CRESTON, B.C. – The wives of polygamists from a religion-based community near Creston, B.C., defended their lifestyle at a meeting Tuesday night, but also said girls under 18 will no longer enter into “plural marriages.”
They fully admit that their families are breaking the law.
But during the “Summit on Polygamy” sponsored by their church at a recreation centre in Creston, the women said their lifestyle is just another aspect of the multicultural fabric of Canada, and should be respected on freedom-of-religion grounds.
“Our lifestyle is not for everyone, and may not be the right choice for you,” Leah Barlow, who was raised in the faith, told non-members attending the meeting. “But for us, this is the right choice.”
Critics speak of very young pregnant wives
The 1,000-member community of Bountiful has attracted criticism recently because some older men have nearly 30 wives, some as young as 14.
Larry Corville, who protested outside the meeting with a handful of other people, said he worries about the young mothers he sees visiting Creston from time to time. Some of them are pregnant while they still seem to be children themselves, he said.
“We see them come to town with one in the sack … and they don’t look like they’re 15, 16 years old,” he said.
Only two girls younger than 16 have ever entered into what the women of Bountiful call plural marriages, the community countered Tuesday night. One was a day shy of her 15th birthday when she married an older man.
Barlow said the congregation has now decided that won’t happen anymore.
“Girls will not be allowed to enter into plural marriage until they have reached the age of consent of 18,” she said.
Neither the women nor Winston Blackmore, a leader in the sect who acknowledges having “married several very young wives in my life,” would explain why that decision has been made now.
Blackmore would only say that in the past, leaders in the U.S. were preaching that the end of the world was about to occur, and teenage girls were anxious to be married before it was too late.
He added that in his case, it was the girls who told their parents they wanted to marry him, and leaders above him told him to comply with their wishes.
Lives described as happy, except for discrimination
The women of Bountiful served homemade cookies as they mingled with Creston residents at the meeting, their braided hair and modest pioneer-style dresses setting them apart.
One after another, they described how happy they are sharing husbands with their “sister wives” and attacked activists who claim they have been brainwashed from an early age to accept polygamy.
The women said the biggest problem they face is prejudice. They told of banks that refused their business, and of physical attacks on their children.
In 2004, provincial officials said they would look into accusations of child abuse, forced marriage and sexual exploitation at the Bountiful commune. They also said there had been complaints about racist teachings in the community’s schools.