The centuries-old laws banning polygamy in Western cultures are rooted in the protection of women, children and men from the ills of multiple marriage and not just the imposition of Christianity on the masses, a law professor told a British Columbia court Monday.

It will be an important distinction for a B.C. judge to consider as he decides whether Canada’s law against polygamy violates the religious guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — a case prompted by the obscure polygamous commune of Bountiful, B.C.

The B.C. government’s own lawyer has conceded that, if the prohibition dating back to 1890 is in fact a religious law originally intended to impose Christianity onto society, it must be struck down.

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.

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