A Bountiful Marriage

So few of us in the United States know much about Canada. 

Mention “Bountiful” and very few think about a town in British Columbia. Fewer still are aware that there is a case, commonly referred to as the Bountiful Case, presently before the BC Supreme Court, that challenges the law that limits a “conjugal union” to the relationship between two persons.

Yes, it’s a polygamy case. And there is a good chance it will ultimately be decided in the Canadian national Supreme Court.

The case is shrouded in a cloak of prejudice. The town of Bountiful is a fundamentalist LDS one. Those involved do not look like the well-adjusted suburbanites on HBO’s ‘Big Love’ or TLC’s ‘Sister Wives’. There are allegations of child brides and spousal abuse in Bountiful. It’s not the perfect crime-free community. But rights have never been predicated upon engendering everything picture postcard perfect.

What is striking about the Bountiful Case is that it brings to the foreground assumptions we make about the fundamental nature of an institution whose definition we have until recently mostly taken for granted. Marriage is an exclusive union between a single man and a single woman.

But this is a very specific historically and culturally grounded definition.  It is by no means universal.

In G.P. Murdock’s magisterial 1967 Ethnographic Atlas, an overwhelming 85 percent of recorded societies were polygamous. No, that doesn’t mean that 85 percent of marriages throughout the world were multi-partner ones. What it says is that our own society’s refusal to accept polygamy is the “odd man out” in a humanity that has as a species typically encouraged or at least allowed for marriage to be defined as other than simply one man and one woman.

We are an ethnocentric lot. Like gay marriage, the thought of more than two people marrying may be hard for most of us to wrap our minds around.

I will be writing more about this landmark case in the days ahead. I will be writing about polygamy in several contexts – historical, religious, sociological and also clinical. For now, here’s a short but very informative article by attorney Jim Quail called The BC Polygamy Case: Be Careful What You Criminalize.

One Response to A Bountiful Marriage

  1. Jon McKenzie says:

    If all parties involved enter consensually and can make the situation work, more power to them. Speaking as a rather povincial and old-fashioned monogamous heterosexual with not exactly the most varied and successful dating life who’s had enough difficulty landing ONE mate, the idea of having multiple wives in a real-life relationship seems improbable, if not impossible. Sure, as any other man, my libido has a harem whose roster varies in size and membership depending on my whim. In that scenario, however, I don’t have to worry if Juliette Binoche, Miss February 1969 Lorrie Menconi, Clara Bow and Jane Lynch feel as if I am favoring Rebecca Romijn over them. How does a man make two, three, four women, human beings with hearts, minds and souls, feel loved equally? How are jealousy and posessiveness kept out of the emotional equasion? As I said, I lean toward monogamy, whether instinctively or having been trained by American society… I don’t know. I just don’t want MY choice or my bafflement perceived as an indictment against the practice.

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