Polygamy is probably not something that crosses your mind too often, but if you live in British Columbia, Utah, Arizona, Texas and a few other states in America, it is a simmering issue that may be coming to a boil in Canada.
Yesterday the British Columbia Supreme Court began proceedings intended to grapple with the law that criminalizes polygamy in Canada and has since 1890. The case began when rumours and reports of sexual exploitation, coercion and human trafficking in the small BC community of Bountiful came to the attention of BC’s attorney-general.
Bountiful is the home of Canada’s most high-profile fundamentalist Mormon community, a group that has links to the infamous Warren Jeffs,the leader and high priest of the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter Day Saints in the US who practice polygamy as part of their religion. Jeffs has been the target of US authorities for some time and is presently serving a lengthy prison term for his role in the rape of an underage Mormon wife.
Bountiful’s leader is Winston Blackmore who is said to have 25 wives and 101 children. Blackmore married five of his wives when they were still children and it is this conduct that has attracted the attention of the BC government and feminist organizations across Canada.
Those in favour of maintaining the law say that it is vital to protect society’s vulnerable, in this case women and children. Others say that Canadians don’t want a society that encourages multiple marriages with the social ills that follow.
Those who support striking down the law say that it violates freedom of religion and freedom of association, both protected under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association, a group whose members are involved in intimate relationships consisting of three or more consenting adults, line up with those who say the law must go. They take the position they ought to be free to love and live with whoever they choose and the law against polygamy has no place in their bedrooms.
The legal and moral issues arising from polygamy are sensitive and complex. This test case is expected to last several months with testimony from dozens of witnesses who will be directly affected by the outcome of the court proceedings. What everyone agrees upon is that this case will undoubtedly end up in the Supreme Court of Canada.
My prediction? The law against polygamy will stand and the criminal activities arising from the practice will be vigorously prosecuted, while the activities of consenting adults will remain unfettered.
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang