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Polygamy in Canada
November 22, 2010 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Will Canada be the first developed nation to decriminalise Polygamy? After Charter challenges legalised orgies, prostitution (most recently "living off the avails"), same-sex marriages, non-sexual adult interdependent relationships, common-law marraiges and multiple legally recognised spouses in Saskatchewan, the West Coast is now hosting a unique reference case in B.C.'s superior court considering whether section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code is legal under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The repeated failed legal challenges against the Fundamentalist Mormon community of Bountiful were the impetus for the current review that may have far-reaching implications for women, children and immigration if Canada becomes the first developed nation to legalise polygamy. The reference case will have eleven interveners as well as two months of direct testimony from people impacted by plural marriages. Some of the opening statements.
posted by saucysault (119 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Let's hope so; considering that nobody disputes all partners must consent it shouldn't ever have been criminalised.
posted by jaduncan at 6:28 AM on November 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Well, there's not much consent in those Fundamentalist Mormon communities.
posted by empath at 6:31 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


considering that nobody disputes all partners must consent

Don't they? They do in the case of abortion and child-related things.
posted by DU at 6:43 AM on November 22, 2010


Criminalization of polygamy is kind of dumb, but that doesn't mean it's obvious that it should also be legally recognized. Various family law issues get very complicated once you get beyond a married couple.

Take inheritance, for example. Imagine a family with one husband and two wives. One wife has a child, the other does not. The wife who had a child dies intestate. Does the deceased wife's property go to the husband entirely? Split between the husband and the surviving wife? To the husband and the child? To the child alone? Suppose it was the childless wife who died. Should the child of the surviving wife ever take, whether any of the parents are alive or not?

I don't know anything about Canadian estate law, but under the various approaches used in the US, arguments could be made for just about every answer to those questions, so there's no clear, obvious approach that fits within the existing system. And that's just intestate succession. Divorce, taxation, child custody, etc would all have to be reformulated. It's a bulk rate special on cans of worms.

And of course any legal regime would need to be secular and recognize the equal rights of women and the rights of children. Frankly that would tend to clash with the cultural views of a lot of groups that practice polygamy, so it's not clear that the legal system could come up with default rules that the actual practitioners of polygamy would be very happy with, which makes the whole enterprise sort of quixotic.
posted by jedicus at 6:44 AM on November 22, 2010 [29 favorites]


Good lord. If this passes, I have some friends who will be moving to Canada. They've got a genuine menage a trois-- one man and two women, and they're raising two infants, one from each mother.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:45 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was about to post what jedicus said - putting aside the equality and civil rights aspect of this case, the rules regarding inheritance, taxes, custody, insurance, benefits and finances are sort of inextricably intertwined with traditional two-party marriage. I'm not sure there is an entirely fair and consistent way to open up that system to multiple partners.
posted by thewittyname at 6:53 AM on November 22, 2010


I remember some years ago reading an interview with a former polygamist wife who had left the life because she found it a very unhealthy one — I remember that she said her kids clued in really young to the fact that it was a horrible situation and "were just waiting for [her] to get it". When she was asked about what the government should do she said there was nothing much that could be done about what kind of marriage consenting adults had, but that she wanted the government to police the abuses. Seems like the best practical solution to me.

And I agree with the above poster that perhaps polygamy should not be legally recognized. I just can't get away from thinking that it's a raw deal for women, and that those who consent may not be really doing so of their own free will. It's mostly practiced in insular religious communities, so if any young girl is being pressured into it by her family her only recourse is to leave the community — penniless, friendless, and perhaps also without the skills to make a living and cope in secular society. Going along with her arranged marriage might seem the lesser of two evils. And why is it always one man with multiple wives, rather than one woman with multiple husbands? Surely if it were truly an equitable lifestyle, you'd see it practiced by both genders.
posted by orange swan at 6:57 AM on November 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


jedicus, I may be oversimplifying this but it seems pretty clear that if the relationship between N > 2 people is treated as a marriage, then their otherwise unspecified property is jointly owned and continues to be jointly owned by any surviving partners, and if all the partners die it goes to the children.

Now the situation in case of divorce and following custody does promise to be interesting, but it's already interesting with just two people involved.

In any case the difficulties of adapting family law to the practice seem like a rather thin justification for telling a group of people who would like to live together as a family that they can't.
posted by localroger at 6:58 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was ready to come in here and ignore legal niceties and just say "OH MAN ONE WIFE IS ENOUGH AMIRITE BUT I GUESS PEOPLE SHOULD DO WHAT THEY WANT" but then I read jedicus' comment and had a flashback to trusts and estates and now my left eye is twitching uncontrollably.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:00 AM on November 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Hey, at least it's Biblically sound.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 7:02 AM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Looks like an Illinois Nazi Party case to me; you have to really be able to hold your nose to consider the issue — (theoretically) consensual polygamy — without it becoming a referendum on a particular bunch of creeps.

On one hand, if you're going to recognize the right of individuals to determine who they want to live with and have children with and everything else, allowing polygamy is a no-brainer. Fiat justitia ruat caelum; move along, nothing more to see here.

But it's not hard to see the objection, if you take a slightly less hard-line approach, when the people most outspoken in favor of polygamy as a concept also tend to be members of some of the most sexist and socially regressive groups around. And it doesn't help that their communities seem to exclusively practice single-male/multiple-female marriage (they don't seem to be pushing for polyandry, in other words), which has the nasty side effect of producing lots of disaffected young men who get pushed out to reduce the competition.

I've heard this called the "dairy farm problem." If success for a man in your society is defined as having three wives, you're going to have a lot of excess young men to get rid of. This is not a recipe for stability. (Unless you want to solve it the way dairy farms really do — by producing veal.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:06 AM on November 22, 2010 [12 favorites]


inheritance

Couldn't that be solved by requiring an explicit will when obtaining spouse #2? Of course then there will be people who didn't know that there was a prior spouse, and people who honestly believed they were divorced when they really weren't, but we have those anyway. Similarly divorce assets. Taxes would be the worst; if you don't get rid of the rules designed to not penalize a non-working spouse rich people would obtain 100 non-working (or low income) "spouses" who signed away all their rights to any assets.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:06 AM on November 22, 2010


jedicus: the more basic issues are the actual marriage (and, correspondingly, divorce). Man has 3 wives. Who can divorce whom? Who needs the permission of whom to marry whom else?

The motivating example is fundamentalist Mormons who specifically want legal recognition for polygamous (1 man, N women) marriages, but don't the specificity blind you to the big picture here: a special case just for the "1 man, N women" scenario isn't going to be constitutionally defensible in nondiscrimination guarantees (eg: gender and sexual orientation, in this case). I think if you follow the logic out you wind up with some generalized plural marriage getting legally recognized (if anything at all gets recognized, which seems unlikely).

Once you go that route you don't even have the basics -- marriage and divorce -- without writing entire new volumes of law.
posted by hoople at 7:08 AM on November 22, 2010


Whenever I hear or read anti-gay marriage people go "Yeah but what about polygamy?!" I mentally shrug my shoulders and think, well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Hello, bridge.
posted by rtha at 7:09 AM on November 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Looks like an Illinois Nazi Party case to me

The closer analogy seems to be the burqa. In theory it's a freely made decision. In practice, it may be used to control and oppress.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:11 AM on November 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Clearly I need to talk to the wife this evening.
posted by nomadicink at 7:14 AM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


And why is it always one man with multiple wives, rather than one woman with multiple husbands?

Because there are more women on the planet than men? Men get lost more in wars and motorcycle accidents.
posted by Melismata at 7:15 AM on November 22, 2010


Or, shorter: the issues seem simple and easily resolvable if you assume you're only legalizing one man being in essentially N distinct, parallel marriages, and whatever that leaves unaddressed seems like it could be patched over with explicit contracts, wills, and so on.

Which is somewhat true, if you only legalized the "one man in N distinct, parallel marriages" scenario.

But connect that to the rest of what you know: will a law that permits one man to marry N women, but not one woman to marry N men, survive a constitutional challenge (under US or Canadian law, take your pick)?

Will a law that permits one man to marry N women, but not one man to marry N other men, survive a constitutional challenge (under US or Canadian law, take your pick), so long as same-sex marriage remains legally recognized?

And that's still assuming the 1:N model is what gets recognized. It might, but that seems unlikely: that introduces a legally-privileged special role (the 1, instead of the N). We've moved far away from the "women are chattel, men are superior partners in marriage" and a backdoor reintroduction of legally-distinct roles within the marriage via legal recognition of some form of plural marriage seems extremely unlikely.

And even if it did carve out those roles, does it not seem strange to you that 1 man might marry N other men, and with the 1 maintaining the legal privilege over the other N? S.t., as is done with the fundamentalist Mormons, the 1 can go out and marry additional individuals, but the other N cannot enter into other marriages on their own?

Etc., etc., etc.; you can't just assume the thing you have an easy solution for is the only thing that'd need to be addressed. None of this should be read as taking a position on the advisability of anything, or, at least, on the advisability of considering the legal issues surrounding such recognition to be easily-resolved (they're not).
posted by hoople at 7:17 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's pretty clear from the other cases linked that any solution Canada adopts is also going to provide for polyandry and configurations where there is more than one of both sex in the partnership. You can make a strong argument for this; for example, in the case of the Adult Interdependent Relationship, there are important rights such as the ability to visit your partner in the hospital and make decisions for them when they are incapacitated. (In the US, that would include the very important issue of getting them on shared health insurance.) It's kind of stupid to insist that there can only ever be one and only one other person in the entire world with whom you have such a level of trust and interdependence. So recognize that and add in "oh by the way it's understood that we're all having sex," and you have group marriage.

