Expert testifies in landmark Canadian case over polygamy law
An expert testified recently in a polygamy case in Canada that monogamous marriage has been a tradition for 2,500 years, and polygamy has, for 750 years, been a crime.
John Witte, Jr., director of the Law and Religion Center, Emory University, also told a British Columbia Supreme Court that there were times in history that polygamy was punishable by death, PostMedia News said.
Witte is testifying in a landmark constitutional reference case that will form the basis on deciding whether Canada’s polygamy law is justifiable or whether it should be struck down, The Globe and Mail said.
The case was brought to the Supreme Court because in 2009 James Oler and Winston Blackmore, leaders of the sect Bountiful (from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints), were charged with polygamy, The Canadian Press reported.
The charges against Oler and Blackmore failed to prosper on technical and legal grounds. Rather than appeal, the issue of polygamy, which B.C. governments have grappled with for years, was brought to the B.C. Supreme Court, The Globe and Mail said.
The outcome of the case will determine if Canada’s polygamy law is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, especially with regard to religious freedom, The Canadian Press said.
The B.C. attorney-general said polygamy inflicts human rights violations and harm to men, women and children, noting that young boys are often removed from communities where polygamy is practiced, and girls as young as 12 are married off, The Globe and Mail reported.
Polygamy is a choice
John Walsh of the FLDS testified last week that nobody is forced into a polygamous relationship adding, “According to doctrine, nobody could be forced. It would be an abuse of power and a deviation from normative standards,” The Globe and Mail reported.
Walsh also said that while there is no specific age recommendation for the marriage of girls, FLDS members he had conferred with would be “troubled and astonished” to hear that 12-year-old girls were being wed, The Globe and Mail said.
However, under cross examination Walsh admitted that in a previous U.S. court testimony, he said there could be “spiritual consequences” if a girl did not agree to an arranged marriage, The Globe and Mail said.
Walsh also said FLDS members have been banned from the community for disruptive behavior that failed to meet “community expectation,” according to The Globe and Mail.
History of polygamy law
The B.C. government lawyer (which seeks retention of the polygamy law) admitted that if the law was intended to impose Christianity on the public, then it should be struck down, The Canadian Press said.
However Witte testified that the tradition goes back 2,500 years noting that “the [prohibitions against polygamy] are pre-Christian in that we have these formulations in Greek texts and pre-Christian Roman law,” The Canadian Press reported.
Witte mentioned ancient philosophers from Greece and Rome who said monogamous marriage is “natural and necessary” for mutual respect and love to prevail among couples, The Canadian Press reported.
Witte also cited Roman emperors who enforced the first laws against polygamy, and who considered the crime on the same level as incest and rape, according to The Canadian Press.
Witte also testified that it is post-Christian as “the architects of modern liberalism are making clear that if you want to respect rights, if you want to respect dignity, it is critical to maintain the institution of monogamy and prohibit and criminalize the institution of polygamy,” according to The Canadian Press.
According to The Canadian Press, former and current members of polygamous marriage communities, including Bountiful, will testify starting next week until the end of the month.
Legal experts believe the case may eventually land in Canada’s Supreme Court, The Canadian Press said.