Not enough research done to determine if polygamy is harmful, professor says
Written by Daphne Bramham, Vancouver SunDecember 13, 2010 3:41 PM
There hasn't been enough research done on Canadian polygamous communities to draw any conclusions about whether the practice is harmful, according to professor Lori Beaman.
Beaman teaches classics and religious studies at the University of Ottawa and holds the Canada Research Chair in contextualization of religion in a diverse Canada.
She testified Monday in B.C. Supreme Court in the constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada's polygamy law is valid.
While she noted that there have been several autobiographical accounts of former members of fundamentalist Mormon communities, Beaman says in her affidavit that assessing harm from that would be akin to extrapolating harms of monogamy by taking the accounts of people who have had abusive marriages.
Among the problems she cites in assessing harm is that much of the research has been done in “social, political, religious, economic, legal and cultural contexts distinct from those of North America.”
Her affidavits goes on to say, “Cultural context, rather than marriage type, may be more important for understanding harm.”
Based in research done by Angela Campbell, a McGill law professor who testified earlier in the trial, and others, Beaman suggests that women in the fundamentalist Mormon communities have been wrongly stereotyped as having no choice or being brainwashed. Brainwashing, she says, has “been largely discredited as a valid way to see those who belong to minority religious groups.”
Beaman, who also has a law degree, suggests that rather than stereotyping, society ought to assume that all members of minority religious groups “choose to be or remain involved in religious groups.”
“Such a position does not negate taking seriously allegations of abuse or underage marriage, for example, but assumes that the religiously committed have capacity as agents to make decisions.”
Not doing that, she says, means taking “a patriarchal position which treats religious minorities as being without the ability to make decisions. It assumes that we have the right to impose a particular worldview 'for their own good' on an assessment of their religious practices that is not based on empirical fact.”
BCAG (B.C. Attorney General) counsel Jones spent two hours in cross-examination this morning and this afternoon, and ever so gently deconstructed her arguments one after another. He ended with the question "Would you not agree that your research on this matter has been woefully inadequate?" I did not hear a reply.
Court will not take place tomorrow, since the Chief Justice has another engagement. It will meet again on Wednesday morning at ten.