To the Exclusion of All Others

In a liberal society, is polygamy still intolerable?
Illustration by Tomasz Walenta
Two decades ago, RCMP officers drove up a winding road through the Creston Valley of southeastern British Columbia, past fields of timothy hay and cottonwood stands, to an unmarked settlement known as Bountiful. It looked a typical rural town — homesteads bordered by well-kept yards full of children running and swinging and cycling — but, in fact, the officers had come to investigate a complaint that two local patriarchs, young gun Winston Blackmore and his fifty-seven-year old father-in-law Dalmon Oler, were polygamists — an offence under Section 293 of the Criminal Code.

All 1,000 or so residents of Bountiful are members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), a Mormon sect that believes God’s chosen leaders should each marry several virgins and “multiply and replenish the Earth… that they may bear the souls of men.” Unashamed, Oler invited the officers into the fifteen-bedroom home he shared with his five wives and forty-eight children. Blackmore, who in addition to leading Canada’s FLDS operated a multimillion-dollar logging, trucking, and manufacturing business, was cagier about numbers, only admitting to having more than one wife. He was rumoured, however, to have at least twenty-five (many underage at the time he married them), and more than eighty children.

After a year-long investigation, the case seemed completely straightforward, but lawyers knew otherwise. While the Criminal Code defines polygamy as a crime, the Charter of Rights guarantees religious freedom, and in the summer of 1992, after consulting various constitutional experts, the BC attorney general’s office officially rejected the RCMP recommendations, on the grounds that Section 293 was invalid. Blackmore, puffed up with victory, is said to have mounted a framed copy of the Charter on his office wall.

But his troubles were far from over. Blackmore would soon became embroiled in an internecine leadership struggle with James Marion Oler, son of Dalmon; more concerning, Bountiful suffered from growing image problems. In the wake of the thwarted charges, BC’s secretary of state for women’s equality commissioned a committee on polygamy issues, which in May 1993 issued Life in Bountiful, a powerful indictment of polygamy, in particular forced marriage and extreme demands of obedience. “When does a culture stop being a culture,” the report concluded rhetorically, “and start being abuse?” A decade later, one of the committee members, escaped FLDS wife Debbie Palmer, published Keep Sweet, a sensational memoir dedicated to her eight children, “who lived through unspeakable horrors before I brought them out.” And in 2008, Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham published The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada’s Polygamous Mormon Sect, which documented, along with the sad fate of Bountiful’s girls, that of its boys, who were yanked from school and put to work, or expelled from the community to eliminate competition for brides.

The year after the book was released, BC’s attorney general, Wally Oppal, laid polygamy charges against Blackmore and James Oler (who replaced the former as bishop in 2002) and had the RCMP arrest them. In his determination to do so, however, Oppal had ignored government lawyers who maintained the charge wouldn’t stand up to a Charter challenge, instead appointing successive independent prosecutors until he found one who recommended laying charges, which the court then quashed on procedural grounds. (Blackmore is now suing the BC government for expenses related to “unlawful” prosecution.) When Oppal lost a subsequent election, his successor, Mike de Jong, filed a constitutional reference in which he asked the BC Supreme Court to contend with the conflict between the Criminal Code and the Charter of Rights at last.

When the trial opened on November 22, 2010, a stream of participants and witnesses for the government, including representatives from the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children, REAL Women of Canada, the Christian Legal Fellowship, and academic experts, testified about the many harms associated with polygamy. Most convincing, perhaps, was the testimony of former FLDS members. Carolyn Jessop, who fled a community in Utah with her eight children in the middle of the night, summed it up well: “Polygamy is not pretty to look at. It is nice that it is tucked away in a dark corner where nobody has to see its realities, because it’s creepy.”

But George Macintosh, the amicus curiae (friend of the court) appointed to present the opposing argument, came out swinging. He characterized Section 293 as an overly broad and grossly disproportionate law rooted in Christian prejudices, a law demeaning to polygamists. Women in polygamous marriages anonymously testified that they were happy, that they’d made the right decision. According to CBC, the BC Civil Liberties Association argued that “consenting adults have the right — the Charter protected right — to form the families that they want to form.” And the Canadian Association for Free Expression maintained that the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2005 strengthened the individual’s right to enter a polygamous marriage.

The rights argument carries considerable weight in a liberal society — if it didn’t, we wouldn’t still be faced with the Bountiful problem. We’ll find out what the court makes of it all by the end of the year. Something that hasn’t been fully considered but should be factored in to any reasonable decision is that rights can’t be separated from the culture in which they arise. They are inextricably linked to institutions that form the backbone of a society, and in every society throughout history the fundamental organizing institution has always been marriage.

