Many libertarians now insist that government should get out of the business of marriage, and not prohibit same-sex marriage. But if government lets everyone do what they like, then that would presumably include allowing polygamy. This issue was presented to an appellate court in British Columbia, a province of Canada. And it delivered a resoundingly pro-marriage decision, and upheld Canada’s 121-year ban on polygamy.
The Court held that “the institution of monogamous marriage [is] a fundamental value in Western society from the earliest of times.” Its 335-page opinion cited numerous ways in which polygamy causes harm to society, from higher rates of abuse to greater emotional problems, to underachievement by the children in schools. The Court traced the history of monogamous marriage between one man and one woman back to the ancient world, observing that from 600 B.C. to the 500s A.D. “marriage was understood as a union between a man and a woman presumptively for life” and that “by the ninth century, Byzantine emperors had decreed polygamy a capital offence.”
The Court pointed out that in the United States, in the mid-1800s, “Polygamy and slavery were considered to be among the ‘twin relics of barbarism,’” and that the American “Congress has ‘the right and the duty to prohibit’ this ‘odious institution.’” Those principles were established by the Republican Party platform of 1856. An appeal of this recent polygamy decision is expected eventually to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. That court previously established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage so no one knows what it will do about polygamy.