The lawyer for a B.C. polygamous sect leader plans to defend his client’s right to marry more than one woman by citing gay marriage and cohabitation arrangements.
Blair Suffredine, who is representing Winston Blackmore in court Wednesday, will challenge the legitimacy of the Criminal Code’s ban on polygamy, arguing it contravenes religious protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Blackmore, 52, of Bountiful, B.C., is accused of having 20 wives.
Also scheduled for court in the southern town of Creston and facing polygamy charges is James Oler, 44, a rival from a different branch of the same church.
Suffredine said the legality of same-sex marriage makes it difficult to argue that it’s a criminal offence to enter into conjugal relationships with more than one person at the same time if all adults are consenting.
Suffredine also plans to argue that cohabitation arrangements between multiple people are acceptable under Canadian law.
“You can live in a communal relationship and not breach any laws, but if you actually promise to look after the other person in a ceremony, you’ve committed a criminal act,” Suffredine told CBC News on Tuesday.
“As far as I can see, I don’t understand why our law would sanction that as criminal behaviour if it’s between consenting adults.”
Suffredine said his client has not yet determined whether he will make an appearance in court Wednesday.
Earlier this month, Blackmore called his arrest religious persecution, and suggested political grandstanding ahead of a provincial election was behind the decision to lay charges.
Both Blackmore and Oler face a maximum of five years in prison if convicted. Oler is accused of having two wives.
Blackmore has been reported to have fathered about 80 children with numerous wives, some as young as 15 when he allegedly married them.
The former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and about 1,000 community members split from the church in 2003 after rejecting Warren Jeffs, the church’s U.S.-based leader, as a prophet
Jeffs then appointed Oler as his leader in the community.