Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Forthright Summing-up

The Vancouver Sun's Daphne Bramham has offered a sound summing-up of what was heard (and what was not heard).  She writes:-

Happy polygamists were strangely absent through eight weeks of court hearings aimed at determining whether Canada’s law forbidding the practice is constitutional.

Perhaps it’s because not one male polygamist testified before Chief Justice Robert Bauman in B.C. Supreme Court. It’s odd when you think about it, because worldwide and throughout history, polygamy is almost invariably about men having multiple wives.

The bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, James Oler, filed an affidavit describing how polygamy was an essential part of his faith. But that was pulled when it became apparent that lawyers for the governments of Canada and British Columbia were eager to have a chance to question him.

The same happened with FLDS school principal Merrill Palmer.

Neither the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association nor the court-appointed amicus curiae, George Macintosh, called any secular polygamists even though several men and women filed affidavits. 

Also absent were Muslims — even though Islam is one of only two religions that sanctions the practice and Islam’s followers number 940,000 in Canada and 1.6 billion worldwide. 

Even though the judge allowed the FLDS to testify anonymously to avoid future prosecution, it was left to fundamentalist Mormon women — the sister-wives — to defend the practice.
That’s ironic, since everyone testified that it’s the men who head their communities, their homes and ensure the women’s ascension into heaven. Every one of the women described polygamy as challenging, even though all insisted that the rewards on Earth and in the afterlife are worth it.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Impressions of a City


