Dissolving marriage

In mid-January, Canada was rocked by news that a Justice Department study had called for the decriminalization and regulation of polygamy. Actually, two government studies recommended decriminalizing polygamy. (Only one has been reported on.) And even that is only part of the story. Canadians are being played for a bunch of fools by a legal-politic elite.

Language Lesson

Let’s try a little test. Translate the following phrases into English:

1) Canada needs to move ‘beyond conjugality.’

2) Canada needs to ‘reconsider the continuing legal privileging of marriage and other conjugal relationships.’

3) Once gay marriage is legalized, Canada will be able to ‘consider whether the legal privileges and burdens now assigned to marriage and other conjugal relationships can be justified.’

4) Canada needs to question ‘whether conjugality is an appropriate marker for determining legal rights and obligations.’

Answers on page 21

This argument was very publicly made to Canadians in 2001, when the Law Commission of Canada published its report, Beyond Conjugality. But nobody got it. Everyone noticed that a government commission had backed same-sex marriage. But few recognized, grasped, or could bring themselves to take seriously, the central thrust of Beyond Conjugality: that after the legalization of same-sex marriage, Canadian marriage itself ought to be abolished.

Martha Bailey, Queens University law professor and chief author of the now infamous report advocating the decriminalization of polygamy, played an important organizing role in the Beyond Conjugality project. In 2004, Bailey published an article, Regulation of Cohabitation and Marriage in Canada arguing that, after the legalization of same-sex marriage, Canadians would be able to turn their attention to the more urgent business of abolishing marriage itself. (That article is the source of items #2, #3, and #4 above.) So it is hardly surprising that Bailey has now called for the decriminalization of polygamy. What’s that you say? How does legalizing polygamous marriage advance the cause of abolishing marriage?

The Plan

It’s like this. The way to abolish marriage, without seeming to abolish it, is to redefine the institution out of existence. If everything can be marriage, pretty soon nothing will be marriage. Legalize gay marriage, followed by multi-partner marriage, and pretty soon the whole idea of marriage will be meaningless. At that point, Canada can move to what Bailey and her friends really want: an infinitely flexible relationship system that validates any conceivable family arrangement, regardless of the number or gender of partners.

The Canadian public cannot bring itself to believe that the abolition of marriage is the real agenda of the country’s liberal legal-political elite. This is why everyone was surprised by Bailey’s polygamy report, even though the judicial elite’s intentions had been public for five years. (Granted, these intentions were telegraphed in a semi-incomprehensible intellectual gibberish, with the really scary stuff hidden in footnotes.)

If it were merely a matter of a few thousand so-called ‘Mormon fundamentalists,’ legalized polygamy would not stand a chance in Canada. Even the addition of Canada’s rapidly growing Muslim immigrant population would not create a winning pro-polygamy coalition (although pressure from Canada’s Muslims does matter). It is the many and powerful legal elites (including judges) – the ones who see marriage itself as an outdated and oppressive patriarchal institution – who make decriminalizing polygamy something to worry about.

A powerful coalition

Canada’s liberal courts have already knocked down most of the legal distinctions between marriage and unmarried cohabitation. ‘The legal significance of marital status has declined substantially in Canada,’ says Bailey, so why make a fuss about polygamy?

Actually, Bailey’s report is only one of four separate polygamy studies sponsored by Canada’s Justice Department, two of which advocate decriminalization. The third study’s arguments apply to traditional ‘patriarchal’ polygamy alone, and would carry little or no weight against modern ‘polyamorous’ unions. Only one of the four government-sponsored polygamy reports offered arguments that might invalidate modern forms of multi-partner unions. Yet this fourth study omits key arguments against multi-partner unions, and would clearly have a difficult time overcoming the case made by the two pro-decriminalization studies.

In other words, to the extent that it is up to the sort of judges and legal experts favoured by Canada’s long-reigning Liberal party, long-term prospects for some sort of legalized multi-partner unions in Canada are pretty decent. To be sure, Canada’s Conservatives now have a (tenuous) hold on power, and the Canadian public did not react well to the Bailey report. Yet Canada’s left-leaning legal-political elite is a patient lot. In 2003, a survey conducted by Canada’s Vanier Institute found that 20% of Canadians (25% of younger adults, and 33% of secularists) were willing to accept some form of polygamy, even if only 4% of Canadians personally approved of such unions.

Given time, growing public tolerance, increased pressure from Muslim immigrants, incremental court decisions, continued growth in Canada’s already burgeoning polyamory movement, and the return of a Liberal government, Martha Bailey and friends may yet achieve their goal.

Ultimate goal

Though the language of the current report is ambiguous, what Bailey is up to is clear enough when she carefully describes a 1998 report by the British Columbia Law Institute in which a ‘significant minority’ of members favoured a ‘multiple domestic partnership’ system detached from the patriarchal ‘baggage’ of traditional polygamy. This is exactly what Bailey is hoping to establish. Yet she brackets the proposal by saying that at the moment there is ‘no demand’ for such a system.

