Polygamist life takes ‘faith and determination,’ Bountiful woman testifies
Children walk home from school in B.C. Mormon community, Bountiful.

Postmedia files

Children walk home from school in B.C. Mormon community, Bountiful.

Brian Hutchinson, National Post · Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

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.

bhutchinson@nationalpost.com

Read more: http://www.nationalpost.com/news/Polygamist+life+takes+faith+determination+Bountiful+woman+testifies/4166970/story.html#ixzz1CAQB8r2W

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