Both sides of polygamy debate fear the law
Rosie DiManno | Toronto Star columnist
Teenage girls transported over the border for the purpose of sex and breeding: That’s human trafficking.
Underage girls, below the age of consent, conscripted into conjugal relationships: That’s sexual assault.
Adolescent boys driven from their homes by men middle-aged and older — fathers, church and community leaders — as perceived rivals in the competition for nubile mates: That’s societal engineering and a different kind of abuse.
Plural marriages: That’s polygamy and against the law.
Sec. 293 of the Criminal Code is as clear as arch legalese will allow, forbidding conjugal union with more than one partner at the same time, “whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage.”
The law does not limit the number of people who can live together and call themselves a family. The law is not concerned with how many consenting adults are parties to a relationship. If your thing is a ménage à trois, or a partner-swapping quartet, or all-male or all-female or transvestite or transgendered or howsoever polyamorous — the vogue term for an intimate cleaving that involves more than two willing adults — the state will not bring you to trial.
It’s your business.
But polygamous marriage within the rubric of religion — the coercion and sexual exploitation of girls, whether agreeable to those females or nor, and the trafficking required to sustain a polygamous community — is rightly a crime. Only in Canada would this be a matter of constitutional challenge—which just goes to show how far the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has been co-opted, manipulated, to turn fundamental concepts on their head in the ever-unravelling tapestry of classic Western democracy.
An overweaning ideal of multiculturalism almost snuck sharia law into Ontario a few years ago when Barbara Hall foolishly advocated selling out gender to Islamic fundamentalists in the name of minority rights and religious equivalency. That this would have institutionalized patriarchy and affirmed inequalities — in inheritance rights, divorce and child custody — seemed lost on the logic-averse white-broad fembos.
Now, in British Columbia, a similar exercise in brain-seizure pedantry is being played out before Supreme Court Justice Robert Bauman with a “reference case’’ constitutional challenge to the Criminal Code section that criminalizes polygamy.
While practitioners of plural marriage (and take that to mean exclusively one husband with several wives) in Bountiful, B.C., have come forward to defend their lifestyle (pardon, FAITH; pardon, RELIGIOUS CULT), secure in the promise they won’t face prosecution for anything admitted in this courtroom, so, too, have misguided sectarian allies added their support for striking down a law they claim criminalizes unconventional relationships.
This is absurdly untrue. The law doesn’t force monogamy on married people. And the law does not render illegal the cohabitation of however many people choose to live as a family nor dictate their sleeping arrangements.
“Canadians can have sex with as many people as they like,’’ notes the Section 293 explanation on the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association website, which then goes on to whine: “We’re criminalized only when we form committed families.’’
No. What’s criminalized is pluralized wedlock where, despite the absence of any recognized civil union — i.e. a marriage licence — women, young girls, are often scooped up from cult Mormon communes in the U.S., transported across the border under false pretenses, isolated in a hideaway valley enclave, impregnated as teenagers and treated as broodmares, rearing upwards of 30 children under one room with their “sister-wives,” with no legal status as a genuine spouse in the event of “re-assignment’’ to another husband, and with no legal recourse to marital property rights or spousal support obligations — which are also the historical and legal underpinnings of wedlock.
That some apparently enjoy this enslavement and sought it out — because they were raised in like-minded communes around Utah and Colorado and Texas, the excommunicated pockets of fundamentalist Mormon splinter cults that defied their church’s renouncing of polygamy more than a century ago — is not surprising and even less relevant. Whether brainwashed or culturally kneaded to it, the obedient daughters of one daddy and multiple moms, their embracing of polygamy can’t possibly be used to justify a legal accommodation for plural marriages.
This isn’t just about the individuals directly involved. It’s about all of us because we, too, have an ethical stake in acceptance or rejection of polygamy. The civil libertarian view on polygamous marriage is misguided because plural wives sexualizes children, estranges boys from their communities and is a clear affront to the equality of women. It is harmful.
“The harms documented at Bountiful are the perfectly predictable — indeed the inevitable — consequences of a polygamous society,’’ B.C. government lawyer Craig Jones told the court when this hearing began more than two months ago.
“Bountiful did not create polygamy. Polygamy created Bountiful.’’
It’s not simply — as three separate Bountiful plural wives beseeched from the witness stand this week — the right to be left alone, to do as they like, or as demanded by their faith. A faith — the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — that has been deemed breakaway apostate and invalid, it should be remembered, by their own Mother Church.
And that’s just the females. What of the young males, several of whom have appeared at the B.C. hearing or filed affidavits describing how they were forced to leave Bountiful at age 14 or 15, because old coots, their own leaders, fear sharing the limited female gene-pool?