Not so, recent press reports have begun to indicate that polyamory ‘seems increasingly common’ in Canada. And as organized polyamory groups proliferate, there has already been discussion ‘about creating a system of legal contracts around issues such as child custody and family rights.’

Since polyamory is free of the ‘patriarchal baggage’ attached to traditional polygamy, most of the arguments against multi-partner unions in the four just-released polygamy reports would not apply. Of course there are arguments against polyamory, it is just that liberal law professors do not know how to make them. In any case, Bailey is shrewd enough to see that, if she can only get Canada to set aside its laws against polygamy, the goal of supplementing (and eventually replacing) marriage with a modern domestic partnership system (allowing any combination of number or gender) would be achievable.

I have focused on Bailey, while touching only lightly on the three other polygamy reports. Yet taken together, these four extraordinary documents launch a serious public debate about polygamy. The four Canadian polygamy studies are a time-capsule from the future, a preview of arguments we’ll be having wherever same sex marriage is fully established. Once we’re there, we’ll be well on our way toward ‘removing conjugality as a marker for determining legal rights and obligations.’ Translation? By now I think you get it…

James Seagrove



Reindeer antlers are not normally a factor in air safety, but a salutary lesson was learnt by the passengers (including myself) on the lunchtime Christmas Day flight last year from Melbourne to Brisbane.

Phil, the effervescent member of the cabin crew who had greeted us at the door wearing the said antlers, along with a host of Santa-hatted colleagues, forgot all about his heady attire when it came to the safety demonstration.

And so it was that customers on that Qantas flight were not only encouraged to don their own life-vest first before taking care of the safety of any children present, but also to ensure that the vest would not become embroiled in their own antlers. The result could so easily have been, like Phil, to tumble rump over red nose on the floor.

Growing complacency

Phil’s problem, like that of the Church, was that he had become all too familiar with what was there and felt that it was the norm rather than an abnormal attachment. We have become so used to many of the changes (sometimes seemingly minor) in the Church, that the very starting place of normality has ended up shifting like some continental plate.

Part of the difficulty with regards to the clergy, was a complacency with the outward signs of Catholicity in the Church, without enough concern at the underlying message. Before 1992 a worrying number of priests in the UK would applaud a small country parish church which had liturgical colours, reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and kept the Marian feasts. However, they were often not quite so quick to criticize the revisionist teaching that was going on at the same time in the pulpit and parish magazine.

The Australian situation has at times been parallel, but a greater danger here has been what Bishop Lindsay Urwin described on a visit to Australia a few years ago as ‘the catholicizing of the church down to the sanctuary rail.’

There has been some extraordinarily good teaching of the laity in Australia, but more often than not one finds parish after parish where the tradition and ritual are a foreign world to those on the other side of the rail. If (and so often when) it disappears, it goes unnoticed because it was not understood to begin with and will not be missed. And yet, at the same time there is here a laity who are hungry and eager to learn and are open to embarking upon the Catholic journey.

So it is that the revisionists have been able, as in the Wangaratta instance, to use the laity to their own advantage. The present ludicrous legislation which has legislated for three cities in the Wangaratta Diocese to embark on the full liberal agenda (and yet which does not secure a guaranteed future for the orthodox) is already now under attack by the liberals as being too restrictive!

Any future provision for the traditionalists is being described by one priest in the diocese as allowing ‘a sort of conservative ghetto,’ and exposing the diocese to ‘ridicule and outrage’ because the ultimate say is not in the hands of the laity.

The situation the diocese is now in has been exacerbated by a manipulation of laity, who have often not been taught the fundamentals of the situation and have had little leadership on the ordination issue from the top down. It has treated the theology of ministry in a similar way as the catholicizing of the sanctuary down to the rail. And the revisionists have used this to their own advantage (and why shouldn’t they have, after all?)

It is a long and difficult journey for the clergy to regain so much lost ground. Some would say it is impossible. It certainly means being clear, generous and yet uncompromising in their teaching. Allowing some things to be optional cannot be an answer.

There is a story making the rounds at the moment that one of the Anglo-Catholic cathedrals in Australia has allowed a clause to be written into the contract of a new sub-organist. It is said that it allows him not to play at Benediction owing to his theological objections. One would hope that this story is apocryphal. Sadly I cannot say that it is. Now is a time for an uncompromising and missionary Catholicism, not a pick-and-mix one that merely gives comfort and solace to the priest at the altar.

The antler the Australian Anglican Church is currently wearing, is one which does not fit well, and makes the church look ludicrous as it welcomes new-comers. However, all too many people have become used to it. And if newcomers think it is normal, how can we shed them with any ease? And remember, here in Australia, there isn’t even a life jacket for us to put over the antler.

Philip Murphy


An Episcopal exemplar?

