8 Nov 2010

Women's adovcates: polygamy is an “oppressive institution” that abuses and enslaves women and children

NOTE FROM PERRY BULWER - September 25, 2009

In the three articles posted below you will see conflicting opinions from women's advocates on whether polygamy is an abusive institution or not. Why might explain this conflict? One possibility is that the researcher, Angela Campbell, faced some of the same difficulties in studying the Mormon fundamentalists in Bountiful as other researchers have faced while attempting to study cults. Cult members are always on their best behaviour when outsiders such as reporters and researchers are around. The wedding that Campbell attended, which she mentions in the final article here, was more than likely a performance put on specifically for her. Many cults, such as Scientology and the Children of God, now known as The Family International, are well know for having 'show' homes or centers where they put on false fronts to deceive outsiders. Cult leaders always want to control the message, and having their followers deceive researchers or reporters is a common cult tactic. Also, did you ever notice how cult apologists have no problem believing cult members, despite their obvious indoctrination, but are extremely suspicious of accounts by former members who have broken free of that indoctrination?

Update September 29, 2009: I have added a fourth article here by the Vancouver Sun reporter, Daphne Bramham, who has reported extensively on Bountiful and has written an excellent book, The Secret Lives of Saints: Child Brides and Lost Boys in Canada's Polygamous Mormon Sect. She not only confirms the points I make above, but has additional criticisms of Angela Campbell's work.


National Post - Canada September 25, 2009

Women Speak Out Against Polygamy

By Patricia Paddey | Listen Up TV

A woman who grew up in a polygamous family and lived for 28 years in a polygamous marriage says she’s shocked and saddened to learn Canada has quashed an opportunity to put polygamy on trial.

“If something isn’t done, women will keep on being abused and coerced into living lives that they don’t want to [live],” said Irene Spencer in a telephone interview from her home in Lodi, California. “It breaks my heart because I’ve been there.”

In a case that was widely anticipated to test Canada’s polygamy laws against freedom of religion, B.C. Supreme Court Judge Sunni Stromberg-Stein yesterday threw out polygamy charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two rival leaders from polygamous communities near Bountiful, B.C.

The charges against Blackmore, 52, were linked to his alleged marriages to 19 women. The charges against Oler, 44, were linked to his alleged marriages to three women.

According to previously published reports, documents presented in court earlier this year, which were compiled by the RCMP, indicated Blackmore had taken several underage brides.

Spencer, 74, says it’s concerns over the effects of polygamy on women and children that has her devoting her energies to speaking out against polygamy.

Author of Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife, she was born into a polygamous family in Utah, like her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother also had been before her.

Raised in a fringe community of Mormon fundamentalists, Spencer was one of 31 children in her large family. “You can imagine being lost in the shuffle of 31 children,” she said

The Mormon Church banned polygamy 119 years ago this week, but FLDS groups continue the practice.

“My own father was arrested in 1944 for polygamy in Salt Lake City,” said Spencer. “He spent more than two years in prison for polygamy … so it was our mothers’ duty to indoctrinate us.”

Taught to believe that polygamy was not only expected — but required — to receive the rewards of heaven, in 1953, she married Verlan LeBaron, a man who was already married to her half-sister. She was 16 on her wedding day. Spencer would go on to have 13 children with LeBaron, and to see him take another eight wives. She describes her life at the time as one of poverty, drudgery and despair.

“Girls are denied education. Many girls married at 14 and 15. The men always say ‘marry them young so you can train them.’ They’re told all they need to know is how to keep house and raise children, so it makes it impossible for women to move into the outside world. They can’t leave the family because they don’t have the skills to survive on their own. The men make the rules.”

Told of the September 23 ruling, Spencer said Canada has lost an important opportunity to ensure equality for all, no matter their age or gender. “Religion has no right to cover up abuse,” she said. “Abuse hidden under the guise of religion is absolutely wrong.”

FLDS groups aren’t the only ones who practice polygamy. Other fringe sects and some fundamentalist Muslims also engage in polygamous marriage. But according to Farzana Hassan, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, polygamous marriage is an “oppressive institution.”

“It’s all about dominance, control and power structures,” she says, noting that “extremely young” Muslim women have been imported to Canada for the purpose of becoming polygamous wives. “I’m not even sure that their consent counts in such cases,” Hassan said.

“Freedom of religion has to be seen within the larger human rights issue. And if human rights are being trumped by a religious practice, then that’s not acceptable.”

