4 Feb 2011

Two Mormon fundamentalist women from Utah tell Canadian court positive accounts of polygamy, no hint of abuse

The Province - B.C., Canada January 19, 2011

Utah mother drops anonymity, testifies about 'amazing' experience of plural families


A polygamous mother from Utah on Wednesday agreed to lift an anonymity order and testify using her name at the polygamy trial in B.C. Supreme Court.

Alina Darger, who has seven children, spoke glowingly of her experiences growing up in a polygamous family and as one of three sister wives to her current husband.

Darger, born in Salt Lake City in 1969, was initially one of a number of fundamentalist Mormons who agreed to testify only if their identities could be shielded.

She said that she had previously done press interviews but when she was offered anonymity to testify, she agreed because it was always a risk to use her name.

“As the case proceeded and as I thought about it more, I felt that this would be just a historic case that may never come up again and an opportunity to present a voice that might not otherwise be heard,” she said.

“So I decided to drop the anonymity.”

Prior to the trial opening in November, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman agreed to allow a number of fundamentalist Mormons to testify without identifying themselves. A number of those unnamed witnesses are to be heard next week.

To date, much of the evidence at trial has indicated that polygamy is associated with harms to individuals, families and society as a whole.

But Darger, who describes herself as an independent fundamentalist Mormon who does not belong to a church, painted a completely different picture of her life.

She said her father had two wives and 32 children, with her own mother having 15 of those kids.

“Growing up, I lived in a plural family and I loved that experience and I thought it was really amazing,” she told the judge.

“I always felt like I had somebody close to care for me.”

Court has heard that many polygamous communities have arranged marriages, but Darger said she does not believe in the practice.

She said she and her two sister wives entered their marriages with her husband with free choice.

“From a religious perspective, what role does plural marriage play?” asked lawyer Robert Wickett, who is representing fundamentalist Mormons.

“Obviously it’s a very sacred and deep principle to me,” she replied. “And I believe it with all my heart and I think it makes a better person of me. All of us come together on family holidays and we love one another.”

Darger said she married at the age of 20, the same age as her husband. She was the first wife and thus is legally married. There are 24 kids among the three sister wives, she said.

The judge has been asked to decide whether Canada’s polygamy law is constitutional. The issue was referred to the court after two fundamentalist Mormon leaders in the small community of Bountiful had their polygamy charges stayed in 2009.

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The Province - B.C., Canada January 20, 2011

Utah woman defends polygamy in B.C. court


A Utah woman who describes herself as a former polygamist says she would be happy to enter into another plural marriage if the opportunity arose.

Mary Batchelor told the polygamy trial being heard in B.C. Supreme Court that she was in a plural marriage for three years.

A mother of seven, Batchelor was the second wife to her husband at the time she entered into a “religious covenant” with him in 1989.

She told B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Bauman that she had some “very good times, some very positive times” during the polygamous marriage.

She also had some “very challenging times” when the first wife had an affair and left, she said.

“It was especially hard when the marriage broke down and there was a loss of trust.”

Despite the divorce of the first wife, she hopes to re-marry into a polygamous relationship.

“I do hope to be able to live in a plural marriage again. It would be wonderful if I could do it without a law against it. When that plural marriage ended, it broke my heart.”

The first wife, Victoria Prunty, became a third wife in another polygamous marriage before becoming a spokeswoman for a group called Tapestry Against Polygamy, which opposes plural marriage, the court heard.

Batchelor, who describes herself as an independent fundamentalist Mormon, said she was 20 years old when she first married, three days shy of her 21st birthday.

Court has heard evidence of polygamous men marrying brides in their early teens but Batchelor said she is not in favour of underage marriage.

She also does not agree with arranged marriages, a practice that occurs in some polygamous communities.

“I don’t practice it, I don’t believe in it, I don’t accept it.”

Batchelor was a witness called by lawyer George Macintosh, who was appointed by the court to represent parties that are in favour of polygamy.

