Beyond Beyond Conjugality

(2017) 30(2) Canadian Journal of Family Law 227-263

38 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2018

See all articles by Brenda Cossman

Brenda Cossman

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Bruce Ryder

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School

Date Written: 2017


In 2001, the Law Commission of Canada released its report Beyond Conjugality: Recognizing and Supporting Close Adult Relationships. The Report questioned whether marriage and conjugality should have any relevance as legal categories, and considered whether the state should get out of the business of regulating marriage altogether. The Report advocated a systematic rethinking of the way in which close adult relationships are regulated and recognized. In particular, it argued that conjugality - long used as the criteria for recognizing and regulating relationships - is ill-suited to achieving governmental policy objectives. The Beyond Conjugality report has been extensively debated and cited in the past fifteen years. Even though it is too early, from the Law Commission’s long-term perspective, to come up with a final assessment of the success of the Beyond Conjugality report, our paper assesses its impact on scholarly and political debates thus far. We consider whether the assumptions and methodology underlying the report remain valuable. By stopping short of recommending that the state cease to regulate marriage altogether, and by not recommending the repeal of conjugal offences such as polygamy, did the report not go far enough? With the benefits of hindsight, would we write the Report differently now? To what extent did the recognition of same sex marriage in Canada in 2005 limit further reconsideration of adult personal relationships? Is the model of conjugality that the Report criticized more entrenched today? Is there a way that we would write the report differently today that would give further political and legal resonance to alternatives to conjugality? Specifically, how might we have better looked beyond the dyadic couple to consider multiple party relationships as well?

Keywords: conjugality, marriage, family, poly relationships

JEL Classification: K14, K36, Z18

Suggested Citation

Cossman, Brenda and Ryder, Bruce, Beyond Beyond Conjugality (2017). (2017) 30(2) Canadian Journal of Family Law 227-263. Available at SSRN:

Brenda Cossman

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
416-978-6658 (Phone)

Bruce Ryder (Contact Author)

York University - Osgoode Hall Law School ( email )

4700 Keele Street
Toronto, Ontario M3J 1P3

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