Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 17, 2007
Polygamy oozed onto public square
Once scorned, Turcotte's comments may prove prophetic
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
"Same-sex marriage opens up the possibility of polygamy."
- Margaret Somerville
Prendergast is not surprised at the looming polygamy debate. He looks back to Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae (On Human Life).
"In 1968, Paul VI said if you separate sexual communion from procreation you are opening yourself to a whole series of ills," Prendergast said in a recent interview. "If you read that text, what he foretold would take place is taking place."
"We should not be surprised at the cheapening of life, the cheapening of life in the womb," he said, noting the same thing is happening with marriage.
Though people tell Prendergast changing the definition of marriage "hasn't caused any great effects," his response is: "Well, give it time."
Last month both Canada's national newspapers published anti-polygamy editorials and op-ed pieces as the polygamous Bountiful community in British Columbia made headlines.
People have been practising polygamy in Bountiful for 60 years, but the province has been unwilling to prosecute offenders because Crown attorneys believe convictions are unlikely.
As the Bountiful controversy grows, the government of British Columbia is considering referring Canada's anti-polygamy law to the B.C. Court of Appeal. Special Prosecutor Richard Peck recommended doing so in early August after reviewing previous Crown decisions not to lay charges.
The Bountiful group practises polygamy based on its breakaway version of Mormonism. Other religions, such as Islam, also allow a man to take more than one wife.
A court reference could settle constitutional concerns about religious freedom. The federal government would be expected to intervene, and if the law is struck down, the issue could then go to the Supreme Court of Canada.
B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal told journalists Aug. 1 he believes the courts would uphold the anti-polygamy law because of the "substantial body of scholarship supporting the position that polygamy is socially harmful."
Those who fought against same-sex marriage also contended there was a substantial body of research showing children raised by their married biological parents had the best outcomes in every area measured. Those arguments didn't stop Parliament from legalizing same-sex civil marriage in 2005.
Somerville and others have argued politicians did not adequately consider the rights of children. That's one of Prendergast's concerns, not only for same-sex marriage but also for polygamy.
"The Church does not believe that polygamy is the best way for people to be in communion in a marriage," Prendergast said. "The ideal is the biblical one: one man and one woman."
"The Church would say we don't think this is according to nature or according to revelation," he said. "The Church in many respects is interpreting human nature, I think correctly."
During the same-sex marriage debate, the Catholic bishops, other religious groups, and a range of academics warned of the consequences of separating procreation from the definition of marriage.
One of those academics, Margaret Somerville of McGill University, wrote in the Globe and Mail Aug. 11 that same-sex marriage did "lend legitimacy" to arguments for polygamy.
"Same-sex marriage opens up the possibility of polygamy because it detaches marriage from the biological reality of the basic procreative relationship between one man and one woman and that means there is no longer any inherent reason to limit it to two people whether of the same or opposite sex," she wrote.
"Once that biological reality is removed as the central, essential feature and 'limiting device,' marriage can become whatever we choose to define it as."
Though most opinion remains negative, Globe columnist Norman Spector, former chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, wrote in an Aug. 13 column, he found it "difficult to think of a single reason" why government should prevent voluntary plural marriage.
"Let's be frank: A good part of the anti-same-sex marriage movement consisted of Canadians who, because of their religious beliefs, are disgusted by gay and lesbian sex," Spector argued. "Similarly, much of the anti-polygamy lobby is fuelled by feminists who, because of their ideology, find polygamy repugnant."
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