B.C. to review polygamy law

A potential change to the law would affect polyamorists, too

Kiki Christie (top) enjoys a Victoria Pride event with her girlfriend Cora and their boyfriend Pierce. (Provided photo)
Kiki Christie (top) enjoys a Victoria Pride event with her girlfriend Cora and their boyfriend Pierce. (Provided photo)

VICTORIA (CUP) — The provincial government could soon have a lot to say in the future when it comes to who British Columbians can sleep with.

Starting Nov. 22, the B.C. Supreme Court will review section 293 of the Criminal Code, Canada’s so-called “polygamy law,” to decide whether or not it is constitutional. But the case doesn’t just affect polygamists — it has pulled in polyamorous people across the country, who are planning to take part in the case.

“Most Canadians are decent, fair-minded people who don’t want to lock up their neighbours over harmless personal choices. Society seems to be ahead of the law on this issue,” said Kiki Christie, a bisexual polyamorous writer and educator living in Victoria.

“The polyamorous community builds its relationships on values shared among Canadians, including gender equality, fairness, respect for the autonomy and free choice of all involved and affirmative concern of each for the feelings and well-being of the others.”

Christie, who is the facilitator and founder of Victoria Poly 101, a discussion and support group, says that Canadian society has succeeded in integrating many diverse cultures and worldviews, and “is up to the challenge of giving polyamory its due respect.”

When it comes to decoding the terminology, polygamy refers to multiple marriages, while polyamory implies multiple loving relationships — usually, but not always, romantic in nature. Currently, section 293 prescribes criminal penalties for all multi-person conjugal relationships, and not just those who are formally married to multiple people.

The current request for review of the law came soon after a failed attempt to prosecute some members of a polygamous community in Bountiful, B.C.

This type of “reference case” conducted in a trial court is highly unusual, Christie points out. Nobody is on trial, which allows different freedoms than would otherwise be possible. Parties to the case include the Attorney General of B.C., the Attorney General of Canada, the amicus — appointed “friend of the court” to argue against the Attorneys General — and interested persons, including the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, other organizations and individuals.

“Those of us involved in local polyamory groups, such as Victoria Poly 101 and [the University of Victoria’s] Poly 101 on Campus, are becoming more active in providing education about polyamory to the general public, as well as offering our skills and support to other community groups with potential common interests, including the GLBTQ community and various women’s and sexual health groups,” said Christie.

“Specifically, while some of us are acting as witnesses in the court case, others are supporting our efforts through fundraising and awareness events.”

In particular, Christie’s group is hosting discussion panels at the University of Victoria with the help of CPAA, as well as other initiatives. Other groups around B.C. are offering the same services.

CPAA itself started in 2009 and advocates on behalf of Canadians who practice polyamory. According to its website, it “promotes legal, social, government and institutional acceptance and support of polyamory, and advances the interests of the Canadian polyamorous community generally.”

“We’re here because we have a right to live with the people we love, and Canadian law doesn’t seem to recognize that,” said Christie. “Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada purports to outlaw polyamorous people living together as families. It penalizes us as soon as we make a serious commitment to one another.”

Christie says that while stigma is something that every sexual orientation has to deal with, most of the challenges in polyamory are due to misunderstanding or lack of information.

“We are victims of ‘couple-ism,’ in our society,” she said. “If you have two partners, which one do you bring to the staff party, or take to the Valentine’s Day offer for couples at the restaurant? The restaurant is discriminating, but it doesn’t know that. Having multiple, consenting loves is relatively unknown to our culture. Or worse, treated as trivial, which love, of course, never is.”

Christie says that while many polyamorists worry about “coming out” to their families, friends and colleagues, they often find far more acceptance than they expect. Sometimes, those who come out do encounter discrimination or ostracism, she says, but facing this is also part of changing the social stigmas that lock us in — and it’s rarer than one might expect.

Christie says that no one is looking to anyone to “convert” anyone to polyamory, and it’s certainly not for everyone. However, she hopes that the trial and the climate of discussion will create a dialogue of acceptance.

“It is important to members of the polyamory community to have the difference between polyamory and polygamy recognized. If the alleged problems at communities such as Bountiful are abuse, exploitation and marriage where a spouse is underage; those involved should be prosecuted using laws that address those issues,” Christie said.

“Polyamory is not cheating; it’s not acting without responsibility or the consent of one’s partners, and it’s not about being greedy or selfish. Polyamory is, first and foremost, a choice about who and how we love.”

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