Rain …... Arrived in Vancouver at my small apartment hotel to find that there was no elevator – I was on the 3rd floor and faced 40 stairs up to my rooms, and 40 stairs down to the lobby (plus another eight up to the garage) …... Unloading all the baggage I brought for my 2½ month stay and trekking up the stairs with it proved to be a nightmare ….... Each day for 2½ months – up and down ….... Rain …... Walking in the rain in a completely waterproof coat ….... Despite the rain, taking a daily early morning walk along the Stanley Park seawall and finding that some of my favourite sections are closed for repair …... Wondering at the calm water in the vast expanse of English Bay …... Looking out over the water and seeing 27 geese, one behind the other, paddling merrily along (no V-formation on the water) …... Rain …... A dragon boat whose cox has a voice loud enough to reach my ears from a quarter-mile away …... Cargo ships at anchor at the mouth of the Bay, all painted the same colours (black upper structure, rusty red below), awaiting their turn to go north to dock in the Burrard Inlet …... Aircraft in the distance, disappearing behind Point Grey as they descend to land at Vancouver Airport …... Rain …... Clouds dipping low, dark grey, pregnant with water about to fall …... Translink …... A monthly pass that allows me to travel anywhere in the Translink system …... A trip to the airport on the Skytrain, which acts like a roller-coaster as it approaches the airport …... On the return journey, a chance meeting with Bron Johnson, a young actor who appeared in a play I directed at the Powerhouse, It Runs in the Family, hugs and catching up with each other's news before he had to get off the train …... Rain …... A day with family …... Talking and playing Pretend with two terrific grandchildren …... Happy lunches with in-laws on the North Shore – how lucky we are to have Ursula and George in our lives …... Exploring downtown Vancouver …... Surprised to find that the north end of Granville Street has now been opened up to buses …... Overhearing a conversation between two prostitutes as they walked along the street – the older one advising the younger, greener one “Now, if he says this, then you should reply like this. But, on second thoughts, just be yourself, and” ….. Sloshing through Vancouver's first snowfall of the winter – heavy, wet snow that our bus found hard to deal with, at one point skidding sideways to a halt halfway across a junction …... Rain washing away the snow …... Sitting day after day in Room 55 at the Vancouver Courthouse, that stunning Arthur Erickson building with a huge glass roof that runs almost the length of a city block …... Beautiful oak woodwork in the courtroom, scarlet carpeting throughout ….. Look at the floor carefully, and you can see that the carpet is composed of squares, so that, if damaged or stained, they can be replaced easily …... The judge, in sober black robes, seated on high …... The barristers, in sober black robes, their backs to the public, standing to address His Lordship …... Civility and polite exchanges - “Your Lordship”, “My friend”, “My learned friend” …... Opening my notebook, scribbling notes as fast as I could …... Rain …... Buffet luncheons in the Court House Inn …... Meeting Spencer, the court stenographer, and being invited to approach his position just below the judge's bench, to see how court reporting is now done by computer – no more five-key 'typewriters' – technology marches on …... Meeting and talking with many people – lawyers, clerks, members of the public, witnesses, media …... Listening intently to argument and counter-argument …...Rain …... Meeting Nancy, a total stranger whose name was forwarded to me by a friend, and with whom I shared a tasty Greek lunch …... Davie Street, the smallest Tim Horton's I have ever seen (about 12 feet square!), shops catering to any possible food preference …... Taking a trolley bus from Davie & Granville to 4th & Vine, and coming to an unexpected halt at the southern end of Granville Street Bridge – workers up ahead fixing a broken switch on the overhead wires – a supervisor telling our driver to “go up to Broadway, turn right and coast down Fir Street” - passengers remonstrating – most got out to walk, I stayed put – a couple of minutes later the supervisor telling our driver to bring down his overhead poles, coast around the overhead work being done, stop and put up the poles again …... I didn't know trolley buses could travel without being attached to their overhead wires, but our driver told us each bus has a $20,000 battery for very short distance emergency travel …... The comforting sound of Psshhhh as the front end of the bus is lowered at stops where people need a less difficult step up into the bus …... Rain mixed with a few teeny-tiny snowflakes …... My little Prius had an argument with one of the pillars in the tiny parking area below the hotel as it tried to manoeuvre its way out into the alley. The front passenger door was scraped and scored...... On Christmas Eve out to the airport to meet husband David upon his return from a ten-day holiday in Havana, (with son Adam as his guide), and tearing hell for leather for the noon ferry to Bowen Island, catching it by the skin of our teeth, and leaving Horseshoe Bay two minutes later. Never cut it that close before! …... Gale force winds and heavy,lashing rain ...... Reached our warm and welcoming B&B to learn that we were to be the only guests there over the holiday …... Christmas morning with Harry Potter in his Hogwart robes, and a Fairy Princess in flowing mauve gown and a princess's hat ….... Playing and talking, talking and playing …... Helping prepare food for a sumptuous dinner, more talking and laughter during the meal …... Drying a humungous pile of dishes afterwards …... Met up for a return dinner with the family in Vancouver …... The next day, laid low by a horrible lurgie – heavy cold and cough that came out of nowhere …... and the sun shone brilliantly for several days …... Managed to take a lengthy walk along the foreshore with David, who took good care of me …... This morning, a bald eagle circled lazily a few feet above a nearby condo building …... On New Year's Day took a leisurely stroll down to the beach to watch the Polar Bear Swim at English Bay. There must have been at least ten thousand others with the same idea. And there were hundreds of dogs – big white fluffy ones, small white fluffy ones, a yappy Jack Russell, a gorgeous beige pug with majestic stride, older Labs and Goldens, a Newfie Duck Troller, a beautiful Weimaraner – sadly, not a single mutt in sight ...... Temperature about 2C, brilliant blue sky, blinding sunshine, I made my way across the sand to within about 20 feet of the water and watched (crazy ijit) swimmers heading out towards the squadron of sailboats, surfboards, motor boats, dragon boats, rowboats and a police boat – all ready to save anyone who got into difficulty. Two swimmers with reindeer headgear really did look like deer in distress! …... As the crowds dispersed, I couldn't help but think of the Stewart/Colbert rally in Washington on that late summer day, when Jon Stewart pleaded for civility and respect among the people of his country - “You go, no you go” he said ...... Those Canadians, on that day, in that place, personified the cooperation and – yes – politeness that Jon Stewart so longed for in his own country. No-one pushed, no-one swore, no-one held up disparaging signs - there was no hate …... There were just Canadians being Canadian …... It was a memorable couple of hours ….. And then the rains came …... again …... Court re-opened for the final phase of the polygamy reference …... The Courthouse a huge ice-cold box on the 5th floor, where the reference is taking place in Room 55 …... Removing coat and vest when entering the room, replacing same in order to go to the ladies room or the restaurant …... Water mixed with slushy snow streaming down the glass roof overhead …... Cold and rain …... David flew home after the day's session on 5th January …... I miss him – the endearments, the execrable puns, the crossword puzzles, the hugs, the long conversations about things that interest us …... Making a detour to another courtroom to be present at the sentencing of Inderjit Singh Reyat - taller than I imagined, dignified, totally impassive …... Nine years minus credit for time already served (17 months) …... Sunshine – a weekend break in the weather and a fierce, body-punching wind that scoured out the rain and dried off the roads …... The following morning I took a 35-minute walk along the seawall, noted ten little kayaks silhouetted against the pinkening morning sky and moving along on water that was no longer mirror-calm, but rolling in a small swell …... There, on the foreshore and pointing out to sea, a newly-felled tree, glistening a pale yellow, its bark gone, totally stripped of leaves, but still guarding its root-ball and naked stumps of branches – a victim of the wind and tides …... On the beach near the paddling pool a kayaker prepared to launch her craft into the noisy breakers …... I saw her a short while later, paddling determinedly to catch up with her friends …... Taking the car out for a short run, in order to keep its batteries in good order …... Snow! …... The snow came and went – not the 20cms. promised by Environment Canada, but a scarcely visible 2cms. that began to fall just before I went to bed and ended before I got up, and turned immediately to slush as the rain fell – no need for boots or concerns about slipping, sliding buses this time …... Today (13th January) it was warm enough - 9C - for flower buds to begin opening and bulbs to send out shoots. I half expected to see rhododendrons bursting into bloom! …... Weekend and a Robson Square birthday skating party with my grandchildren ...... A mini-rink with many skaters going round and round, children (and some beginning adults) using ice walkers, other adults skating either incredibly gracefully or windmilling arms as they tried not to fall down …... NanaJoJo guarding a pile of bags and coats ….... A mini-Zamboni (about a quarter the size of the real thing) polishing the ice for 20 minutes while Moms and children ate pizza outside the glass walls …... Then back to the ice for more skating …... Amazing how quickly non-skaters among the children found their balance on the blades …... Walking to the bus afterwards and noticing for the first time the polka-dotted sidewalks in downtown Vancouver – polka-dotted with ancient chewing gum and bubble gum in all kinds of colours …... Attended a UWC evening round table at Hycroft House, discussing the polygamy reference, and what actions/plans would be needed to get governments to act ….. what a beautiful old mansion that is …... And then …... Oh horror!! …... Tried to open my Hotmail account to find that just before 1am. in the morning my password had been changed. Ten minutes after that shock there was a phone call from my sister-in-law to say that she had just received an email from me asking for $1800! Then a phone call from my husband saying that the President of a local group at home had just received an email from me requesting $1800 …... Didn't know whether to laugh or cry …... Never been hacked like that before …... No more email from me for the remainder of my stay in Vancouver …... Rain ….... Took a seawall walk in a medium heavy downpour, and wore my wellies (rubber boots) this time. The child in me enjoyed sloshing and hopping through deep puddles that the fastidious adult would have avoided like the plague …... Am almost at the end of my stay in Vancouver and I wonder if, after 2½ months of going up and down those 40 steps, deliberately avoiding the handrail, my legs bench press will be greater than 90 lbs. …... I am packing and loading my things gradually over the next few days …... Every time I leave the hotel I take a bag of possessions to the garage and stow it away in the car …... it's working well so far – manageable weight and bulk for each trip …... Am watching the Weather Channel like a hawk, but conditions on projected departure dates keep changing – sunshine icon one day, blue raindrops the next …... Took the bull by the horns and decided that Thursday would be departure day …... must have made at least ten trips to load the car over a period of five days …... Set off from a cloudy Vancouver just after 8 o'clock, and made my way to Highway 1 …... No sunshine until a mile north of the old Toll Booth on the Coquihalla, then brilliant blue skies with a few clouds, and plus 13 degrees in the Merritt area …... A six-hour trip and thus my adventure has come to its end.

