Wednesday, June 8, 2011

An Essayist Asks Whether a Liberal Society Should Tolerate Polygamy

Elizabeth Abbott, a senior research associate at Trinity College, University of Toronto, asks several thoughtful questions about polygamy in her piece published on 7th June in the Vancouver Sun.  She writes:

When the British Columbia government's polygamy reference case opened at the province's Supreme Court of Canada on Nov. 22, 2010, a stream of participants and witnesses, including representatives from the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, REAL Women of Canada, the Christian Legal Fellowship, and academic experts, testified about the many harms associated with polygamy. Carolyn Jessop, who fled a Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FDLS) community in Utah with her eight children in the middle of the night, summed it up well: "Polygamy is not pretty to look at. It is nice that it is tucked away in a dark corner where nobody has to see its realities, because it's creepy."

But George Macintosh, the amicus curiae appointed to present the opposing argument, came out swinging. He characterized Section 293 of Canada's Criminal Code, which bans polygamy, as an overly broad and grossly disproportionate law rooted in Christian prejudices, a law demeaning to polygamists. Women in polygamous marriages anonymously testified that they were happy, that they'd made the right decision. According to the CBC, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association argued that "consenting adults have the right -the Charter protected right-to form the families that they want to form." And the Canadian Association for Free Expression maintained that the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005 strengthened the individual's right to enter a polygamous marriage.

The rights argument carries considerable weight in a liberal society. But rights can't be separated from the culture in which they arise. They are inextricably linked to institutions that form the backbone of a society; and in every society throughout history, the fundamental organizing institution has always been marriage.

1 comment:

  1. Elizabeth Abbott infers that conjugal rights and obligations in a form of marriage ( civil and common law I gather) should exist between two only persons at the same time. She says it is the backbone of our nation. How does this square with the Attorney General of Saskatchewan's statements that state authorization for and legally binding provincial family law recognition of multiple same time conjugal rights and obligations is merely recognizing "relationship overlap". Consent of individuals not required either. And that since all Saskatchewan residents are capable in law of having more than one simultaneous spouse, this does not infringe upon any persons charter rights in that province?