One of the oldest extant marriage documents comes from ancient Babylonia, in the reign of Ammi-ditana (1683–1640 BC): the dowry register for Sabitum, daughter of Ibbatum, who gave her as wife into the house of Ilšu-ibni, for his son Warad-Kubi. Sabitum’s dowry consisted of two beds, two chairs, one table, two chests, one grindstone, one grindstone for flour, one ten-litre container, and one empty šikkatum jar. In return, Ibbatum received ten silver shekels, and he tied that money into the fringe of Sabitum’s dress to be given back to Warad-Kubi. From the beginning, it seems, marriage has been a financial agreement, a way of distributing resources.

But it has not been exclusively monogamous. In old Babylonia, for example, the marriage contract might include a stipulation for polygamy; Warad-Kubi may have taken more wives than Sabitum. (This arrangement is more precisely called polygyny, but because the alternative form of polygamy — one wife with many husbands — is so rare, the distinction is rarely made.) While polygamy would never be the primary form of marriage — as Bountiful illustrates, huge segments of the male population would be out of luck — it was certainly widespread. And it’s clear that it provided unique advantages.

Polygamy acted as husbandly insurance against an individual wife’s barrenness, as well as high child mortality rates, and made ill or aging wives less burdensome. If it was taboo to have sex with pregnant and lactating women (which increased a nursing child’s chances of survival), new fathers suffered neither sexual privation nor a waiting period to produce another child. And with so many children, polygamists had plenty of sons to work the land or contribute to their commercial ventures; in militaristic societies, these sons were prized as military recruits. Daughters, less valued, were still useful for domestic work, or to be advantageously married off to polygamous men.

Of course, polygamy is entrenched in another ancient institution, patriarchy, and in this context of women’s assumed dependence it actually offered them certain protections. Consider Sabitum again: She was very unlikely to try to leave her husband — if she did, she was to be tied up and drowned. If he renounced her, he was to pay her a small lump sum, but in the absence of any kind of social safety net she would essentially be left destitute. If he died, she was in even worse shape. The expandable nature of the polygamous union meant there was a better chance another man would take her in. It also meant men were less likley to renounce unwanted, old, sick, or barren wives in the first place; even if they were shunted aside in favour of younger, healthier women, they at least remained married. (Polygamy was particularly useful in wartime, when there were fewer eligible men.) Co-wives would typically share a residence or compound, co-operating in household duties, including raising one another’s children. To overworked women who dreaded the sexual relations that could result in yet another pregnancy, the arrangement might have seemed like a godsend.

And yet it could also very easily succumb to ever-simmering tensions and jealousies. This was especially true with regard to children, rivals for their father’s attention and resources, and whose interests each mother attempted to promote at the expense of the other children. In all but the wealthiest households, supporting so many adults and offspring was a strain on the patriarch, and some of his dependents inevitably lost out. Moreover, an unhappy woman had little choice but to endure her lot; even if the prospect of single life seemed preferable, she would be forced to leave her children behind, possibly with an angry father and vindictive co-wives. Being trapped in this way meant there was always tremendous potential for injustice in the polygamous union.
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29 comment(s)

Jancis M. AndrewsApril 10, 2011 19:21 EST

What Elizabeth Abbott, along with many other writers, has chosen to ignore is the all-important fact that on 18 Octoebr 2002, Canada ratified the Protocol on the UN Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (Equality in Marriage and Family Relations:04/02/94. General Recommendation 21) and is legally obligated to uphold it. It states that polygamy contravenes women's equality rights and also harms their children. She has also chosen to ignore the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Canada ratified the Protocol on 19 May 1976 and is legally obligated to uphold it. It states that everyone has the freedom to practise their religion SUBJECT ONLY TO SUCH LIMITATIONS AS ARE PRESCRIBED BY LAW AND ARE NECESSARY TO PROTECT THE FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS OF OTHERS (my emphasis). She also has not mentioned sections 15 and 28 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantee women equality with men. These three documents alone should have been enough to stir the BC A-G's office of previous years into declaring polygamy illegal because it contravenes women's equality rights as guaranteed by the Charter. That they carefully avoided any mention of these documents only reveals their basic misogyny, and their reluctance to spend millions of tax dollars on a court case. This, plus the fact that, in spite of being recommended to do so by the RCMP, previous A-Gs refused to prosecute Bountiful's elders who were known to have impregnated underage girls, and to have trafficked them to and fro over the border, further reveals the basic misogyny of BC's ruling politicians. In spite of the RCMP giving a judge in BC Supreme Court an Affidavit listing NINE underage girls (some as young as 15) whom Winston Blackmore has impregnated, he still has not been charged. Hopefully, today's A-G can no longer avoid doing so—-too many Canadians know about the widespread abuse of both boys and girls occurring in Bountiful, the denial of a proper education for the children, the illegal trafficking of underage girls for sexual purposes, and the collecting of women and girls as concubines in Bountiful's harems, contrary to their Charter rights and to the Criminal Code. Polygamy comes from the dark ages when men were women's lords and masters, and women were considered chattels. It has absolutely no place in modern society. If the Supreme Court judges allow men to collect women and girls as concubines in harems, it will mean that women's rights in Canada will be kicked back hundreds of years. Decriminalizing this ancient patriarchal practice or legalizing it will mean the judges are altering the very DNA of the Charter itself, and that Canada will become the only First-World country that agrees women can be herded and collected like cattle or cars, thus automatically downgrading women's status to that of second-class citizen. Polygamy should be kicked into the garbage can of history, where it should have been kicked eons ago. The year is 2011 AD, not 2011 BC.