The Final Days of the Polygamy Reference

Yesterday in court we heard from the final two FLDS witnesses about their life as plural wives.  They were the last to give evidence about life in the polygamous community of Bountiful.

Today the Chief Justice was to hear arguments before deciding whether two late-arriving affidavits on educational matters were to be admitted into evidence.  Any potential argument was to be held on Friday 28th January, bringing the reference to a close.

Beginning on 7th February, arguments will be heard by Judge Bauman on the CBC's request for permission to live-stream the closing arguments in this case.  Those final arguments are due to begin on 28th March, and could take up to two weeks to complete.

In view of approaching weekend weather in Vancouver, I chose today, Thursday, to make my return journey to the Okanagan Valley, which has been my home for 40 years.

As and when further news becomes available about the reference, I will let you know.  Until then, I lay down my Netbook.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A 15 year old Bride is Brought into Bountiful

Today we heard anonymous witness #4. She told that court that she was 24 years old, and had been born into the FLDS at Hildale/Colorado City in the United States. She was transferred to Bountiful at the age of 17, married into a plural marriage and has one child now aged five.

In response to questioning from FLDS lawyer Wickett, she continued, “I believe that men and women are sealed for all eternity. I fell in love when I had a dream in which I saw a man's face, and told my father that I wanted to marry. The Prophet asked me if I had anyone in mind, and he turned out to be the man whose face I had seen in the dream. I took it as a revelation from God, and after the marriage ceremony I came to Canada on a student visa. If I had not been allowed to enter this country, I would have gone back to the States. If I had not liked my situation in Bountiful I would have told my mother and my biological sisters, and other members of my family.

I received a Grade 12 Graduation Certificate (from Bountiful), and am now a 3rd year accounting student in Cranbrook. I want my own business, and I need a work visa to work in Canada. I was the one who decided on this course for myself.

My marriage was made in heaven; I made the right decision and I am happy. There are 24 children in the house. Relations with the children are quite good. If there are disagreements with sister wives, I go off and pray about it, or seek a solution about what we need to do to make it better. We discuss problems with the children, talk about it, remove privileges – there is no violence. We are always bumping shoulders, helping others out.

I have visited several places outside Bountiful, including Vancouver (buildings too tall and too many people), Sundre, Dawson Creek, California, Colorado, Las Vegas (“playing around”). I like the quiet life in a small town. The isolation at Bountiful doesn't bother me. I love to come back to the peace of Bountiful. My future hope is to start a small business.”

When the BCAG counsel began his cross-examination, the questions became much more probing. Her responses were as follows:- “ I have four sister wives to live with. We all live in one house and we talk to each other. We meet each night to go over what happened during the day, about the children, about whether we need to make any changes in our routine, and we go out together on walks, to the park, ice skating and we play basketball. We dress conservatively – covered from neck to ankles. Wives make clothes, and wives know each other as well as they know their own brothers and sisters. We also have friends. We know every sister wife's birthday, (though not too many of the kids' birthdays). We arrange for a cake and gifts for every birthday – a sister wife's or a child's.

The families of sister wives come to visit sometimes, and the wedding anniversary of each sister wife is celebrated.

I had been married six months when a new sister wife came into the family. She was younger than me [sic] – at least two years younger. I found out about the new sister wife during a phone call from my husband. Yes - I had known her while she was growing up, and she came from the U.S. None of the sister wives attending the marriage. I don't know where it took place. The Prophet in the U.S. Performed the marriage; Warren Jeffs is my Prophet.

My husband's new wife was 15 years old. We had talked about a new wife, but age had never been discussed. My husband was in his late 30's or early 40's. I don't know what kind of visa the new sister wife used to get into Canada. She arrived from the U.S. with family members, but I don't know if they gave a letter of permission.”

The witness was then asked if the 15-year-old sister wife went to school, and she replied that the child entered Grade 9 at the Bountiful School.
Did anyone accompany her to school? Were there any concerns about her age?”
Not that I was aware of.”
Did nobody at Bountiful consider this tender age abnormal? Objectionable? Did anyone report it to the outside authorities? Did you have concerns?”
No. Age was not really an issue. She seemed a very responsible girl. I did not try to sway other people's opinions. Nor did I talk about birth control. As far as reporting the situation about the 15 year old, I don't know if anyone did. I would report harm to another. No-one ever came up to me and said 'I think something bad is happening.' It was God's will.”
“I’d think that if I went away to a foreign country and married a 15-year-old girl and brought her home, I’d expect the police to welcome me, and not a celebration.”
When was a baby born [to this youngster]?”
When she was 17 years old.”

