It's closer than they think
Monday, 13 September 2004
The better advocates of gay marriage are an ingenious crowd, full of artful arguments to support their claim. Initially, most of us on the other side found it hard to believe a countervailing argument was necessary, and by the time it became clear that neither "Oh, come off it, you can't be serious" nor "Well, I dunno, it just don't sound right" were going to suffice, the gays were already on their way to victory in the only arenas that matter--the media and the courts.
But the activists' intellectual rigour only goes so far. If you suggest, as some defendants of "traditional marriage" do, that gay marriage is the slippery slope to polygamy and bestiality, the activists roll their eyes and go into "Oh, come off it, you can't be serious" mode. Like the chichi gay couple from New York who've built their dream home in rural Vermont, they don't want any other incomers muscling in. Gay marriage, they assure us, is the merest amendment to traditional marriage, and once we've done that we'll pull up the drawbridge.
Sorry, but it's not going to work like that. If you can get 'em past the don't-be-so-ridiculous stage, the gays point out that there are no constituencies clamouring for polygamy and bestiality. That's true in the latter case. There aren't many "zoo couples" (as they're known) demanding their rights. Offhand, I can think only of Phillip Buble of Maine, who petitioned the Piscataquis County Superior Court a couple of years back to allow his spouse to attend a hearing with him. ("I've been informed your personal permission is needed given that my wife is not human, being a dog of about 36 lbs. weight and very well behaved." The letter ended with his signature and a paw print, and underneath them the words "Phillip and Lady Buble.")
But there's a very obvious constituency for polygamy, and it says something about the monumental self-absorption of the gay marriage crowd that they seem unaware of it. Indeed, it's already here. Earlier this summer, Le Monde leaked a government report revealing that polygamy was routinely practised in Muslim ghettos in France. Anecdotal evidence suggests things aren't so very different in the Islamic communities of Ontario: as The Christian Science Monitor airily put it, polygamous unions "are being performed by the same religious figures adjudicating matters under sharia"--i.e., under the province's Muslim-friendly Arbitration Act.
Another clue to what's going on comes in the invaluable British publication, Pensions News, which had an interesting item about a hitherto arcane point of law. Contracting marriage with more than one spouse simultaneously is a crime in the United Kingdom. However, if a polygamous marriage is entered into abroad in a jurisdiction permitting polygamy, that marriage is regarded as valid under English law. Hence, the interest of Pensions News. Previously, spousal inheritance was a relatively simple matter: you kick the bucket and your wife gets a big payout. Now it's relatively less simple, relative--wise: trustees of pensions funds were concerned that, under new anti-discrimination regulations which came into effect in Britain last year, they'd be obligated to pay out to more than one widow, thus doubling, trebling or quadrupling their liability. For the moment, they've been reassured that they're unlikely to have to pay full widow's benefits automatically to every relict of a polygamous marriage, but that what benefits are paid out have to be shared between all the widows.
But you see how easy it is to start talking about polygamy in a nuts-and-bolts, incremental, utilitarian, legal-harmonization, partners'-benefits, insurance-agent kind of a way. It's not a hypothetical issue: apparently many British subjects marry one spouse in Leicester or Bradford and then, while on a trip back to their homeland, marry another. Given immigration patterns in Canada and given the number of legal residents with dual citizenship, I wouldn't expect things to be so very different over here. And, if so, it's inevitable that at some point, in Vancouver or Toronto or Halifax, a local version of Puspo Wardoyo will turn up.
Mr. Wardoyo owns 34 grilled-chicken restaurants throughout Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, but one in which polygamy was suppressed under the Suharto dictatorship. Now Mr. Wardoyo has taken it up eagerly: he has four wives, is having a swell time of it, and wants to spread the word. On the menu at his eateries, he offers a "polygamy stir-fry" washed down with a "polygamy juice," a melange of four crushed fruits. In Canada, the fruits will be crushed to hear it, but once you've accepted the argument that the gender of the participants is no longer relevant to the definition of marriage, it's hard to see why the number of participants should be.
One day, a Canadian Wardoyo will emerge, and the game will be on. How do you think our courts and media will react? If the push for polygamy came from the white male elders of that breakaway Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C., it'd be dead in the water: all you'd get from The Globe and the CBC and Maclean's would be a lot of stories about the abuse rumours, and shots of stern Old Testament patriarchs, and comments from various Grits and NDPers about how this is not compatible with "our Canadian values." If you're one of Bountiful's nubile nymphettes and you make it across the town line, you can write your own ticket on The National; they'll put you down for one of those major multi-part documentaries that takes up 52 minutes of the show for an entire week.
But, if it's not horny, stump-toothed white guys from the backwoods, what's the betting then? Once it gets all multicultural, the media back away from the in-depth investigations, happy to take the spokespersons for the relevant lobby groups at their word. If it's a Muslim who finally makes it to the Supreme Court of Canada with a polygamy case, I'd reckon their lordships will rule that forbidding it is an unwarranted restriction of charter rights. And I'd wager a few of those justices will be happy to license polygamy if only to prove that their demolition job on "traditional marriage" was legally grounded rather than mere modish solidarity.
Think that sounds ridiculous? Well, look at what happened in Dublin a couple of months ago: the Irish Government decided to make Muslim men who apply for citizenship sign an affidavit that, if they're single, they'll take no more than one wife and, if they're already married, that they'll take no additional wives. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties immediately denounced the move as offensive, racist and discriminatory.
Imagine the same thing here. You can't. No Canadian government would propose making certain groups of immigrants sign affidavits on any wedding plans they might have. When it comes to faint-hearted officialdom, Canadian polygamists are more fortunate than Irish ones. And, as the Irish Council for Civil Liberties' reaction suggests, one of the lessons of the world since September 11 is that, on the left, counter-tribalism trumps all: if it's a choice between a traditionally restrictive view of marriage or polygamy, the lefties will go with the imams. The same progressive groups who objected to the Iraq war on the grounds that Saddam was a secular leader who'd never make common cause with Islamic fundamentalists, didn't seem to notice that, for the purposes of opposing Bush and Blair, they themselves, as impeccably pro-gay, pro-feminist western bien-pensants, had had no trouble making common cause with the women-enslaving, sodomite-beheading Islamists. It hardly seemed fair to require greater intellectual coherence from Saddam than from themselves, and, indeed, the bizarre western-left/Islamist-theocrat alliance of convenience looks like it's becoming a permanent feature of the post-9/11 world.
In France, where the courts uphold the central government's enforcement of French identity, polygamy will remain in the shadows. But in Canada, for years now, the philosophers of the Liberal state have acknowledged--and, indeed, even boasted--that immigration changes our country. In the cheap anti-monarchism of a John Manley or Brian Tobin, the well-worn line is that an immigrant from Latvia or China can't be expected to relate to the House of Windsor. In other words, we have accepted the principle that immigration involves not the immigrant assimilating to his new land, but his new land assimilating to him. That being so, what share of the population has to be Muslim for the prohibition on more-than-two-person marriage to be, in Manley-Tobin logic, indefensible? We're closer than you think.