Polycultural multigamy- the quest for votes

by Klaus Rohrich

January 27, 2005

I'm finding it tough to follow the current firestorm about the legalization of same-sex marriage opening the door to the slippery slope of polygamy and other unorthodox marital arrangements. Many of the more rational pundits that I have read of late, both left and right, seem to agree in well-reasoned prose that re-defining marriage as a union of one person with one other person rather than a union of one man and one woman, will not necessarily lead to the general redefinition of marriage. Thus, they reason, since the new legislation still defines marriage as a union between two individuals, we need not worry about seeing legalized polygamy any time soon. Yes, and tomorrow the temperature is going to climb to 30 degrees Celsius.

I believe these reasonable and rational pundits are missing the point entirely. I, for one, do not believe that by redefining marriage as a union between two people will keep others from seeking the redefinition of marriage to accommodate their own wish list. Mohammad Elmasry, one of Canada's "most prominent Muslims" is already making noises about how much more palatable polygamy is than monogamy that includes a lover on the side.

Elmasry understands that if gay people can take a run at redefining the meaning of matrimony and succeed, then why not polygamists? after all, Canada is a multicultural nation and a very large percentage of the world's population lives with polygamy as an accepted social and religious custom. Prohibiting Muslims or Mormons from having multiple wives could be challenged under the Charter of Rights, as legally restricting marriage to only two individuals infringes on their right to practice their religion. In addition, a strong case could also be made that prohibiting polygamy infringes on the freedom of association, another right guaranteed under the Charter.

Canadian women's groups are not far off the mark in expressing their concern about the prospects of polygamy becoming the law of the land. In the long run, the government will do what it always does, namely enact legislation that will garner it the most votes at the end of the day. If the number of Muslims and Mormons account for more votes than the number of people opposed to polygamy, then changing the law is a done deal. For evidence of this look no further than the government's refusal to classify the Tamil Tigers, the original inventors of suicide bombing, as a terrorist group, despite the fact that they are so classified by both the U.S. and the British governments. But then, neither the U.S. nor Britain have a Sri Lankan population of the size of Canada's and don't have to worry about losing Sri Lankan voters.

also keep in mind that Canadians have inculcated the idea of tolerance towards other cultures to the point where it's entirely possible that marriage could be subject to further re-definition. after all, we are a multicultural society and our view of other cultures is relativistic in that we find them to be of equal value to our own indigenous culture. If in the process of accommodating other cultures we disaccommodate a few women's groups, so be it.

So in their eagerness to reassure Canadians that redefining marriage to include partners of the same sex will not effectuate any further redefinition to include multiple spouses, the pundits are dreaming in technicolour. Changing the law to include same sex couples in the definition of marriage will eventually result in a re-examination and possible rewriting of the marriage laws to accommodate a plethora of other preferences.