[During these exchanges, you could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom.] The witness then declared that the child had no immediate family members at Bountiful.

In answer to further questioning, the witness told us “I learned the identity of my husband half an hour before the ceremony. No other sister wives attended. My husband phoned them afterwards to inform them. When a new wife is being considered, other sister wives do have the right to tell a husband not to go ahead with it. I agree with the change in policy [to 18 years of age at marriage]. I believe it is better than 15 – I guess.”

Do men or women leave the community to go on to further education in anything except subjects that would benefit the people of the FLDS? Such as midwifery, nursing, teaching, mechanics?”
Without compromising your anonymity, can you tell us if you are equal to your husband? Does he hold a position of status in the FLDS?”
I am not the equal of my husband. My husband does hold a position of status in the FLDS.”

I felt great shock when going into the real world. I was shocked by people doing things I didn't agree with. They're not respectful in the classroom. I don't agree that my upbringing has ill-prepared me for going into the outside world. I know how to say no!”

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

First Anonymous Witness - (Witness #2)

In today's Vancouver Sun, Daphne Bramham wrote:

Witness 2 shocked a polygamy hearing Tuesday when she talked about how she finally agreed to allow her 15-year-old daughter to marry a 19-year-old man.

The reason she didn't attempt to stop it? The marriage was monogamous and the groom was only 19.Two years after the marriage, her daughter left the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The daughter is now 26, still married and the mother of two children.

Witness #2 was the first of three anonymous witnesses testifying for the FLDS in the constitutional reference case to determine the validity of Canada's polygamy law being heard in B.C. Supreme Court.

Had the marriage been a polygamous one, the witness said she would not have consented since the witness herself was married as a second wife at 16.  The witness under cross-examination said she agreed to the monogamous marriage because it was preferable that her 15-year-old daughter married a man close to her own age and who she cared for than an older man who lived in a polygamous community in the United States.

In British Columbia, the legal age of marriage is 18. Anyone under 18 must have parental consent.  Even though it was a monogamous marriage and the girl's parents consented, the couple married in a religious - not a civil - ceremony. The witness refused to say who officiated at the ceremony.

Because of an early ruling guaranteeing FLDS witnesses anonymity so that they can avoid future prosecution, Witness 2 testified in a courtroom where only Chief Justice Robert Bauman, FLDS lawyer Robert Wickett, the clerk and court reporter could see her. Other lawyers and the public only heard her voice as they watched a live feed on a closed circuit television in another courtroom.

Witness 2 told the court that she was raised in a polygamous family in Bountiful, B.C. Her father had five wives, although only three of them and their children shared a house while she was growing up. Still, it was a full house with "30 children approximately" living there at the time.
In her 40s now, she married at 16 to a man chosen by the church's prophet. She became his second wife and a "sister-wife" to her biological sister. At times, the wives have lived in separate houses, but currently their share a home with their husband. Each has her own kitchen and laundry space, but they share the living room, recreation and yard. Both work outside the home.

The witness told the court that she considers her husband to be her "priesthood head," which she explained means that he is "someone of a godly nature."

Asked if she obeys him, she replied: "As long as he is acting in a Christ-like way . . . As far as my relationship with my husband, we are working together as parents in a family to raise our children and share values and goals to raise them in a Christ-like manner."
 My Comment: 

Most responses  given by Witness 2 were monosyllabic, and there were many silences and long drawn out breathing in her testimony.  Nevertheless, the lawyers were well-prepared and their questions were precise and to the point. We heard confirmation of much of the evidence that former FLDS members had given in their testimony earlier.  We also heard contradictions of that testimony.

One interesting discovery was that, although living in Bountiful, the witness is a member of the Warren Jeffs faction of the FLDS. He is her Prophet, and her family has sent $500 to $1000 regularly to the U.S. legal team defending Jeffs on rape and other charges. Apparently she is remaining loyal to her Prophet.

Some insights into her personality came with candid comments such as "I haven't always treated people with kindness and respect,"  "I have to control my anger," I'm on a path of learning".  (No questions were asked about the source of her anger.)

The witness skirted around the use of the term obey, and used support instead.  And rather than agreeing with earlier ex-FLDS members that obedience was a strict demand of her faith, she added that demands for obedience should be reasonable.  She also seemed to be uncomfortable with questions about the Prophet's relationship with God.  However, she was forthright when declaring that "Birth control is not encouraged in the FLDS."

Witness 2 was on the stand for more than four hours.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Mary Batchelor - Longing to Return to Polygamy

This morning we heard testimony from Mary Batchelor, a member of the independent FLDS. The eldest of seven children, she lived in several areas of the United States before finally settling in Utah. She was baptized at the age of nine into the independent FLDS, and went through the Public School System, graduating from high school.

Two meaningful words in her adolescence were Salvation (through Jesus Christ) and Exaltation (through plural marriage).

She was 21 when she became the second wife of her husband, for they both believed fervently in the plural marriage way of life, the first wife having been in the home since 1989. That sister wife moved out after four years, and Mary found herself alone as the now monogamous and therefore legal wife of her husband. They are still monogamous to this day, although Mary insists that she would dearly love to revert to plural marriage again. She has seven children.

It came to light that, after the first wife left, she had written a strong letter to a newspaper critiquing the polygamous way of life. The Attorney General of Canada read excerpts into the record from Mary's response to the letter – littered with vituperative and denigrating comments.

