On July 24th, 2017, the verdict many Canadians had long been waiting for finally happened. Winston Blackmore, leader of the fundamentalist Mormon sect in Bountiful BC and a Bishop of the Community, James Oler, were found guilty of polygamy.
After the verdict was read, Blackmore said publicly that:
“I’m guilty of living my religion and that’s all I’m saying today because I’ve never denied that.”
This article isn’t about Winston Blackmore or the despicable acts of pedophilia and misogyny – with girls as young as fifteen pressed into plural marriages and by extension sexual relationships with men often old enough to be their grandfathers – masquerading as religion within the confines of the Bountiful community. It is not about the fact that those outside the community who defend Blackmore under the guise of religious freedom are likely either misogynists, pedophiles, or both.
This article is about polygamy and polygyny.
Before we begin, we have to define our terms as words like polygamy, polyandry, polyamory and polygyny often get confused.
Polygamy is the practice of having more than one wife or husband at the same time.
Polyandry is the practice in which a woman has more than one husband.
Polyamory is the practice of pursuing one or more romantic relationships at the same time.
Polygyny, which is by far the most common, is the practice in which one man takes multiple wives.
Though polygamy is illegal as per the Canadian Criminal Code, the law typically only comes into play in cases of polygyny.
The provision against polygamy can be found in section 293 of the Canadian Criminal Code which says that:
(1) Every one who
(a) practises or enters into or in any manner agrees or consents to practise or enter into
- (i) any form of polygamy, or
- (ii) any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time,
whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage, or
(b) celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a relationship mentioned in subparagraph (a)(i) or (ii),
is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years.
In addition to making polygamy an indictable offense, the law limits what kinds of defenses can be used against such a charge. The law says that proof of consent to a polygamous marriage is inadmissible as evidence as is proof that the marriage was entered into for the purpose of having sex.
The law also provides that participating in a marriage knowing that the other party is getting married against their will is liable to the same five year penalty as for polygamy, as is participating in a marriage with a party under the age of sixteen, something that comes into play a lot in Bountiful as many of the girls pressed into marriage are as young as fifteen. People who solemnize the marriage in violation of the law could face a two year prison term.
In an attempt to save themselves from prosecution, the heads of Bountiful BC brought their demand to practice polygyny to the Supreme Court of British Columbia. They did so under the guise of religious freedom, as their sect of Mormonism – the mainstream Mormon Church has disowned them and their twin, the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints in the US – believes that in order to get into heaven, a man has to have at least three wives.
The case they brought is called a Reference case, in which you can ask the court to give their opinion on a legal issue. The federal government, for example, has used reference cases to decide issues like the terms by which Quebec can separate from Canada.
In 2011 the Supreme Court of British Columbia decided in favor of keeping Canada’s anti polygamy laws on the grounds that society was better served by keeping these laws in place despite their violation of religious freedom. In their decision, the courts looked at the documented consequences of polygyny which included:
- Increase in crime rates, as the demand for more wives for a small handful of men would result in most women going into marriages with high status men. The result would be a large pool of low status unmated men whom studies confirm commit more crime.
- Decreased male parental investment as men having so many wives and so many children have less time to spend with each child.
- Exacerbated gender gap and decreased age of marriage as the demand for more wives drives the age of marriage down and the desire of polygynous husbands to ensure the paternity of their children within said unions leads to the curtailing of the freedoms of women and girls.
There is also the notion that polygyny hurts the economy as women stuck in plural marriages are often so busy having children or stuck in situations where their movements are controlled and as a result many don’t work. Without a job, there is no income and when women have no income, they cannot spend and consume, and consumption is what fuels the economy.
That said, there are factors that the court failed to consider, such as that polygyny increases the likelihood of the negative consequences of inbreeding. As communities tend to be closed, polygynous unions ultimately result in everyone being genetically related to everyone and cousins marrying one another. The result, as can be seen in the case of Short Creek on the Utah/Arizona border in the United States, is the increased likelihood of genetic defects in offspring.
Historically polygyny was used to secure power and make sure that women had someone to care for them when men were scarce. Today it’s a way for perverted old men to abuse girls and women under the guise religiously ordained rights. Canada’s polygamy laws exist to protect half the population from men like these.
Let’s keep it that way.