Spencer agrees. A self-described born-again Christian today, living in a monogamous marriage, she says she found real freedom only through coming to a new understanding of and relationship with God, and it’s her faith that motivates her today.

“It is abuse for parents to marry [their girls off as] child brides, and for them to have babies so soon. I think it’s an absolute crime when a woman has a dozen or more children, so five-year olds have to change diapers and work, work, work. It is child slavery,” Spencer said.

“I want to be that voice for every woman who through fear, remains silent.”

Holy Post

Patricia Paddey is a freelance writer and an associate producer with Listen Up TV.

This article was found at:



National Post - Canada September 25, 2009

Women in Bountiful have more power than you think: researcher

Bountiful misconceptions

Brian Hutchinson | National Post

VANCOUVER -- Polygamists Winston Blackmore and James Oler can continue to practise what they preach: Accept multiple wives, including teenage girls. Flout Canadian law.

Criminal charges laid against the two men from Bountiful were revoked this week by B.C. Supreme Court Justice Sunni Stromberg-Stein. Bail conditions were lifted, and the two are again free to do as they please.

McGill University law professor Angela Campbell does not endorse polygamous practice. She "has no love for Winston Blackmore," even if he is more laid back and more approachable than Mr. Oler, who represents the more conservative of Bountiful's two polygamous religious factions. Both are "problematic people," she says.

But she doesn't get too worried about them, or what goes on inside Bountiful.

Prof. Campbell is one of the few outsiders - and a secular, inquisitive, intellectual one at that - to have a well-informed opinion of the place, based on first-hand observation and experience. She has enjoyed direct, almost unfettered access to the women of Bountiful.

About 1,000 people live in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints community. It is next to Creston, B.C., near the U.S. border.

Prof. Campbell has spent some of the past two summers in Creston and Bountiful, conducting research and interviewing women who call themselves "sister wives."

"It's a fascinating, amazing place," she says. "It's complicated. It's very diverse."

More than many would imagine. She met two ladies who, besides being married in the "celestial" Bountiful sense to Mr. Blackmore, are married, in the state-sanctioned legal manner, to each other.

Prof. Campbell has also encountered in Bountiful monogamous marriages. Even a traditional wedding that, she says, seemed "right out of the pages of a bridal magazine."

Preconceptions she had before her trip to Bountiful were shattered.

The results of her work and the opinions she has formed are controversial. Reaction ranges from mild shock to anger. "I've received some hateful emails," says Prof. Campbell, a Harvard law school graduate who is married (to one man) with children.

Bountiful's critics, feminists especially, have trouble accepting that women there are not brainwashed, subjugated automatons "in need of deliverance," which is how the media often portray them, Prof. Campbell says.

In fact, the Bountiful women whom she has interviewed are clear thinking, resourceful and in some cases well educated. Not to be underestimated. They "cast Bountiful as a heterogeneous and dynamic social and political space," Prof. Campbell wrote in, "Bountiful Voices" an academic paper written earlier this year, "where at least some women are able to wield considerable authority in their marriages, families and community. Their stories thus seem inconsistent, at least to some degree, with pre-existing presumptions about polygamy and its harms for women set forth in conventional public discourse."

But their experiences vary, she noted. Older women described being married off in church style while still in their early teens, to older men not of their choosing.

"Conventionally, spouses in the FLDS church had a very short (or no) prenuptial relationship," Prof. Campbell notes in her 2009 paper, titled Bountiful Voices.

"This seems to be an ongoing practice for some; one participant described meeting her husband just an hour before their marriage."

However, arranged marriages are becoming less common and monogamous marriages no longer seem exceptional in Bountiful, according to women whom Prof. Campbell interviewed last year.

Outsiders assume that men in Bountiful choose multiple wives; but in recent practice, it is the other way around, Prof. Campbell noted.

"The impropriety of men scouting for wives was noted on several occasions," she wrote in "Bountiful Voices."

One woman told her: "I don't believe that married men should date other women, or look for other wives. If a girl wants to be a plural wife, she should get to know a man's family first, and they should all have the chance to agree or disagree with the prospective addition to the family.... To me, it would seem like cheating on your wife to be out looking for another wife."

Anther woman in Bountiful dismissed the idea that "there are so many underage marriages" in the community. "There's not. And my daughter ... I want her to be at least 20 because it feels like they're at least a little bit smarter going out to the marriage life. I was 21."

On the other hand, one woman "felt ‘peer pressure' to get married as young as 16, and despite her mother's dissuasive efforts, the young woman did marry before reaching the age of majority."

