In January, a study prepared for the Justice Department recommended that polygamy be legalized. Months earlier, in 2005, the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress called polygamy a “positive family force.” Now, a new television series on the American cable giant HBO, entitled Big Love, portrays the polygamous marriage of one man and his three wives. HBO says that the show “explores the evolving institution of marriage through a typical atypical family.”

It should go without saying, of course, that polygamy is a perverse, distorted imitation of marriage, an unenlightened relic of misogynistic tribalism. And yet, incredibly, the Justice Department study offers the laughable argument that legalizing polygamy would protect women. In fact, polygamy degrades women. Instead of the dignity of an exclusive commitment, wives in polygamous marriage are reduced to the status of concubines. So, in trying to justify a social organization that degrades women, the authors of the study insult and objectify them as well.

Most people recoil from the very idea of polygamy; this natural reaction is a good example of what one philosopher calls the “wisdom of repugnance.” However, with the legalization of same-sex “marriage,” very few legal arguments can be made against polygamy.

When opponents of same-sex “marriage” cautioned that the redefinition of marriage would lead to polygamy, the idea was mocked and brushed aside. The common reply to such warnings was that “no one is talking about legalizing polygamy.” (This, of course, was true, but only because advocates of polygamy knew that silence at that time would help their cause.) But it is significant to note the tacit admission in the response: since no one was talking about it then, it was a non-issue. Yet the reply concedes the point: if a group were to lobby for polygamy, there would be no argument against it. Now, less than a year after marriage was redefined to include same-sex unions, the campaign to further broaden it is already underway.

The choice for Canada is not between the traditional definition of marriage or another one. The question is whether the only true definition of marriage will be enshrined in law and honoured in society or not. For, once the legal concept of marriage is expanded to other forms of social coupling, the concept of marriage becomes bankrupt; once the gender makeup of the married couple becomes irrelevant, there is little reason to believe that the number participating in a particular marriage will remain sacrosanct.

In 2005, marriage was redefined, but now it is undefined as well. The debate about same-sex “marriage” has confused and concealed the true meaning of marriage with evasive rhetoric and empty slogans such as “equal marriage.” In a sense, polygamy merely completes the logic of “equal marriage”: it cannot exclude any definition. To be truly “equal,” marriage must be levelled to the point of meaning nothing.

In economics, Gresham’s Law states: “Bad money drives out good.” As with money, so with marriage. As the family collapses, society regresses into more primitive and less humane forms of social organization. But the coming debate about the legalization of polygamy offers Canada a unique opportunity to reaffirm marriage as the union of one man with one woman and to reject the incipient barbarism of polygamy and same-sex “marriage.” Now is the time to celebrate marriage and to honour it as an institution that will not only survive, but prevail. To paraphrase Faulkner, we decline to accept the end of marriage.