Canadian Journal of Family Law

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In 2011, the British Columbia Supreme Court (BCSC) held it was constitutional to criminalize polygamy, framing the issue as principally about harm. I argue the Reference re: Section 293 of the Criminal Code of Canada furthers a literature of social exclusion, reifying an oversimplified binary: polygamy is harmful, polyamory is moral. Using narrative theory, I explore how these mutually constituted opposites build off each other. Polygamist Mormons are often denied whiteness, seen as an unpatriotic and racialized Other. Mormon women are othered by their attire and, despite still falling under section 293, denied agency. In contrast, the court views polyamory as inherently ethical, citing the Polyamory Advocacy Association’s conceptual definition. The Reference did not create these stereotypes, but it had a rare judicial chance to counter them. Instead, its legal vagueness, especially in terms of the “sanctioning event,” further indicates the court’s prioritizing of stereotypes and retooling of anti-Mormon rhetoric.