Mary believes fervently that by entering into plural marriage she would be doing right by God. She asserted that she does not practise assigned marriage, and she is obedient only to her conscience. She chooses to live by the principles she believes in. Two of her children were born during the plural marriage period of her relationship, and all of them are in public school in Utah. (Her daughter Holly has Down Syndrome and heart problems.) Mary said that she has discussed with her children whether the family should revert to a plural marriage situation.

In 2000, during a period of intense public criticism and threats against polygamy, she co-wrote with Anne Wilde a book in defence of plural marriage. Its content was a distillation of comments received from 700 questionnaires that were sent out to women already in a plural marriage. The comments were overwhelmingly in favour of continuing and legalizing the polygamous institution. Mary also co-founded the magazine Principle Voices, which advocates for polygamy education, and she has worked with the government of Utah in efforts to decriminalize polygamy, declaring it to be the exercise of her civil rights.

When the Attorney General for Canada asked her if it was fair that, while a man may take multiple sexual partners in her religion, a woman may take only one man, Mary replied that she had no problem with that.


For an in-depth portrait of Mary Batchelor link to

The Court is now in recess, and will convene again on Tuesday 25th January.  Next week will be the final full week of testimony, and the schedule at the moment shows that all the witnesses appearing will be members of the FLDS.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Alina Darger - Happy Polygamous Wife

Keith Fraser wrote in the Province newspaper today:-

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.


My Comment:-

I must say I was surprised to hear a woman telling the court how much she loved her polygamous family, and describing it as 'an amazing experience'.  She did talk of the sacrifice and commitment that polygamy demanded.  But no coercion was involved in her marriage - she made her own choice - and she and her family did not belong to any specific polygamous group.

Two telling points - firstly, the affidavit presented to the Court in her name was written with input from husband and sister wives.  She was able to identify only one passage specifically written by herself.  Secondly, as the first (and therefore legal ) wife, Darger was asked if her name was on the title to her home.  She replied that she wasn't sure but that she thought so.  When asked whether the names of her sister wives were on the title, she paused, somewhat flustered, and said she didn't know.

She assured the Court that she would be able to leave her marriage without difficulty if she so chose.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Truman Oler - ex-FLDS

This morning we listened to two hours of harrowing testimony from a 29 year-old man, Truman Oler, the son of Dalmon and Memory Oler of Bountiful. Tall, bespectacled and shy, he spoke as follows:-

“My Dad had six wives and my mother had 15 children. I have 46 siblings, and I cannot put names to all of them – there were too many of them. Winston Blackmore is my uncle. We lived close to Bountiful, and had the biggest house at the time for most of the wives and children. Other wives and children would move into and out of the house from time to time, but we stayed put. My mother was always very remote and unapproachable.

The Priests talked a lot about how we could get to God – how blessed we were to be living there – how well off we were. Children were trained in church doctrine day in and day out, every minute of every day – give your heart and soul to the Prophet. Men looked up to the Prophet (Rulon Jeffs at the time) and the Bishop (Winston Blackmore). You had to check in with the Bishop about everything – he was the #1 man in polygamy in Canada.

A girl was taught that it was a woman's job to get married, have kids, do whatever a man told her to do, and she was taught to want to have children and to look after a man in every way. She was taught to want to get married because she needed it to get into heaven. A man needed at least three wives in order to be able to get into heaven, though he had no choice in who his wives would be. Each was assigned to him. Both church and school taught us these things all the time, and we had to obey. If we didn't live this way, we would be damned to hell forever.

If you gave a lot of money to the church, and behaved yourself otherwise, you had a good chance for a wife. It happened at about 18 or 20, and you had to take anyone assigned to you. If you refused you were kicked out. Obedience was the most important thing.

Our commands came down from God to the Prophet and then to the Bishop who delivered them to everyone else. Looking back now I realize that Winston Blackmore had a lot to do with this but I don't know how he made the choices. We were to stay away from all outsiders. We were the only people on the face of the earth who were going to be raised up to heaven at the end of the world.

There was quite a lot of travel between Bountiful and Colorado City. There was a conference each April in Colorado City and other meetings in the U.S. Girls were sent from Bountiful to the U.S. for marriage and girls come to Bountiful for the same reason. Family members could travel to meet up with others in their family. Colorado City kids also came to Bountiful for a reform mission, if they were troublemakers down south. They needed a strong person to watch over and guide them constantly.

In Colorado City I was sitting on the fence about religion trying to figure out which way I wanted to go. I attended all the meetings, stayed on the straight and narrow path. I even had a talk with Warren Jeffs. To get away, I told them I was needed for a logging crew in Bountiful. I was 18 years old. I came home shortly after.

While I was growing up, I don't remember spending time with my Mother, because she was a schoolteacher and that took up all her time. I don't remember any hugs with anyone. I did work with my Dad around the farm, and I do remember a couple of birthday celebrations, but things like that were usually not special. I do remember Dad's wives quarreling and bitching a lot. Wives treated the children of other wives differently from their own.

I went to school until Grade 9. It being a religious school we didn't get any practical education. I was never told what I would need to get into college, nor to think about a career. The mentality of most boys was 'what do we need school for?' At school we had classes on religion every day. Young boys and girls were taught in the same classroom, but when they got older boys and girls had to sit on opposite sides of the room. We were told never to be alone in a room with a girl. Brothers and sisters were never to be alone in the same room.

After Grade 9 I went to work for Winston Blackmore. Girls went on to Grade 10 and then were assigned to marry a man chosen for them. Winston Blackmore had businesses making posts and poles, and logging, farming, hay production, dairy, and for a little while a grocery store. I worked full-time outdoors and in the mechanics shop. But at 16 or 17 I wanted to be with people my own age. I asked permission to join the hockey team, but that was denied. After that I didn't want to stay around Bountiful. I went to a community in Sundrie, Alberta, to some other Oler boys. I was told that my mechanical skills were too good to be used on making fence posts so I worked as a mechanic for 3 or 4 years. I lived in one of the crew houses that were there for all the Bountiful boys.

