OTTAWA, Canada (CCN) – Ottawa Archbishop Terrence Prendergast recalls how Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, archbishop of Montreal, was ridiculed by the news media when he warned that legalizing same-sex marriage might lead to polygamy.
Now Cardinal Turcotte’s remarks – and those of many others who warned against it during the same-sex marriage debate – may appear more prophetic than foolish. Polygamy has been in the news all summer as British Columbia considers testing whether the law against plural marriage can withstand a religious freedom challenge.
Meanwhile, the U.S. movie network HBO has been airing the hit drama series “Big Love,” about a polygamous family living a “closeted” life in an American state, to overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Archbishop Prendergast is not surprised at the looming polygamy debate. He looks back to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.
“In 1968, Paul VI said if you separate sexual communion from procreation you are opening yourself to a whole series of ills,” said Archbishop Prendergast 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 Archbishop 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 practicing 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 spending several months reviewing previous Crown decisions not to lay charges.
The Bountiful group practices 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 reference could then go to the Supreme Court of Canada.
B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal told journalists during an Aug. 1 teleconference 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,” according to the Vancouver Sun.
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 failed to change hearts and minds when Parliament legalized same-sex civil marriage in 2005. Somerville and others have argued politicians did not adequately consider the rights of children. That’s one of Archbishop 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,” Archbishop Predergast 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, founding director of McGill University’s Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law Margaret Somerville, wrote in a Globe and Mail commentary Aug. 11 that same-sex marriage did “lend legitimacy” to arguments for polygamy, contrary to an Aug. 3 Globe editorial opposing polygamy that said gay marriage did not do so because it was restricted to two persons.
“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,” Somerville 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, former ambassador to Israel, and former publisher of the Jerusalem Post, wrote in an Aug. 13 column, he found it “difficult to think of a single reason” why a purely voluntary plural marriage should be prevented by government.
“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.”
Republished by Catholic Online with permission of the Canadian Catholic News Service.
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