Polygamy is not the problem (National Post, January 18, 2006)

In a now-infamous government-funded research paper revealed last week, three law professors from Queen's University argue that the criminal status of polygamy serves no useful purpose. Lead author Martha Bailey asks: "In light of the fact that we have a fairly permissive society, why are we singling out that particular form of behaviour for criminalization?"

Don't panic -- or rather do panic, but not about polygamy. A Conservative government will consign this report to the dustbin. And, in any case, laws do not emerge in a vacuum of public readiness for acceptance. Acceptance for gay unions -- even amongst those opposed to gay marriage -- resulted from a successful ideological campaign by intellectual and political elites to cast homosexuality as an inherent characteristic, like race or sex. Conversely, most of us identify polygamy as a sexist practice that is harmful to women and children.

So save your panic for "polyamorous" marriage -- unions amongst groups of men and women who take a communal attitude toward sex and love. Thanks to such "advances" as the recent Supreme Court of Canada's "swingers" ruling (which normalized as spectacle and activity simulated gang rapes at sex clubs), polyamory is acquiring respectability, thus paving the way for public acceptance.

Polyamorists say they practise "responsible nonmonogamy" with more than two people, and increasingly in their literature link their predilection with innate sexual identity. Pairings and three-somes or four-somes can be heterosexual, or a mixture of heterosexuals and bisexuals. In the ongoing war against traditional marriage, watch triads morph from lifestyle hobby to legal union status with all the rights of dyadic relationships.

A recent article in the Weekly Standard by social critic Stanley Kurtz, "Here Come the Brides," offers a cornucopia of good reasons for alarm. Some ministers in the U.S. Unitarian Church, for example, already perform "joining ceremonies" for polyamorous families. Their Church considers itself officially "poly-welcoming." And in a Stanford Law Review article, Kenji Yoshino, a Yale professor, claims there may actually be more bisexuals -- innate or self-selected -- than homosexuals in society: "To the extent that bisexuals are not permitted to express their dual desires, they might fairly characterize themselves as harmed." If this sounds familiar, it should. It's gay-marriage logic redux.

A perfect example of the evolving paradigm can be seen in the recent "cohabitation contract" entered into by a heterosexual Dutch man and two bisexual women. This past September, Victor de Brujin and his wife, Bianca, stood before a notary public, along with "their" "bride," Miriam Geven. The women wore white gowns and veils for the ceremony. The three exchanged rings, enjoyed a "wedding" party, honeymooned, and returned to receptive neighbours and a sanguine public.

Note the crucial, female-empowering feature of such relationships: Unlike in polygamy, polyamorous women have sex with each other.

Although not a real marriage, the contract confers real benefits and is doubtless a social harbinger of legal advances to come. Kurtz cites a 2002 book, Equality for Same Sex Couples, in which Israeli legal scholar Yuval Merin notes that Dutch gays in the '80s used the same "small steps" strategy, with exactly the same cohabitation contracts, and then progressed in incremental legal stages to marriage.

Once a society moves from a marriage culture to one that celebrates "pure relationships" -- that is, relationships stripped of any purpose other than the sexual and emotional gratification of the individuals involved, precisely where we are now in both Canada and Holland -- the door is wide open to the legalization of triad arrangements such as the De Brujins'. For if homosexuals have the right to marry, it stands to reason that bisexuals, who will, and in fact already do argue in their journals, magazines and conferences, that they cannot feel fulfilled without bilateral relations, should have the same right, and thus true equality for bisexuality can be achieved only through society's validation of polyamory.

In 1997, the Law Commission of Canada recommended that traditional marriage be put on a level playing field with all close relationships, stating that they saw no reason in principle to limit registered partnerships to two people. In 2004 gay marriage became legal. Released genies don't willingly re-bottle themselves. In the relentless liberal drive to de-normalize marriage, Canadians have been treated as the proverbial unsuspecting frog in the pot of cold water on a slow burner. Over decades, slow incrementalism has tended to obscure future consequences and bypass public debate. On tomorrow's menu: Run-amok liberalism stewed in its own juices.

© National Post 2006