Saturday, January 22, 2011

Missing the point in Vancouver

Hearings are currently underway in Vancouver to try and figure out this whole 'polygamy' horror. Oooo, what a threat to the fabric of society. Civilized culture will crumble and fall if we are foolish enough to allow such a travesty to go forward. Rome's tumble will have nothing on the sound and breadth of the impact we'll make when polygamy becomes legal and accepted. It keeps me up at night. Really.

Truthfully, to back up a step, I am curious as to precisely why this is illegal in the first place. Is it the whole fallacy that we operate in a State that is separate from the Church? Because if I had just heard this issue out of context I would be surprised that it isn't legal. After all, when most people think of polygamy, they imagine one man with multiple wives: that's the most common arrangement that we hear about. (Of course, anyone with access to a dictionary would know that 'polygamy' actually refers to either spouse having more than one mate at a time. Polygyny is the 'multiple wives' word, and 'polyandry' is for more than one husband.)

Considering that most of our law-makers have been of the male persuasion, it is a little shocking that these gentlemen have given away one of their potential options. You wouldn't be forced to have more than one wife if polygamy were legal, but the option would be there. How many marriages might have been saved simply by marrying the ol' mistress instead of having to go to absurd lengths to keep her a secret? And if the idea of multiple husbands gave these lawmakers a case of shrinky-dink, why not just make polygyny legal and outlaw polyandry? It isn't as though there was a problem in the Days of Yore with having one standard for men and another for women. (And you really don't have to go that far into 'Yore' to find imbalances: women only got the vote in this country in 1917, for crying out loud.)

Tracing the development of anti-polygamy laws might make for a fascinating weekend research project, but sadly it is a little beyond the scope of this post. What isn't, however, is the baffling nature of the testimony being heard at the Vancouver hearings. Part of the sad truth is that I still have the capacity to be baffled at all when the media or a committee entirely misses the point. (See, I got to it eventually.)

Woman after woman is being paraded in front of the hearing, bearing their tales of woe and horror about the multiple-wife marriages to which they'd belonged. Experts are popping out of every stone-work building in the country to weigh in about the systematic abuse that wives suffer in these marriages. Sure, we're getting a few cheerful types, too, but there are in the minority. More accurately, the reporting on those happy campers is in the minority. Certainly we are getting an earful about the cruel and tragic nature of polygamous marriages.

Just how different, I wonder, would be a hearing regarding the validity of marriage at all? Do you think anti-marriage advocates couldn't find a million disgruntled housewives just by walking up and down the street banging a pot and calling 'Bring out your pissed off'? Or worse, women who have suffered real abuse, physical or otherwise, at the hands of a man they married in good faith? You're going to have just as easy a time locating bitter husbands, too. I used to work with a fellow that often said, with sincere regret, that if only he'd thought to kill his wife fifteen years ago instead of divorcing her, he'd be out of prison by now and truly rid of her. These people are everywhere. A 48% divorce rate demands it.

Is the hearing doing us any good by dwelling on the potential and actual calamities that occur in a polygamous marriage? Of course there are abuses. No institution of any kind since the dawn of time has been free of misuse. Instead of focusing on the reasons for making/keeping it illegal, we should be exploring the reality that it exists. Polygamous marriages are out there, and have been for a lot longer than monogamous ones. Quit trying to prove that unenforceable laws are a good idea.

Every single abuse that is heaped on polygamy's doorstep is actually a valid criminal offence. Hitting your wife? Jail. Marrying a fourteen year old girl? Jail... and ewww. Not allowing your wife out of the house? That's called forcible confinement, and guess what? Now we have some of the same for you!

We don't get rid of hospitals when we find an administrator embezzling, or outlaw convenience stores because they get robbed a lot. Simply because something is a crime scene does not make it wrong, in and of itself. All of those abusive husbands we're hearing about would find it a lot harder to be getting away with it if the very nature of society didn't demand the polygamists keep everything so secret. And there's the real problem.

When something is illegal and we pretend it shouldn't exist, it doesn't go away, it just becomes black-market. There is a motive for these people to stay hidden, and so instead of being able to arrest the abusive husband, we don't know about it at all. Until, of course, it's too late.

Or we hear about it in Vancouver.

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