As for abusive relationships, we somehow manage to have plenty of those even without the polyamory angle; legislation doesn't work too well to stop people from being shitheads.
posted by localroger at 7:19 AM on November 22, 2010 [11 favorites]


Interesting that comments about polygamy generally seem to assume one man with multiple wives.
posted by mareli at 7:21 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Gays shouldn't be allowed to marry or adopt kids because they'll indoctrinate them in the perverted gay agenda.

Polygamists shouldn't be allowed to have plural marriages because they'll raise their daughters to be obedient slaves to some old man.

Hmm. Why do I dismiss the former and believe the latter?

I guess it's because polygamist groups often seem very isolated and cut off from the outside world. They're basically cults. That kind of environment seems to lead to quite a bit of serious abuse, sexual and otherwise.

On the other hand, I also know that polygamist Mormons live in compounds, not houses or ranches or farms. I imagine this means my sources are fairly biased.
posted by ryanrs at 7:22 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Contrary to what some folks are saying, legalizing polygamy would be a good way to combat the abuses you see in e.g. fundmentalist Mormon communities.

It's like we're always saying about pot, about guns, about prostitution. You want to keep tabs on a situation? Let it come out into the open. By forcing it underground and outside the law, you make it impossible to police, and unnecessarily difficult for victims of abuse to step forward.

Of course, the worst of the existing religious/authoritarian polygamist communities may not jump at the idea — any more than the cartels are dying to see the drug war end. But making polygamy legal would open the door a bit wider for people to leave those communities. "It's okay. You can come out. You and your wives can come to the city where there's jobs, and get public assistance if you're broke, and send your kids to a public school, and as long as it's all consensual we won't give you any trouble. It is all consensual, right?...."
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:26 AM on November 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


jedicus: usually, wives are considered property of the eldest living closet male relative (brother/son/etc), and thus all inheritance - including the wives - goes to them.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:28 AM on November 22, 2010


Interesting that comments about polygamy generally seem to assume one man with multiple wives.

Extremely rare for a women with multiple men; the men tend to fight. Even college girls with a string of boyfriends keep them separate.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:29 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I will say this, though: complicating the law is a piss-poor reason to ban it. If simplifying family law is the overriding concern, we should ban children.
posted by ryanrs at 7:30 AM on November 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


I may be oversimplifying this but it seems pretty clear that if the relationship between N > 2 people is treated as a marriage, then their otherwise unspecified property is jointly owned and continues to be jointly owned by any surviving partners, and if all the partners die it goes to the children.

That would be one way to cut the Gordian knot, but it wouldn't fit the existing intestate succession regime in a lot of jurisdictions. In many cases the surviving spouses gets a share (which he or she may be able to refuse) and the rest is divided between the children or other heirs. So how do we divide the children's share? Do we prefer the biological children of the decedent? Do all of the surviving spouses get an elective share? It would seem fair to say yes, but on the other hand that doesn't really reflect the asymmetric nature of most polygamist marriages. What if a surviving spouse declines his or her elective share? Does it go to his or her heirs? Back into the pot to be divided among the other takers equally?

And it can't be assumed that all property in the marriage is jointly owned. That may be true of community property jurisdictions, but other jurisdictions make it easier for married individuals to maintain separately owned property.

usually, wives are considered property of the eldest living closet male relative (brother/son/etc), and thus all inheritance - including the wives - goes to them.

That's what I mean by polygamist cultural practices being incompatible with the way Western legal systems would have to approach the issue.
posted by jedicus at 7:32 AM on November 22, 2010


wives are considered property

Yeah, this is why it is wrong.

Is there anybody out there in favor of multiple marriages besides people in sects/cults that actually see the wives as property?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:34 AM on November 22, 2010


And by "in favor of" I mean "wants to do it themselves."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 7:35 AM on November 22, 2010


Orange Swan, I agree with you that polygamy can definately lead to abuses but as long as polygamy is illegal, women involved in polygamous marriages will be more hesitant to go to the police to report spousal abuse, something that occurs far too often in legitimate monogamous marriages too.
posted by Pseudology at 7:38 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Won't anybody think of the database designers?
posted by bitslayer at 7:42 AM on November 22, 2010 [71 favorites]


If the relationship was male/female/female could the ladies divorce the man and remain married? Is it sexist of me to think the male is the lynchpin? Could the entire gay community be married into one homogenic relationship?
posted by furtive at 7:42 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Jedicus, what if we didn't call it a marriage. If I wanted to setup an LLC with marriage-like rules, that wouldn't be too hard, would it? I assume Delaware has some relevant case law.
posted by ryanrs at 7:44 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


After Charter challenges legalised orgies

As someone with some constitutional litigation experience in Canada, I thought I'd just thought I'd pop my head in here and note that this phrasing is a bit misleading -- orgies were never illegal; at issue in that case was swingers clubs where money was changing hands in order to join the club. The issue was partially whether this constituted running a brothel, or whether this was considered a 'public' space and thus subject to public decency requirements. The Supreme Court concluded that neither was the case.

Also, as was noted in the FPP this Charter challenge is only in the BC Superior Court -- meaning it has several steps (and many years) to go through (Court of Appeal, Supereme Court) before this is likely to change the law of the land.

Finally, the constitutional logic used to legalize same-sex marriages in Canada does not apply to this situation. In various cases, homosexuality was deemed to be an 'immutable personal characteristic' on par with race, religion, gender, etc., which are the grounds of equality in the Charter. Thus, laws preventing same-sex marriage violated the Charter's s.15 guarantee of equality. That is why this case is being brought regarding Mormons -- if they can argue that polygamy is part of their religion, then being prevented from exercising that religous practice, if it is shown to cause no harm, would in theory violate s. 15. This means, however, that even if victorious they may not change the law of the land for non-Mormons, as polygamy is not the grounding of the challenge, religion is.

This is also why the "slippery slope" argument of anti-gay marriage advocates in Canada never held water, b/c the same-sex marriage court decisions were based on equality arguments, rooted in s. 15. A desire for multiple partners is not an immutable characteristic like race, religion, and neither is a desire to marry a dog -- something anti gay-marriage campaigners here never understood. To expand this decision beyond Mormons, polygamy advocates would have to argue that there s. 7 rights to liberty are being violated, but that would be a whole other battle.
posted by modernnomad at 7:45 AM on November 22, 2010 [29 favorites]


I always thought you could create some very interesting tax structures in a multiple marriage scenario. Older marriage partners die off, newer ones marry into the group marriage ... group marriages could be like the Great Red Spot on Jupiter, lasting practically forever while group property (managed by donations into a pre-nupped "pot") could expand quite nicely as time went on, never having to pass through any estate taxes ...

This leaves the descendants of group marriages without anything, but presumably they could enter into other existing group marriages. A new corporate structure built on transitive marriage rules. Tessier-Ashpool, here we come.
posted by adipocere at 7:46 AM on November 22, 2010 [15 favorites]


wives are considered property

Hmm, Perhaps the wives are beneficiaries of a peculiar sort of protective trust administered by the patriarch?
posted by ryanrs at 7:51 AM on November 22, 2010


If success for a man in your society is defined as having three wives, you're going to have a lot of excess young men to get rid of. This is not a recipe for stability.

Polygamy's Lost Boys.

Everyone I know belongs to an insular belief system that they are oblivious to, but the fundamentalist polygamist system is an extreme and unfortunate expression of patriarchy. Of course, we could argue that conventional marriage is an expression of limiting patriarchy that many participants are unaware of as well, and that there are other subcultures that seem insular and cultish. Bugchasing, or getting intentionally infected with HIV (assuming it is not an urban myth) strikes me as a behavior that could only exist in a closed community, but that could just be my excuse for trying to explain something I really don't get at all.

I guess what I'm saying is that the excuses for not legalizing polygamy (creepy and abusive) apply to a lot of legal behaviors, and the sword of legislating morality cuts both ways.

tl;dr: what everyone else said.

posted by mecran01 at 7:53 AM on November 22, 2010


It is a little disingenuous to say that multiple marriages is a bad thing on the grounds that it is only practiced by groups on the fringes of society when it's something that is not currently accepted or recognized by society. By definition, anyone who has a relationship like this must either be quiet about it, or be on the fringes.

By keeping these kinds of things on the fringes of society we also deny legal recognition and protection to people who may very much need it.
posted by Nothing at 7:54 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


hoople I'm not sure that the divorce/joining aspect is as difficult as you seem to think it is.

If we think of the marriage as a semi-separate entity (vaguely like a corporation) things get simpler. In the case of divorce the person is leaving the marriage and would no longer be married to any of the people in the marriage.

Similarly joining the marriage would make you married to all parties currently in the marriage.

Presumably there would be an internal management arrangement in the marriage which determines how new people can join. The FLDS, of course, would want that being the sole decision of the single man, and give the wives no choice in the matter whatsoever. Other people seeking plural marriage would, presumably, have other internal arrangements that would most likely be more equable.

I think the real problem is that we'd have to take on the elephant in the room that people don't want to talk about: mandatory universal education.

In theory the horrible sexual inequality of the FLDS is repugnant but should not be illegal because the people involved are consenting adults and adults can consent to 24/7 BDSM relationships or Christian Domestic Discipline, or what have you.

This becomes problematic when the people being victimized (mostly that means the women, but as the Lost Boys problem indicates there are male victims as well) are denied real education and are unaware that other options really exist. I argue that the women involved aren't truly consenting becuase they aren't making a fully informed decision.

