Sexuality Research and Social Policy

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 63–75 | Cite as

Polyamory and Criminalization of Plural Conjugal Unions in Canada: Competing Narratives in the s.293 Reference



The constitutionality of criminalizing plural conjugal unions recently came under review through a reference on s.293 of the Criminal Code of Canada. This article examines popular narratives of the reference, focusing on the role of polyamorists in this case and its impact on their socio-legal positioning. An examination of public texts yields three competing narratives: Canadian citizens fighting government intrusion, fundamentalist religious practitioners seeking religious freedom, and patriarchal oppression of women and children. The most successful of these narratives construct clear boundaries between monogamous citizens and polygamous outsiders. The final judgment upheld the criminalization of plural conjugal union while parsing unsanctified polyamorous relationships as outside the intent of the law. This maneuver affirms the centrality of monogamy to Canadian citizenship and the privileged legal position of monogamists. At the same time, polyamorists are “saved” from explicit criminalization, but only as long as their community and its unions remain unrecognized. Polyamorists' position as marginal citizens is reaffirmed.


Polyamory Polygamy Sexual citizenship Law Marriage 


  1. Aviram, H. (2010). Geeks, goddesses, and green eggs: Political mobilization and the cultural locus of the polyamorous community in the San Francisco bay area. In M. Barker & D. Langdridge (Eds.), Understanding non-monogamies (pp. 87–93). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  2. Bala, N. (2009). Why Canada's prohibition of polygamy is constitutionally valid and sound social policy. Canadian Journal of Family Law, 25(2), 165–221.Google Scholar
  3. Barker, M., & Langdridge, D. (2010). Whatever happened to non-monogamies? Critical reflections on recent research and theory. Sexualities, 13(6), 748–772.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bashinski, J. (2010, December 1). 30 to 1 or 500 to 1, we dwarf Bountiful. Why is it about them?
  5. Bennett, J. (2009, July 28). Only you. And you. And you. Newsweek.
  6. Black, D. M. (2006). Beyond child bride polygamy: Polyamory, unique familial constructions, and the law. Journal of Law & Family Studies, 8, 497–508.Google Scholar
  7. Bramham, D. (2010a, November 20). B.C. Supreme Court opens debate on polygamy: On the eve of a constitutional reference case, analysts weigh in on the moral and legal implications of recognized plural marriage. Vancouver Sun.
  8. Bramham, D. (2010b, November 25). Laws should target abuse, not polygamy, lawyer argues. Vancouver Sun.
  9. Campbell, A. (2005, May 31). How have policy approaches to polygamy responded to women's experiences and rights? An international, comparative analysis: Final report for Status of Women in Canada. = 1360230
  10. Campbell, A. (2010). Bountiful's plural marriages. International Journal of Law in Context, 6(4), 343–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. CBC News. (1967, December 21). Trudeau's Omnibus Bill: Challenging Canadian taboos. CBC Digital Archives.
  12. CBC News. (2010, December 7). Polygamy leads to forced marriage: professor argues. CBC News.
  13. Chan, M. (2011). Beyond Bountiful: Toward an intersectional and postcolonial feminist intervention in the British Columbia polygamy reference. Appeal: Review of Current Law and Law Reform, 16, 15–30.Google Scholar
  14. Cloud, J. (1999, November 15). Henry & Mary & Janet & … Time, 154, 90.Google Scholar
  15. Conley, T. D., Moors, A. C., Matsick, J. L., & Ziegler, A. (2012). The fewer the merrier?: Assessing stigma surrounding consensually non-monogamous romantic relationships. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy, 00, 1–29. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2012.01286.x.Google Scholar
  16. Coyne, A. (2010, November 26). Why should polygamy be a crime? Maclean's.
  17. Criminal Code of Canada, R.S., c. C-34, s. 293 (2011).Google Scholar
  18. De Fina, A., & Georgakopoulou, A. (2008). Introduction: Narrative analysis in the shift from texts to practices. Text & Talk, 28(3), 275–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dowd, A. (2010, November 29). Examining polygamy in Canada. Toronto Sun.
  20. Drummond, S. G. (2009). Polygamy's inscrutable criminal mischief. Osgoode Hall Law Journal, 47, 317–369.Google Scholar
  21. Duff, Z. (2010, February 20). Polyamorists announce court application.
