Canada ponders polygamy

MercatorNet (Margaret Somerville) 20 August 2007
Now that same-sex marriage has been legalised, it seems inconsistent to prosecute Canada’s polygamists.
Currently, in Canada, polygamy is in the news. The Canadian Criminal Code prohibits polygamy, but it is being practiced in some communities and the question is whether the people involved should be prosecuted. Recently, the Globe and Mail, one of Canada’s nationally distributed newspapers, published an editorial entitled “No to polygamy”. It’s relevant that the Globe was a major voice in support of same-sex marriage in the public debate that culminated in its legal recognition in Canada. The core argument in the editorial reads as follows:
“In no way has gay marriage lent legitimacy to polygamy. Gay marriage was legalised by the courts in part because it so resembled heterosexual marriage; for instance, it has two people. The courts endorsed gay marriage only after a large cultural shift had occurred in the arts, in the workplace and in neighbourhoods& No such groundswell has occurred in the case of polygamy… It would be very odd if the Charter were read to require Canadians to give up their defence of core values; the document is supposed to encapsulate the country’s core values.”
Are the Globe editorialists correct that gay marriage hasn’t lent legitimacy to polygamy? Does gay marriage, as claimed, resemble monogamous heterosexual marriage more than polygamy does? Is the “two people” union the distinguishing and most important characteristic of marriage? Does a cultural shift to recognise the wrongs of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation translate to approval of same-sex marriage? If so, why wouldn’t recognising the wrongs of breach of freedom of religion do the same for polygamy? If, as same-sex marriage proponents successfully argued, marriage is simply a social construct not based on any core biological reality, and if what constitutes a family is just a matter of adults’ personal preferences, why should polygamy be excluded as an option?

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