Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mormon Welfare Queens

Seems that a Mormon sect is seeking to have the provision against polygamy in the Canadian criminal code ruled unconstitutional. One of their arguments is that, if plural marriages were recognized in Canada, wives and children would be eligible for greater welfare benefits.

Seriously. In affidavits presented to a judge who is hearing their petition right now, a witness identified publicly as No. 2

... complains that Revenue Canada has cut back child-tax benefits to some plural wives. It says they are living common-law and must claim the income of the father of their child, regardless of whether others are already claiming it.

"This has been a real hardship," she says.

... Witness No. 2 complains that the breakaway Mormons "have an extremely hard time helping women immigrate when they marry as a plural spouse as it is very hard to get medical insurance."

She complains that education is too expensive and "the kind of jobs we can get working with our own people are mostly not high-paying jobs as we live in a small rural community." ...

So, if polygamy is legalized, she wants money for education programs for polygamous women "tailored to our needs."

As Daphne Bramham observes drily in the Montreal Gazette, "In the doctrine of these [Mormon] groups - unlike in the Quran - there is no requirement that men must be financially able to support all of their wives and children."

This is pretty funny -- Mormon welfare queens. (Where is Ronald Reagan when we actually need him?) But it's not really our main point.

Bramham attempts, rather weakly, to make a case that changing the Canadian code would open the door to "a theocracy within our secular, liberal democracy." Weakly made or not, she may be onto something -- at a certain point, a society willing to tolerate any and all religious practices is likely to find itself permitting civil cases to be judged by sharia, or canon law, or some other unvoted-upon laws beloved of a religious minority.

But it seems to us that she's mssing the bigger point, and one which ought to give many Egg readers a moment of reflection. Like it or not, and most of us don't, polygamy is coming. It is pretty evident that, within a few years, much of Western society will permit same-sex unions which are marriage in all but (and often even including) the name. Heck, we already let rich people leave their fortunes to the puppy dog. Frankly, polygamy and polyandry are customs far better attested in history, and more widely practiced worldwide, than either of these.

It will start on the legal margins, and move toward the center. Soon, polygamy will be the new sweat lodge or peyote, adopted by spiritual-but-not-religious Boomer poseurs, looking as always for a hedonistic kick under the guise of an ancient tradition. In the end, it will be as unremarkable as, well, leaving your billions to Fido and Rover.

Here's the rub, and one that gives us at the Egg considerable pause. The eventual legal recognition of plural marriage will be a boon to religious communities who don't care much for "secular, liberal democracy" -- the extremist Mormon and Muslim fringes, and any number of authentic tribal peoples and their wannabees. And yet it will be the fault -- or rather, the logical and inevitable product -- of just that secular, liberal democracy.

Once we commit ourselves as a society to a course of development which is truly secular and liberal -- in which the rights of the individual are paramount, and religious principles are to be respected under law but not to shape the law -- it is only a matter of time until the shape of the society becomes one that its founders, in their age, could not have anticipated. And of course, we in the US committed ourselves to such a course long ago, as did the French, and as by now has much of the West.

Frankly, the severe social pressure applied to the early generations of Mormons has always puzzled us. It has always seemed like a betrayal of the First Amendment. (And we say that, mind you, with precious little affection for Joseph Smith).

This is hard for us at the Egg. Our churchmanship may be quaintly conservative -- neomedieval, really -- but our citizenship is solidly secular and liberal. We believe firmly in the principles upon which our nation was founded, and which most of its best allies now share. And it seems to us that there is a conflict here, which cannot comfortably be resolved.

These are the sort of moral conundrums, we imagine, that do not trouble the theocons. Their lives are made simpler by the conviction that civil laws are and should be reflections either of the religious teachings which prevail in a society or, more delicately, a supposed universal moral law which just happens to match in outline or even detail the ethical teachings of their own faith community. Even when "liberal," in the sense we are using it today, they aren't secular.

But our nation is. And, more and more in the years to come, we will all need to think about what that means.

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