Should polygamists be prosecuted, and if so, to what extent?
A recent court decision in Canada upheld the illegality of polygamous unions. The judge concluded, “The evidence . . . supports the reasoned view that the harms associated with the practice are endemic; they are inherent. This conclusion is critical because it supports the view that the harms found in polygynous societies are not simply the product of individual misconduct; they arise inevitably out of the practice. And many of these harms could arise in polyandrous or same sex polygamous relationships, rare as those appear to be. Here I mention, without limitation, harm to children (for example, from divided parental investment or as a result of less genetic-relatedness of family members), to the psychological health of the spouses, and to the institution of monogamous marriage.”
For more details, the full decision (opens pdf) is available.
What do you think? Should polygamy stay illegal? Do you think people living in polygamous arrangements should have their children taken away from them?
Or do you see some flaws in Chief Justice Bauman’s logic?
If you’re curious about the purported harms and don’t feel like reading the whole 246 page decision, here are some selected items from the “summary of apprehended harms” (full list available in section V.D.7. [779–793]), Chief Justice Bauman lists:
a) It creates a pool of unmarried men with the attendant increase in crime and anti-social behaviour;
b) The increased competition for women creates pressure to recruit increasingly younger brides into the marriage market;
c) This competition causes men (as fathers, husbands and brothers) to seek to exercise more control over the choices of women, increasing gender inequality and undermining female autonomy and rights. This is exacerbated by larger age disparities between husbands and wives in both polygynous and monogamous relationships; and
d) Men reduce investment in wives and offspring as they spread their resources more thinly across larger families and increasingly channel those resources into obtaining more wives.
—Women in polygynous relationships are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. Competition for material and emotional access to a shared husband can lead to fractious co-wife relationships. These factors contribute to the higher rates of depressive disorders and other mental health issues that women in polygynous relationships face. They have more children, are more likely to die in childbirth and live shorter lives than their monogamous counterparts. They lack reproductive autonomy, and report high rates of marital dissatisfaction and low levels of self-esteem. They also fare worse economically, as resources may be inequitably divided or simply insufficient.
—Children in polygynous families face higher infant mortality, even controlling for economic status and other relevant variables. They tend to suffer more emotional, behavioural and physical problems, as well as lower educational achievement.