Peter Murphy

Peter Murphy

December 5, 2011
DEBORAH GYAPONG
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS

OTTAWA – Pro-family groups have welcomed a Nov. 23 British Columbia Supreme Court decision that upholds Canada’s anti-polygamy law.

“In my view, the salutary effects of the prohibition far outweigh the deleterious,” Chief Justice Robert Bauman wrote in his 335-page decision.

“The law seeks to advance the institution of monogamous marriage, a fundamental value in Western society from the earliest of times. It seeks to protect against the many harms which are reasonably apprehended to arise out of the practice of polygamy.”

Peter Murphy, assistant director of the Catholic Organization for Life and Family, said the decision “sends a very clear message that our relationships are not exclusively personal and private.

“They have implications for those with whom we live and for society in general, so for that reason we’re very pleased with the decision.”

The province of B.C. had asked the court whether the anti-polygamy law was constitutional after charges against a fundamentalist Mormon sect were dropped, based on concerns they would not stand up to a Charter religious freedom test.

In the B.C. reference, the attorneys general of B.C. and Canada, as well as pro-family interveners, argued the law is necessary because of the harms to society, especially women and children, through polygamous marriage.

Bauman wrote that the attorneys general have “demonstrated ‘concrete evidence’ of harm” resulting from polygyny.

Such negative impacts include poverty and the generation of “a class of largely poor, unmarried men who are statistically predisposed to violence and other anti-social behaviour,” he wrote. “Polygamy also institutionalizes gender inequality.

CIVIL LIBERTIES AT RISK

“Patriarchal hierarchy and authoritarian control are common features of polygamous communities. Individuals in polygynous societies tend to have fewer civil liberties than their counterparts in societies which prohibit the practice.”

Bauman also cited evidence the harms of polygamy are not only “endemic” but also “inherent.”

“This conclusion is critical because it supports the view that the harms found in polygynous societies are not simply the product of individual misconduct; they arise inevitably out of the practice.”

REAL Women of Canada, an intervener in the case, said in a Nov. 23 news release that polygamy is “contrary to fundamental Canadian values.”

“It reduces women to be chattels rather than equal partners, and is harmful to children, depriving them of the immediacy and intimacy of a father,” said Gwendolyn Landolt, REAL Women’s national vice president.

If polygamy was allowed, it “would open the floodgates of immigration to polygamist families at significant social and economic costs, which will eventually destabilize Canadian society,” she warned.

“Research shows that two-parent, male-female marriage is the strongest family form we know particularly for the raising of children,” said Dave Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and Family.

The chief justice noted in his decision that many of the same harms could arise in situations of multiple husbands (polyandry) or polygamous same-sex relationships. Those harms include those to children whose parents’ attention is divided or lower because of less genetic-relatedness, he said.