Making a Case for Monogamy

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 18, 2011 | Go to article overview

Making a Case for Monogamy


Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A Canadian court is assembling an unprecedented set of testimonies and legal briefs about the pros and cons of polygamy. The goal is to answer the question of whether Canada's anti-polygamy law is constitutional.

The case, which revolves around efforts to prosecute polygamous men from a renegade-Mormon enclave called Bountiful, could eventually reach the Supreme Court of Canada for a final ruling.

One legal paper offers a fascinating analysis of monogamy and its powerful, positive effect on cultures, in contrast to polygamy.

Historically, polygamous cultures have vastly outnumbered monogamous ones, and yet monogamy is associated with the most successful and competitive of civilizations, both ancient and modern, wrote professor Joseph Henrich, who holds the Canada Research Chair in culture, cognition and coevolution at the University of British Columbia.

It may be that as ancient societies began to impose monogamy, they consequently began to prosper and spread, because of the group-beneficial effects of monogamy, he explained.

Moreover, he added, monogamous marriage appears to be one of the foundations of Western civilization, and may explain why democratic ideals and notions of human rights first emerged as a Western phenomenon.

In making his case to B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman, Mr. Henrich compared highly polygynous countries with monogamous North America/Western Europe countries. (Polygyny, where one man is permitted to marry many women, is often interchangeable with polygamy.)

Mr. Henrich found that polygamy was associated with lower incomes and higher death rates for children. And these differences were stark:

* The 1985 per capita gross domestic product for polygynous countries was $975. In contrast, in monogamous countries, the per capita GDP was $11,950.

* In 1980, polygynous countries had 12.2 percent infant mortality rates and 19.

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