Asked by Macintosh what role plural marriage plays her in religious beliefs, she replied that she couldn’t reach her “full potential” as a person without it.

“Plural marriage is a very vital and intricate part of my belief system.”

Polygamy is banned in Utah and as a result Batchelor said she was “very frightened” about entering a plural marriage but decided to go ahead because she believed it was the right thing to do.

The trial is expected to resume Tuesday with testimony from several more fundamentalist Mormons. The three or four witnesses expected to be called by FLDS lawyer Robert Wickett cannot be identified due to an anonymity order imposed by the judge.

The judge has been asked to determine whether Canada’s polygamy law is constitutional. The issue was referred to him after Winston Blackmore and James Oler, two religious leaders in Bountiful, had their polygamy charges stayed in 2009.

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CBC News - The Canadian Press January 20, 2011

Anti-polygamy law 'frightening,' wife says

The greatest harm facing polygamous women is the law outlawing their marriages, an advocate of polygamy and former plural wife told a B.C. court Thursday.

Mary Batchelor is a self-described "independent fundamentalist Mormon" who, a few days before her 21st birthday, became the second wife in a polygamous marriage while living in Utah.

The first wife left three years into the marriage and later became a vocal critic of polygamy. Batchelor, 42, and her husband have been living in a legal, monogamous marriage ever since.

Batchelor testified Thursday at a court hearing in Vancouver examining the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy law.

She said she has positive memories of her plural marriage and hopes to one day welcome another wife into her family.

"We had some very good times, some really positive times. She and I had some strong bonding moments together," Batchelor said.

"We hope to be able to live plural marriage again. I did not choose monogamous marriage, I chose plural marriage. When that plural marriage ended, it broke my heart."

Monogamous parents

Batchelor grew up in a mainstream Mormon household with monogamous parents. In her late teens, she said she began researching fundamentalist Mormonism and decided she wanted to practise polygamy — something the mainstream church renounced more than a century ago.

She wasn't connected to any specific religious sect, such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as the FLDS, and she didn't live in one of the closed polygamous communities that have been subject to intense scrutiny at the constitutional hearings in Vancouver.

Batchelor said she never experienced the physical or sexual abuse that experts and former polygamists have described during the court hearings. The only harm she faced was the constant fear of prosecution under Utah's anti-polygamy law, she said.

"That was obviously very frightening to me and very scary, but I felt I had to do what was right and honour my own conscience," Batchelor said.

"I felt it was very oppressive and frightening to me. I wasn't able to tell people who my husband was and live openly. The feeling that you can't just live openly and be part of society for fear you're going to be prosecuted and your family is going to be torn apart."

Batchelor said she doesn't agree with the practices of some fundamentalist Mormon groups, such as arranged marriages and teenage brides but believes polygamy should be decriminalized. It would be better to educate polygamists about incest, underage marriage and sexual assault, she said, and use existing laws to deal with abuse.

Ex-wife critical

Lawyers for the B.C. and federal governments pointed out that Batchelor was not an expert and lived in a plural marriage for only a period of three years nearly two decades ago. They also noted she has become a fierce critic of polygamy opponents — notably, her husband's ex-wife, Vicky Prunty.

Prunty, who is now the director of the group Tapestry Against Polygamy, has publicly said she left the marriage nearly 20 years ago because she was unhappy. In a story recounted in a book titled God's Brothel, Prunty describes her ex-husband as abusive and controlling.

Passages of that book were read in court, and Batchelor denied all of Prunty's claims, noting that the book uses pseudonyms for Batchelor and her husband.

"There is a reason our names are not on this product: we would sue," she said, shaking her head.

The constitutional case was prompted by the failed prosecution of two leaders in the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C.

Winston Blackmore and James Oler were each charged in 2009 with one count of practising polygamy, but those charges were later thrown out on technical legal grounds.

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