I was expected to pay tithes, and one time I had to pay half my paycheck to the church for three months for its taxes. I was told “If you can” - but if you didn't pay there were questions asked. Sometimes my Mom would help with payments.

When the schism happened [after the death of Rulon Jeffs], there was terrible upheaval among the families. Warren Jeffs declared himself the new Prophet, and accused Winston Blackmore of doing something wrong and so demoted him from Bishop. Family members on both sides were not allowed to talk to each other. It was a real upset. Winston Blackmore told his people that they could wear jeans, and he did not follow the same rules as Warren Jeffs.

I asked my brother how I could get a wife and he told me to take that extra step (i.e. become a more worthy member, tithe etc.). And that's when I decided to leave Bountiful. Growing up, you never saw yourself leaving, so it was a huge step for me. I saw other boys having to leave everything behind and I knew I'd have to do that, leave my family behind. Not knowing where to go …... and there's no going back. Grandma said she would always help me. To reject the teachings of the one and only true church – I thought I'd be going straight to hell. At Bountiful it was not common for people to leave.

I am slowly coming out and learning how to deal with the real world and with real people. “Out” has changed me so much. I spend time with my three sons. I can't see why they have so many children [at Bountiful] if they don't care for them This church took away the thing that makes us human – my life. I just don't understand. I give my wife a little break in her day.

I have little contact with the people in Bountiful."


My Comment: - Throughout his testimony Truman was on the edge of control, and many moments became agonizingly prolongued as he struggled to control his emotions. He is 29 years old, and is still terribly fragile emotionally. It was a huge effort for him to give this testimony, and we in the courtroom were willing him to be strong. Several times, as the tears fell, Judge Bauman asked him if he needed a break, but he said no and struggled on.

At the end of his testimony, when he said “Out has changed me so much”, I looked at him long and hard, and I could swear I saw the lost, hurt, five-year-old who still lives within. The tears were falling, his lower lip trembling, his eyes by now red – but he sat straight in his chair looking over to his questioner, as if to show that he would not give in to the terrible hurt he felt.

After he left the witness box he walked towards me, and I reached out and touched his arm. “Thank you for your courage on this day,” I said.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Brenda Jensen - ex FLDS

Ex-FLDS member Brenda Jensen gave testimony this morning as follows:-

“I was born a Blackmore in Cranbrook B.C. We lived for a few years on a farm near the border with the U.S., and my father was one of the original organizers of the community at Bountiful. My mother was the sister of my father's first wife. They had five children, and I am the middle child. His first wife had eight children – four of her own and four adopted.

The FLDS were a cold, isolated people who lived in a non-nurturing environment. If they grew too close to their children, then they wouldn't want to give them up when the time came. We were to remain as “empty” as possible until we married, and then the Prophet received a direct order from God as to who should be our husband. We had absolutely no choice. It was forbidden to interact with the people who lived in nearby Creston. FLDS folks could work in the town but were allowed to have no social interaction.

We moved down to Colorado City* when I was about 14. Secrecy was very important. They would threaten us with rape and murder to teach us to fear them at all levels. There were very few monogamous families where we lived. Everyone lived in awe and fear of the Priesthood Men who lived in Colorado City. Many of these men also had big homes in Salt Lake City. They spread out their families in order to appear more normal. We sent boys and men on work missions to Colorado City, and marriages were arranged between our two communities. It was important to have a fresh bloodline at Colorado City. Priesthood men visited Bountiful at least once a month. Four men at a time came up to give us instructions from God. Rae Blackmore became a leader.

Violence was the first thing you encountered as a child, because they wanted even 2-year-olds to give instant obedience. There was a lot of spanking and smothering down kids. It was like Animal Farm – we were all equal, but some were more equal than others. Some enjoyed favours and privileges and lived in beautiful homes, while others lived in terrible situations. Certainly there was a pecking order among the wives – a caste system.

There were so many children – there was no nurturing, they were of no importance, there was mass conformity, individuality was not valued. Parents quickly learned to be ready to hand over their children over to the Priesthood Men. It was very important for girls to begin breeding children. It was their duty and they dared not disobey.

At Short Creek Dad began to grow disillusioned with the calibre of the Priesthood Men. They held their meetings in a bar-room atmosphere, and argued over who was going to get which girl as a wife. Obedience was the most important quality we could show to prove that we were supporting the Priesthood Men, because the Priesthood would be standing at the gates of heaven to await us with open arms.

Lessons began at birth. You had to remain within the rules on dress, who spoke to whom, get your heart and mind in the right place in order to please the Priesthood. School was an important training ground for a child to learn obedience. You learned about physical punishment, isolation, shunning until you were broken. We became physically obedient and emotionally broken. Consequences for individuals included excommunication, being sent to another family, beatings – all in order for you to 'learn better'. Meanwhile the Priesthood Men 'received a direct revelation from God in a bar.'

You were never good enough, you didn't belong to anyone, your parents probably didn't accept you - and all this was explained as God's will. You began to believe that nobody loved you, you weren't worthy of love, you felt self-loathing and hopelessness very early on; you believed that nothing was ever going to change or get better. There was no-one to turn to, so you might as well give up. Even school was totally devoted to the teachings of the Priesthood.

At Short Creek things were much more restrictive than in Canada, where I had ridden a horse and worn pants ans shorts. Not allowed in Short Creek. I read books at home, but not anywhere else. Going to school was just like going to church on a school day.