It isn't the horribly sexist vision of polygamy the FLDS have that is the problem, the problem is that they are getting young women involved in it without those women having the ability to make a fully informed decision. And, of course, the pedophilia problem, but that's also an issue of education, informed consent, etc.

The question ultimately becomes one of the limits of parenting. Do parents have the right to have exclusive access to their children's minds and educations? Do parents have the right to promolgate a particular lifestyle that few would choose to join as fully informed adults, but if the children are raised to see no other alternative join with vastly greater frequency than members of the general public do?

In short, are children the property of their parents to do with as they please, or do they have the right not to be indoctornated into a social/religious organization until they reach the age of consent?

The phrase "FLDS children" should grate like nails on a blackboard, same as the phrase "Christian children", or "Muslim children", or "Buddhist children". They lack the necessary education, maturity, etc to make a decision about what religion they are. They are children of FLDS parents, or children of Christian parents, or what have you.

I don't argue that parents shouldn't be allowed to teach their children about their chosen society and/or religion. I do argue that parents should not be allowed to deny their children exposure to the broader world and education about other social and religious alternatives.

End the FLDS ability to brainwash little girls into thinking that they are goods to be traded to perverted old men and the problem of FLDS polygamy vanishes. There would still be some adult women making fully informed choices to become chattel, but that isn't a problem because it is their genuine choice; it's squicky, but it isn't a problem.
posted by sotonohito at 7:54 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


what if we didn't call it a marriage. If I wanted to setup an LLC with marriage-like rules, that wouldn't be too hard, would it? I assume Delaware has some relevant case law.

My issues are with the default rules (i.e. what happens in the absence of a contract), not with what could be arranged by custom, contract, or organization within a firm. But to address the point more directly: there are some things that no amount of contracting are going to get you, like hospital visitation rights. No doubt our resident Gay News Robot ericb could give us many other examples. Ah, here we go.
posted by jedicus at 7:57 AM on November 22, 2010


If I wanted to setup an LLC with marriage-like rules, that wouldn't be too hard, would it? I assume Delaware has some relevant case law.

I had actually looked into this when I was much younger (and before I realized that people were territorial). Basically, the problem is that any such business model is that they are all designed with "someone in charge". If you can someone work around that - and it got confabulated very fast to where I gave up - then yes, you can structure the marriage along that line, but you're putting money/stuff before the people/emotions. It does solve the financial aspects - who gets what, resource reassignments, tax payments, property disposition, etc - but it does NOTHING to dealing with who has rights for child rearing, medical visits, and other stuff that makes people crazy.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:58 AM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I don't buy the argument that poly-marriages should not be legally recognized because doing so would make the laws too complicated. Family life is complicated, and the laws regarding family life will reflect that, but making certain types of (consenting adult) relationships illegal is avoiding that fact in the worst way. We decide that all kinds of human activity are worth having extremely complicated legal systems set up to regulate. My wife is a part-owner of a small business with 16 other people. There are laws that deal with that arrangement.

If nine people want to have a property/sex/health-care/who's-turn-to-wash-the-dishes/inheritance deal with one another then the legal system should try to facilitate that as fairly as it tries to facilitate two people having a property/sex/health-care/who's-turn-to-wash-the-dishes/inheritance deal with each other.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:59 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


A new corporate structure built on transitive marriage rules.

Isn't this just a normal corp with obligatory sex and higher taxes?
posted by ryanrs at 8:01 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Or, what ryanrs said.
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:01 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is there anybody out there in favor of multiple marriages besides people in sects/cults that actually see the wives as property?

My wife just pointed out that in Europe, it's common for men of means/power to have at least one mistress, and traditionally (esp. with royalty) it was also common for these bastard children to be recognized as legitimate heirs. So while you don't have a "true" multiple marriage, you have the results of one.
She, however, was not in favor of this, and reminded me that Slavic women trained with AK47's should not be teased in this manner.
posted by Old'n'Busted at 8:02 AM on November 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


I agree with you that polygamy can definately lead to abuses but as long as polygamy is illegal, women involved in polygamous marriages will be more hesitant to go to the police to report spousal abuse, something that occurs far too often in legitimate monogamous marriages too.

Excellent argument!

And why is it always one man with multiple wives, rather than one woman with multiple husbands?

Because there are more women on the planet than men? Men get lost more in wars and motorcycle accidents.


There aren't more women than men on the planet. Wikipedia has the current worldwide ratio of 107 boys for every 100 girls born, and so there's a margin to counterbalance the higher mortality rate for males. The worldwide population is split 50/50, though admittedly that is not the case in every country — war-torn countries have less, a place like China where there is wide practice of gender selection abortions have more.
posted by orange swan at 8:10 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


orange swan: I think the comment about there being more women than men on the planet as a result of motorcycle accidents was being tongue in cheek.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 8:15 AM on November 22, 2010


I don't buy the argument that poly-marriages should not be legally recognized because doing so would make the laws too complicated. Family life is complicated, and the laws regarding family life will reflect that, but making certain types of (consenting adult) relationships illegal is avoiding that fact in the worst way. (emphasis added)

Not legally recognizing polygamist marriage is not at all the same as rendering it illegal. It's possible for a union to be recognized and legal (e.g. heterosexual couple marriage), unrecognized but legal (e.g. homosexual couple marriage in many places), or unrecognized and illegal (e.g. polygamist marriage in many places). You'll note that I started off by saying that "[c]riminalization of polygamy is kind of dumb." Decriminalization does not necessarily require recognition.
posted by jedicus at 8:15 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


My issues are with the default rules (i.e. what happens in the absence of a contract)

No one gets married by default (not in California, anyway).


there are some things that no amount of contracting are going to get you, like hospital visitation rights.

Durable power of attorney?


Basically, the problem is that any such business model is that they are all designed with "someone in charge".

The patriarch, naturally. That is how these plural marriages work, you know. But if you'd like something a bit more egalitarian, set up a Board. A Board member can resign or be voted out by unanimous agreement of the other board members. New board members may join by unanimous consent of current members. It's very simple; lots of private organizations run this way. Just write up some rules, pay some fees, and mail your bylaws to Delaware.
posted by ryanrs at 8:16 AM on November 22, 2010


A desire for multiple partners is not an immutable characteristic

My guess is that polyamorous folks would disagree with this statement.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:18 AM on November 22, 2010


Won't anybody think of the database designers?

All good databases can handle one to many relationships.
posted by furtive at 8:20 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


And why is it always one man with multiple wives, rather than one woman with multiple husbands?

Uh, the picture in the first link on this post seems to contradict that statement.
posted by bradth27 at 8:25 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


The equality vs liberty provisions of the charter are really at the heart of this argument, in my layman's understanding. Even so, the prosecutors in BC have been seemingly hesitant to go after the Bountiful group for bigamy, looking instead at child/spousal abuse and welfare fraud charges.

I think a Not Withstanding argument could be made in this specific case. In other words, Canada would still have the option to avoid crossing this bridge, even if the Supreme Court says we must. In particular, I can easily imagine BC invoking s.33, if necessary, specifically to cover the Bountiful community. The mormons are so deeply unpopular and so implicated in abuse and fraud that it's hard to imagine that an exemption would cost a lot politically.
posted by bonehead at 8:29 AM on November 22, 2010


Sure, let's put the state in charge of approving and regulating even more interpersonal relationships than it already does. Let's get friend licenses and one-night-stand permits and special tax laws dictating the amount of exemption I get for my "oh yeah, that's the guy from the vet's office that I sometimes see at the grocery store" relationship.

Or we could simplify everything by saying that the ways we do and don't form all human relationships is our own business, not the government's, and that any legal repercussions arising from our relationships can be handled on an as-necessary basis. Tax each non-disabled adult individual according to her/his income regardless of domestic arrangements or offspring. Consider each person's property as solely hers or his unless there's a contract indicating otherwise. Assume that the custody of a child is shared between both/all of her/his blood or legally adoptive parents unless a court establishes otherwise. And so on.

Married people seem to object to all this because it would make their lives a little more cumbersome. Well, welcome to how the rest of us, especially those who choose to be solitary, live all our lives. If I want only specific people to be able to visit me at the hospital or make my health care decisions, I have to set that up. If I were to have a kid and wanted to designate who'd be its guardian or additional custodian, I'd have to set that up. If I want to get health insurance for my dogs, I have to set that up. If I want a particular person to get my piano when I croak, I have to set that up.

We should support and celebrate all sorts of short- and long-term mutually beneficial human relationships. The best way to do that is to abolish special legal status for a select few.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:30 AM on November 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


Interesting that comments about polygamy generally seem to assume one man with multiple wives.

In other news, I have noticed that mentions of 'waitresses' seem to assume that the server is female...

That might be because that is what polygamy means; polyandry is a woman with multiple husbands.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:31 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Polygamy" means multiple spousing; "polygyny" is the practice of having multiple female spouses.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:35 AM on November 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


No one gets married by default (not in California, anyway).

What are you talking about? California has all kinds of default rules for marriages. Intestate succession, community property, etc. These can be superseded by wills, trusts, prenuptial agreements, etc, etc.

Durable power of attorney?

There are things that no contract can get you, such as tax and insurance privileges. I would not be surprised if some visitation rights, such as prison visitation rights, would also be denied someone who was not in a legally recognized marriage.
posted by jedicus at 8:38 AM on November 22, 2010


Opponents of gay marriage will rejoice at realization of phase one of their slippery slope argument.
posted by vorpal bunny at 8:40 AM on November 22, 2010


sotnohito: perhaps you're right, but I'd argue you're essentially confusing yourself into thinking you've solved the issue; what you've done is shifted the problem from "what types of marriages are legally recognized, and how do they work? to "what marriage bylaws are legally enforceable?", and that all the problems you were hoping to avoid dealing with crop back up in the latter case.

