A Canadian court is hearing a case on whether or not to strike down the country’s laws against polygamy.
The case has created some strange political bedfellows: Mormons, Muslims and modern polyamorists are weighing in on the side of legalizing plural marriage.
On the opposite side stand some unusual opponents, including a small anthropology school in British Columbia. In a long brief filed with the court, one of their scholars argues that monogamous marriage benefits not only women, but children and men. In fact, he goes so far as to argue that it’s essential to a free and just society.
The basic argument is that in a society that allows men to have more than one wife, a “free market in women” emerges. Men spend all their time, money and energy competing with each other to get more and more wives.
Men who can’t get any wife are more likely to turn to lives of crime. Men who get wives just want more, and treat the ones they have badly. Pretty soon, society as we know it collapses.
I’m having trouble taking this argument very seriously. We already have a society that allows people to choose not to marry, marry and divorce repeatedly, and live in any arrangement they choose. And we don’t seem to be heading headlong into widespread social collapse, no matter what the pundits on the far right think.
What do you think? Is monogamy essential to a successful society, or just one way of doing things?