I was terrified of marriage. I felt so vulnerable – had absolute fear. I was assigned to Hammond (who was in his late fifties), who told my brother that I would be his 13th wife. I was 17 at the time. Hammond was known to be cruel both physically and emotionally, and before long father told me that I did not have to marry the man if I didn't want to. It was the happiest day of my life!

It was a huge defiance of God when I said no to Hammond. I was overwhelmed by the decision, because it was very rare for my father to say no. But by then, he had begun to feel more and more disillusioned with the church and its Priesthood, who could assign or break up marriages on a whim.

My father was so distraught that he developed a bleeding ulcer over the whole matter. He was taken to hospital in a station wagon which served as the ambulance, and when a community nurse told the driver that they were losing him, so to drive faster, the Priest told the driver to slow down. My father said that they abandoned him, and were ready to murder him. That experience took away any hope that anything good would come of that community.

The family left Short Creek with nothing – no money, no goods. This was when I was 17, and we moved about 30 miles away. We wanted to stay close enough that we would be there if anyone else wanted to leave and needed help. We built a small home, and I attended High School locally. The transition was very difficult. Almost all my siblings left Colorado City, and our beautiful farm was taken over by the church trust, and became part of church holdings. The only thing we had left was freedom of religion.

“Keep Sweet” means you must never complain, never speak out about an injustice or a harm or an unfairness. You must put harms and atrocities on the shelf. Women were never allowed to voice an objection to a new wife. We were never allowed to have goals, to study what we wanted. Everything had to be learned so that it could be put to community service, not for personal benefit. I was never taught to love myself, nor to develop any self-respect.

I chose to marry, and I have three daughters. I wanted my children to know that I am here for them, that they all have the chance to be what they want to be and do what they want to do, without doubting that they are loved. I taught my own children of the wonderful freedoms available to them.”

N.B. *Colorado City is basically synonymous with Short Creek.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Growing up as a Child of Polygamy

On 13th January 2011 Daphne Bramham wrote in the Vancouver Sun:

Water torture of babies is one way some members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints instil fear of authority, a former member testified Wednesday.
"It's quite common," Carolyn Blackmore Jessop said. She was a witness for the B.C. government in the constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada's polygamy law is valid. 

"They spank the baby and when it cries, they hold the baby face up under the tap with running water. When they stop crying, they spank it again and the cycle is repeated until they are exhausted."  It's typically done by fathers and it's called "breaking in." 

Jessop talked about the practice during her testimony in B.C. Supreme Court.
Her assertions about water torture were not challenged by FLDS lawyer Robert Wickett during cross-examination. 

Outside the courthouse, Jessop said water torture is common enough that there doesn't seem to be any shame attached to the practice.  In her cousin's baby book, there's a handwritten note by her mother noting that when her daughter was 18 months old, she was becoming quite a handful and, as a result, was being held under the tap on a regular basis. 

In court, Jessop said water torture was one of the reasons that she gave for gaining sole custody of her children after she left the group in 2003. She said her ex-husband, Merril Jessop, used it on "a lot" of his 54 children, including her own.  "Merril was very abusive," she said. 

For Bramham's full article on these abuses of children, go to 


My Comment:

And why, you ask, does no FLDS member report such torture to the police. Because it is ingrained in them from the earliest years that they must be obedient. Obedience to God, to the church, to the prophet, to parents, to teachers - these are tenets of belief that are fundamental to their way of life.

It doesn't matter to the perpetrator that a little child is traumatized and terrorized by water torture (and I use the word advisedly) such as this. It doesn't matter to a perpetrator that siblings and wives are paralyzed by fear, anger, frustration and hopelessness. All that matters is that obedience is to be drilled into all who attempt to go their own way.

Obedience is all.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Video Testimony - Don Fisher (ex-FLDS) and Anne Wilde (Plural Marriage Advocate)

Today has been a study in testimonial contrasts.  Two witnesses, on either side of the argument, made appearances via video. 

The first, Don Fisher, was an ex-FLDS member, having left the faith at the age of eighteen.  He spoke as follows:  "I was born in Colorado City into an FLDS family.  I had 3 mothers and 33 siblings.  We lived in one house with 15 bathrooms.  I attended public school to Grade 5 before Warren Jeffs had it shut down and opened a church school.  We were taught that we had to be good to go to heaven, and should have lots of wives and lots of kids.  As soon as you're old enough to walk you're allowed to roam free, and you're off exploring the world on your own.  I didn't know anything different. 

I didn't get along with my Dad.  I was the only kid who wouldn't take punishment; I stood up to him.   I went to Canada (Bountiful) because my Dad wanted to get rid of me.  I was 14.  He said I was interfering with God's work by trying to stop him beating the kids.  I'd run away - one time I was away for 2 days - and in the FLDS you just don't run away. In Bountiful life with that many kids was not bad - there was a lot of friends, our own football team.  It was a sort of work camp experience.  I got paid $120 a month.  I really looked up to Winston Blackmore - he was almost a father figure to me. 

In Colorado City Warren Jeffs split up Dad's family.  Mom was assigned to another man.  She called me to come to the marriage ceremony - I was fifteen.  I stayed in the U.S. and had 16 brothers and sisters.  I started watching movies and going to town.  I was kicked out again, given $100 and spent a night in a motel.  Warren told me that I could go back if I promised to tithe to the church and be baptized.  So I did, and I really put on a show of being good - no movies, no music, no girls, no thinking, just be obedient.  I was told girls were snakes, and I should treat 'em like pigs, never to have anything to do with them.  I never hugged my brothers or sisters.  I was told that the whole purpose of a girl was to produce kids for God.  A guy's purpose was to have lots of wives and kids and be a man of God.

