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Children walk outside Winston Blackmore's home in the polygamous community of Bountiful near Creston, B.C. Sunday, Feb 27, 2011. Hayward (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Jonathan Hayward)
Children walk outside Winston Blackmore's home in the polygamous community of Bountiful near Creston, B.C. Sunday, Feb 27, 2011. Hayward (Jonathan Hayward/THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Jonathan Hayward)

Globe Editorial

Polygamy is incompatible with Canada's democracy Add to ...

Polygamy is an institution that is incompatible with a free and democratic society such as Canada's. The Supreme Court of British Columbia should conclude that the anti-polygamy section of the Criminal Code - with some fine-tuning - is consistent with the Charter of Rights of Freedoms.

The B.C. government's reference question to the court may not be final; the provincial Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada may well have to deal with the case in their turn. But all these courts should uphold an egalitarian institution against a deeply anti-egalitarian one.

The evidence of human history is strong that polygamy - which in practice has overwhelmingly been polygyny, that is, the marriage of one man to many women - has been oppressive to women, all the way from the harems of the ancient kings of Persia to a contemporary sect in southeastern B.C. Moreover, polygyny also discriminated against men of less power and wealth. The greater prevalence of monogamy has gone hand in hand with the gradual rise of democracy.

The defenders of polygamy at the B.C. Supreme Court skillfully argued that comparisons with polygynous societies are irrelevant to the modern West, in which monogamy (whether permanent or serial) is widespread. But that is circular reasoning. In the longer term, legalized polygamy could well start to eat away at, and reverse, the progress of history.

They had a better point in arguing that the Code as now written may criminalize "open, honest and committed relationships" among several persons. Accordingly, the courts may fairly see fit to give the federal Parliament some months to narrow the section's overbroad wording, to make clear that the term "marriage" involves some kind of ceremony or contract, and, if it has to be terminated, some sort of legal procedure.

But the Charter of Rights and Freedoms can hardly be invoked to undermine one of Canadians' core values; its purpose was to express and protect those core values.

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