Even when one considers the source, the resoundingly liberal Episcopal Diocese of California, it was hard to believe. But there it was, staring back at us from the jurisdiction’s website. The diocese, which is preparing to elect a successor to Bishop William Swing, had held up as a model ‘shepherd’ a deceased prelate whose ministry was marred by sexual misconduct with a teenager.

One does not wish to speak ill of the dead, but the fact remained that, in an addendum to a section on its website titled ‘Seeking a Shepherd: Finding Our Bishop in the 21st Century,’ the diocese cited three episcopal exemplars, each from a different minority ethnic group, among them the late Bishop of Navajoland, Steven T. Plummer. A married man, Plummer was reported in 1993 to have admitted to sexual activity with a male minor over a period of some two years, ending around 1989.

What is more, the diocese’s biography of Plummer did not mention the sexual misconduct. Rather, it hailed the Native American as having led the Navajoland Area Mission (created from parts of the Arizona, Utah and Rio Grande dioceses) ‘on a path toward greater incorporation of Navajo traditions into Episcopal Church worship.’ Navajoland’s bishop from 1990–2005 – he died last year – Plummer ‘strived constantly to encourage development of indigenous leadership among the Navajo and a more self-reliant Navajo Episcopal church.’

Diocesan oversight

The California diocese recently decided to formalize Bishop Swing’s ‘longstanding practice permitting the blessing of same-gender unions’ by asking two diocesan panels to prepare a rite or rites to bless such unions. (So much for the Windsor recommendations.) Still, we wondered, could the plaudits for Plummer really signal what they seemed to about how far the revisionist diocese was willing to go?

Voraciously curious at this point, we contacted Sean McConnell of the Diocese of California’s Department of Communications to ask why Plummer was not unfortunately but necessarily disqualified from serving as an inspirational bishop, and why mention of his sexual misconduct was omitted in the diocese’s story of his ministry.

Remarkably, Mr McConnell replied that neither he nor those responsible for selecting the three model bishops were aware of Plummer’s impropriety ‘until you brought it to our attention,’ even though he said he had met the bishop on several occasions and the prelate was known to other diocesan staff. ‘That is the reason why there was no mention of the misconduct in Plummer’s biography, which has now been removed from the curriculum in question. We take all instances of sexual misconduct very seriously in the Diocese of California, and we thank you for bringing this oversight to our attention,’ he told us.

But why, we wondered, had not Bishop Swing prevented this diocesan ‘oversight’? As leader of the California diocese since 1980, he would have been among bishops to deal directly with this matter (the Navajoland Mission is overseen by the House of Bishops), which was also reported to the whole church.

‘Bishop Swing did not create or review the materials in question,’ nor was he aware of the citation of Bishop Plummer on the website, McConnell said. ‘I must take full responsibility for the oversight.’ He said Swing was informed about the matter and approved of steps taken to rectify it.

If the problem here was really lack of awareness, though, it is likely due to the Episcopal Church’s handling of the Plummer case. Simply put: how could people not notice the fact that a bishop was removed for sexual misconduct? The answer is that he wasn’t.

While ECUSA generally forces out bishops charged with heterosexual adultery, it handled this case – or at least then-Episcopal Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning did – by sending Plummer away for a year to continue therapy, and then returning him to service as bishop, based on his counselor’s opinions that he was unlikely to repeat his former behaviour. The victim in the case was no longer a minor and ‘unwilling to pursue this any further,’ Browning said in 1993.

At the time in 1994 that Plummer was reinstated, reports indicated that the members and Council of Navajoland were divided on the bishop’s return. That there was some opposition was understandable; as we have seen more recently, many did not consider the slate wiped clean when Roman Catholic clergy who molested young people underwent treatment and were returned to ministerial service. Still, Plummer gained the support of Browning and the Episcopal House of Bishops to continue leading the Mission.

Coming election

Have we come to the end of this story? Yes, and (possibly) no. It appeared at this writing that the Diocese of California could be poised to offer up another controversial – and this time living – ‘model’ when it elects a successor to Bishop Swing (inter alia the founder of the United Religions Initiative). Since the election is set for May 6, whoever the diocese chooses will bypass the normal diocese-by-diocese consent process, and instead be up for approval or disapproval by June’s Episcopal General Convention.

Unofficial sources in the diocese claim that those responsible for choosing nominees for bishop are currently trying to select a final group of four or five candidates from a list of around nine possibles, three or four of whom are said to be open homosexuals, one of them a lesbian. If one of those candidates were to end up among the final nominees and be elected by the diocese, and then be approved by General Convention, would-be liberal obfuscators would be stymied.

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and his liberal colleagues would not have to worry about fudging a response to Anglican primates who want to know if ECUSA will observe moratoria on the consecration and blessing of those in same-sex unions. The General Convention will have given the clearest possible answer on the matter.

Ms Auburn Faber Traycik is the editor of the US-based orthodox publication, ‘The Christian Challenge.’