Perry BulwerApril 11, 2011 12:36 EST

The author asks: "So why shouldn’t we find a way to advocate on behalf of Winston Blackmore in his struggle to practise polygamy unhindered, on the grounds of religious freedom?"

Because religious freedom means much more than the freedom of polygamists to practice their religion. The religious polygamists' spokespersons in the Canadian constitutional case, their lawyers, and the other lawyers making the religious freedom argument in this case are all either ignorant about the concept or purposely ignoring the full scope of that freedom. Two main aspects they are leaving out of their arguments are: 1) that religious freedom also includes the right to be free from religion and; 2) that children also have the right to religious freedom, granted both by international law and the Canadian constitution. Without those two elements of religious freedom that right is a meaningless, empty right.

A child's right to freedom of conscience, thought and belief is obviously connected to that same right they will have as an adult. However, if they are effectively indoctrinated as a child so that they cannot exercise their own religious freedom, either as a child or later as an adult, then their own right to religious freedom has been denied to them. Obviously, parents also have a right to religious freedom, but that right does not allow them to deny that same right to others, including their own children.

Children have some rights that they are entitled to as children, and some rights they are entitled only later when they reach a certain age or become adults. Voting, for example, is a political right that they will enjoy when they reach the eligible age, so in that sense it is a future right. Religious freedom for children is both a right they enjoy as children and a future right they have as adults. That right when they are children can only be interfered with by parents or guardians in keeping with the evolving capacities of the children. All children have a right to an open future. Parental rights to religious freedom do not grant them the right to interfere with their children's religious freedom and right to an open future.

The only way to protect the adult right to religious freedom is to protect that same right for children.




Nancy MereskaApril 12, 2011 08:39 EST

Both Jancis Andrews and Perry Bulwar have debated the issue of polygamy adequately both in the bounds of Canadian law and children's rights. I would like to add that www.stoppolygamyincanada.wordpress.com has all the documents presented to the Supreme Court of British Columbia on The Reference case (testing the Constitutionality of s. 293—Canada's law banning the practice of polygamy).

Stop Polygamy in Canada was the only Interested Person in The Reference to submit an affidavit with research on Muslim polygamy—specifically in New York. (See Dr. Susan Stickevers' affidavit)

Canada cannot wave its flags of rights and freedoms for all if it allows one segment (women used as concubines and children used as slave laborours) to be cloistered in communes where they are not educated.

Elizabeth Abbott needs to take a more thorough look at today's research and stop reaching into the past to find excuses to either decriminalize or legalize polygamy. Liberalism, like any other social construct, taken to the extreme is just as dangerous to society as the practice of polygamy is.

The amount of tax money that feeds polygamy in Canada is outrageous, e.g. the Bountiful schools received 1.2 M in funding this year alone. They have an abysmal rate of graduates. They do not adhere to curriculum standards.

I'm sure Ms. Abbott was paid a princely sum for this article. She, like Professor Angela Campbell whose "research" on Bountiful was shown to be lacking in every way possible, doesn't have a clue about which she is talking.

Nancy Mereska, President
Stop Polygamy in Canada
www.stoppolygamyincanada.wordpress.com

Nancy Porter-SteeleApril 12, 2011 13:19 EST

I appreciate Ms. Abbott's article, especially her conclusion to "draw the line".
In the spirit of women's rights to equality, I also point out something I haven't seen mentioned in any of the discussions of polygamy, and that is polyandry. If it were made legal for a man to have multiple wives, the right to equality would require that it be legal for a woman to have multiple husbands.

Jancis M. AndrewsApril 12, 2011 19:44 EST

Very well said, Nancy Porter-Steele, and 100% correct. So let's see how the patriarchs of Bountiful would like THAT! Suddenly, having multiple spouses might not seem such a good idea ..............

AnonymousApril 13, 2011 11:27 EST

It\'s hard to imagine that strict application of the normal Family Law obligations and rights that attach to ordinary Judeo-Christian monogamy wouldn\'t solve the problem of polygamy without criminalizing it. Men limited to adult, consensual domestic arrangements with full financial liability in case of breakdown would think more than twice about what they getting themselves into. Obviously child abuse and coercion should have the same protections under polygamy as under monogamy, but one suspects the sunlight of legal scrutiny and enforcement would be preventive in the same way, and would occasionally fail in the same way.