By no means is Prof. Campbell's the last word on Bountiful. It is not an exhaustive study. Rather, it is "meant to initiate further questions and research regarding the connections drawn between polygamy and harm to women, which seems to drive current legal and policy understandings of plural marriage."

She says she does not favour polygamy herself. Bountiful is neither a community of horrors nor a utopia, she says. But even that runs contrary to most opinions shared outside the community.

There is "serious misconduct in Bountiful." Few seem prepared to argue with that assessment given last year by Vancouver lawyer Leonard Doust. The B.C. government appointed him to review an earlier decision not to prosecute members of the sect who practice polygamy.

Despite a reference to "abuses in Bountiful," Mr. Doust agreed with B.C. special prosecutor Richard Peck, who decided in 2007 that constitutional protections of religious freedom would complicate a prosecution there.

Mr. Doust also argued that prosecution on charges of polygamy in Bountiful would be unfair.

But following receipt of Mr. Doust's report, Wally Oppal, then the attorney general, appointed yet another special prosecutor, who did recommend charges.

So it was that Mr. Blackmore and Mr. Oler, both of whom acknowledge multiple wives, were arrested in January and charged with polygamy.

That should not have happened, Madame Justice Stromberg-Stein ruled this week. Rather, the attorney general had to follow Mr. Peck's 2007 decision.

Instead, the attorney general unlawfully sought another opinion. He "got the answer he publicly sought all along; that is, to prosecute," the judge ruled.

"The harm in the appointment of successive special prosecutors is that it undermines the administration of justice by leaving the perception, if not the reality, of political interference or unfair prosecution," she explained in her ruling.

From this one could interpret that B.C.'s Ministry of Attorney General has done more "harm" to society than the polygamists themselves.

Lawmakers and politicians might have this in mind as they consider what to do next. B.C.'s current Attorney General, Mike de Jong, is considering his options.

For her part, Prof. Campbell expects the province will appeal this week's ruling, and will continue its quest to prosecute polygamists in Bountiful. Whether that is necessary, her work suggests, is another matter.

This article was found at:



National Post - Canada September 26, 2009

Town more diverse than perceived

Angela Campbell | Canwest News Service

With this week's B. C. Supreme Court judgment revoking charges against two men from Bountiful, Canada's only openly polygamous community is once again in legal limbo. It is worth taking a closer look at what marriage might mean in a place where some men allegedly have as many as 19 wives. Angela Campbell is a professor of family law and criminal law at McGill University. She has conducted fieldwork in Bountiful, and offers this surprising perspective.

The terms "Bountiful" and "marriage," when used together, often conjure up a distinct image. One probably envisages a couple united by a cult leader in a short, secretive, and seedy ceremony. The bride would be imagined as young (perhaps underage), naive, quiet and unworldly. Her husband would be depicted as older, savvier and lecherous, married already to a number of existent wives.

This image does not emerge from thin air. The popular press has gone to lengths in casting Bountiful and other communities of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) as places marked by two predominant features: child marriage and polygamy. A CBC story aired last January suggested that an older man in a polygamous society like Bountiful can marry a "whole flock of teenage girls." But how accurate is this assertion? And indeed, how valid are common assumptions about polygamy?

Time spent in Bountiful suggested other representations of marriage in this community. After a week of fieldwork there in 2008, I returned earlier this year for further research. This year's trip coincided with the first "untraditional" wedding by local standards, given its size and elaborateness. The rodeo themed ceremony, a product of a year of planning, was stunning. In the late afternoon sun on the sprawling community lawns, 14 wedding attendants and over 30 flower girls led the bride's way down the aisle.

The attractive couple, in their early 20s, wore attire inspired by modern wedding magazines. Their ceremony was officiated by a hip, 50-something Justice of the Peace. The B. C. wedding vows from which she read cast marriage as a "legal state" and a "high and serious state" into which "two persons" unite, and to which there can be no known "legal impediment." In a community associated with illicit and deviant marital traditions, the legal language was striking.

This marriage is one of the many monogamous unions in Bountiful. While the community has always accepted monogamy, it seems to be emerging as a more popular practice among younger people. Looking around a church service on a Sunday morning (a space where most community members convene,) I saw many clusters that looked like two-spouse nuclear families. Beyond monogamous marriage, one can also find other "mainstream" conjugal practices: cohabitation, separation, divorce and, in one known case, same-sex marriage.

