes, not because it is particularly widespread but because they want to show women that their needs are not important. The law is not there to serve them, nor to guarantee their right to happiness and emotional security. The prevailing belief is that women and the law do not belong together; women ought to accept man’s law, because they cannot change it. The suppression of a man’s ‘right’ to polygamy would mean that women have their say in the law, that society is not run by and for men’s whims alone. Where a Muslim government stands on the question of polygamy is a good way to measure the degree to which it has accepted democratic ideas. And if we do take it as an indicator of democracy, we see that very few Muslim countries are up-to-date on human rights. Tunisia and Turkey are the most progressive.”
posted by kyrademon at 5:39 PM on February 8, 2008



If we're worried about welfare spending, it's probably cheaper to support one polygamous family than it is to support 5 different single-mom headed households and one single guy.

The problem is not so much welfare benefits as immigration: if you are allowed to marry as many people as you want, you can bring as many of your friends over as you like if you "marry" them.

It makes more sense to allow you to marry one person of either sex for immigration purposes and keep it simple.

The welfare stuff should be dealt with in a way that encourages people to stay with their children-- not that means that you lose your benefits if the kids' Dad sticks around or if you want to have some other kind of living arrangement that helps everyone take care of the kids.

And religion should be kept out of law entirely: if a community wants to have special courts for whatever, they can do that-- i think the Hasidim here do this. But state and federal law trumps it if there's any dispute.
posted by Maias at 5:40 PM on February 8, 2008


Say, this is tops. When I reach retirement age I was going to move to Penang, become Muslim, and marry four teenage brides. Now I won't have to go farther than Moose Jaw, and his grace the Archbishop (I am presently Episcopalian) says it's OK.

Of course that's just Canterbury, who's known to be a bit mental. Note to self, perhaps should run this past York also.


> get the state out of the marriage business.

And the welfare business. Paying people for existing and telling them how to live are more than closely related, they're siamese twins joined at the heart and brain.
posted by jfuller at 6:08 PM on February 8, 2008


I'm not seeing the need for outrage here. Obviously huge parts of this story are missing. For a start, Canada does have a restrictive immigration policy with some pretty high standards (higher education and cash money being two big hurdles). The "family class" of immigration would allow a Canadian permanent resident or citizen to sponsor only one wife, other wives would only be able to come over either as independent economic migrants ($$$), on a visitors visa or as refugees. There are some refugees each year, but we are talking about a pretty small amount, around 30,000 a year from the entire world. Canada does not have a large illegal immigrant problem - most illegal immigrants come to Canada through the United States since Canada is surrounded on the other three sides by some pretty deep water and most of those that do work under the table (such as in the GTA construction industry) rather than risk being deported by applying for welfare. The first thing social services does before handing out a cheque to an applicant is confirming their identity and immigration status. There are checks in the social support system so that someone that came to Canada on a visitors visa would NOT be able to access the system (not to mention it is very hard to get a visitor's visa into Canada from a lot of developing countries). If someone has been accepted as a refugee (not as easy as papers like the Toronto Sun pretend) then they are certainly welcome to use the welfare system/ontario works to get on their feet and help support their children. It is not unusal to be accepted as a refugee but denied a work permit, forcing people that want to work to subsist on welfare until CIC processes their paperwork.

I don't see how I should care if they are married or polygamous or a seventh generation Canadian woman that has two boyfriends and is sill getting her cheque from Ontario Works. It isn't like we are talking about a huge amount of money here, with some patriarch banking it away, it would be used to pay rent and buy food for the children. I've actually often wondered what happens to the second/third wives and children that have been left behind when a man chooses to move to Canada with his first wife. Personally I would rather the family unit stay together.
posted by saucysault at 7:31 PM on February 8, 2008 [1 favorite]


koeslitz, still waiting for you to show me where he said that he believed "that every aspect of Islam ought to be suppressed".

Your words, not mine. Direct quote. I really would love for you to show me where and how he said that. I know you can't--because he didn't--but it would be just swell if you'd give it the ol' college try anyway. Just for shits and giggles.

He equates polygamy with "the coercive nature of male/female relationships in fundamentalist Muslim (and Mormon) culture." As though (for example) there aren't incredibly coercive and abusive relationships within monogamous relationships within Islam (and Mormonism, and elsewhere) and as though there aren't polygamous relationships, Islamic, Mormon, atheist, Buddhist, whatever, that aren't coercive or abusive.


I know I'm just feeding a troll, but..

He didn't equate them. He noted that there are coercive elements in male/female relationships in Islam. In many places, there are. That there are coercive relationships in other religiocultural paradigms is, as you so eloquently stated, a red herring. What he was saying was: given that in fundamentalist Islam there are coercive elements in male/female relationships, increasing the number of participants in that relationship would provide for opportunities for that coercion to become more widespread.

But, seriously. Please, please show the class where he said--again, your words, not mine--"that every aspect of Islam ought to be suppressed."

We're waiting, but we're not holding our breath.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:19 PM on February 8, 2008


most illegal immigrants come to Canada through the United States

Highly implausible. Care to cite a source for that claim? (Canada's illegal immigrants are largely refugee claimants who haven't yet been deported. Coming through the United States would mean they weren't refugee claimants.)

since Canada is surrounded on the other three sides by some pretty deep water

Here is an invention that might intrigue you.
posted by oaf at 5:36 AM on February 9, 2008


The reason why this is being considered on Canada is not because of muslims but beaccuse of Mormons. The majority of polygamists in Canada area fundamentalist Mormons :

http://www.swc-cfc.gc.ca/pubs/pubspr/0662420683/200511_0662420683-2_6_e.html
posted by liza at 8:27 AM on February 9, 2008


norabarnacl3 writes "Either I, as a non-Muslim, can go down the street and receive tax dollars for each and every one of my babys' mommas or nobody can."

