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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Polyamory: Family First's 'Phantom Menace'

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 13th August 2008

Labour's Ruth Dyson
Christian Right lobby group Family First and pathetic gutter "journalist" Ian Wishart have attacked Labour's SocialDevelopment Minister, Ruth Dyson, over a non-existent social policy 'speech' that she never made 'endorsing' polygamy and polyamory.

During the civil union debate three years ago, I was intrigued by the Christian Right 'slippery slope' argument over the alleged cause and effect of civil unions and/or same-sex marriage proper 'leading to' polygamy and polyamory. I investigated current New Zealand family law and other statues related to polygamy. I've reproduced some of that article below:

Are we in danger of a polygamist version of Muldoon's 'dancing cossacks?'

As one might guess, there's less to the actual substance of this than Christian Right publicity antics suggest. I consulted Butterworths' Family Law in New Zealand (2003) on the matter and discovered the following. Polygamous relationships exist in jurisdictions that encompass both heterosexual monogamy and polygamy within religious worldviews, tradition and law, like Sri Lanka.

In these societies, polygamy is legally binding in terms of its obligations on its partners, even if the male polygamist decides that he now wants a monogamous marital relationship. In the United Kingdom and New Zealand, overseas polygamous marriages weren't recognised until the early eighties, so a polygamous partner couldn't divorce on the basis of marital infidelity, wasn't entitled to a legal deed of separation, and a male polygamist wasn't liable for maintenance of previous polygamous female spouses.

Under New Zealand's Family Proceedings Act 1980, that situation changed, during the height of the Muldoon social conservative era. If celebrated within a society that recognises the legality and ethical status of polygamy, then that relationship can be recognised as a polygamous marriage. However, New Zealand does not permit celebration of polygamous heterosexual marriage within its territorial boundaries. Furthermore, if an initially polygamous marital partner emigrates to a monogamy-only society, then their relationship can be converted to a monogamous one.

After Hassan v Hassan [1978] (1 NZLR 385-), overseas polygamous heterosexual marriages are held to be voided if either participant is domiciled in New Zealand. As one might guess, the Marriage Act 1955 is the key to this situation, as it specifies that one can only marry one heterosexual partner at a time. The Civil Union Act contains parallel provisions that prevent legal recognition of same-sex polygamous marriage equivalents. Contrary to Christian Right paranoid fantasies, these don't exist anywhere at the moment.

If one's personal religious beliefs forbid polygamy, the same ban applies. Polygamous partners also appear to be forbidden to contract additional marriages whilst resident within New Zealand.

At the moment, widows of polygamous marriages, polygamous spousal co-conspirators, social welfare benefit status and accident compensation status for polygamous spouses are situated within a legal grey area, although children and polygamous wives do have succession rights under British law. However, matrimonial relief may be available within the terms of the Family Proceedings Act 1980 if both partners lived in jursidictions that allowed polygamous marriage when they originally married.

Over the last two years, there have been harrowing accounts of life in abusive gated communities within Colorado, Utah, Canada and Mexico. Denizens of these communities are affiliated to the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints, which didn't recognise Utah's prohibition of polygamy after it joined the rest of the United States in 1890. Given that Colorado Springs is infested with US Christian Right pressure groups, it is odd that Focus on the Family or other such organisations haven't devoted more attention to these isolated rural border communities.

Could this situation change? In Canada, there has always been a potential question about whether or not the Charter of Rights and Freedoms would rule out previous legal sanctions against polygamy on the basis of religious freedom. The FCLDS' Canadian satellite settlements are exploring that option, but the Economist didn't rate their chances of success highly when it covered the story, earlier this year.

However, schismatic Mormonoids aren't the only ones who are exploring this controversial area of spousal and family law. In Canada, there's one pending immigration case under appeal, where a polygamous male Pakistani refugee was refused resettlement due to his intention to contract a polygamous spousal relationship if allowed to remain in Canada. In this case, the man in question provided evidence that his life would be endangered if he was refused resettlement, and was deported back to Pakistan. This situation is considerably different from the aforementioned schismatic Mormonoid sects, which are rife with spousal rape, heterosexual paedophilia and domestic violence.

Heterosexual polygamy inhabits a grey area within New Zealand, andthis wasthe casesome time beforethe current government.Only time will tell if the above Canadian immigration case will provide case law for exemptions on the basis of humanitarian considerations related to refugee or asylum seeker status, like the one described above. Even then, it may or may not be followed within New Zealand.

Clearly, it is ridiculous to bray that heterosexual polygamy will be decriminalised in any western society soon, or that they are an innovation of the Clark administration.

Polyamory is completely different. It refers to multiple sexual and emotional relationships within a network of consenting adults.

Polyamory is primarily discussed at the level of sexual ethics, and most literature about polyamory emphasises the psychological and behavioural aspects of multiple partner emotional and erotic relationships. Heterosexual 'swingers' started to do it when the arrival of effective safe contraception uncoupled straight sex and pregnancy from the sixties onward, which preceded the decriminalisation of male homosexuality by about a decade. Some non-monogamous bisexuals are polyamorous, while others follow a serial monogamy model. Ianto Jones (Torchwood) is one example of such bisexual serial monogamy.

As for gay men, multiple sexual partners used to be par for the course for metropolitan gay men during our twentysomething years, and the arrival of sex on site venues in the seventies. However, gay men have always had a range of partner frequency and relationship models, although the absence of legislative support for same-sex couples may have had adverse effects on the longevity of such relationships until the advent of incremental lesbian and gay relationship equality changes, the Relationship (Statutory References) Act 2005 and Civil Unions Act 2004. Lesbian discussion of polyamory primarily occurs at the ethical level.

There is no 'polyamorist rights' movement in New Zealand, nor is there in most western democratic societies. At the most, there are a tiny handful of law journal articles, mostly published in the United States. So, what is triggering this latest round of Christian Right histrionics? Could it possibly be related to distracting attention from National's welfare policy and real families at risk from New Right attacks on the DPB, Invalids and Sickness Benefits?

And besides, according to the US evangelical Barna Research Group, it tends to be the case that fundamentalist Christians have the highest proportion of faith group tallied divorces in their Southern United States stronghold states. The words 'practice what you preach' occur to one.

Recommended Reading:

Ali v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) [1999] 1 FCD 53:

Family Law in New Zealand: Butterworths: Wellington: 2003.

John Krakauer: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith:London: Macmillan: 2003.

"Polygamy in Canada: Ending Half A Century of Exploitation"

Economist (UK): 08.07.04:

Dorothy Solomon: Predators, Prey and Other Kinfolk: New York: WW Norton and Company: 2003.

Deborah Anapol: The New Love Without Limits: Secrets of Sustainable Initimate Relationships: San Rafael: IntiNet: 1997.

Craig Young - 13th August 2008