There would obviously be interesting spreadsheet issues while the law figures out respective rights of multiple attached spouses, but nothing worse than the recent developments in monogamous rights litigation. It\'s unfortunate that residual religious concepts like \"marriage\" have historically infested the common law and statutes regarding adult domestic arrangements. Family law has been slowly slogging its way out of the morass of conflicting religious preferences, and this is just another messy step out of the swamp.

stephenbApril 13, 2011 19:59 EST

Although I agree that polygamous cultures can be harmful to women and children, I do not agree that polygamy necessarily is. I'm sure no-one here will assert that monogamy guarantees a good life for women and children. In fact I am very sure that many readers will assert that the Christian marriage can be an exploitive and even abusive institution.

So what are we talking about?

As a liberal, I want the community to protect the weak against the strong, the poor against the rich - and so on. I want to live in a healthy, well-educated society. I want a park, not the jungle that conservatism prefers. And I am not in the slightest concerned about the social forms in which nourishment or abuse appears. I want to use our resources to prevent abuse and encourage nourishment.

It doesn't matter a jot if that abuse or encouragement occurs in a polygamous or monogamous or even completely promiscuous society. Marshalling the power of the state, categorically, against any particular form of relationship is authoritarian.

You can't say "oh no you have two mums or two dads therefore you're abused..." That's the kind of thing conservatives say. "Oh your two mums or your two dads sleep together - we're going to rescue you and enroll you in bible study."

If we're going to be truly liberal, we look not at the form but at the outcome.

BlatanvilleApril 14, 2011 08:02 EST

StephenB, http://walrusmagazine.com/articles/2011.05-law-to-the-exclusion-of-all-others/#76344:

hear hear! Well said, sir.

Jancis Andrews, http://walrusmagazine.com/articles/2011.05-law-to-the-exclusion-of-all-others/#76323:

I admire your erudition and conviction on this subject, but I think you're taking the people of Bountiful and their application of polygamy/gyny as the ONLY possible expression of an expanded marriage.

To be clear: I am not in a poly relationship. My wife is not interested in sharing me, nor I her. That's not a marriage that would work FOR US. But I don't see how we can stand outside of a poly marriage and decide for someone else that it CAN'T work for them.

I'm of the belief that we currently have laws in place which deal with the all of the negative aspects of poly marriages, as exemplified by the people of Bountiful.
We have laws against sexual congress between minors and adults.
Minors are ineligible to take part in many behaviours because they cannot give informed consent.
Abuse of spouses or children by anyone is already covered by the Criminal Code.
Running off of young males from these communities is very unfortunate, but also a social problem, not a legal problem.

Lorna CraigApril 17, 2011 13:59 EST

Legalizing polygamy is legalizing abuse. It is patriarchal and wherever practiced whether in Yemen, Kenya, Afghanistan or British Columbia it is by necessity abusive. It requires an unnatural ratio of women to men. This leads to disenfranchising male children, in fact, the large numbers of roving young males in the polygamist sections of Paris was a contributing factor to riots there. The requirement to have more wives leads to trafficking, underaged marriages, incestuous marriages, coerced marriages and using daughters as chattel. We have seen these crimes in British Columbia. Young women are denied an education as they marry early and are at a higher risk of death due to pregnancy (the leading cause worldwide for deaths of girls between 15 and 19). Polygamy is not a victimless crime. Some say that legalizing polygamy would force people to report all the crimes that have been commited in the FLDS. Why? Why would they be anymore to stop the crimes it polygamy were legalized than they are now? Why would they suddenly become law abiding when they have scoffed and many many laws for decades? Shall we also legalize honor killing which is a cultural and religious practice after all it is the criminals not the victims we are trying to protect here.

lizaApril 18, 2011 12:08 EST

What is the author's evidence for her statement that "early Christian patriarchs were polygamous"? She implies that Solomon is an illustration of an early Christian polygamous patriarch - but that is laughable, as he is an Old Testament figure who long predated Jesus.

UniversalgeniApril 18, 2011 18:31 EST

If half the men in a society have two wives then who are the other half of the men to marry? You can't have polygamy without pedophilia = the men will marry little girls when they run out of grown-up women.

Lorna CraigtApril 18, 2011 18:31 EST

Liza, right there were no Christians in the Old Testament as Christ had not been born. Further Solomon slaughtered most of his concubines. Abraham raped an Eqyption slave girl and then threw her and her son out into the wilderness. David killed 2,500 men to have another man's wife and as punishment God killed their firstborn and his son murdered another for raping a half sister. Lot had sex with his daughters so does that make it okay. Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah and had to wait for the wife he wanted Rachel, he so favored Rachel's children that the half-brothers sold Joseph into slavery and faked his death over a coat of many colors. If you actually read the Old Testament people you would be surprised. No where is man instructed to practice polygamy it was merely tribal customs and not at all with favorable outcomes. Hardly something to base the practice of polygamy on today, although many of those unfavorable outcomes are still evident today.