EG: right now if you and your spouse decide you're really into this BDSM thing, so you write up some master and slave contracts and start living the lifestyle 24/7, that's not something you can take to court if one party drops out of it: within the context of your relationship those contracts are symbolic gestures of your commitment to living your lives together in a particular way, but they're not something the state recognizes as legally binding and thus the state won't deploy any of its resources (or use coercive force, either) to enforce anything in either contract.

This is arguably as it should be in general -- the fact that some people wrote some stuff up and called it a contract shouldn't intrinsically obligate the state to enforce the "contract" -- but is a good concrete illustration of the general principle that has the added bonus of being relevant to your proposal.

So, suppose your proposal as outlined is enacted -- a marriage has a distinct legal existence, and the specifics are left up to the members in the form of what're essentially the corporate bylaws for that particular marriage. This would supposedly let the fundamentalist Mormons have generic "marriage entities" set up with bylaws putting the man in charge, and so on.

Are those bylaws going to be enforceable, or not? Where do the lines get drawn for enforceability of marriage bylaws? What about a marriage with bylaws dictating a BDSM lifestyle? Why yes, or why no, and using what general criterion? If, eg, the fundamentalist Mormons can't get the type of marriage bylaws they want to be enforceable, should they be satisfied with that situation or not?

Even if the specifics aren't enforceable -- the state won't be obligated to force the slave to show up for the daily whipping if the slave wants out -- they still show up in other ways in divorce proceedings (figuring out who gets what often brings up issues of why the marriage didn't work out and whose fault it was, etc.; how is a judge or jury going to be obligated to take into consideration failure-to-perform-per-BDSM-bylaws, or not?).

As jedicus points out multiple times it's the defaults that matter: you can't formalize everything up front even if you'd like to, so the default has to be clearly-defined, sensible enough, and so on, b/c it's the default that handles whatever falls through the cracks of an explicit agreement -- and stuff will always fall through the cracks.

So that's my response: your propose approach has some merits, but it doesn't really avoid the issues the way you think it does; they just move from issues of marriage recognition to issues of marriage-bylaw-enforceability, at which point they're all back again.
posted by hoople at 8:43 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how quickly the discussion of polygamy focused on Bountiful and the fundie Mormons. It's my understanding that the biggest pressures on Canada's anti-polygamy laws right now are related to immigrants, mainly Muslim, who have more than one wife in their home country, and how that works with spousal sponsorship and visas.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:51 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Is there anybody out there in favor of multiple marriages besides people in sects/cults that actually see the wives as property?

Yes, certainly, there are people in the polyamorous community who would be interested in making their relationships official (or in making all of their relationships official, since sometimes contemporary poly couples have one official marriage and then a girlfriend or boyfriend).

What I would be curious to understand is if these marriages would be understood as 3-way marriages or parallel marriages, i.e., is A married to B and A married to C, or are A, B and C all married to each other? Or perhaps to do that, you'd have to have B and C officially marry, too? Basically, does it change the structure of marriage, or does it allow any person to marry multiple times...
posted by mdn at 8:53 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Are the estate issues that complex? I guess the interesting question here is if the N-1 remaining people remain bound; if they do then the property remains owned by the spouse(s), if not the issues seem analogous to a situation where two children inherit and the estate must be split.
posted by jaduncan at 8:58 AM on November 22, 2010


Extremely rare for a women with multiple men

This is very common in Tibet, for reasons to do with property inheritance. When brothers marry the same woman, land inherited by the brothers stays in one piece.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 8:59 AM on November 22, 2010


The best way to do that is to abolish special legal status for a select few.

I would hardly call married people " a select few".
posted by nomadicink at 9:05 AM on November 22, 2010


I knew a couple of polygamists in Libya: they kept separate homes with the different wives. In essence they had multiple separate marriages rather than one big one. So it occurs to me when an individual joins a polygamous arrangement they could marry each member separately, as desired by both parties, resulting in a series of 1:1 marriages. I should think that would simplify the legal issues substantially, as existing marriage/divorce laws can be applied. Keeping separate homes in a tangle like this is another problem, but not one for the law to worry about.
posted by Dragonness at 9:05 AM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mdn touches on this above.
posted by Dragonness at 9:06 AM on November 22, 2010


And why is it always one man with multiple wives, rather than one woman with multiple husbands?

It isn't. For a friend of mine, it's a woman with a wife and a husband. It's not for me, but I can't see any reason why it should be illegal for them.

I actually think that recognizing polyamorous marriage will make it easier to prosecute abuses, because everything will in the open.
posted by Kurichina at 9:26 AM on November 22, 2010


Finally, the constitutional logic used to legalize same-sex marriages in Canada does not apply to this situation. In various cases, homosexuality was deemed to be an 'immutable personal characteristic' on par with race, religion, gender, etc., which are the grounds of equality in the Charter.

Religion is immutable? More specifically, religion is expressly considered immutable by the Charter, while sexual orientation's inclusion is only inferred by the courts? Is this really the current legal situation?
posted by rocket88 at 9:34 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Religion is immutable? More specifically, religion is expressly considered immutable by the Charter, while sexual orientation's inclusion is only inferred by the courts? Is this really the current legal situation?

Religion is a listed characteristic ('enumerated ground') under s. 15 of the Charter. Under Canadian jurisprudence, 'analogous grounds' mean that s. 15 can be expanded to characteristics beyond those intially listed in teh document (the enumerated grounds). The Supreme Court found of the course of many years and much litigation that homosexuality ought to be considered an analogous ground b/c it was an "immutable personal characteristic" (ie one that could not be changed except at extreme personal cost). This was the foundation for ultimately finding same-sex marriage to be constitutionally required in Canada (the cases began by expanding homosexual rights to partner's pensions, visitation rights, etc). It is a much, much harder road to argue that a desire to legally marry multiple people is a similar immutable characteristic, I think. (ie, I think it's difficult to argue that one is born polygamous or monogamous -- they both seem to be personal preferences).
posted by modernnomad at 9:49 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


(in fact if you click that link, you can read a list of grounds that the court has considered or rejected to be 'analogous' -- ie, a desire to smoke marijuana has been rejected as an analogous ground).
posted by modernnomad at 9:51 AM on November 22, 2010


Too bad this thread isn't about Delaware and California, eh?
posted by stinkycheese at 9:58 AM on November 22, 2010


Threeway Handshake,

You ask "Is there anybody out there in favor of multiple marriages besides people in sects/cults that actually see the wives as property?"

I am not currently planning to marry more than one woman, however there have been times in my life that I would have considered doing so, were it legal.

I am not a Mormon, not even slightly Judeo-Christian. I don't consider women property. I am not a member of a cult.

While my current relationship is monogamous, my approach toward relationships is straightforwardly Polyamorous. My basic understanding of polyamory is that the negotiated "relationship deal" is what you abide by. In that way of thinking, monogamy is only one of any number of possible relationship "deals", so isn't incompatible with polyamorous ideas.

So, yes I think that multiple marriages are completely possible in an egalitarian society. I think there's nothing wrong with them morally. It is unfortunate that many people who want multiple marriage are religious nutcases, but it doesn't change the morality. Legislating against something just because some unsavory people mike like the result seems to me to be a poor way to make laws.

I think they are inevitable in any case, just like gay marriage.
posted by Invoke at 9:59 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, certainly, there are people in the polyamorous community who would be interested in making their relationships official (or in making all of their relationships official, since sometimes contemporary poly couples have one official marriage and then a girlfriend or boyfriend).

What I would be curious to understand is if these marriages would be understood as 3-way marriages or parallel marriages, i.e., is A married to B and A married to C, or are A, B and C all married to each other? Or perhaps to do that, you'd have to have B and C officially marry, too? Basically, does it change the structure of marriage, or does it allow any person to marry multiple times...


The non-Mormon, poly-identified people I've seen make this work have all treated it as a single 3-way marriage. Either A, B and C are all romantically involved (a triangle) or B and C aren't romantically involved (a vee) but still think of themselves as part of one big married household together with A.

The poly folk I know who prefer to keep their relationships distinct ("A's with B; A's with C; B's with C; so that makes three relationships, and each couple is free to run theirs however they choose") tend to have one at most that's stable past the two- or three-year mark, and others that come and go and evolve over time. Of course, that sort of flexibility and room-for-evolution is the whole reason a lot of people choose polyamory, so it's not a problem per se with the lots-of-little-relationships approach. But, anecdotally at least, if you're looing for stability over flexibility — if you want to be married in a lasting way to more than one person — treating it as one big marriage seems like the way to go.

(I don't know any Mormon polygamists, but my understanding is that they take the one-big-marriage approach too. Sister wives may keep house separately and raise their own kids, and they certainly aren't romantically involved with each other, but my understanding is that they still consider themselves to be part of one big extended marriage rather than seeing themselves as having discrete relationships with the same man. But someone who knows more than me about fundamentalist Mormon culture should totally chime in and prove me wrong here if I'm barking up the wrong tree.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2010


the more basic issues are the actual marriage (and, correspondingly, divorce). Man has 3 wives. Who can divorce whom? Who needs the permission of whom to marry whom else?

I'm not sure this is so complicated either. I don't know how divorce works in Canada, but in most (all?) of the US, divorce doesn't need the consent of both parties. Anyone can leave anyone else. So any member of the marriage can leave it.

As for who can join the marriage, well consent means consent right? It seems like there should be a blank line on the marriage certificate for every current member of the marriage, and they all need to sign. So someone can join a marriage with the consent of all parties already in it.

