From the anti-gay anti-marriage website: “If marriage is redefined for same-sex marriage, it could be redefined for polygamy next. Canada introduced same-sex marriage and then that was used in a court case to argue that polygamy should be made legal. Once you start unpicking the definition of marriage, it can unravel further.”
It would be fair to wonder why the group that calls itself “Scotland for Marriage” is worrying about this. Marriage in Scotland does not lend itself to multiple partners legally, and while there exist examples of Scottish men who have two women whom he thinks of as “his two wives” (whether they know about each other or not), there are no examples of communities of men who expel their teenage sons from the community and marry each other’s teenage daughters and advocate their lifestyle as a means of getting into heaven, as there are in the US. Polygamy is a serious if limited problem in the US and in Canada, but not because anyone seriously thinks it might become law: it is a problem because polygamous communities damage both the women who are required to stay and the young men who are made to leave.
Here is something else to consider: As far as I’ve been able to determine, no polygamous society has ever been a true liberal democracy, in anything like the modern sense. As societies move away from hierarchy and toward equal opportunity, they leave polygamy behind. They monogamize as they modernize. That may be a coincidence, but it seems more likely to be a logical outgrowth of the arithmetic of polygamy.
The threat of “polygamy may happen!” comes from the American anti-marriage script that the Scotland for Marriage campaign are using. They’ve cited as “proof!” that it could be so, a Canadian case which had been progressing through the courts for a couple of years. (The judge ruled against the polygamists last month.) Canada, because it’s one of the 10 countries in the world that has lifted the ban on same-sex marriage. The American Christian Right are very fond of pointing at Canada and blaming all its ills on gay marriage (or socialised medicine – take your pick).
There are many more Muslims in Scotland than Mormons. Islam permits that where the law of the land allows, a man who can support more than one wife, and will commit to treating all his wives equally, may marry more than once. At least one Islamic country has outlawed polygamy on the basis that human nature doesn’t allow a man to behave equally well towards two or more wives – and even where the law of the land allows poly marriage, Muslim women may opt for divorce rather than living with their husband and his new wife . Islamic polygamy is not a tradition that seems to be supported by the communities of Muslims in Scotland.
In Scotland, husband and wife have identical obligations, responsibilities, and rights. The Civil Partnership Act is the size of a telephone directory and it simply adds to each legislative reference for marriage, “or civil partners” to include same-sex couples. Working out the ramifications of this was an extensive piece of legislative work, and there was a long gap between the Act being passed and becoming law to allow public sector and statutory bodies to accommodate themselves to the change of recognising same-sex couples as equivalent to mixed-sex couples, whether married / in civil partnership, or simply living together.
Where equal marriage exists, and especially when same-sex civil partnerships have already been legislated for, opening up marriage to same-sex partners as well as mixed-sex partners is not a significant change – probably not even as complex as creating the separate-but-equal institution of civil partnership was.
This change was nothing beside the change that would be required to accommodate poly marriages in a legislative framework of equal marriage – a change, moreover, that no one is seriously arguing for – no one is campaigning for. Only the “Scotland for Marriage” crew, waving their American flag regardless.
In response to this case in Canada, Elizabeth Abbott wrote in The Walrus magazine:
In our longing to ensure that everyone enjoys every possible right, we have been willing to stretch our imaginations, swallow our bile, and give polygamy a chance. That is no less than our values demand of us. But legalizing it is not ultimately in the same category as granting a pastor the right to express his loathing of homosexuality, or as legalizing gay marriage. While much has been made, in particular, of the parallel between sanctioning same-sex unions and sanctioning polygamy, not least by Blackmore himself (at one point, he went so far as to suggest that the marriage of one of his Canadian wives with an American wife was proof of his support for gay marriage, and not a ploy to outfox immigration regulations), the outcomes couldn’t be more different. The former brought people into an existing system of rights; the latter poses a significant threat to that system. And that’s probably our cue, as a liberal society, to hold our noses and draw the line.
You have to wonder if “Scotland for Marriage” got the script with their funding – it’s been estimated they would have needed ten thousand pounds for their initial advertising costs at least, maybe more. This would be a big sum if raised by individual donations in Scotland (though they might have tapped Brian Souter for some pocket money) but it would be a trivial sum for the Alliance Defense Fund to donate to the Scottish cause – and SfM haven’t said who their donors are.