Polygamy: Forbidden Once Again—but for How Much Longer?

My friend and “Context” colleague Lorna Dueck recently set out an eloquent case against the legalization of polygamy in Canada on the grounds of religious freedom. Here’s why I fear that she and I won’t like what’s coming next.

First, and very briefly, religious freedom is increasingly imperilled in Canadian society today. To offer an opinion based on religious conviction contrary to the reigning orthodoxies on LGBTQ+ issues, to refer to the most obvious example, is to invite contempt, not tolerance, and very possibly to incur sanctions that will cost you your job, or worse.

There seems to be little appetite for defending the views of people with whom one strongly disagrees, whether or not based on religious difference. To suggest, then, that religious freedom will provide the grounds on which one could successfully defend something as grotesque as polygamy is, I’m afraid, to spit into the Zeitgeist.

Second, however, Lorna’s listing of the many reasons to hate and resist polygamy doesn’t get to the heart of the issue.

Yes, she is certainly right that the way Messrs. Blackmore and Oler abused girls, abused boys, abused women, and abused their communities was awful and deserving of legal punishment. But they were, indeed, manifestly abusing people.

Thus the main point remains: What about consensual relations among adults? And not among weird little communities of fringe religious groups, but among mainstream members of the world’s second largest religion, Islam?

The Qur’an, after all, explicitly allows that a man may take up to four wives (surah 4:3). For observant Muslims, this allowance is not just “what their religion says,” as some of us might like to say about it, but the very speech of God. (“Qur’an” means “Recitation,” as in reciting God’s very words.)

As Islam grows not only around the world, but also here in Canada, on what grounds can we continue to insist that matrimonial law not change to “reasonably accommodate” their religious difference?

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