I think maybe its worth contrasting "polygamy" with "bigamy" here. The former is multiple partners in a single marriage, while the latter is a single person in multiple distinct marriages. The idea of one person married to several others in parallel is more about bigamy than polygamy. I don't know if that's under consideration here, but it seems like it would actually be easier to add to the existing rules, since there aren't multiply-shared property issues.

As for disposing of property in a multiple-partner marriage, it doesn't seem complicated if you think of the default intestate laws as saying "leave any property of a deceased member of the marriage to the surviving marriage." It just seems complicated because we're used to thinking of two partners, not a distinct cooperative entity called "the marriage."
posted by rusty at 10:18 AM on November 22, 2010


A desire for multiple partners is not an immutable characteristic

My guess is that polyamorous folks would disagree with this statement.
Have they tried picking one partner to choose to fall out of love with?

</hamburger>

nebulawindphone: some of the plural wives in fundamentalist LDS groups are already on public assistance. As far as the law is told, they're just single mothers, and so they receive benefits accordingly regardless of their husband's wealth/income. Google "bleeding the beast".

One trouble with prosecuting this (or the human trafficking, or the abandoned boys...) is that it's hard to look the other way at just half the crimes going on, and if you try to prosecute them all it's a public relations disaster. One reason to make polygamy legal is so that you can actually do something about the worst of it - let people know they can turn in their rapist polygamous great-uncle without risking sending their kind polygamous father to jail as collateral damage.
posted by roystgnr at 10:20 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


in Europe...it was also common for these bastard children to be recognized as legitimate heirs.

Not without legal paperwork, same as we do today. It's just that if you go back early enough, the legal paperwork is canon law, not civil law.

Pretty much anyone can make anyone else their legal heir if they have a good enough lawyer. (And, back in the day, if the heir has a good enough army.)
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:29 AM on November 22, 2010


The best way to do that is to abolish special legal status for a select few.

I would hardly call married people " a select few".


The antecedent of "few" in that sentence was "relationships" -- I think we should abolish special legal status for a select few types of interpersonal relationships.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:40 AM on November 22, 2010


"The poly folk I know who prefer to keep their relationships distinct"

The nice thing is that if polygamy is legalized, they'll be free to do so. No one will be forcing them.
posted by Eideteker at 10:48 AM on November 22, 2010


More is not necessarily better. But that said, I really don't give a hoot who marries whom and under what set of circumstances, so long as:
1. an age limit set to make it not child abuse
2. all parties concur and are fully aware of the legal ramifications both of marriage and of divorce.
posted by Postroad at 10:50 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait, wait, I've got it - polyamorous time-travelers! What if you were allowed to be married to up to three people, and only one of them could be a time-shifted version of yourself? Who gets the inheritance then?
posted by newdaddy at 10:53 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Some of the plural wives in fundamentalist LDS groups are already on public assistance. As far as the law is told, they're just single mothers, and so they receive benefits accordingly regardless of their husband's wealth/income. Google "bleeding the beast".

Fair enough. Still: incentivizing people to lie in order to get welfare is lousy public policy. Better to get shit out into the open and save the criminal penalties for the real abusers. (It sounds like we agree on that point.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:58 AM on November 22, 2010


The nice thing is that if polygamy is legalized, they'll be free to do so. No one will be forcing them.

Oh, of course! Didn't mean to imply they wouldn't be! I was trying to satisfy mdn's curiosity about poly relationship dynamics, not making an argument for or against legalization.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:59 AM on November 22, 2010


So how does it work right now, in either US or Canada, when a husband/wife/wife come from, say, Iran and live in the US? Do they have to choose who is the legally-recognized wife? Are they arrested on the spot for polygamy? Who can see whom in the hospital? What about children? Inheritance? Who is considered "next of kin" for making medical or postmortem decisions?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 11:01 AM on November 22, 2010


Wait, wait, I've got it - polyamorous time-travelers! What if you were allowed to be married to up to three people, and only one of them could be a time-shifted version of yourself? Who gets the inheritance then?

Well, this gets simplified because earlier-you can't die without later-you dying as well.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 11:02 AM on November 22, 2010


rusty: you're correct that in the US marriage is essentially at-will, and you don't need the permission of the other party to get a divorce.

What you're not seeing is that that works out as well as it does b/c in a 1:1 marriage scenario there's an either-or: either A is married to B -- in which case the "marriage" exists -- or A and B get divorced, at which point the "marriage" doesn't exist anymore.

In any sort of plural marriage system *some* divorces would be equally simple -- C wants out of a marriage with A and B, and is fine with A and B keeping the marriage -- but b/c the "marriage" is something that can survive after one of the parties leaves you raise the possibility for the "marriage" itself to be something the divorcing parties have a dispute over.

EG: if A and B and C and D are all married, then A and B want a divorce from C and D and vice-versa, who gets to keep the original "marriage"? This matters, of course, now that a marriage is a kind of thing, in addition to a state of affairs.

It's not an idle question: there are very good reasons we have laws that can force the members of a marriage ending in divorce to distribute their property amongst themselves in ways that they would not all voluntarily agree to without the threat of such force, and those reasons don't really change just b/c there are now > 2 individuals in the marriage.

You can do away with this by getting rid of the notion of having the marriage be an entity that survives the addition or removal of the individuals involved -- eg, when someone joins a marriage the old marriage is succeeded by a new marriage, and conversely when someone leaves the marriage they were part of is in turn replaced with a new, smaller marriage -- but then you're proposing something entirely different from what you actually proposed (and the property issues, etc., still apply, though in slightly altered form).

And just to keep throwing spanners in the works: if marriages can survive individual members passing away or leaving, etc., then they can turn into ship-of-theseus arrangements and do a complete end-run around existing inheritance, gift tax, and income tax laws, etc.; cans of worms everywhere you want to go with this, all for minimal gain.
posted by hoople at 11:06 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


And just to keep throwing spanners in the works: if marriages can survive individual members passing away or leaving, etc., then they can turn into ship-of-theseus arrangements and do a complete end-run around existing inheritance, gift tax, and income tax laws, etc.; cans of worms everywhere you want to go with this, all for minimal gain.

How is this any different from what corporations do?
posted by Faint of Butt at 11:15 AM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


What difference does it make, legally speaking, whether two instances of marriage are "the same" or not? (I'm not arguing with you, hoople, I'm genuinely curious. There are legal effects if two people are married, and legal effects if they start or stop being married — but I can't think of any legal effects that hinge on the question of whether my marriage is the same as it was last week, and I'd be interested in hearing about 'em.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:19 AM on November 22, 2010


if A and B and C and D are all married, then A and B want a divorce from C and D and vice-versa, who gets to keep the original "marriage"?

That's a good point. So it is inherently more complicated. I agree with those upthread who say that added complication isn't a good reason not to do it (not that I think you're saying it is, either) but I don't really know what the answer is.
posted by rusty at 11:36 AM on November 22, 2010


As jacquilynne upthread mentions, the Canadian citizens of Bountiful are the current flash-points for the debate but the far more interesting issue is regarding immigration. It is a shame that Bountiful tends to cloud the issue for many people as they get sidetracked by other offences covered under the criminal code like spousal abuse, child abuse and sexual exploitation of minors.

Our current immigration policy is to have two spouses and their children immigrate to Canada together, leaving other spouses (and possibly other children) left behind, sometimes later sponsored as "cousins" or caregivers. That seems to cause more harm than simply allowing polygamous immigration. But then, if spousing is so easy would there be more fake marriages to circumvent long waits for immigration?

As to the legal benefits/responsibilities of marriage, I actually know several people that are in legal polygamous marriages - not that they would define them as such. If two married spouses legally separate either or both can then enter common-law marriages (which in Canada are exactly the same thing with the small difference in the legal standing of the marital home). This is what Sask family law recognised (and I believe there has been a case in ON too). As is most of family law, it is when the marriages end that things get interesting. Currently, many divorced fathers I know pay about half their income for their ex-wife and children. How that would impact other wives/children? Would all current spouses income be included as household income when calculating support amounts to an ex-spouse (currently it is excluded unless one spouse claims hardship). Also, I believe spouses cannot be forced to testify against each other, how would that impact family units where one spouse alleges abuse and other spouses deny/refute the abuse?

As others have mentioned, it is the property law, medical benefits, estate planning, and entitlement to various government support programmes that are currently set up exclusively for two-spouse marriages where things get interesting. I think as well the question of who exactly is the next of kin when it comes to situations like making medical decisions when a spouse is incapacitated would arise.

Anyways, it is an interesting topic to me, and to members of the queer community because so much of the initial reaction is similar to the visceral reaction people had to same-sex marriages.
posted by saucysault at 11:37 AM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there's lots of people out there in awesome, loving, egalitarian polyamorous relationships; remember this case is first and foremost about the patriarchal institutionalized abuse in Bountiful, BC, the home of the Canadian branch of the FLDS. A (few year old) documentary from the CBC on Bountiful is available here. A short summary of the issues from the OCRT is here.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 12:19 PM on November 22, 2010


Faint of Butt: it's not any different for money that belongs to the corporation and stays that way. What's novel is that the lines are blurrier in a marriage: if you and I get married and set up a joint checking account it's not as though you need to pay income tax on the money I bring to the table and vice-versa.

Contrast to a corporation: now we're not married and I transfer to you half ownership of some corporation we set up; that's almost certainly going to be a taxable transfer (income for you, specifics aren't too relevant here). And similarly transferring money out of the corporation to you or to me is personal income that gets taxed, etc., so the money has to stay in the corporation and get spent directly by the corporation and so on.

