Polygamy case may test limits of Canadian same-sex marriage

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (RNS) A landmark court case will test whether Canada’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage also justifies the practice of polygamy.

The defense lawyer for a British Columbia man who openly admits to having multiple wives will argue that Canada’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage broadens the definition of marriage to include multiple spouses.

Blair Suffredine, lawyer for Winston Blackmore, who prosecutors claim has 19 wives, said this week he will argue in court that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects polygamy under the principles of equality and religious freedom.

When the Canadian parliament made same-sex marriage legal in 2005, members of the Conservative Party of Canada argued that changing the definition of marriage would open the door to court challenges from people who wanted polygamous unions.

Canadian evangelical Christians also opposed making same-sex marriage legal on the grounds that it could permit immigrants from countries where polygamy is legal to maintain multiple spouses in Canada. Some Muslim countries allow polygamy.

Legal specialists say it would be hard to cite same-sex marriage laws to defend polygamy in the U.S., in part because same-sex unions are not constitutionally approved across the country.

In the U.S., polygamists who belong to fundamentalist breakaway Mormon sects have been prosecuted for sexual crimes involving minors — not polygamy in itself.

Daphne Gilbert, a law professor at the University of Toronto, told Canadian Press the argument proposed by Blackmore’s lawyer is predictable, but without merit.

Same-sex relationships maintain Canada’s traditional view of marriage, she said, because they only involve two people. Polygamous marriages, she added, raise questions about whether the often-young wives are truly consenting to being married.

Even if a lawyer could prove that a ban on polygamous marriage is a violation of the Charter, Gilbert said the Canadian government would be allowed to ban polygamy by arguing the value of protecting the greater public good.

The two British Columbia men charged with polygamy by government prosecutors — the first case of its kind in Canada — are leaders of rival polygamous factions of roughly 400 members each.

They reside in a community called Bountiful in the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains near the U.S. border.

High-profile businessman Winston Blackmore, 52, has more than 100 children from as many as 19 wives. The other man on trial is James Oler, 44, who is charged with having two wives.

Both Blackmore and Oler have long been affiliated with the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

How to we as Christians deal with this? Same sex-marriage? etc?

In one sense, we can say that we aren’t dealing with the polygamy issue, but it is imperative that we acknowledge that this is possible in our country. I am not an advocate of same-sex marriage (though LGBT civil rights are important to me), but our country is most likely moving – in our lifetime – to legalizing same-sex marriage. With that, there is the potential that we must more widely deal with the issue of polygamy and additional lifestyles incongruent with the Christian faith.

The idea of a “Christian” nation is perhaps detrimental to the cause of Christ. What we must do is maintain Christian morality and ideology despite a nation that may not exalt Christians ideals. The danger in issues of polygamy, same-sex marriage, divorce – absent of abuse/adultery -, abortion, etc. is two fold. We can either respond by pulling out of society, leaving no impact. In effect, not loving our neighbors because they are “sinners” and we are not. Or we can soften our theology by accepting sinful actions as true and Biblical. In effect, making Christianity a social club of spiritually people.

In this complexity, we must find the third way of Christ: living in Grace and in Truth. Regardless of our exterior society, Christianity must earnestly seek after God. We should not be swayed to separatism or acceptance of the world.

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    • Colleen
    • February 15th, 2009

    Where I am having the toughest time is with my children. To teach them truth without judgementalism. We have neighbors on the next block over. Their daughter is my son’s age and in his school. They are the sweetest people. However, they are lesbians. I don’t want to explain gay and lesbian to my son now because at 5 he truly wouldn’t understand the concept without the disclaimer that “they are sinning”. But I don’t want him to ever think badly of this little girl or her family. God has rescued me though on this one; they are moving in the summer and while I will miss them very much as neighbors I am relieved to put off the conversation for a little longer.

    I do know that as Christians we tend to overemphasized homosexuality as a sin and that bothers me. Sin is sin and the Apostle Paul lumps it in with greed and idolatry, or drunkards. He even uses it the same passage to repremand the Corinthians for not just giving what a brother asks of them rather than be sued.

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