Weddings also seem to happen at an older age than the stereotype of Bountiful suggests. Adolescent girls, often imagined as inescapably destined to wed men decades their senior, did not appear preoccupied with nuptial relationships. Many of them are makeup-and jeans-wearing, fast-talking, hockey-playing and American Idol-watching. Popular culture, friendships and dating (even with teens outside the community) seemed to be their most immediate concerns.

Plural marriage does, however, retain a significant place in Bountiful, and women in the community are realistic and critical about its challenges. They noted that it stretches resources and can trigger rivalry around sharing space and a spouse. But they also identified clear rationales for it, including faith, custom, and the solidarity and support offered by "sister wives."

Marital experiences in Bountiful are varied. Community members present themselves as choosing conjugal relationships that best reflect their own values, goals and identity. This is relevant to the debate over polygamy's criminalization. It suggests the need to revisit presumed links between polygamy and sexual exploitation, abuse and assault. The latter are indisputably harmful acts subject to criminal prosecution. But justifications for prohibiting polygamy seem less clear, especially since the criminal law does not target other "unorthodox" conjugal practices, such as adultery and arranged marriages.

While critical of the B. C. Attorney General, Justice Stromberg-Stein's decision offers a valuable opportunity: the AG may now revisit the idea of prosecuting a constitutionally vulnerable offence. It can also reconsider appropriate "next steps" for Bountiful.

To be effective and equitable, these steps demand a critical assessment of plural marriage in Bountiful and the justifications for its criminalization.

This article was found at: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/story.html?id=2035869

The Vancouver Sun Blogs - September 28

Polygamy debate far from over

by Daphne Bramham | The Vancouver Sun

There is no justice if politicians can interfere in the process, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

That’s why the polygamy charges against two B.C. men were quashed last week. There may well be room to appeal the decision that found that former attorney general Wally Oppal overstepped his legal boundaries when he appointed several different outside prosecutors to consider whether charges should be laid against Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two fundamentalist Mormon leaders in the community called Bountiful in southeastern British Columbia.

Regardless of that, it’s bears mentioning that polygamy remains on the books as a Criminal Code offence even though opinion is divided over whether the law is constitutional and whether polygamy is a justifiable limit to put on religious freedom.

Among those crusading for the decriminalization of polygamy is Angela Campbell, a professor of family and criminal law at McGill University, who has spent a couple of weeks doing research in Bountiful.

In an opinion piece published Saturday in the National Post, Campbell accuses the “popular press” of having “gone to lengths in casting Bountiful and other communities of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) as places marked by two predominant features: child marriage and polygamy . . . [where] an older man can marry a ‘whole flock of teenage girls.’ ”

First, let me point out that she got the name of the group wrong. It’s the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Then let me answer a few of the questions she raised.

As for the ‘flock of teens,’ in an affidavit filed in B.C. Supreme Court, RCMP Corp. Shelley Livingstone listed the names of the 19 women listed on the indictment against Blackmore, who is now 54.

Her affidavit also listed their birthdates and the names and ages of their 101 children. Of those 19, four were only 15 when they were bound to Blackmore in a spiritual marriage. Another two were 16. Three were 17 and one was 18.

Not only was Blackmore in his 40s at the time, he was the bishop of the FLDS and superintendent of the government-financed independent school. Other religious leaders and other school officials have faced charges of sexual exploitation when they have had sexual relations with children 18 and under.

Campbell goes on in to write about the lavish wedding she attended in Bountiful earlier this year. What she left out from her description are several key points.

The elaborate affair with 14 wedding attendants and more than 30 flower girls was the marriage of Blackmore’s youngest son by his first only and legal wife. They were married by a justice of the peace. The bride was an American. So, they needed a legal wedding in order for the bride to file for Canadian citizenship.

Besides, Blackmore can’t perform legal marriages. Not only has he never registered with the B.C. government (as is required of all religious leaders who perform marriages), it was also one of Blackmore’s his bail conditions that he not conduct religious marriages.

Campbell notes that the marriage was one of many monogamous marriages. That’s true. How long it remains a monogamous marriage is an open question since at least two of the groom’s brothers followed their father’s urging and took second wives.

Campbell goes on to say “community members present themselves as choosing conjugal relationships that best reflect their own values, goals and identity.”

What she doesn’t say is that what all of the children of Bountiful are taught — both those who are FLDS and those whose families have split with the FLDS and follow Blackmore — is that polygamy is a path to heaven.

Given that, the choice seems a whole lot less free.

This article was found at:


No comments:

Post a Comment