GemmaApril 19, 2011 08:10 EST

I feel that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been misrepresented in this article. It was a short, but necessary, inclusion; of which I do feel that the facts have been coloured by the writer’s bias and misinformation. I would advise anyone interested in receiving answers for their questions on Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and this religion’s stance on polygamy and other matters relating to what is commonly known as the “Mormon” faith to visit www.lds.org and/or request a meeting with the missionaries of this church.

KariApril 19, 2011 08:10 EST

A married woman, heavily indebted with no assets, cohabitated with an unmarried man. From day one of cohabitation the woman tells the man she will get a divorce immediately. Then she refuses to get a divorce. The cohabitants agree they will not consider becoming spouses unless a divorce occurs immediately. 5 years later the woman gets a divorce and also immediately takes the cohabit man to court for another “divorce” claiming she has been his spouse since the day they cohabitated under Saskatchewan law. The judge says the woman had the right to “change her mind” about getting a divorce and “become his spouse automatically”, albeit unknown to him. Court documents tell the man he is unable to re-marry until the court procedures are completed with a written judgement.
The judge tells the man he entered into a multiple spousal relationship on the day the woman moved into his paid for home and the marital property act became applicable 2 years later. Therefore, the woman had 2 legally recognized made in Canada spouses for 5 years. The man tells the courts they cannot force him to “become the spouse of a person who has a spouse”. He invokes the constitutional questions act. He is not allowed paid representation nor intervenors. The court then forced him to become the spouse of a person who has a spouse. Here is the family court judgment:

18] Clearly that contemplates that for the purposes of the Saskatchewan Property Act, a party can incur marital obligations to more than one person concurrently and be entitled to rights arising from more than one marital relationship concurrently. This is the answer to the respondents contention that the petitioner did not become his spouse\".

Obviously, the court judge assisted the woman to have another same time spouse, was party to a contract and consent that purported and did sanction a conjugal union with more than one person at the same time. 293. (1) b

293. (1) Every one who
(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
(i) any form of polygamy, or
(ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
VANCOUVER - It would be an \"abuse of power\" if a woman was forced into a plural marriage, a Mormon scholar testified Wednesday at a B.C. court case testing Canada\'s law against polygamy.

Who will charge the Saskatchewan justice department for forcing and sanctioning polygamy here?












BlatanvilleApril 19, 2011 12:18 EST

LORNA CRAIG @ APRIL 17, 2011 16:59 EST:

Polygyny, as the article takes pains to point out, is the practice of one man having many wives
Polyandry, though far less frequent, also pointed out in the article, is the practice of one woman having many husbands.
Polygamy, as defined, is meant to cover any form of "enhanced" marriage, where one spouse may have many spouses.

Your complaint that it is alway patriarchal is a mistake, but it is the one form we hear the most about, certainly. AND as practiced by the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) [I'm aiming this distinction at you, Gemma @ APRIL 19, 2011 11:10 EST], it IS a patriarchal and abusive system. But I made the point that we already have laws on the books to deal with people having sexual intercourse with minors AND we have laws to deal with other abusive behaviours. You may not be satisfied with the way they are applied, or with the various defenses thrown at them, but legally, as a society, we have the tools to deal with these situations. We don't NEED a second law (a definition of marriage that only includes two people), to compound that.
And creating that second set of laws to criminalize those who would seek to have a polygamous, consensual relationship is to impose your value judgement on others. The fact that you cannot imagine a successful, consensual, multi-partnered relationship is NOT the law's fault, and not reason enough to bar those who might responsibly take part in a polygamous relationship from doing so.
Arguing against polygamous relationships relies on the same foundation as arguing against homosexual marriage, or inter-faith or inter-race marriages. A foundation that has been shown to be discriminatory and baseless.
We use the same anti-abuse laws when two men are married as we do when a man and a woman are married, don't we? We use the same civil codes for division of assets and taxation &c. when a black woman marries a white man (or an asian man, or an aboriginal man, or what-have-you).
So why are we treating those who would like to have multiple spouses and differently?
Because the only examples we hear about are from the negative end of the spectrum, right? The only polygamous relationships that are being talked about are the failures and abusive ones like those in Bountiful.
Were polygamy decriminalized, then happy, balanced, successful people who might ALREADY be practicing this kind of relationship covertly could come forward and speak openly, proudly, and safely about their experiences.

