B.C court to rule whether polygamy is constitutional

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The husbands and wives in the isolated polygamous commune of Bountiful, B.C., are about to learn whether the 121-year-old law that has overshadowed their lives violates their religious freedoms.

The Canadian Press reports

A British Columbia judge will rule Wednesday whether Canada’s anti-polygamy law is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It’s a case that will almost certainly be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court was asked to weigh the constitutionality of the Criminal Code section banning polygamy after the failed prosecution of two religious leaders in Bountiful, where residents believe multiple marriage will allow them to reach the highest level of heaven.

The hearings included testimony from academic experts, former polygamist women and current plural wives. The case has focused an unprecedented public spotlight on an isolated community of about 1,000 residents, who have been investigated numerous times during the past two decades but have so far avoided prosecution.

In Bountiful, residents hope the long legal process will mean they will one day be left alone.

“Naturally, we hope that our charter rights will be protected,” Winston Blackmore, who leads one of two divided factions within Bountiful, wrote in an email to The Canadian Press.

“It would be nice to not have discrimination and persecution from the government. It would certainly be nice to have the same charter protection as everyone else.”

Blackmore was charged in 2009 with one count of practising polygamy, as was James Oler, who leads the other faction inside Bountiful.

A judge later threw out the charges after concluding the way the province chose its prosecutors violated the men’s rights, prompting the government to launch the current constitutional reference case.

Bountiful residents follow the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or FLDS, which holds polygamy as a tenet of the faith. The mainstream Mormon church renounced polygamy more than a century ago.

The case heard two months of testimony offering wildly diverging opinions about life in such polygamous communities and the effect of polygamy itself.

The federal and provincial governments, as well as several intervener groups who want the current law upheld, argued polygamy is always harmful.

They said allowing men to marry multiple women will inevitably lead to physical and sexual abuse, child brides, the subjugation of women, and the expulsion of young men who have no women left to marry.

Indeed, the court heard allegations of all of those harms happening in Bountiful. Most notably, the court heard evidence of cross-border marriages involving teen girls as young as 12-years-old. […]

The court heard evidence of polygamous marriages elsewhere in the country, as well as so-called polyamorous relationships involving more than two people who may not necessarily claim to be married.

“The issue of polygamy is far broader than simply the people who live in fundamentalist Mormon communities. The way the Criminal Code section is drafted, depending on how the court interprets it, could have an impact on a lot more people in diverse personal relationships,” he said.

Research resources on Bountiful, B.C.
Research resources on the FLDS
Research resources on polygamy
Polygamous sects of the Mormon Church (includes a chart that shows where the Bountiful communities fit in)

Note:

Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith

… described plural marriage as part of “the most holy and important doctrine ever revealed to man on earth” and taught that a man needed at least three wives to attain the “fullness of exaltation” in the afterlife. He warned that God had explicitly commanded that “all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same … and if ye abide not that covenant, then are ye damned; for no one can reject this covenant and be permitted to enter into my glory.”
– Source: Under The Banner of Heaven John Krakauer, Doubleday (July 15, 2003), pages 5, 6.

Here’s why the Mormon Church rejected the doctrine — sort of — anyway.

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014