Public meeting; ‘We’re not locked in harems,’ said one
The women of a polygamous community in Bountiful, B.C. , have turned the tables on their critics, striking back during a packed three-hour presentation described as a polygamy summit by the Mormon splinter group that held it.
“We are women that have chosen the Bountiful lifestyle,” said Leah Barlow, a registered nurse and midwife. “We love it and we believe in it. We know better than any of you what our culture is like. It’s not for everyone, but for us it’s the right choice and we wouldn’t change it for anything in the world.”
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The meeting Tuesday evening at a local recreation centre, attended by about 300 people, heard a dozen wives from the community argue they have been victimized by “myths and misconceptions.”
Winston Blackmore, the self-proclaimed bishop of Bountiful, addressed the meeting near the end, but he refused to say how many wives or children he had.
“I have married several young wives in my life,” he said.
Last summer, B.C. Attorney-General Geoff Plant announced the start of an RCMP investigation into allegations of child abuse, forcible marriage and sexual exploitation. No charges have been laid.
The Idaho legislature recently formed an interim committee to investigate rumours of Mexican “baby” brides being sold to men in southern Idaho and allegations of border crossings by young brides for the community.
Often giving only their first names, the women said they are the victims of prejudice and discrimination for their beliefs.
“We, the women of our community, will not be silent anymore,” Zelpha said. “Bountiful is not a closed community. It used to be somewhat, but that was because of persecution.”
The audience was largely friendly, but one woman from Cranbrook found it one-sided. “It was very controlled and I think the men are hiding behind their plural wives,” said Nora Minnie.
Marlene Palmer, a mother of 12 children, said she has been shunned in the wider community because she is a member of the church, but as an active member of Creston Emergency Services people still accept her help.
The women denied allegations of trafficking in child brides, underage marriage, sexual abuse and welfare fraud.
Christina, a registered nurse and midwife, said two 16-year-olds are the youngest to have had babies in Bountiful.
And a consensus was reached recently within the church that girls shouldn’t marry until they are at least 18, she said. Under Canadian law, they can legally marry at 16 with the permission of their parents.
The average polygamous marriage consists of a husband and two women, she added.
“We’re not locked in harems,” said Ruth Lane, a student at the College of the Rockies in nearby Cranbrook, who has six children. “I just want to be seen as an individual in a diverse society.”
Richard Blackmore, principal of Mormon Hills School, said the Grade 1 to 7 school has received several unannounced visits by Ministry of Education inspectors and has passed all inspections.
On the ministry’s foundation skills assessment tests, pupils regularly score higher than their counterparts in local elementary schools, he said.
Creston Mayor Joe Snopek said little he heard surprised him. “Hopefully, it will lead to some more dialogue,” he said.