Tag Archives: polygamy

Scotland’s for marriage

Elaine Smith MSPElaine Smith MSP, deputy presiding officer in the Scottish Parliament, argued for polygamy in her written evidence to the Equal Opportunities Committee last year, as the Scotland on Sunday anti-gay marriage story this morning quotes:

“Whilst the government has said that it has no intention of allowing polygamous marriages as part of this legislation which changes the essential nature of marriage, it has not explained in any detail and with research analysis its reasons for taking that position.

“Further, if the government is sincere about its support for ‘equal love’ then it appears to have a contradiction on its hands.”

There is “no logical reason” for discriminating against more than two people getting married if the redefinition of marriage is driven by love, Ms Smith adds.

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Human Rights: Abortion and gay marriage

I got into an argument on a Catholic blog recently about same-sex marriage, and – in passing, but with vehemence – also got into an argument about being pro-choice.

The two are on the face of it only peripherally related – both equality/human-rights issues – but of course are very directly related in one respect: they challenge a man’s right to own his woman.

Equal marriage, where both spouses have identical obligations, rights, and responsibilities towards and for and about each other, is a fundamental redefinition of traditional marriage. In traditional marriage, the woman’s father gave her in marriage to her husband: a financially-independent widow might give herself in marriage, but once married, a woman’s rights were subsumed into her husband’s rights.

Equal marriage is a victory of the feminist revolution, but it leads directly to the idea that given husband and wife are now legally equal and identical, why is there a ban on same-sex couples marrying? Of course this next step can only happen in a country with a strong LGBT equality movement, but it is a simple next step. Nothing about a same-sex couple marrying can affect a mixed-sex married couple.

The wild claim that same-sex marriage leads to polygamy is a product of the American Christian Right’s script, and is provably false even in North America where it originated and where there are small Mormon communities of men who marry each other’s daughters and exile the “surplus” boys, the sons who can’t be allowed to marry inside the polygamous community at all. Polygamy as traditional Mormonism would have it is a profoundly sexist marriage: a man has rights and privileges over his wives that they do not have. It is the reverse of equal marriage. It is a profoundly patriarchal concept: only the chief men of the community, and their heirs, get to marry. A recent attempt in Canada to claim that it was discriminatory to deny legal marriage to polygamous men and their wives, failed precisely because those opposed could show in court how damaging polygamous marriage can be: and how it would directly affect couples married already. No such evidence can or ever has been shown for same-sex marriage: the Catholic Church’s campaign against same-sex marriage in Scotland relies, as many another campaign, on the lies put out by an anti-gay hate group in the US.

Traditional marriage is already legally at an end in Scotland. No husband has rights over his wife that she does not already have over him. Even the old traditional signal that a woman must become part of her husband’s family and change her surname to his, is fading away: no one need change their surname on marriage, but it is as easy for a man to change his surname to his wife’s as the reverse, as easy for a mixed-sex or a same-sex couple to mutually change their names.

Denial of legal abortion to a woman who is pregnant and needs to terminate does not seem to connect to that: it’s a simple public health issue and a simple human rights issue.

With regard to public health, it is much more damaging (and more expensive for the NHS) if a woman who wants to have an abortion is forced either to wait until she can find the money to pay for it, or to have it done illegally on the cheap and use the health service to clean up after her. (There is something of a postcode lottery in Scotland as in the rest of the UK as to whether a woman who needs an abortion can get it easily and quickly on the NHS: but the vast majority of abortions done are on the NHS, if sometimes with unnecessary delays.)

Throughout Ireland, abortion is banned: the government of Ireland and the assembly at Stormont claim that Ireland is a Catholic country and abortion is unacceptable. The net result of this is what you might expect: Ireland exports almost all its abortions to the UK. Women in Northern Ireland, though they pay for healthcare on the NHS via their taxes like anyone else, must not only travel to mainland UK to get one, they must pay for it privately when they get there. The Catholic Church can make abortion illegal in Ireland, but they cannot stop women from getting abortions, they can only make it difficult and expensive for a woman to do so. In countries where abortion is illegal but there is no convenient pro-choice country to provide abortions for women living under a prolife regime, the net result is even nastier: women die of illegal abortions.

Not that the Catholic Church is the only prolife campaign organisation: the Christian Right in the US is mostly Protestant, and has ensured soldiers in the US military who need abortions must request leave to travel back to the US and pay for the abortion privately: they are not allowed to get an abortion at the nearest US military base, nor are they allowed to have their abortion paid for by the US military healthcare system. Nor, if they wish to continue their military career, can they put “pregnant, need an abortion” as their reason for requesting leave. This applies to soldiers who have been made pregnant by rape, married soldiers, soldiers who have an affair… all are simply denied this basic healthcare and the US military will not even take note of how many soldiers have been denied.

WIth regard to simple human rights: no woman should be forced against her will through pregnancy and child birth: no woman should have her body used against her will to make a baby. All women, therefore, should have as a basic human right, once pregnant, to decide whether to terminate or to continue the pregnancy. It’s her pregnancy: it’s her body: it’s her decision.

This upsets the patriarchal ideal of male ownership of women’s bodies. Prolifers will argue that a girl’s father ought to make the decision for her: that the “baby’s father” should have the legal right to decide whether or not the woman will have the baby: that above all the woman must not have the right to decide what’s best for her. Even the UK system of two doctors signing off a woman’s abortion is a product of this thinking: while most abortions in the UK are effectively abortion on demand, as is right, in law a woman has to convince two doctors that she or her family will suffer if she doesn’t get an abortion.

Just as anti-marriage campaigners bring up the false spectre of polygamy, so will prolifers bring up the false cuddly claim that they’re only concerned about the fetuses – that they want to prevent women having safe legal abortions because they regard a fertilised egg as exactly the same as a baby, and a woman having an abortion (and the doctor performing it) is exactly the same as a woman hiring an assassin to kill her child. This is a fantastic lie, told and elaborated on as a justification for hurting women who have abortions. We can tell it’s a lie because prolifers are vastly unconcerned with preventing abortions. The most effective means of preventing abortions is to ensure that every time a mixed-sex couple have heterosexual intercourse, unless they actually intend to conceive, the man uses a condom and the woman is either on the Pill or using a barrier method herself. If prolifers were really truly into preventing abortions, if the Catholic Church really regarded ending a fetus’s life as a sin worthy of excommunication, then the Catholic Church would be right out there promoting condoms and the Pill. (As indeed many lay Catholics already have.)

Denial of legal abortion is about denying women autonomy and equality. Denial of same-sex marriage is about denying that marriage is a relationship of equals. It’s not really surprising that the people who oppose the freedom of same-sex couples to marry are generally also the same people who oppose the freedom of women to decide how many children to have, and when.

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Polygamy’s not our problem

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.

As Jonathan Rauch wrote in 2006:

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).

Say No To PolygamyThere 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.

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