Australian Marriage Equality: Some Notes on Polygamy

August 10, 2015 in General

As Australia debates marriage equality in its turn, no doubt the Australian Christian Right will regurgitate the same monotonous nonsense about monogamous same-sex marriage equality “leading” to straight polygamy.

And once again, the rebuttal is absurdly easy. There still isn’t any sign of this much-alleged “slippery slope” within those western societies that now allow monogamous same sex marriage equality, with the sole exception of South Africa, whose indigenous community law permits it, as does Muslim shariah law. However, apart from that isolated specific intention, Canada has gone the opposite way. In November 2011, the British Columbian Supreme Court upheld the legality of (anti-polygamy) Section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code when it handed down a reference case related to that province’s fundamentalist schismatic Bountiful “Mormon” community, and no Canadian or other Commonwealth court appears to have either limited or disregarded it. Indeed, the Harper Conservative administration was going to strengthen Canada’s anti-polygamy laws but sadly ran out of time before the exigencies of Canada’s October 2015 federal election set in. Amusingly, however much Family First New Zealand and its Australian Christian Right counterparts may want to ignore it, Canada’s anti-feminist REAL Women applauded the Bountiful decision for precisely that reason. As for Muslim majority societies, many recognise straight polygamy but criminalise either male homosexuality and/or lesbianism, while some resort to capital punishment in the latter instance. No slippery slope there, obviously.

There is no “movement” to repeal western anti-polygamy laws. Granted, the aforementioned Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints may have used a “religious liberty” argument against Section 293, which is one good reason that religious practice and doctrine should never be absolutes within public policy. Wisely, the British Columbian Supreme Court decided that prevention of violence against women and child sexual abuse, endemic within FCLDS communities, needed to be curtailed through maintaining legislative sanctions and that there was a causal relationship between allowing polygamous straight relationships and absence of sanctions against violence against women and child sexual abuse within such communities.  For that reason, government law enforcement agencies and anti-violence feminists across North America have concluded that polygamy is a misogynist institution and that this intrinsic attribute is sufficient reason to prevent its decriminalisation.

Except, that is, for a few liberal or libertarian academics who support such decriminalisation, yet their voices do not go unchallenged. However, these are not the seeds of a “mass movement.” FCLDS and other pro-polygamy religious organisations remain marginal within Canadian and US societies and despite special pleading from those who wish to sanitise their cause and invent a category of “innocent suburban polygamists” that are “harmed” by anti-polygamy “discrimination”,  so far the academic literature seems evenly split. While searching Worldcat, I found three volumes apiece from anti-polygamy and pro-polygamy perspectives.  When it comes to anti-polygamy discourse, anti-violence feminist elements dominate unvarnished sectarian religious arguments that such organisations should be criminalised only for adopting a deviant position when it comes to polygamous relationships.  Anti-polygamy arguments are not striving to maintain the supremacy of monogamous religious institutions, they are striving to protect vulnerable women and children. Of course, violence against women and child sexual abuse are also legitimised by authoritarian monogamous patriarchal institutions, although in the case of western societies, they have had to face opposition from anti-violence feminists and their allies within legislatures, the judiciary and child protection professions.  Within many pro-polygamy societies, such feminist advocacy is weak and many have not criminalised spousal rape. Uganda is one such example. Moreover, within polygamist enclaves in North America, much the same situation seems to prevail.

Again, therefore, there seems to be little concrete evidence about “impending” polygamist spousal reform within western societies and correspondingly, little evidence for ridiculously opportunist arguments from opponents of same-sex monogamous marriage equality. Little has changed from 2013.


John Witte: The Western Case for Monogamy over Polygamy: New York: Cambridge University Press: 2015.

Craig Jones: A Cruel Arithmetic: Inside the Case Against Polygamy: Toronto: Irwin Law: 2012.

Daphne Branham: The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect: Toronto: Random House: 2008.

Not Recommended:

Janet Bennion: Polygamy in Prime-Time: Media, Gender and Politics in Mormon Fundamentalism: Waltham: Brandeis University Press: 2012.

Lori Bauman and Gillian Calder (eds) Polygamy’s Rights and Wrongs: Perspective on Harm, Family and Law: Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press: 2014.

Richard C.Den Otter: In Defence of Plural Marriage: New York: Oxford University Press: 2015.


Comments are closed.