So the corporate scenario is similar but converting corporate assets into personal assets is something that involves paying taxes; in contrast, when you get married you're not generally going to need to pay income tax on all the assets your spouse brings to the marriage.

So in the case of a corporation-vs-a-marriage the marriage scenario is the same as far as potential immortality is concerned but is different insofar as the property is essentially the personal property of the marriage participants (whereas in the corporate scenario the property is the corporation's property, and conversion to personal property is almost always taxable).

nebulawindphone: the logic is roughly right now, there aren't any significant legal effects as to whether a particular marriage is the same as it was last week or whatever. The only thing I can think of is in some kind of improbable-and-complicated way to try and dodge some sort of debt obligation involving getting divorced and re-marrying, but nothing in that vein I can think of would actually work with any realistic debt contract so it's a bit moot.

The issue I was trying to point out is that under rusty's proposal -- and sotonohito's, as well -- the issue of "which marriage is this" does become nontrivial.

Both rusty's and sotonohito's proposals try to solve the issues around plural marriage by turning a "marriage" into a legal entity with a life of its own, analogous to the way a corporation is a legal entity with a life of its own (artificial person, etc.). Under their proposals at some point some consenting adults agree to create a marriage and then join the marriage, and then the members of that marriage can structure it internally and so on as they see fit.

At first glance this seems like it solves the problems but it doesn't, really, and one of the issue it raises is "in a divorce, who gets to keep the marriage?"

If divorce was always amiable this wouldn't be an issue the law would need to address, but it's not always amiable and disputes will show up.

In a 4-way marriage, for example, divorcing into two groups of 2, you might see a legitimate .

The scenarios I've whipped up so far are essentially proxy fights over property: the presumption is communal property belongs to the marriage (with membership in the marriage yielding the right to enjoy the use of said property), and thus divorcing parties would squabble over who got to keep the marriage for reasons of property value alone.

There's also potential issues of sentimentality, too: rational or not rational, many people want to feel like their "marriage" is real. This is part of why, for example, civil unions are not a uniformly acceptable solution to same-sex marriage, even if they had all the same legal rights as "real marriages": it's about the legal stuff, but also about the social and relational stuff that comes along with being married the same way as everyone else who gets got married, and so on.

Right now when two people get married it's often the case they have high hopes for the marriage, visions of a family and a plan for a particular life together, and all of that; when a divorce happens that marriage is over, the hopes and visions and plans are relegated to memories, and coming to grips with the disjunction between what you wished for with your spouse and how things came out is often a large part of the psychological task of coming to grips with your divorce.

One of the blessings of the 1:1 model is that your marriage is over when you get divorced: you have to come to grips with the changes in what you thought your life was going to be like -- and perhaps you have to deal with seeing your ex-spouse go on to live together with their new spouse the way you had once hoped to live together, etc. -- but it's not as if the marriage itself has been taken from you by your ex-spouse. It's over, you have to move on, and any marriage you go on to enter into is a new marriage, with a clean slate, for better or for worse.

Now think of a bright-eyed and idealistic group of four, going into a plural marriage with high hopes and all individually having some visions and plans for how their married life will work out and so on; suppose like the 1:1 marriage it doesn't work out, and there's a divorce into two groups of 2.

In this world we've already presumed the "marriage" is an independent entity outside of any particular member or members. We've already addressed the "who-gets-the-marriage-as-proxy-for-who-gets-the-stuff" angle and won't dwell on it; but what about the emotional and psychological claims?

It's already the case that people getting divorced will fight to the death over the darnedest, seemingly most-insignificant stuff; it's easy to mock, but easy to understand -- it's symbolic, etc., or a last way to try and get the other party to treat you with the kind of respect or consideration you deserve, or a way to punish the other party, etc. -- and terribly crass to sit on the sidelines and cast judgement upon. For some people marriage is a big deal, and the trauma of ending it is too much to handle in a way others might look at as wise and adult, and we shouldn't be throwing stones and so on.

All of which is a rambly way of getting to what I promise is a conclusion: in the event that something like rusty's or sotonohito's proposals were to become the norm I personally *guarantee* you will see divorcing plural marriages fight over who gets to keep the original marriage (or, equivalently, who gets to stay in the original marriage, and who is getting kicked-out and therefore would have to create a new marriage to join): it's completely daft to believe people would always and everywhere amiably divide or cede claims over their *marriage* in a clam and civilized way when people getting divorced regularly fight over umbrellas or bookends or the pink dog booties and so on...

And, since they'll fight over it, and it has property implications, etc., you'll wind up with the legal system being the final arbiter here, which means eventually some sort of codification and so on so you don't have judges just winging it off of common sense. So by making a marriage into a distinct entity the identity of a marriage goes from being essentially moot to being a new can of worms (or, really, a proxy for the previous can of worms, which was "which types of marriage(s) ought the state recognize, how does it recognize them, and why?").
posted by hoople at 12:22 PM on November 22, 2010


Will Canada be the first developed nation to decriminalise Polygamy?

In my opinion it is wrong for a government to criminalize, forbid or punish any marriage since it is a religious ceremony and there should be no civil equivalent. It is also wrong to support, subsidize (tax!) or encourage such unions.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:47 PM on November 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Scroll down to the bottom of this article to see the current law regarding poly relationships. It is particularly broad, and could even capture three people living together in an open relationship without any formal legal relationships between any of them.

It seems that the polygamy law is a "simple" way to deal with all the ways that multiple marriage communities can go wrong. That is it's simpler to say, "Your relationship is illegal", and break up the family than it is to identify all the power imbalance and abuse issues are are also illegal under other parts of the code, but may be hard to prove, or to get the weaker member(s) of the family to agree to.
posted by djfiander at 1:02 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


All good databases can handle one to many relationships.

That's me, left out again. :\
posted by Evilspork at 1:27 PM on November 22, 2010


The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association has somewhat reluctantly gotten involved with this case. They fear that this law could be used to harm poly families. One of the more interesting things that I learned from their information was the racist way that the current law has been implemented. Although written to criminalize Mormons, it was in fact primarily, if not exclusively, used against First Nations/Aboriginal families in Canada.

They have all of the court records in a google docs folder on their website, for folks who like that kind of thing (not that there's anything wrong with it).

And by "that kind of thing" I mean reading court documents.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Actually a good look at how Muslim law handles polygyny is worth looking at for at least some legal solutions to the problems everyone has been mentioning. First off a man is not to take a second or third wife unless he actually has the money to support each wife and her children EQUALLY. There is a limit of four wives at any given time. When a woman inherits, it us her money or property.Right there you solve the Welfare problem. There is a contract and both parties do have to consent. Muslims have had polygyny for 1400+ years, but this arrangement is not common and is in fact illegal in quite a few Muslim countries. Basically, it is not perfect but it seems to work better than what is going on in Bountiful,
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:49 PM on November 22, 2010


Does the deceased wife's property go to the husband entirely? Split between the husband and the surviving wife? To the husband and the child? To the child alone?

"Things would get complicated" isn't a good reason to criminalize (or keep criminalized) consensual behavior.
posted by coolguymichael at 3:29 PM on November 22, 2010


For the third time, I'm not in favor of criminalizing polygamy. I'm skeptical about the feasibility and utility of granting it legal recognition. Decriminalization and legal recognition are not the same thing.
posted by jedicus at 4:02 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


That is why this case is being brought regarding Mormons -- if they can argue that polygamy is part of their religion, then being prevented from exercising that religous practice, if it is shown to cause no harm, would in theory violate s. 15. This means, however, that even if victorious they may not change the law of the land for non-Mormons, as polygamy is not the grounding of the challenge, religion is.
[...]
To expand this decision beyond Mormons, polygamy advocates would have to argue that there s. 7 rights to liberty are being violated, but that would be a whole other battle.


So you're saying I wouldn't be allowed to have multiple spouses unless I were a Fundamentalist Mormon?

I'm no lawyer, but that seems an awful lot like religious discrimination.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:29 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


if A and B and C and D are all married, then A and B want a divorce from C and D and vice-versa, who gets to keep the original "marriage"?

An easy solution: For the original marriage to continue, the majority of spouses must continue to be part of it. Splitting into two pairs = no majority on either side = original marriage ends, two new marriages are created.
posted by twirlip at 4:30 PM on November 22, 2010


"Polygamy" means multiple spousing; "polygyny" is the practice of having multiple female spouses.

Oops. Mea culpa.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:10 PM on November 22, 2010


I'm against legally recognized polygamy (which I assume in practice would be polygyny), but not for the reasons I'm seeing in this thread.

I don't know that polygyny is as oppressive of women as it's being made to sound. It could greatly benefit women. It's easy to see how a woman would prefer to share one wealthy, high-status husband with other wives than to have a poor, low-status husband all to herself.

You can say that polygyny is wrapped up in sexist attitudes that you and I look down on, but is it the government's job to regulate people's private attitudes on gender? I don't think so. I'd love it if everyone shared my view that the sexes should be culturally equal in every possible way, but other people have a legal right not to share my gender views or your gender views.

What has convinced me that polygyny is a bad thing is an argument Robert Wright makes in The Moral Animal (pp. 100-01). He says polygyny is more oppressive of men than of women. Women have a better shot than men of ending up with a partner. Men are more likely to be left alone. I don't know why this obvious point is so often overlooked when discussing the gender dynamics of polygyny. Wright adds that we should be especially bothered by the oppression of men. Why? Not because we should care more about men themselves. I think we should care equally about men and women. But even if you only cared about women, you should still be disturbed by hardships on men. As Wright argues:
In all cultures, men wreak more violence, including murder, than women. . . . Even when the violence isn't against a sexual rival it often boils down to sexual competition. A trivial dustup may escalate until one man kills another to "save face" -- to earn the sort of raw respect that, in the ancestral environment, could have raised status and brought sexual rewards.

