Monogamy, Adultery and Polyamoury

Posted on March 28, 2011 by


Marriage, divorce, adultery; open marriage, monogamy, polyamoury. These were some of the topics that were explored from a queer perspective at two workshops held at the QTC Qulture Club on March 15 and 22.

The first workshop, on March 15, was a presentation on various alternatives within adult intimate relationships, including monogamy, open marriage, and polyamoury. All of these alternatives are possible whether one or more persons in the relationships are involved in a formal marriage or not. Generally, the majority of married couples in North American society are also monogamous, but other relationship styles are being practiced. The presenter reviewed the various social, personal and legal factors that affect polyamorous relationships. She also reviewed some of the law concerning polyamorous relationships, and discussed the governments case against polygyny in Bountiful, BC. She contrasted the questionable ethics of forced and under-age polygynous marriages, such as are allegedly practiced by the FLDS community in Bountiful, and the kind of ethical polyamoury that is practiced between consenting adults. There are however, serious legal issues that impact people who choose a polyamorous style of relationship. In Canada, it is illegal for three or more persons to share their lives together in a “conjugal” style relationship, that is, a relationship that appears to have all the functions of a spousal or marriage relationship. Such a relationship is illegal under federal law and can be prosecuted as such without requiring evidence that the persons involved are sexually intimate with each other. The presenter made it clear that she was not presenting polyamoury from the perspective of a religious community or cult, nor was it necessarily part of the ‘kink’ community. She also cautioned that adults who choose to engage in polyamorous relationships should be careful about disclosing the nature of their relationships to employers and the community at large. Meanwhile, various advocacy groups work to secure the right of consenting adults to engage in non-monogamous relationships without sanction of law.

The second workshop on March 22, presented by Karen Pearlston, Prof. of Law at UNB, focused on same-sex marriage and divorce. Entitled “Adultery and other Impositions: the Seamy Side of Same-Sex Marriage,” Karen gave a brief history of marriage and divorce law as it evolved from church law, how it was encoded in both common law and Canadian marriage statues, and how it came to include same-sex marriage. She discussed how the courts in the US and Canada have grappled with the various kinds of sexual acts between two men or two women that might constitute adultery. She discussed heterosexual divorce cases that involved allegations of adultery by one spouse with a same-sex lover. The two most recent cases happened in British Columbia and New Brunswick. The case in New Brunswick involved a wife who had an extra-marital relationship with another woman. More broadly, Karen discussed the ways in which divorce law punished women’s sexual freedom (aka, adultery) more severely, while its approach to male infidelity was more lenient. She placed this in the context of the history of marriage ,which has generally contributed to the social oppression of women while it rewards men legally and financially. She also discussed the ways in which marriage imposes a heterosexual standard on gay relationships that can suppress the cultural and sexual freedom that gay people have fought to achieve. It can impose a standard of monogamy and rigidity in marriage that some gay people, as well as some straight people, find oppressive.

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