The FLDS is not a benign religious sect, like the gentle Amish. It has engendered quantifiable harm in Bountiful, a town of about 1,000 fundamentalist practitioners. Figures from the B.C. Vital Statistics Agency, filed as an affidavit last week, are shocking: 833 babies born to 215 mothers over 13 years, although the numbers are likely higher since the agency tracked births associated only with the community’s 14 most common surnames. A third of those mothers — 85 — were 18 or younger when they gave birth, seven times the provincial rate for teen moms.
Two of the teens had three children each by the time they were 18; 16 had two children each. What the figures show is that one in 10 babies were born to teenage girls — even though the FLDS allegedly ceased performing under-age marriages in 2008 — and 45 per cent of Bountiful mothers are foreign-born.
One man alone — spiritual leader Winston Blackmore, the now-54-year-old bishop of Bountiful — had at least 107 children.
The B.C. government tried prosecuting Blackmore and James Oler — duelling bishops in the internally split sect — for polygamy in 2009 but the charges were stayed because a judge found they had been improperly laid by a special prosecutor improperly appointed. That led to this broader hearing on the constitutionality of Sec. 293.
For nearly three decades previously, the government had been frustrated in applying a law they worried would not stand a constitutional challenge. It was a gamble they were unwilling to take so Bountiful was allowed to let slide. The consequences of that approach are evident in these ghastly statistics.
If the law is struck down — an issue that will inevitably be decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, however Bauman rules — Canada will become the only developed nation to legalize marriage between more than two people. That does not make us more progressive than the rest of the world.
The ladies of Bountiful who testified this week live in fear for breaking the law.
For too long, the government of B.C. has feared applying it.
This article was found at:
Edmonton Sun - Canada January 28, 2011
Too many hitches in prof's position
By MINDELLE JACOBS | Edmonton Sun columnist
Try to wrap your brain around the bizarre notion that a smart, female law professor, with all the societal privileges such a position offers, believes polygamy should be decriminalized.
Carissima Mathen, of the University of New Brunswick, used to work for the Women’s Legal and Education Action Fund (LEAF).
The group promotes women’s equality and has pressed for things like universal day care, equal pay for work of equal value and the eradication of discrimination against aboriginal women.
So it’s strange that a lawyer who once worked for LEAF seems to think polygamy isn’t a big deal.
It’s difficult to justify Canada’s ban on polygamy, partly because the law requires no proof of harm, Mathen said in a noon-hour speech at the University of Alberta Thursday.
The abortion law we had in the days of Morgentaler was over-reaching, as are some of our prostitution laws, as found recently by an Ontario judge, Mathen pointed out. Similarly, our anti-polygamy law has no place in contemporary society, she argued.
Instead of worrying about plural marriages, the authorities should concentrate on specific harms and use other Criminal Code laws, such as those prohibiting exploitation and forced marriage, to nail the perps, she explained.
“It’s a distraction to focus on the plural nature of the relationship,” Mathen said later in an interview.
“Why is that relevant? Why isn’t it just relevant that someone is being harmed?”
The original 19th-century law that banned polygamy targeted Mormons, who historically practised polygamy, and the current law is so vague it’s ineffectual because it doesn’t require the Crown to show proof of harm, she said.
The law only requires proof of someone having a conjugal relationship with more than one person at the same time.
“At some point, we need to be comfortable with the idea that people will make choices that we disagree with. They’ll make choices that, to us, seem … not in their best interests,” Mathen said.
“That’s the risk we run when we accept individual liberty and autonomy as fundamental values in this society.”
The trouble with that is only men (and the older ones, at that) have autonomy in polygamous communities, particularly the twisted breakaway Mormon commune in Bountiful, B.C. and the like-minded areas in the U.S. run by polygamist crackpots.
Some women have testified at the ongoing constitutional hearing into polygamy in a B.C. court that the lifestyle is blissful. What would you expect from women who have been brainwashed since childhood to believe that marrying someone old enough to be your father, having as many children as possible and living with, say, 20 sister-wives is the only route to God?
As well, higher education is discouraged, the outside world is painted as evil (except for all the welfare money) and young men are routinely forced out of the community so they won’t compete for the affections of the teen girls.
Credible experts have warned repeatedly that polygamy is harmful to women and children.
How can it not be when men disguise their megalomania in religious trappings and sow the seeds of misogyny and social dysfunction? That’s not religion; it’s pathology.
Do we want to be the first western country to decriminalize polygamy?
Mathen sees nothing wrong with it.
“(The polygamy ban) is a regression … to a time when we were much more comfortable with using the criminal law to promote a very narrow kind of moral value,” she explained.
What an weird way to champion women’s rights.
This article was found at:
Stop Polygamy in Canada website has notes taken by observers in the courtroom as well as links to most of the affidavits and research the court is considering in this case.
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