In Canada you can have this same setup (IE: cohabiting/married to one woman while having your "independent" girlfriend live with you). It appears though that the less fundementalist are either able to keep a low profile or are in fewer numbers.

You also see quite a bit of effort by plain couples to maintain single status while living together because two singles get more money than a couple. This usually comes in the form of one of the persons maintaining a mail drop at a friends place. And despite our protections for homosexuals I'd bet there are lots of gay or lesbian couples on welfare who easily collect as singles because no one suspects them. Something that is harder for mixed couples (if I as a guy have a female roommate and we are both on welfare we are automatically assumed to be a couple).
posted by Mitheral at 9:17 AM on February 9, 2008


Ah Western liberalism. Tolerant unto its extinction.
posted by A189Nut at 12:29 PM on February 9, 2008


Haha, oaf. In case you haven't flown lately, no airplane will let you on the plane in your originating country without the appropriate visa/immigration paperwork. Which as I mentioned is actually quite difficult to get (you have to prove you are NOT going to claim status in Canada by demonstrating a strong ties to your home country through employment, real estate and money). A woman, in a legal plural marriage to a man already in Canada, would raise more than a few flags that the visitors visa was really a ruse. I believe that if someone does somehow land in Canada undocumented they do not make it past customs onto legal Canadian ground are almost always put on the next flight out. I think there might be penalties for the airline for allowing them on the flight too.

Since it is difficult to get into Canada through flying the most popular option is the one most countries with a land border deal with: walk-ons. The border is simply not as strict at the land borders, just look at the difference in documentation needed. Not to mention the option of crossing away from official border crossings.

Yes, you are right a lot of illegal immigrants unsuccessful refugee claimants pending deportation, I was thinking more of the illegal immigrants that do not document their presence to Canada Immigration at all. There has been lot of people that are unaware that they can claim refugee status in Canada when they are entering from the United States and have been filling up the shelters in upstate New York trying to get into Canada because Canada has a more liberal immigration policy that the United States. I know several Central/South Americans that crossed illegally through several countries including the United States until they got into Canada to claim refugee status. I am sure there are many more that did not claim and simply disappeared into the underground economy. I'd give you stats but dinner is burning....
posted by saucysault at 4:10 PM on February 9, 2008


Haha, oaf. In case you haven't flown lately, no airplane will let you on the plane in your originating country without the appropriate visa/immigration paperwork

Really, I've been to several countries in the past few years that required US citizens to have an entry visa. Some of the visas were purchased at the destination airport, some were needed ahead of time. None of them were checked before boarding any plane, the airlines only checked my passport.
posted by Burhanistan at 4:13 PM on February 9, 2008


There has been lot of people that are unaware that they can claim refugee status in Canada when they are entering from the United States

saucysalt, are you not aware of the safe third country agreement with the US? It has been struck down by the courts (the US was not deemed to be a safe haven for refugees), but it remains in effect pending appeal.
posted by ssg at 4:47 PM on February 9, 2008


dirtynumbangelboy: He didn't equate them. He noted that there are coercive elements in male/female relationships in Islam. In many places, there are. That there are coercive relationships in other religiocultural paradigms is, as you so eloquently stated, a red herring. What he was saying was: given that in fundamentalist Islam there are coercive elements in male/female relationships, increasing the number of participants in that relationship would provide for opportunities for that coercion to become more widespread.

It was indeed an overreaction, for which I apologize. I was reacting to the notion that, since Islamic marriages are sometimes abusive, and since Islamic marriages are also sometimes polygamous, therefore polygamous marriages are abusive, and should be abolished. If there's any other logic in his comment, I don't see it. And the fact is that abusive marriage should be abolished, whatever form it takes. This odd connection of one bad aspect of a culture with another neutral aspect of that culture is logically fallacious, and it seemed to me that it could be easily extended to all aspects. For example: "Christians can be extremely intolerant, so we shouldn't let them have their silly choirs-- they're just encouraging more intolerance there!"

You claim that possibility of abuse is increased exponentially as the number of spouses increase. This might be true, though it hadn't occurred to me, and I don't feel as though it was part of the discussion before.

Anyhow, sorry for being inflammatory.
posted by koeselitz at 6:20 PM on February 9, 2008


sssg, ooops! I thought I had typed people are unaware they CAN'T claim refugee status, hence the backlog in places like Buffalo where people that do not want to apply for refugee status in the US are ineligible to apply for status in Canada. My mistake, of all the words in that sentence to mispell!

Burhanistan, I assume you are speaking as a US citizen? My understanding is that the requirements for visas from citizens from the developed world were more cash grabs than anything else (as well as tit-for-tat when the reciprocal country requires a visitors visa). It makes sense to use visas when limiting visitors from entering a country, risking them claiming refugee status and drawing from the social services, jumping the queue ahead of immigration applicants from outside the country. A third world country that does not have a strong social service network would not worry as much about a large number of visitors that overstay their visas as a drain of government coffers, except that they missed out on the visa income. Visitors from one developed country to another developed country do not cause the government the same concern that a citizen of a developed country could successfully argue a refugee claim or persecution from the government of a developed country. Unfortunalely, it is the genuine visitors from the developing world that wish to visit family in Canada and then return home that are really penalised.
posted by saucysault at 6:37 PM on February 9, 2008


"Christians can be extremely intolerant, so we shouldn't let them have their silly choirs-- they're just encouraging more intolerance there!"


That's a really, really poor analogy. A closer analogy would be something along the lines of "Some Catholic priests have been known to molest boys, so no priest should be allowed near boys."
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:40 PM on February 9, 2008


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