Legalized Polygamy on our Doorstep: All the More Reason for a Royal Commission on the Family
By Mark Penninga (First published in Reformed Perspective Magazine, 2009)
Nearly hidden in the Creston Valley of South Eastern British Columbia is a Mormon community called Bountiful. For years it has been a well-known fact that polygamy is alive and well in Bountiful. The residents may have wanted privacy, but the media continually reported on the goings-on of this fundamentalist sect.
Finally, in January of this year, the RCMP charged Winston Blackmore and Jim Oler, two leaders in Bountiful, with practicing polygamy. After all, Section 293 of Canada’s Criminal Code clearly prohibits it. Why did it take so long to intervene? The BC Attorney General, Wally Oppal, knew very well that the law against polygamy may not hold up to a Charter challenge. According to an article from the Institute for Canadian Values, he stated “There’s been some suggestions that if two or more women want to marry a man, or vice versa, and they all do it by consent, what business does the state have intervening in that?”
The State on Polygamy
Apparently the Harper government does have some interest in intervening. Canwest News Services has obtained documents that reveal that the Department of Justice has been monitoring this issue for some time and plans to appeal to “Canadian values” to defend the current ban on polygamy.
But how much of a leg does the Department of Justice have to stand on? Which “Canadian values” in particular can be used to oppose polygamy? References have been made to the values of human dignity, equality, and the rule of law. But even a superficial examination of the past twenty years of Canadian law will reveal that concepts such as human dignity and equality are being used to legalize and celebrate alternative lifestyles and non-traditional values rather than uphold traditional values.
The Harper government may be principally opposed to polygamy but what can they do about it? They can offer a weak defence of the current law, hoping that it will look good in the eyes of many who still believe that polygamy is wrong. They can also use Section 33 of the Charter, the “not-withstanding clause” to overturn any courts that may strike down the current law. But this is unlikely because our federal government has shown zero interest in making use of this unpopular and politically incorrect tool.
The Courts on Polygamy
The determining factor on this whole issue is the courts. After all, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms trumps all democratic authority, including our Parliament. Every indication seems to be that the current law against polygamy doesn’t have a hope of surviving a Charter challenge. This is because our courts have redefined family according to preference rather than any objective or moral standard.
We would be wrong to blame this on the redefinition of marriage to include homosexuals. The problems started in 1968 when Pierre Trudeau, the man who brought the Charter to Canada, introduced “no-fault” divorce. As a result, marriage was essentially redefined to mean a man and a woman who are legally united, regardless of how long they wanted to be together. Marriage became about preference. If it was in the interests of the husband and wife (forget the children) to break up, that was fine with the state.
Over the next few decades, the courts began to utilize their new powers that came to them from the Charter. They even began to “read-in” things that aren’t even in the Charter, claiming that the document has to evolve with the times and they are the ones who decide how it should evolve. It wasn’t a big step then when the courts decided that if marriage is about preferences, then it should included same-sex couples who prefer to marry. Even more recently, an Ontario court ruled that a child can legally have three parents (to include a homosexual spouse). Why in the world would the courts not take the next step and open up marriage to other preferences, including polygamy?
It should also be noted that the current law against polygamy also forbids “any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time.” If this were really observed a gigantic number of Canadians should be found guilty of breaking this law because they are having sex with more than one person at the same time. It may very well be the case that the courts will strike down this law on polygamy because it is simply to vague.
It would seem that the only way in which the ban on polygamy is upheld would be if it can be proven that the very nature of polygamous relationships leads to harm. Harm seems to be one of the last remaining values that the court upholds. But even on this grounds, the future looks bleak. Courts are willing to turn a blind-eye to harm when it is politically correct to do so. They refused to consider harm when it comes to divorce, or giving homosexuals the right to adopt.
What can be Done?
Given the status quo in which the Charter and Canada’s courts have so much power, it may seem that there is not much that can be done by the public or even by our governments. But this is not entirely true. First, if the federal government really believes that the law should stand, it should have the guts to use the not-withstanding clause and put the courts in their place. They will get a lot of flak for doing this, but leadership is not simply about doing what everybody agrees with.
But there is something else that can be attempted in addition to using Section 33, something that is more proactive rather than reactive. You may remember an article in Reformed Perspective or on the ARPA Canada website where we joined a number of other organizations (including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, and the Christian Heritage Party) and called for a Royal Commission on the Family. Now, more than ever, the federal government would be wise to consider this option. Here is a selection of what I wrote in the previous article about the need for a Royal Commission on the Family:
What is a Royal Commission?
A Royal Commission is a major public study of a problem that our country is struggling with. Often it deals with controversial issues, such as the status of women or which reproductive technologies we should legalize or criminalize. These commissions meet with experts as well as the general public, and attempt to come up with specific recommendations to deal with the problem being studied. As the name suggests, it is officially requested by the Governor General (as the Queen’s representative). However, she makes this call as a result of notification from our federal cabinet. Royal Commissions have an enormous amount of power, but this power is limited to coming up with a report. It is up to Parliament to decide if they actually want to follow the recommendations. Library and Archives Canada lists over 200 Royal Commissions which have occurred since Confederation.
How Would This Help the State of the Family?
What would be the benefits of having a Royal Commission on the family? We know that there are many good reasons to uphold the traditional family. This is supported by academic studies which testify to the importance of stable, two-parent families. By examining these studies on the family, both our leaders and the public will have more awareness about why it is so important to protect it, rather than subject it to a social experiment in the name of rights. Royal Commissions may not have any power to implement their recommendations, but they sure have influence. When the government has to make a decision, it looks to the research that has already been done. It will be able to draw on the recommendations of this Royal Commission to stop the social experiment and promote the traditional family unit.
There is no way to confirm that a Royal Commission would indeed come to the conclusion that we need to stop breaking down the family. We know that studies can be twisted and opposite conclusions can be justified with other studies. However, if there has ever been a good time to engage in this, it is now. Our current federal government would be most likely to appoint decent people to oversee this commission. A commission may be appealing to this government because it will allow it to address an issue which many of its MPs care deeply about, while at the same time keeping a distance between the government and controversial family issues (such as the definition of marriage or divorce). Furthermore, a commission would provide Christians with another opportunity to become engaged in the consultative process and testify to why we believe families must be protected. Organizations like ARPA Canada can meet with the commission on behalf of Reformed churches. Non-political organizations such as Christian counseling agencies could also offer input about the importance of promoting traditional families.
Now is the time to call for a Royal Commission on the family. A recent Compass poll indicates that as many as 85% of Canadian oppose the legalization of polygamy. We have to use that support now, before it wavers (just as it wavered in same-sex cases as the public warmed up to the fuzzy media coverage of homosexuals who wanted to get married). Many MP’s have never heard of this idea and they need to hear about it directly from you. Get together with a few others from your group of friends or congregation and schedule a lunch or coffee with your MP. Then bring up this issue and proposal and, if they are receptive, urge them to pursue it with their caucus. If you would rather not meet directly with your MP, consider phoning him or her, or simply writing a letter. ARPA Canada is here to help you. Just pick up the phone and call us at 1-866-691-2772 or email [email protected]