  22. Ewick, P., & Silbey, S. S. (1995). Subversive stories and hegemonic tales: Toward a sociology of narrative. Law & Society Review, 29(2), 197–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hall, N. (2010, February 10). More than a dozen parties seek intervener status in anti-polygamy case: Applications to be considered before trial. Vancouver Sun. Retrieved from
  24. Harris, K. (2009, October 22). B.C. seeks clarity on polygamy from a top court. Toronto Sun.
  25. Hull, K. E. (2006). Same-sex marriage: The cultural politics of love and law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Jacobs, M. (2010, September 7). Polygamy test case ramping up. Toronto Sun. Retrieved from
  27. Keller, J. (2010a, December 1). Bountiful women oppressed by law not polygamy, court told. The Globe and Mail. Available from
  28. Keller, J. (2010b, December 13). Don't look to stereotypes when deciding fate of polygamy law, professor tells court. The Globe and Mail.
  29. Keller, J. (2011, January 10). Ban on polygamy rooted in Western culture, court told. The Globe and Mail.
  30. Loseke, D. R. (1989). Creating clients: Social problems work in a shelter for battered women. In J. A. Holstein & G. Miller (Eds.), Perspectives on social problems (pp. 173–193). Greenwhich, CT: JAI.Google Scholar
  31. Loseke, D. R. (2007). The study of identity as cultural, institutional, organizational, and personal narratives: Theoretical and empirical integrations. The Sociological Quarterly, 48, 661–688.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. MacQueen, K. (2010, March 17). Making their bed. Maclean's.
  33. Meissner, D. (2009, October 22). B.C. seeks ruling on whether polygamy is a crime. The Star.
  34. Ministry of Attorney General. (2009, October 22). Province to seek Supreme Court opinion on polygamy. Statement, 2009AG0012-000518.Google Scholar
  35. Mitchell, M. E., Bartholomew, K., & Cobb, R. J. (2013). Need fulfillment in polyamorous relationships. Journal of Sex Research. doi:10.1080/00224499.2012.742998.Google Scholar
  36. O'Malley, P., Weir, L., & Shearing, C. (1997). Governmentality, criticism, politics. Economy and Society, 26(4), 501–517.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Peelo, M., & Soothill, K. (2000). The place of public narratives in reproducing social order. Theoretical Criminology, 4(2), 131–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Plummer, K. (1995). Telling sexual stories: Power, change, and social worlds. London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Polletta, F., Chen, P. C. B., Gardner, B. G., & Motes, A. (2011). The sociology of storytelling. Annual Review of Sociology, 37, 109–130.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Reference re: Criminal Code, s. 293, 2009 BCSC 1668 (BCSC 2009).Google Scholar
  41. Reference re: Criminal Code, s. 293, 2010 BCSC 1308 (BCSC 2010).Google Scholar
  42. Reference re: Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada, 2011 BCSC 1588 (BCSC 2011).Google Scholar
  43. Ritchie, A., & Barker, M. (2006). ‘There aren't words for what we do or how we feel so we have to make them up’: Constructing polyamorous languages in a culture of compulsory monogamy. Sexualities, 9(5), 584–601.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schneider, A., & Ingram, H. (1993). Social construction of target populations: Implications for politics and policy. The American Political Science Review, 87(2), 334–347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Sheff, E. (2005). Polyamorous women, sexual subjectivity and power. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 34(3), 251–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Sheff, E. (2011). Polyamorous families, same-sex marriage, and the slippery slope. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40(5), 487–520.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Sheff, E., & Hammers, C. (2011). The privilege of perversities: race, class and education among polyamorists and kinksters. Psychology & Sexuality, 2(3), 198–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stueck, W. (2010a, August 23). Girls treated like ‘poison snakes’ in B.C. polygamous community, ex-member says. The Globe and Mail.
  49. Stueck, W. (2010b, November 25). Polyamorists decry anti-polygamy law. The Globe and Mail.
  50. The Canadian Press (2010a, April 28). Polygamist won't attend B.C. court case. CBC News.
  51. The Canadian Press. (2010b, November 25). Polygamists treated as ‘pariahs:’ Lawyer. CBC News.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology, Anthropology, & CriminologyUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada

Personalised recommendations