I don't think decriminalizing polygamous relationships is going to create a marked increase in the number of people pursuing this kind of arrangement. It's not what my wife and I would want. It's not what any of my friends (that I'm aware of) would want with their spouses, either.
All it would do would to make it possible for a small class of people to be honest about themselves in public, if they desired. And that point was for you, UNIVERSALGENI @ APRIL 18, 2011 21:31 EST

for a mind-opening look at this and many other issues that are currently criminal or proscribed, have a look at "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," by Peter McWilliams. Sections are on-line here; http://www.mcwilliams.com/books/books/aint/

(sorry if I got carried away there, personal liberties are a pet topic of mine) :)

doris wrench eislerApril 19, 2011 20:31 EST

It is no accident that the FLDS chose Bountiful to establish its community and a culture noteworthy for its strange relationships - as in a mother and daughter as multiple wives of the same man.
Marriage relationships based on moral extortion and sheer desperation on the part of women should not be sanctioned by law. Monogamous marriage is no guarantee of happiness and may be exploitative but that fact is ameliorated to a significant degree by the larger community which includes helping agencies and the media. Women here can go for help and are in a better position to know they are being exploited in the first place. That is far less the case in isolated communities based on cult ideology.
It\\\\\\\'s interesting that churches that hold to monogamy even to the point of forbidding divorce have been mostly silent on this issue. It seems fair to assume they are willing to tolerate gross abuse of women rather than risk scrutiny of their own beliefs and practices. And those who are essentially against the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are exulting over interpretations that would give religious rights an edge over over human rights. But the world and history will no doubt judge us if we decide to sacrifice the rights and well-being of women to pseudo-legal considerations and obfuscating jargon.

Olga TkachukApril 20, 2011 06:57 EST

?"Early Christian patriarchs were polygamous — the Biblical King Solomon, with 700 wives" - geez, Solomon was Christian? Jeez, who knew.
Christianity, from the earliest times, seems to have been in favour of monogamy (going so far as celibacy) - as were other popular Judaic sects of the time. There are a number of New Testament verses that can very much be viewed as in support of monogamy; the only ones that would contradict it would be when Jesus talks about how he completely supports upholding all of the Judaic laws (which allowed polygamous marriages). And this idea kind of died anyway, once Paul became Christian number one and dispensed with Jewish law in what became Christianity, and not just a branch of Judaism.
Anyhoo, just religious studies nerd musings. As for allowing polygamy on the basis of protecting 'rights' - that's just putting the concept of rights on it's head. All the studies done in societies where those marriages exist uniformly show that the overwhelming number of women interviewed are NOT happy about them. Additionally, whether Bountiful or in Saudi Arabia, these are not places where the utmost respect is given to the idea of women's choice and WOMEN's rights. Which is easily seen in the fact that these twisted, old, gross Bountiful perverts impregnate teenage girls - and then demand their 'right' to do so legally.

Lorna CraigApril 21, 2011 10:15 EST

Blatanville - Polygamy would be the same as homosexual marriage if homosexuals taught chidlren they would lose their salvation if they were not homosexual and they must engage in homosexual relations or go to hell and then traffick children and marry children. Also those who believe in polygamy have the right to marry as we all do. Homosexuals did not have the right to marry at all. Comparing it to homosexual marriage is a red herring. So they are not comparable in anyway. This is what is taught in Canadian polygamy. In fact, their religious teachings state "If she abide not this principle so shall she be damned." So every polygamous marriage in Mormon off-shoot cults is coerced. I might also inform you that these people have been breaking many many laws and that will not change nor will their hiding, trafficking and abusing. Its hard to get the victims to complain when they are in Warren Jeff's "House of Hiding" or even find them. You need only look at the human rights records and the women rights records in countries where polygamy is legal. If polygamy is legal is bigamy no longer a crime. If polygamy is legal then every man having sex with a 16 year old need only say he is a polygamist. If polygamy is legal then under the teachings of the FLDS coercion for teens to marry is legal. What is the legal marrying age in British Columbia. Every old man in the FLDS could garner as many teenagers as he wants and it will all be legal. Legalizing polygamy is legalizing abuse. Abuse is a crime not a religion.

BlatanvilleApril 25, 2011 07:55 EST

Lorna, you're interpreting the behaviour of SOME polygamists as the behaviour of ALL polygamists. You want to continue to outlaw a behaviour that IN AND OF ITSELF doesn't hurt anyone but consenting adults.
The behaviours you ARE against (and so am I, in case you're not reading me correctly) are not polygamy, but abuses, perpetrated against non-consenting adults, or against those who cannot give consent (minors). This is the interpretive error you're making.

You said, "I might also inform you that these people have been breaking many many laws and that will not change nor will their hiding, trafficking and abusing. " Well, you don't have to inform me of that, but thanks anyway...I've done some reading on the subject, and more than some thinking.
Again, though, you have come back to those things that actually ARE crimes: trafficking and abuse, and claim that they are the same as polygamy. Polygamy is one behaviour/circumstance. Trafficking and Abuse are DIFFERENT BEHAVIOURS/CIRCUMSTANCES, and we already have laws against those things. Removing the laws against polygamy will NOT change the criminal definitions of Trafficking or Abuse. That is what you're missing from my argument.