. . . We would expect womanless men to compete with special ferocity, and they do. An unmarried man between twenty-four and thirty-five years of age is about three times as likely to murder another male as is a married man the same age. Some of this difference no doubt reflects the kinds of men that do and don't get married to begin with, but Martin Daly and Margo Wilson have argued cogently that a good part of the difference may lie in "the pacifying effect of marriage."

Murder isn't the only thing an "unpacified" man is more likely to do. He is also more likely to incur various risks -- committing robbery, for example -- to gain the resources that may attract women. He is more likely to rape. More diffusely, a high-risk, criminal life often entails the abuse of drugs and alcohol, which may then compound the problem by further diminshing his chances of ever earning enough money to attrat women by legitimate means.

This is perhaps the best argument for monogamous marriage, with its egalitarian effects on men: inequality among males is more socially destructive -- in ways that harm women and men -- than inequality among women. A polygynous nation, in which large numbers of low-income men remain mateless, is not the kind of country many of us would want to live in.
posted by John Cohen at 6:43 PM on November 22, 2010


twirlip: an easy solution, but the principle generalizes poorly. Say, eg, some well-to-do young fellow gets inspired by hefner and at age 30 marries four buxom 20-somethings. When he turns 45 the four buxom young things are now old maids at 35, and before you think you know where this is going the "old maids" vote 4-1 to evict their husband from the marriage, so they can live comfortable lives and take up with their personal trainers, pool boys, and so on, leaving their poor old husband alone and destitute.

Majority rules is a good rule when the group sizes are 0 or 2. For N > 2 it's the two wolves and a sheep vote on who gets to keep the stuff without a nasty lawsuit and so on. "Prenups" could address some issues but they'd be radically more complicated than existing "prenups" (as existing prenups are designed around the marriage's existence and termination, whereas you have many more scenarios of interest with a plural marriage existing independent of the individual members and so on).

At the end of the day there's a large difference between proposing solutions and drafting policy. Solutions can be vetted on whether or not they address the particular issues in a particular situation in an effective way.

Drafting policy well is substantially more difficult: rather than proposing something that could work in a particular circumstance, you have to propose things that will work at least tolerably well in worst-case scenarios, eg, against people looking for loopholes or otherwise "adversarial" vis-a-vis the solution you're proposing.

Then, you need to make sure that the proposal you throw out doesn't interact poorly with too much existing stuff, and where it does interact poorly propose workarounds that do not themselves introduce too many new problems and so on (again, not assuming generally amiable people, but assuming worst-case loophole-abusers and all that).

Once you've doen that you get to think about the political realities of the people the rule would apply to, or who you'd like to support the policy, etc., and see if any of the possible proposals are things the constituents would want or approve of (what they'd really think, not what they perhaps "ought to" think or similar).

So with your proposal: it's not bad, and it's an easily-stateable rule, which is good. Ignoring any immediate problems, is it a kind of plural marriage the natural constituency for plural marriages would want? Arguably not, as neither the muslim immigrants or the fundamentalist mormons seem to organize their marriages in a way that's even approximately compatible with that proposal; I haven't looked at what the indigenous did in the way of plural marriages, but you see the point: it's a semi-solution that isn't even what the people who really want a plural marriage want.
posted by hoople at 7:11 PM on November 22, 2010


@John Cohen: the point that polygyny oppresses men more than women looks good but let's have another look. Young men in the age group we are talking about can perfectly well find and afford a wife and children, if they are willing to work for a living and don't take up any bad habits they will stay married to the same woman long enough to raise those children. The trouble is that a good many young men find it hard to find and keep a wife because already they are badly behaved. This is why so many Ukranian women flock to marriage brokers looking for middle aged American husbands. Personally, I was married to a man who really could not afford to be married. It would indeed have been better to have shared a husband who could actually afford me. It's not that I wanted much, just basic security. I wanted to know if we were going to eat. He really went over the edge because the responsibility of ONE woman and a couple kids was too much.
Polygyny has a few advantages not mentioned. A couple big ones for the poor oppressed male: he doesn't have to lie to anyone, he is not S.O.L. one week out of every month,and his rights regarding his children are better secured than say if he had a wife and a mistress.
For women, not having your husband lie to you is a HUGE plus. For men not having the stress of telling lies if he was elsewhere probably is healthier.
For women, every time to have sex is a real gamble healthwise. Even if neither partner has an STD, she could have a complicated pregnancy, or an ectopic pregnancy. Speaking of pregnancy, polygyny makes it easier to space pregnancies. Two years apart is much better for women.
Disadvantages for men: We women can be really cranky! A man is hard put to deal with ONE woman, let alone 2,3, or 4. :) I would say that that could be hard on a man. And financially it's expensive.
For women though, security, not being lied to, not being a mistress, those would be pluses.
I have never understood why people in the Western world are not creeped out by men having mistresses but are upset by the idea of more than one wife.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:08 PM on November 22, 2010


It doesn't so much specifically address polygamous marriage, but I found the book "Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage" by Nancy Polikoff presented a very well-thought out discussion of the principles and practicalities of the sort of legal issues (inheritance, visitation and power of attorney rights, divorce issues such as child rearing and visitation, etc.) that have been brought up here.
posted by eviemath at 8:28 PM on November 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Extremely rare for a women with multiple men; the men tend to fight. Even college girls with a string of boyfriends keep them separate.

You do not know what you're talking about.

John Cohen, it's creepy to treat women as something men have the right to, or they're being oppressed.

If egalitarian societies get polygamy, you'll see just as many MFM relationships as you will FMF, if not more. The whole one-guy-multiple-wives only makes sense as a default when women don't have equal power. Once they do, they're inclined to have multiple relationships too.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:17 PM on November 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Perhaps I'm being too simple(minded?) but I don't see why the question of who owns the marriage would exactly come up, because to me you would never have a mass marriage of A+B+C+D ... all those should be individual marriages and individual implicit or explicit (pre-nup) contracts.

I see it more like (as an example): A and B are married > A and B meet C > C marries either A or B, or both A and B, separately; A, B, and C meet D > D marries A, B, or C, or A and B, or B and C, or A and C, or A, B, and C, all separately.

If each one of the four is married to each one of the other three, and A and B want to divorce C and D while remaining married, A must divorce C, A must divorce D, B must divorce C, B must divorce D. A and B remain married, and C and D remained married.

The question of children should be that biological children are the legal children of the two biological parents; for adopted children and IVF (from an outside sperm donor) children, I would think that for legal purposes, the child has two "primary" parents. In other words, if A, B, C, & D adopt a child, two of the group must be that child's legal primary parents, and custody arrangements, etc. upon divorce would be between those two.

HOWEVER, I think the law would have to be quite draconian regarding children's rights in the case of polygamy. For instance, in A+B+C+D, even if the child's "primary" parents are A and C, if B is the major breadwinner, B cannot simply divorce A, C & D and go his/her merry way leaving the child in a much worse financial situation. I would say that in any polygamous arrangement, all the parties would have to bear legal responsibility for the support and welfare of any child in that grouping, including possible child support after divorce, and certain limited rights of inheritance for minor children (or some sort of "child insurance" sort of thing?) that would provide support for the child/children upon the death of one of the members... and that this could not be set aside by any kind of prenuptial agreement. This would mean that, practically speaking, just marrying willy-nilly would be a very, very bad idea.

Now, barring children, and going back to A+B+C+D, divorce would mean the same as it does between two parties... eg: if between them, they decide C is going to be a stay-at-home spouse, taking care of domestic issues to the benefit of the other three, in the case of divorce each of the other three is responsible for alimony to a reasonable degree — but just as it is now, this issue and the question of common property is going to be incredibly complicated, so divorce is going to be costly. In reality, what single person is going to be able to afford three separate divorces, in the case where, say, D divorces A, B and C?

In reality there would be a lot of abandonment of marriages and confusion as D leaves but does not divorce A, B and C, and perhaps goes on to marry E, F, and G, for example. If D makes very little money, it could be that A, B, C, E, F and G all end up with legal responsibilities to support D to some degree. There would probably need to be some sort of dystopian scenario of a marriage registry database based on DNA or something to keep track of all this and the problem of deadbeat primary and secondary moms/dads... which means that eventually this sort of testing would be conducted for employment, etc. (Which surely is going to happen anyway, but this would hasten it.)

I also imagine that the concept of common law marriages would become tricky, as well, as some groups would forgo legal marriages but live together in marriage-like groupings, and as children of those menages would deserve the same rights as children of legal polygamous marriages, there would be common-law protections for those children... So you'd need to be pretty careful about roommates, for example, since someone could claim that you'd been living together as if married, and you might become financially responsible for their children.

And in the case of a marriage between A and B, if B wants to marry C, but A isn't agreeable, how is this handled? Can A prevent the marriage of B and C? Let's say yes. Let's say that legal spouses must agree to further enspousening of any of their spouses. If A is married to B and also married to C, both B and C must legally agree for A to then also marry D, because B and C are going to bear financial and other responsibility to any child of A and D, for one thing. (Which then brings up the question of what role B and C play in the possible divorce of A and D... if B and C are in some sense party to the marriage of A and D, at least in terms of consent — what if B and C don't want A to divorce D, and D doesn't want a divorce from A? Do B and C play any role in that?)

