Greek and Roman Precedent in a Polygamy Case in Canada

An excerpt from the Star:

But John Witte Jr., a law professor at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., said the origins of polygamy in the West extend far beyond religion.

“The prohibitions against polygamy are pre-Christian and post-Christian in their formulation,” said Witte, who was testifying for the federal government.

“Pre-Christian in that we have these formulations in Greek texts and pre-Christian Roman law. And post-Christian in that 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.”

Witte traced the history of marriage back to ancient Greece and Rome, and he said Western cultures have consistently promoted monogamy and denounced polygamy for 2,500 years.

He said ancient Greek and Roman philosophers described monogamous marriage as “natural and necessary” to foster mutual love, respect and companionship among husbands and wives.

In contrast, he said the Roman emperors who established the first anti-polygamy laws in the third century denounced the practice as “unnatural and dangerous,” placing it in the same category as rape and incest. In some cases, polygamy was punishable by death.

Witte said those early beliefs about marriage have informed every Western culture since, from early Christians, the Catholic and Protestant churches, the Enlightenment— which eschewed religion and Christianity — and modern-day England and America.

“The Greeks and Romans are in many ways the forefathers and foremothers of our Western civilization,” he said.

“We received from them ideas of liberty, ideas of constitutional order, ideas of rights. … It is a fundamental part of who we are as Western people.”

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