People in the past would argue AGAINST giving homosexuals equal rights under the law because they heard terrible stories about some individual, who might have been homosexual, molesting children, and they don't want their children molested (and who, me included, does?). But the behaviour that is criminal here is the molestation, NOT the molester's homosexuality. Does that make sense? THIS criminal is a molester who happens to be a homosexual, not a molester BECAUSE they're homosexual.
Warren Jeffs' followers are CRIMINAL because they traffic in minors for marriage and sex in polygamous "marriages," and may abuse the members of their families and community to maintain their positions of power. They are NOT traffickers and abusers BECAUSE they're polygamists...Again, am I making myself clear?

I get it: you care deeply about the victims of people like Warren Jeffs. But you've got to agitate with the right language, and reach for the proper legal tools to use against them.
In the meantime, keeping polygamy illegal is criminalizing a behaviour that neither harms not potentially harms consenting adults, but which DOES act as a smokescreen for the actual criminal behaviours of people like those in Bountiful.

MNPApril 25, 2011 16:17 EST

This article and discussion have been interesting. I'm an American from Minnesota BTW.

Anyhow, I have to support polygamy. I don't see how there is a principled ground to stand on to prohibit it if you support gay marriage. What would be the rationale? It's exploitative? Any marriage can be that way, and we don't tolerate it for traditional marriage so why would it be different with polygamy. Consent? Again true for all marriages. Children? There are already rules mandating certain behaviors. If it is between consenting adults and is not abusive, should it be prevented?

I don't like it, but I don't think I can be against it.

Bob’s Plush GoatApril 25, 2011 17:44 EST

The societal issues which legalizing polygamy would entail are really very minor — there's no large population that would be interested in taking advantage of the new law who aren't living polygamous lifestyles already. The vast majority of Muslims in North America have no desire to engage in polygamy, and those few who do are mostly doing so already. The Mormon church has long repudiated polygamy and seems unlikely to change course were polygamy legalized. The Fundamentalist Mormons are all polygamous already. My guess is that the largest numbers of people entering polygamous unions upon legalization would be free-thinking hippie types and homosexual family units of three or more people who all wish to be married to one another, and while some people might not like such arrangements we really have no reason to fear them ipso facto.

The abuses of the FLDS Church and Muslim polygamists are very real, but they are of course already illegal. Given that the law has not dissuaded them from engaging in polygamy — which is not harmful to anyone in and of itself — it seems prudent to legalize polygamy in order to make these very isolated communities more open and to give the state a way to more closely monitor potential abuses. Many of the "marriages" are to underage girls and without proper consent, which we would, perhaps paradoxically, be much more able to prevent were we to legalize polygamy.

AnonApril 25, 2011 17:44 EST


I really have no opinion on polygamy OR polygyny since in the last instance it is none of my business.

Consider a man who is not married to anyone, but who has fathered several children by several different women. Consider a woman who is not married to anyone, but who has given birth to several children, each from a different father. This is not the way I have lived my life, but I know both men and women who have done exactly as I describe. And they are not "bad" people: perhaps they are not very bright and perhaps they don't know how to control themselves but they are there, they are fairly ordinary folks, and the state has no business in regulating their conduct. Besides which laws regulating sexual behavior are rightly viewed as an abomination.

So, if no one cares or intervenes when men and women engage in what are essentially polygamous or polygynous practices, why should anyone care if, among themselves, they consider their actions sanctified (as "marriage")? I can see no reason, except that it may offend someone's remaining righteousness to be a busybody.

Egypt SteveApril 26, 2011 07:23 EST

"Polygamy" is logically impossible where it is illegal. If a second marriage is illegal, then, like any illegal contract, it is invalid, unenforceable, and legally void. Therefore, no second marriage exists, and no crime has been committed. All that exists is that people have agreed to cohabit, and have celebrated their decision with a religious ceremony, which has no legal meaning.

CharleyApril 26, 2011 13:43 EST

I've known several West Africans in polygamous marriages. I didn't see any more abuse in these polygamous marriages than I saw in the monogamous marriages of their West African peers. And certainly there must be some way of dealing with the legal ramifications of polygamy, as a lot of other countries seem to make it work, around the world.

As West Africans immigrate to North America, many of them *do* in fact live out lives of polygamy, even if they are not recognized by the state. For example, a husband immigrates for economic reasons, while his first wife remains in Senegal. As he lives in America, he enters into a relationship in this state and gets married. At this point, one could say that the first wife might benefit directly (both emotionally and financially) by moving to America. Unfortunately, as the man has another wife in America, the first wife's possibility of immigration is very low. In this case, the state, by refusing to recognize the way these people live, has harmed them and their family!

As consenting adults, they have a right to the romantic arrangements of their choice, no? And who in the state has the right to determine which arrangements are abusive or not? I'm no fan of the Fundamentalist Mormons, but polygamy goes far beyond this bizarre cult, and deserves to be examined in its more widespread, less aberrant forms, especially as exemplified by the many families of West African immigrants.

Steve KellmeyerApril 27, 2011 08:27 EST

Her whole "history of polygamy" is kind of screwed up.

