The federal government is standing by its position relative to the prosecution of the 7th Day Adventist group leader in Bountiful, B.C. that it is constitutionally illegal. Most legal experts think otherwise because of the freedom of religion rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the failure of the government to stand up for marriage as a contract between a man and a woman when faced with the issue over gay marriages.
The consequences of the decriminalization of polygamy are severe when such a high proportion of immigrants to Canada are from Muslim countries where polygamy is legal. It raises all sorts of issues unaddressed at the moment under our laws regarding property rights and custody rights. Of course, Islamic law has this all sorted out, so the pressure will come to enshrine the Sharia law as a simple way of dealing with it. Our politicians love simple solutions to complex problems.
The general experience of women and children in polygamous relationships has tended not to enhance their equality and rights; it tends in the opposite direction, with male dominance. Our societal values make women and men equal and grant rights to children.
Some commentators argue that because the government permitted the legal definition of marriage to slide with respect to homosexuals there is no good reason to object to it with regard to polygamists who claim it as a religious right.
I think these are different arguments.
We have known for some time that a small percentage of the population is homosexual, not because of some moral choice, but because of genes, genetics, biology, or simply an outcome of nature. So the issue facing society was whether to recognize the social relationships of these people that were based on their biologically determined nature.
We long ago gave up on laws restricting the rights of consenting adults to all sorts of sexual behaviour, including homosexuality. So if sexual relations between consenting adults of the same sex is not illegal, why would marriage be so? There simply was not a good enough argument against it.
Biology doesn’t dictate polygamy. The only excuse for it is religion. It is a matter of choice, and like many things in religion the question of compulsion arises. The Koran does not say that a man must have multiple marriages; it only says he can if he can take care of all the women properly.
These 7th Day Adventists may mount a different argument about compulsion, but they face the problem that the parent church turned its back on the religious compulsion for polygamy decades ago.
If you are a fan of the HBO series, Big Love, you will know in this last season that the ex-church Hendricksons tussled for a few episodes over an alleged letter that showed the church had not really abandoned polygamy. This was proof to the family that they really were on the right path to salvation.
On the matter of whether religion should rule the day, I would have to bow to a statement made by a person I would never have guessed would offer such a principle, Dr. Charles McVety, of the Institute for Family Values, an evangelical fundamentalist Christian.
“As Dr. McVety said, when he explained why religious practice should not be allowed to trump fundamental human rights: “If the government can’t protect women and children, then what good is the government?”