The terrible choice: Child bride or plural wife?
A fundamentalist Mormon mother's difficult dilemma
by Daphne Bramham
The mother faced a terrible choice: Allow her 15-year-old daughter to marry a 19-year-old man she liked or risk having church leaders assign her as a plural wife to a much older man.
The mother chose monogamy for her daughter, even though she herself became a plural wife at 16.
The mother chose monogamy for her daughter, even though she wants the court to strike down the polygamy law.
Why? Although her daughter was too young to be legally married in British Columbia -- the law requires a judge's permission for anyone under 16 to marry -- the mother wanted her daughter to have someone she cared for.
The mother, known only as Witness #2, testified to her terrible choice Tuesday in B.C. Supreme Court as part of the constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada's polygamy law is valid.
She was the first witness for the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. FLDS witnesses have been guaranteed anonymity to avoid future prosecution.
(The witness's daughter, now 26, no longer shares her mother's faith. Two years after the wedding, she and her partner left the FLDS and Bountiful. They remain together and have two children.)
Trained as a midwife, the witness said she knows nine or 10 American girls under 18 who were sent to Bountiful as brides and an equal number who went from Bountiful to the United States.
Does she consider girls marrying at 16 or younger as child abuse? No, she said, even though she believes girls should wait until they're 18.
She doesn't believe the prophet is infallible, so people can say no to his suggestions for marriage partners, she said. But the witness does believe that a man needs more than one wife to enter the highest realm of heaven.
And as long as polygamy is illegal, she said her family and others will live in poverty with no money for their children's education because so much of what they earn goes to church leaders' legal bills in the United States.
Was she aware that her hard-earned money was paying for the legal defence of men charged with sexually assaulting children?
The witness sighed deeply.
"Yes, I was aware we were choosing to help them out."
Did she know of anyone who couldn't go to post-secondary school because they were denied financial aid, a bursary or scholarship? Again, she sighed. No.
Faced with a long list of occupations that require post-secondary education, the witness couldn't name a single one that anyone from Bountiful had qualified for.
In her affidavit, she said decriminalizing polygamy would also mean her seven-year-old -- the youngest of nine -- wouldn't have to live in fear of having his father arrested.
But under cross-examination, she admitted that her seven-year-old has virtually no contact with anyone outside Bountiful and that if he's afraid, it's because of what people in Bountiful have told him.
Did anyone tell her child that the 2008 raid resulted in charges against FLDS men, including prophet Warren Jeffs, and that some have been convicted of child sex abuse? No.
Now in her 40s, Witness #2 was born into a polygamous family. Although her father had five wives, she grew up in a home with three "mothers" and "approximately 30 children."
She said she chose to marry at 16. She wanted to go to college. But her father and the prophet would only allow that if she married.
The man the prophet chose for her was 13 years older, and had married her sister six years earlier, when she was only 16.
The witness chose marriage, even though she said sharing a husband hasn't always been easy.
People in Bountiful do have options, she insisted.
The problem seems to be that they're not always good ones.
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The National Post - Canada January 25, 2011
Polygamist life takes ‘faith and determination,’ Bountiful woman testifies
Brian Hutchinson, National Post
VANCOUVER — She married at 16, the woman explained, to a man already in wedlock. He had married her biological sister. They live in Bountiful, the fundamentalist Mormon community in the B.C. interior. Their polygamous union will eventually allow them into the “highest degree of God’s celestial kingdom.” The marriage is blessed, the woman said. And it is illegal, under Canadian law.
The woman gave testimony Tuesday, from a sealed courtroom in downtown Vancouver. She was not on trial; rather, she appeared voluntarily, at a constitutional reference hearing underway to determine, if possible, the legitimacy of Canada’s anti-polygamy laws.
Entering into polygamous marriage contravenes existing laws, but finding proof of harm caused by the practice in Bountiful has for decades stymied police and the Crown.
Craig Jones, lead lawyer for the B.C. Attorney General, describes four categories of harm that arise from polygamy, which include “harms to the moral fabric and democratic essence of society” and “sexualization of young girls and the increased incidence of antisocial behaviour and crime.”
But a court-appointed amicus, a lawyer who represents the public, argues that harm arises in monogamous marriages, too. “The way to get control over them [when they occur in a polygamous situation] is to stop making polygamy itself a crime,” the amicus, George Macintosh, told the National Post in an interview. As it now stands, “people in polygamous marriages may not call upon authorities out of fear of prosecution.”
B.C. Supreme Court Justice Robert Bauman will form conclusions from the hearing and he’ll either direct when and how current anti-polygamy laws may be applied, or he’ll find the current laws invalid.
He has received affidavits and has heard testimony from experts and academics with keen interests in polygamy. They came to his court armed with statistics, opinions and points of view. But none of them had direct, personal experience with polygamous life.
Mr. Justice Bauman then heard from disenchanted former members of Bountiful’s Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, people who became alienated and felt badly treated before rejecting the faith. Their testimonies were powerful, sometimes sad.
Last week, Truman Oler testified. He’s the son of James Oler, a Bountiful leader with multiple wives, a man whom the B.C. attorney general has attempted unsuccessfully to prosecute in the past. Truman Oler described a community of distant fathers and neglected children.
