Big Love and polygamy in Canada

By David Waters As “Big Love“, HBO’s fictional paean to plural marriage, begins its fifth and final season, polygamy is … Continued

By David Waters

As “Big Love“, HBO’s fictional paean to plural marriage, begins its fifth and final season, polygamy is on trial in Canada.

“When a man is limited to only one wife, some women will have the choice of marrying a worldly, carnal man or remaining unwed,” explained a polygamist and witness for the defense. “If men were eternally limited to only one wife each, some women would never have the opportunity for exaltation.”

No, that’s not the testimony of Bill Hendrickson or Roman Grant, Big Love’s dueling fictional polygamists. That’s a quote from W. John Walsh, a real life polygamist who testified last week before the British Columbia Supreme Court in Canada.

That province’s high court has been asked to determine whether Canada’s anti-polygamy laws are unconstitutional. The issue was referred to the court late last year, after polygamy charges against two male leaders of a fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful, B.C., were stayed.

Polygamist sect leaders claim the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows them to practice their religion, which encourages plural marriage. They also note that a 2006 study commissioned by the Canadian government recommended legalizing polygamy to help women and children living in plural relationships.

“Consenting adults have the right – the Charter-protected right — to form the families that they want to form,” British Columbia Civil Liberties Association lawyer Monique Pongracic-Speier told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Testimony in the hearing resumes today. The hearing is expected to end later this month, but any ruling likely will be appealed.

Meanwhile, back in the unreal world, Bill Hendrickson and his three desperate housewives continue to make their case for plural marriage in the Mormon-saturated suburbs of Salt Lake City.

“Big Love” has been hailed by some as a cultural landmark, by others as a sign of the Apocalypse.

Neither seems to be the case.

“Politically the series has always sought to challenge the perceived liberalism of its audience, testing how far viewers could really go in their alleged acceptance of non-traditional relationships,” TV critic Ginia Bellafonte notes in The New York Times.

“The final season suggests that by the time we get to plural marriage, we ought to have already stopped.”

Rather than being an endorsement of polygamy, Bellafonte writes, the show “examines more acutely than ever before the psychic price women pay when their drive, intelligence and energy are arrogated to male ambition.”

I’d watch “Big Love”, but I don’t have HBO and I’m married to a woman who says I can watch any show about “sister wives” as soon as she can watch one about “brother husbands.”

Not even HBO would dare explore, or exploit, that cultural taboo.

Has “Big Love” made you more or less sympathetic to polygamists? Does religious liberty apply to those who make a faith-based case for plural marriage?


  • WmarkW

    After same-sex, the next marriage frontier is “same-spouse.”

  • wcushman

    I guess David Waters did not see “Paint Your Wagon” with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin.

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