And in terms of common property.... wow, that's going to be wild. It's all extremely interesting... and a very, very fine time to be a lawyer!
posted by taz at 1:03 AM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


what if B and C don't want A to divorce D, and D doesn't want a divorce from A?

Then A better sit down and shutup and deal, else he (and you know it would be he) ain't ever going to get any, ever again. If B and C feel as you describe, then clearly the problems between A and D are not sincerely rising to the divorce level of conflict, and A is being an ass.

However, the whole question about "ownership of the marriage" only came about when the marriage itself was converted into something similar to a corporation that the spouses became party to.

Tax implications of the dissolution of such a marriage could be handled by a simple exemption in law, that such situations are a special instance and will be taxed at special rates (or none). In the case of the complexity of A+B+C+D, a part of the legal divorce process could simply include the formation of new partnerships, with the resorting of assets as needed. Maybe, if there's a reason, with some sort of legal recognition that these "new" relationships begin with established longevity.

In thinking about this, it seems to me rather clear that A can not go out and marry C when already married to B, without B's consent. That suddenly really isn't any sort of idea of "marriage". At least, assuming it's not culturally understood from the start that this happens. I wouldn't know how it works where these things are accepted. I imagine the needs of domestic peace and harmony may require some reasonableness.
posted by Goofyy at 7:53 AM on November 23, 2010


Actually, this discussion has made me even more aware that I dislike state-sanctioned marriages. I'm getting "married" this spring to my sweetie, but not bothering with the state-sanctioning. It gets the two of us almost nothing in any case, and in our case would cost me a lot of money due to her terrible credit.

A + B + C + D stuff ... who cares? Equally, why give special status to A + B (monogamous) marriage? Work it out as you wish. It gets you no legal status, no tax status, it is just a living arrangement.

Inheritance and visitation rights are easily handled. Just write a contract giving specific rights, if you wish.

Insurance is tricky due to America's messed-up employer-pays system, but could be handled via "domestic partnership" benefits. Some companies would pay, others wouldn't, a free market at work, and a much freer one than we currently have. It would be much easier to solve the insurance problem with decent universal healthcare, of course.

Responsibility for children is pretty easy, the two people involved are the parents and have parental rights. Adopting ... adopting would be the responsibility of whoever did the adoption (I have adopted, it is more complex than this but for the sake of argument let's pretend it could be that simple) .

Bingo, we've cut through the gordian knot. Gay marriage, straight marriage, poly marriage, it is just a title someone is putting on a relationship, often with religious implications. Society shouldn't care if no one is getting harmed.
posted by Invoke at 9:38 AM on November 23, 2010


Will Canada be the first developed nation to decriminalise Polygamy?

Both the UK and Australia recognise polygamous marriages, though they don't sanction their creation.
posted by pompomtom at 6:21 PM on November 23, 2010


Why is marriage, or the idea of it, still such a fundamental element in our legal system and our society? (I'm Australian but this seems to apply to most western countries, even 'secular' ones like mine). In general we have separation of church and state but not in this area.

Marriage is a primarily a religious ceremony and belongs in the church with baptism, confirmation etc. There's no reason for the state to be involved at all. There is nothing provided specifically by a state-endorsed marriage that can't be provided for by other means.

We can (and in many cases do) still have legislation to protect children's rights, to protect rights of women, to provide for inheritance, guardianship, separation/dissolution/divorce, and so on.

I generally just don't like the idea that one group of people can dictate how others live their lives, especially when they are not doing any harm. By having marriage embedded in our legal system we're allowing the Christian right wing to say 'No gay marriage - for anyone!'.
By taking it out, everyone's happy.
Christian fundies can belong to churches that don't recognise LGBT marriage.
LGBT Christians can belong to churches that do recognise it.
Athiests don't have to bother with it at all and can live with whoever they want.
Other religion or lifestyle? Well each to their own. 'Be excellent to each other', etc, etc.

If there is some convincing argument to why governments should regulate relationships between consenting adults, in an egalitarian society which already has good protections for the individual - I'd honestly like to hear it.
posted by joz at 10:57 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Marriage is a primarily a religious ceremony and belongs in the church with baptism, confirmation etc.

I don't know how true this is, really. Marriage was primarily a contract, with payments and commitments to support and such, not a ceremony. The ceremony just made signing the contract look a little less like a cold-blooded business deal, and then added the force of sacrament to ensuring people remained in the contract.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:44 AM on November 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Marriage was primarily a contract

I believe you're right about the original purpose.
But I would argue that in the 21st century this is no longer the case.
posted by joz at 4:33 PM on November 24, 2010


But you'd also argue that it's primarily religious thing, which seems demonstrably false -- I know a lot of married atheists.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:47 PM on November 24, 2010


You've got me there.
So... how about if we say the religious thing only applies to people who are religious, at least at the time they married. The contract thing seems to be obsolete, almost irrelevant in a society with de facto straight and gay relationships with the same legal rights.

That makes me curious. Why do atheists, or why does anyone, get married?
Metafilter has the answers. (...reads...) and more here, thanks mefi...

Huh. Lots of perfectly good arguments - and some not so good arguments - for the ceremony and institution of marriage. Even for atheists. However no convincing argument for why the government should still be involved in it.

It's always seemed strange to me about the fight for gay marriage... we (straight and gay people) should be pushing for no 'state' recognised marriages at all. Whether hetero, LGBT, monogamous, polygamous, single, parents, childless, hermits or hippies - we should all have the same legal rights. I feel this should be the real anti-discrimination goal.
posted by joz at 7:00 PM on November 24, 2010


I can see the argument for marriage being a religious thing but it is also an acknowledgement that it is a public commitment (...between however many spouses of whatever gender) which as the same-sex marriage debate has shown is a huge thing. Marriage also a financial commitment, important for spouses that reduce their personal earning power (by turning down added work responsibilities, declining transfers, bearing or caring for children of the union) and ensuring rights to pensions, spousal support and property in case of separation. Without recognition of marriage (religious, civil, common-law, polygamous) how can their be recognition of the legal and financial impact of its dissolution? It also aids mobility for immigration (without marriage there would be no way for spouses to follow partners around the world if they did not qualify as an independent immigrant - some countries have extremely restrictive immigration policies). Again, in a marriage where one person has prioritised personal education & career because of the support of the partner that prioritised the "team", is it fair that most countries would asses them separately and make very different decisions?
posted by saucysault at 7:15 PM on November 24, 2010


Well, I'm talking here about some idealised hypothetical world, but...

- the public commitment thing doesn't need to be state sanctioned. It's a social declaration.
- the financial commitment, this is a personal choice made by an adult. Yes it has consequences but protection for pensions, support, property etc can all be handled with other legislation or civil contracts. Same as if you enter into an agreement to get a joint mortgage with someone.

In the case of divorce etc then property and custody outcomes should be decided the same way they are now - by agreement between the parties, or settled in court on a case by case basis. Legally I can't see why you couldn't treat it the same way as having shares in a company, with some appropriate implicit default rules for those that don't draw up their own.

The same for immigration - 'we are a package deal, a consortium, etc. We can demonstrate this with the following evidence - contracts, financial records, shared residential address, witness statements, etc'.

The hardest part (assuming there was political will to make such sweeping changes) would be to come up with a name for the arrangement of sharing your life with someone. Maybe 'domestic partnership'.
posted by joz at 7:55 PM on November 24, 2010


The government involvement basically standardizes the contract -- by getting married, you get visitation rights, medical decision making, inheritance and support entitlements, community property if you live in that sort of region, and all sorts of other goodies, all in one easy step. Most, if not all, of which would otherwise need to be filed and tracked by the government.

And this way, you have slightly fewer concerns about power imbalances, because one party can't screw the other party out of the standard benefits of marriage without making it very explicit (pre-nup, or similar) that they're doing something.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:25 PM on November 24, 2010


I guess since you don't seem to have a problem with the idea of marriage, just the name, I am a little confused. Rather than having the exact same social, legal and financial construct called "domestic partnership" and letting only the religions have the words marriage and husband/wife it seems exclusionary to groups of people that like marriage but don't like marriage. I like the current Canadian set-up where marriage is available to any two that choose it and the common-law (and whatever ever labels they choose -usually married, husband/wife) option is there for those that a civil or religious marriage does not appeal but they get the same benefits/protection. I just can't figure out the logistics of how polygamous marriages would work in the face of the tradition of only two people in a marriage.
posted by saucysault at 4:33 AM on November 25, 2010


I started writing a response but it ended up way too long. Brevity is hard for me.
Here's the short(er) version.

- Paperwork seems like a poor reason to continue an obsolete system. You should get visitation rights by virtue of being a parent, not because of a marriage license.

- Power imbalances: I don't think there was good power balance in the typical 1950's style traditional marriage. Why can't people have legal rights and protections outside of marriage? e.g. de facto/common law relationships already do this.

- Words, names, and definitions matter. Confusion over the various meanings and implications of the word 'marriage' is what allows conservatives to take control of the debate on gay marriage. They get to use phrases like 'the sanctity of marriage' which may refer to a concept that is light-years away from the legal and social realities.

- Canadian setup sounds good, similar to what we have in Australia, except so far we don't have gay marriage (just common law). Why not extend to polygamous relationships? Logistically we already have companies, partnerships etc. Just translate this concept to domestic life, as minimally as possible. There are so many different kinds of relationships and living arrangements that real people have right now, it does not make sense to try to classify them or shoehorn them into the traditional concept of marriage.

(hehe this was going to be the short version. Sorry! It's been an interesting discussion though, so thanks :)
posted by joz at 4:39 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


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