Saturday, January 22, 2005

Cue delighted head explosion

Evan Kirchhoff's take on the prospect of legal polygamy is philosophically unsurprising, but the execution, as always, is inimitable.

From the post title - "HEATHER HAS (N, WHERE N IS A POSITIVE INTEGER) MOMMIES" - to the honestly mistaken invocation of "Warren Spector's" news survey (anyone who emails him with the correction will receive a gift certificate for a smack in the head, Love Matt), it is a laff riot.

The point, in general, is this:
But most people still recoil at polygamy, which is what makes the impending collision so delicious in at least three different ways:

I don't endorse every little argument he presents, but as for the thesis that the next several months will be wildly interesting-slash-hilarious, I'm onside 100%.


At 10:26 AM, Blogger Sean McCormick said...

The point that everyone seems to be missing is that all those who are interested in polygamous relationships already have them, for the most part. Polygamy is only illegal if you try to bring the state into it by actually marrying all of your, erm, spouses.

At 1:18 PM, Blogger The Hack said...

Poligamy isn't 100% illegal in Canada already. The other day I posted the subsection of the Ontario Family Act which recognizes a poligamous marriage if the marriage took place in a state that recognizes poligamy.

I'm with Matt. This whole debate's going to be fun to watch. I support SSM, but I must admit that a small part of me would love to see the legislation be voted down just to see what it would wrought.

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Sean, at least one other blogger is not missing that broader point at all. Chris Selley ( has argued pretty convincingly that modern-day polygamists are both highly marginalized and few in number, and thus the odds of a good-faith Charter challenge to the current polygamy prohibition is virtually nil.

I should note regarding your comment above that it applies just as easily to gays and lesbians as it does to aspiring polygamists, not to mention platonic friends etc. etc.. Have you changed your mind about SSM, or are you arguing that it should all be legal?

At 5:55 PM, Blogger Sean McCormick said...

I have absolutely no problem with polygamy being legal.

At 9:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

People, people! Polygamy does not include only those who walk down the aisle in groups. The Criminal Code, on its face, makes polygamists out of everyone who has an affair, and certainly everyone who has a "threesome." ("Threesome" will get you five.)

Polygamists are not small in number, and are not marginal, although polygamy activists are - just as homosexual activists were few in number a few short decades ago.

The time will come soon when someone in a polygamous relationship outside of marriage will demand spousal benefits. If it were about the love, we wouldn't be having this discussion. It's about the money.

At 10:36 PM, Blogger Sean McCormick said...

So let's get rid of spousal benefits. Here's the deal... I'll save money for my spouse, you save for yours, and nobody winds up having to pick up anybody else's tab. Okay? Okay.

Incidentally, there is much more cultural and historical precendent for polygamy than there ever was (or will be) for gay marriage.

At 10:23 AM, Blogger Sacamano said...

A few observations:

1) It is, as we all know, simply an artifact of history that the legal/economic partnership that the government calls "marriage" uses the same term as the social/religious institution of "marriage". At the time governments instituted this legal/economic entity, there was perfect overlap between the types of people they wanted to give these legal/economic benefits to, and the types of people who were married in churches. But, and this is the key point, Government did not recognize "marriage" in order to reward couples who got hitched in a church - they recognized it to give couples who have entered a long-term partnership certain legal/economic benefits (you don't have to testify against your spouse, certain tax breaks if your spouse isn't working, you can contribute to your spouse's RRSP, inheritance laws, etc.). The fact that the government recognizes "un-churched" heterosexual "marriages" is evidence of this.

This basic point seems to be forgotten by folks on both sides of the SSM/polygamy debate.

Opponents of government recognition of SSM/Polygamy are especially inconsistent about this when they invoke "traditional" marriage. First, the government didn't ever recognize "traditional" marriage - they recognized a legal/economic partnership and used the same term. Second, it is bizarre to me that the gender and number of spouses is apparently more fundamental to a "traditional" definition of marriage than whether or not the marriage had any religious component whatsoever. Thousands of Canadian couples who are recognized as married have never set foot in a church - God wasn't invited to the wedding, and He hasn't been invited to participate in the marriage; but the marriage is still "traditional". It seems to me there are marriages of all forms in the Bible (including polygamous); but the fundamental characteristic linking them all was that God was involved. To pretend that government recognition of heterosexuals married by Justices of the Peace rather than by a religious leaders is a recognition of "traditional" marriage, but recognition of SSM or polygamy is not, is hypocritical and confuses the purpose of civil marriages. So does the position of the CPC that SS couples should recieve the legal/economic benefits of civil marriage; but, they shouldn't call it marriage. Once again, this utterly, and incorrectly, conflates the two types of marriages. It is also hypocritical to claim that this is a way to "reappropriate" the term marriage from the legal/economic sphere back to the regligious sphere. When I hear for calls for government to stop recognizing "un-churched" heterosexual marriages I'll believe this claim.

Any religious input into how government defines a legal and economic entity - no matter what the government calls that entity - is totally inappropriate.

2)So, the most interesting question is what would government recognition of polygamy actually entail in terms of legal/economic benefits?

It is common to answer that government would be required to give economic/legal benefits to every spouse. But, in fact, this isn't generally how spousal benefits work. In general, benefits are not given to individuals, but to the collective entity of the married couple. Only my wife or I can receive a GST rebate, for example. RRSP contributions can be divided between spouses - but the contribution limit of the collective remained unchanged.

Second, even if some benefits are given to individual spouses, does that require government to give it to every spouse, or could there be a cut-off. Say, we will help every marriage support one spouse - but any spouses above this point are your problem.

Given that whenever I fill out my tax-return I am constantly evaluated against various cutoff points (e.g., if I make XX dollars I only pay XX % tax, I can only contribute XX % of my earned income to an RRSP, only my wife or I can receive a GST rebate, etc.), I don't see any reason why the government is required to give benefits for every spouse - so long as every marriage is treated the same.

Relate it to the Canada Child Tax Benefit. Is the government required to give benefits for every child, or are they just generous when they do so.

-- jass

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Sacamano said...

My last post was getting a bit long, so I forgot to mention the SSM supporters hypocricy in conflating civil and religious marriages. Fortunately, Chris Selley has already done a good job of it.


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