“Personally I can’t see why [FLDS adherents] have so many children if they don’t want to take care of them,’’ he told the court last week.
Now begins another phase. Women devoted to Bountiful are now speaking out.
The Bountiful bride who testified Tuesday cannot be identified, due to a court-ordered publication ban. Lawyers referred to the woman as Witness Two. Her testimony was broadcast from one courtroom closed to the public, to another via video link.
Now in her 40s, Witness Two has nine children. She is already a grandmother. Her sister has 10 children of her own. Witness Two agreed that their large family lives in what may be poverty. The children are isolated from the broader, secular community. Bountiful itself is divided into two factions; her faction’s prophet, an American named Warren Jeffs, recently served three years of a ten-year prison sentence handed to him after convictions of being an accomplice to rape. The convictions were overturned last year but Mr. Jeffs faces sexual assault charges in Texas.
The church’s legal battles in the U.S. have impacted Witness Two’s own household. When it can, her family directs legal defence funds to her church. “I have friends in the south facing prosecution and I would like to help them,” Witness Two explained Tuesday.
It’s not always easy, sharing her husband with the other wife, said Witness Two, even if the other wife is kin. Conflicts arise. Resolving them takes “discussion, negotiation and conciliation,” she explained. “It takes a considerable amount of faith and determination to live the right way.”
In direct examination, Witness Two was straightforward and clear, her words delivered in a strong, confident voice. Under cross-examination by government lawyers she frequently hesitated. She seemed reluctant to discuss some of her more curious religious beliefs, and her sustained faith in Mr. Jeffs.
She was asked to comment on some of the “directions” commonly issued by Mr. Jeffs: Whom a woman in the faith should marry; how his followers should behave; what they should wear. She spoke briefly of “reassignment,” when the prophet directs a woman from one husband to another.
Witness Two testified that in her faith, the husband is a household’s “priesthood head.” In the marriage ceremony, he applies the “patriarchal grip,” a sacramental holding of hands. The husband may “exalt” his wife; only then can she enter the celestial kingdom and live with her husband in eternity.
To many, these practices and beliefs will seem archaic, disturbing, and perhaps even wrong. But they may not necessarily constitute harm, the bottom line.
The hearing continues Wednesday, with more Bountiful wives.
This article was found at:
The Province - B.C., Canada January 25, 2011
Bountiful woman testifies society's bias 'affects my everyday life'
By Keith Fraser
A polygamist woman from Bountiful on Tuesday said she had suffered bias and prejudice from mainstream society and called for Canada’s law against plural marriage to be decriminalized.
The woman, who cannot be identified due to a court order, was the first person practicing polygamy in Canada to testify at the polygamy trial being heard in B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver.
She testified from a separate courtroom, where only she, her lawyer, the judge and several court officials were present.
The main Vancouver courtroom where the trial has been held was packed with spectators who watched the proceedings on a video feed.
The camera angle cut off the witness box but the woman’s disembodied voice could be heard as she responded to questions from her lawyer.
The mother of nine told B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman that many people in mainstream society treat polygamists with bias and prejudice.
“That affects my everyday life. We’ve had to pay so much money to try and stay out of jail. It’s hard to come up with the money that we need.”
The woman, who is only identified in her court affidavit as “Witness #2,” said she was raised to believe in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), commonly known as fundamentalist Mormons.
She said she was born in Creston and now lives in Bountiful.
Her father had five wives, three of them being in the home in which she was raised. There were a total of 30 children. Her mother had 15 of those kids.
She said she married at the age of 16 at her parents’ suggestion, in order to have someone help support her while she attended college.
Her parents spoke to the Prophet and the word came back that there was a man available to be married, she said.
Contrary to evidence that has been heard at trial that women have no choice in such arranged marriages, the witness said she chose to marry the man.
“I felt good about him and I married him.”
Under questioning from FLDS lawyer Robert Wickett, she said that she has a sister wife, a woman who is also her biological sister.
She said she has good relations with the sister and added: “Conflicts arise, yes, but I feel we can deal with it in a reasonable manner.”
Though she married at 16, she said the current policy of the FLDS is to disallow marriages under the age of 18.
Notwithstanding that policy, her own daughter married at the age of 15, against her strong advice, she said.
The daughter married a 19-year-old man but after two years the daughter left the small FLDS community of 1,000 people and no longer practices the fundamentalist Mormon religion, she said.
Her 26-year-old daughter is still in a monogamous marriage and has two children.
“I see her once a month. I text her and call her on the phone.”
Asked by Wickett if whether she would have approved her daughter marrying an older man with multiple wives, she said she would not have allowed it.
One other family member, a stepson, has also left the FLDS due to the fact that he is addicted to drugs and alcohol, she said.
“Our values are that we don’t use drugs or alcohol.”
Under cross-examination from Leah Greathead, a lawyer for the attorney-general’s ministry, the witness described a split in the FLDS community.
She said she stayed with the group headed by Warren Jeffs, a controversial FLDS leader from the United States, while the other half of the community sided with Winston Blackmore.
Two other anonymous FLDS witnesses from Bountiful are also expected to testify.
The judge has been asked to decide whether the polygamy law is constitutional. The FLDS are arguing that the law violates their freedom of religion.
The issue was referred to the court after Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two religious leaders in Bountiful, had their polygamy charges stayed in 2009.
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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