Too many hitches in prof’s position

By Mindelle Jacobs

Last Updated: January 28, 2011 10:15am

Try to wrap your brain around the bizarre notion that a smart, female law professor, with all the societal privileges such a position offers, believes polygamy should be decriminalized.

Carissima Mathen, of the University of New Brunswick, used to work for the Women’s Legal and Education Action Fund (LEAF).

The group promotes women’s equality and has pressed for things like universal day care, equal pay for work of equal value and the eradication of discrimination against aboriginal women.

So it’s strange that a lawyer who once worked for LEAF seems to think polygamy isn’t a big deal.

It’s difficult to justify Canada’s ban on polygamy, partly because the law requires no proof of harm, Mathen said in a noon-hour speech at the University of Alberta Thursday.

The abortion law we had in the days of Morgentaler was over-reaching, as are some of our prostitution laws, as found recently by an Ontario judge, Mathen pointed out. Similarly, our anti-polygamy law has no place in contemporary society, she argued.

Instead of worrying about plural marriages, the authorities should concentrate on specific harms and use other Criminal Code laws, such as those prohibiting exploitation and forced marriage, to nail the perps, she explained.

“It’s a distraction to focus on the plural nature of the relationship,” Mathen said later in an interview.

“Why is that relevant? Why isn’t it just relevant that someone is being harmed?”

The original 19th-century law that banned polygamy targeted Mormons, who historically practised polygamy, and the current law is so vague it’s ineffectual because it doesn’t require the Crown to show proof of harm, she said.

The law only requires proof of someone having a conjugal relationship with more than one person at the same time.

“At some point, we need to be comfortable with the idea that people will make choices that we disagree with. They’ll make choices that, to us, seem … not in their best interests,” Mathen said.

“That’s the risk we run when we accept individual liberty and autonomy as fundamental values in this society.”

The trouble with that is only men (and the older ones, at that) have autonomy in polygamous communities, particularly the twisted breakaway Mormon commune in Bountiful, B.C. and the like-minded areas in the U.S. run by polygamist crackpots.

Some women have testified at the ongoing constitutional hearing into polygamy in a B.C. court that the lifestyle is blissful. What would you expect from women who have been brainwashed since childhood to believe that marrying someone old enough to be your father, having as many children as possible and living with, say, 20 sister-wives is the only route to God?

As well, higher education is discouraged, the outside world is painted as evil (except for all the welfare money) and young men are routinely forced out of the community so they won’t compete for the affections of the teen girls.

Credible experts have warned repeatedly that polygamy is harmful to women and children.

How can it not be when men disguise their megalomania in religious trappings and sow the seeds of misogyny and social dysfunction? That’s not religion; it’s pathology.

Do we want to be the first western country to decriminalize polygamy?

Mathen sees nothing wrong with it.

“(The polygamy ban) is a regression … to a time when we were much more comfortable with using the criminal law to promote a very narrow kind of moral value,” she explained.

What an weird way to champion women’s rights.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by st0pp0lygamy on January 28, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Bravo! Mindy, Bravo! We were all shocked when West Coast LEAF took the position in the Reference Trial testing the constitutionality of s. 293–the law banning the practice of polygamy in Canada–should be struck down! LEAF gets some funding from the Federal Government to advocate for the rights of women. Fortunately, they brought forward no expert witnesses in the trial. It remains to be seen what they have to say in the closing arguments and summations beginning on March 28.

    Nancy Mereska, President
    Stop Polygamy in Canada


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