Winston Blackmore celebrates a legal victory in Bountiful BC. Photo: CBC.ca
Bountiful, British Columbia is a small town in interior BC that's been in the Canadian news recently. Populated by a group of FLDS fundamentalists, the Attorney General of BC has been contemplating charges of polygamy. After two prosecutors declined to prosecute on Constitutional grounds, the BC Attorney General started looking around for a third prosecutor to take the case.
Last week, the BC Supreme Court ruled that was illegitimate, and threw out the charges against the community's leader, Winston Blackmore. Ultimately, the case was decided on issues of prosecutorial misbehaviour, but the end result is that charges will not proceed against Blackmore, who broke away from the Warren Jeffs wing of FLDS several years ago over doctrinal issues.
That means that the issues relating to the constitutionality of outlawing polygamy were never really tested. Initially, prosecutors balked at taking the case, because of what they saw as serious constitutional issues, and that decision will serve as a precedent of sorts in future cases, but it won't carry the same legal weight as a decision from a Judge on constitutional issues. The issue of whether polygamy laws are legal in Canada is still largely open.
I do have a dog in this race, of sorts. The case was specifically about the religiously-based polygamy of fundamentalist Mormons, and largely focussed on the coercive nature of the communal lifestyle in "forcing" children into this lifestyle. But as someone who practices a more egalitarian version of polyamory, I certainly watched the case with interest.
One of the underlying issues in any case about polygamy is always the basic right of the state to enforce it's notion of a "proper family." We all know what that looks like in our society ... a monogamous, heterosexual couple reproducing with children. Any model that deviates from that is treated with suspicion at best, and criminalized at worst. Family groups that include more than two sexually active adults have always been frowned upon in the modern era of our society, and laws against polygamy reflect that. Any case that addresses those issues is a case of interest to people like me.
At the end of the day, I don't support the FLDS style of polygamy. The fact that it is limited to men is the first major problem in my eyes, and the fact that the lifestyle of polygamy is presented as a religious necessity is another serious problem. There is a level of coercion to the lifestyle that is very unseemly, and when coupled with the male-dominance, it adds an extra level of inequity. Becuase of the omnipresent nature of the religious philosophy of the group, women and girls are often pushed into polygamous unions against their will, and before they'd be considered "of age" in other parts of Canada. All of these serious issues give me a lot of pause when I look at the activities in places like Bountiful.
There are, however, other models of polyamory that don't fall into the same traps, and it can be discouraging to be lumped in with with groups like the people in Bountiful. Where they limit multiple partners to the men only, other forms of polyamory extend the same rights to women as well. Further, where groups like Boutiful portray polygamy as a religious imperitive, mainstream poly present it as a lifestyle choice that is only right if it works for you. Where children in Bountiful are indocrinated with the idea that male-dominated polygamy is a required part of their community, children of mainstream poly relationships merely see their parents engaging in a different kind of dating and love than their friends' parents. While a parents' lifestyle will always have some small coercive effect on children, mainstream poly groups don't tend to emphasize their choices as the only morally acceptable choice, and that makes a huge difference in the level of coercion. Let's also not forget that monogamous parents have a coercive influence on their children's dating choices as well ... we just consider that coercion to be "socially acceptable."
All poly people in Canada should be happy with the ruling of the BC Supreme Court ... it means that the Canadian legal system isn't interested in prosecuting people for personal relationship choices. It's worth noting that the ruling left open the possibility of further charges aimed at the coercive and underage issues of the community, and I think most mainstream poly folks would like to see prosecution of those issues specifically, without discussion of the poly aspects of the community. Ultimately, poly CAN be practiced in a way that minimizes the coercive nature of the lifestyle, leaving it as simply a personal choice about how someone views love. Thousands of Canadians do that every single day, though they tend to do it quietly.
You might even know some poly people without realising it ... you might work with them, or your kids might go to school with their kids. They might even live next door to you. You've almost certainly interacted with one in public at some point in time, without even knowing it. Poly people are simply people who choose to view love in a more inclusive way than others, and that shouldn't be criminalized when it involves only consenting adults. We support the ruling about Bountiful because we don't think anyone should face legal problems simply for the way they choose to express love with other consenting adults.