First off, she ENTIRELY omits the Jews.

Polygamy is just as acceptable to Jews as it is to Muslims or Mormons. The only group which forbad polygamy are the Ashkenazi Jews, and for much the same reason the Mormons forbad it - the medieval Ashkenazi were a minority in Christian Europe, and polygamy made a family stand out to the Christian neighbors, so for reasons of prudence, the rabbis said "no". But there's nothing in Jewish theology which forbids polygamy - the Sephardic Jews have never had such a prohibition because they spent most of their cultural history among the Muslims, who did the same thing.

Second, the idea of marrying for love was NOT the result of the Enlightenment, it was the result of Christian theology in the medieval period, reaching its zenith in the chivalry movement. Greco-Roman culture did, indeed, mandate monogamy, but it had zero problem with concubines, slave mistresses, etc., and the patriarch had the legal right to kill any member of his household, including his wife. Love, especially among the Greeks, was something older men shared with young boys - women need not apply.

Christianity was the first to teach that one should marry for love, not just for progeny, because human beings were made in the image of God, Who is Love, and Christians entered into a spiritual marriage to Christ the Bridegroom through the sacraments. Our human marriages were meant to reflect Christ's monogamous love for His Church, His Bride.

The Industrial Revolution actually broke down the whole "family-love" concept by reducing the meaning of "person" from a theological concept to a secular contract-law concept. Marriage changed from something in which men and women reflected the inner life of Trinitarian love to a mere legal fiction.

Third, she COMPLETELY OMITS the fact that Anabaptist polygamy (which she conflates with the 13th century for some odd reason) was a logical outgrowth of Luther's endorsement of polygamy. Martin Luther recommended to Henry VIII that he not divorce his first wife, rather, he should merely marry a second. Henry turned that advice down, but Philip of Hesse took him up on it. Luther's two best advisors stood as witnesses to Philip's bigamous marriage, undertaken at Luther's advice, with the word of warning that if anyone found out, Philip should keep quiet about Luther's thoughts on the matter.

The only people who really oppose polygamy are Catholics - Jews, Muslims, Mormons and Protestants and pagans all have a history of embracing it.

POETICOApril 27, 2011 08:27 EST

Polygamy is an abusive lifestyle because Mother Nature doesn't create enough females to support the practice. That's why we have so many "Lost Boys" in the Southwestern United States, young males who have been cast out of polygamous Mormon communities so older men can take young brides.

I have lived among among the polygamists and never met a happy plural family. Men rule and women and children are servants. What you see on TV is not real. The Browns are a joke. If the public even heard half the bickering that goes on behind closed doors!!! Most polygamists are parasites who live off taxpayers. Plural wives are considered "single mothers" and qualify for every gov't handout imaginable. The FLDS cult alone rakes in 25-30 million a year in taxpayer handouts, and that doesn't count what they collect from the feds to support all their handicap children.

For accurate information go to —> Banking On Heaven . com

TaraApril 27, 2011 12:38 EST

Kari, what kind of perverted old judge in Saskatchewan province told a married woman she would even be eligible to have another legally recognized spouse before she divorced her first spouse! No wonder Canadians are getting more despised everyday.

KenMay 09, 2011 11:21 EST

An apparently older topic I stumbled across this evening. Just wanted to mention that the article itself, in discussing primarily FLDS examples of polygamy, highlights the abuse of polygamy. What I mean is that two, or three, or four wives or husbands is rather different from 60 wives and 100 children.

It should be possible to permit what might be called "reasonable polygamy." Go with the Muslim limitation, for example, of not more than four wives. Were such to actually be implemented, then of course, women should receive the same right to have as many as four husbands. In fact, the sex of the partners should have nothing to do with any polygamous rights available. Four women, four men - whatever. What's good for one should be good for all.

In such a situation, it's easy to imagine several households to have some sort of "matrix" of husbands and wives: your third wife might be married to two guys down the street, for example, one of whom is married to another guy, with the other being married to two other women, and one of the wives of one of the wives in this case might be your fourth wife.

Having a bit of trouble imagining Divorce Court, and the division(s) of property here. Or how visitation and custody rights would play out. "Whose your daddy?" Did you mean biologically, or otherwise?

JaneMay 10, 2011 08:52 EST

The divorce court thing is already laid out in Saskatchewan, Canada. Married people (polygamists) who "divorce" "subsequent simultaneous spouses" are in reality in a "relationship overlap" situation. This is kinda like a star trek thing where the "multiple spouses" existed in a time warp scenario. There is no "time" of marriage rights and obligations between two only persons) The Saskatchewan Canada family law legislation dictates that the "rights of the subsequent spouse" (simultaneous) are subject to the rights of the first in spouse. Translation, married people can have same time spouses. The rights of the newest simultaneous spouse (decreed and sanctioned by the government) are subject to the property rights of the first in spouses.

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