After the church split, after one more year in Canada, I got out completely.  If you're not good you won't get a wife.  After FLDS I have life - I didn't exist in FLDS.  Out of it I can do whatever I want. Up there you don't have options, we're treated like cattle.  Here you get to be a person.

My brother is a dentist, my sister is a doctor, other brothers are firefighters.  Everything they do has to conform to the needs of the church.

I don't have any relationship any more with Mom and the family.  After my second child was born, when he was about two months old, I met Mom in the street and handed the baby to her to hold.  She handed him back after 30 seconds, scared to death she would go to hell for meeting up with an apostate like me."


Don Fisher was followed by Anne Wilde, an enthusiastic advocate of plural marriage .  

Her testimony took place in five parts, which can be found at

One of the rare FLDS wives who is highly educated, Wilde is an author, with her husband, of 65 books on her way of life.

I urge you watch her testimony, and if afterwards you are sure you know who is telling the truth about polygamy, I will be impressed!

The Court will not sit tomorrow, and re-convenes on Monday 17th January.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Carolyn Blackmore Jessop - ex FLDS

Today Daphne Bramham reported in the Vancouver Sun:

"My biggest concern is that polygamy is being ignored."

That is how Carolyn Blackmore Jessop, a former member of a fundamentalist Mormon group, ended two-and-a-half hours of harrowing testimony about growing up in the community, escaping from it with her eight children and trying to deal with the trauma of leaving.

"Polygamy is not pretty to look at. It is nice that it is tucked away in a dark corner where nobody has to see its realities because it's creepy," she told Chief Justice Robert Bauman Wednesday.

Since leaving the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in April 2003, Jessop has suggested that decriminalizing polygamy might help.  But testifying Wednesday in the constitutional reference case to determine whether Canada's law is valid, Jessop said she is not sure that is the answer.  Even if polygamy were decriminalized, she said it is unlikely that the FLDS leaders would suddenly give women the rights that they are entitled to or provide the protection children deserve.

Their failure to recognize basic human rights including allowing women to get healthcare for themselves and their children has rarely been prosecuted and Jessop says it seems there is little appetite to do so now.

Quoting Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, she said that in her home state alone, it would mean putting 30,000 people in prison and 50,000 children in foster care.  But she said, ignoring the problems polygamy causes - young boys expelled as young as 13, arranged marriages of 14-year-old girls, plus all the violence and abuse that she witnessed - cannot be ignored.

"What the answers are, I don't know."

Jessop, whose grandfather founded the FLDS community in Bountiful, B.C., was married at 18 to Merril Jessop. a powerful figure in the FLDS who was more than 30 years older [than she]. She was his fourth of six wives and mother to eight of his 38 children.

Aside from her own abuse, Jessop told Bauman about her eldest son's cousin and best friend.  Sam Jessop was kicked out of the FLDS at 15. He'd been taken out of school at 10 and was functionally illiterate.  His brothers, who had also been excommunicated, took him in after he was disowned by his parents.  Sam tried to go to school, but he was failing and his brothers took him to work with them digging trenches and building walls.

One Friday after building a retaining wall, he told them it was his last.  Sam studied all weekend for a high-school equivalency test and then hung himself.

"He was just trying to make sense of his life," Jessop said.  But she said,"it's hard when your  parents throw you out with the garbage."

Jessop has written two books about her experiences.

My Comment:  We learned today that the Prophet (God's representative on earth) made up his own rules.  Obedience was everything if FLDS members hoped to achieve salvation.  Carolyn Jessop had a burning desire to get a proper education, but was thwarted at every turn by the hierarchy.  All girls needed to think about was getting married and having babies (and Jessop had eight).  Education turned out to be a huge bone of contention between Jessop and her mother, who was an angry, depressed and frustrated woman, unhappy with her life.  Jessop's father asked the Prophet if his daughter could go to College and become  a doctor, but when she was married off at 17 to the 50-year-old Merril, all those decisions were handed over to him.

The more children that arrived in the family, the looser became the bond between her father and herself.  When Warren Jeffs became Prophet, he got rid of all the books in the library that were not about religion.  Her son Arthur was taken out of school at the end of Grade 7 at the age of 12, and put to work.  And the FLDS did not work 8-hour days!  Even in school, if the children did well, the husband received all the credit.  The consequences for saying 'No' were quite severe.  Husbands would use 'the water treatment' on little ones to keep them in line.

After her wedding her husband endeared himself to Jessop with the words "A dog is better than you are."  As a man with four wives and 34 children, his opinions were fully formed and immutable.  Jessop found herself in a household where the first wife stayed in her room all day long; the second had a breakdown when Merril administered a beating that landed her in hospital; the third wife was the favourite; and Carolyn lived in a distant relationship which stressed and terrified her.

She experienced several problem pregnancies, featuring the rupture of the afterbirth and premature deliveries.  FLDS women had no right to choose when to become pregnant, and her husband's response was "What woman wouldn't give her life for her baby?"  Merril was a man who could bring his wife to her knees by hurting his children.

I admire her courage at leaving the FLDS in Colorado City, and striking out with her children and only 20 dollars in her pocket.  The story of her escape is told in her book Escape, and a new volume, Triumph, continues the story.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Video Testimony of Mary Louise Mackert (ex-FLDS)

Mary Mackert is the sibling of Kathleen and Rena Mackert, whose testimony I described on 8th December 2010.
Mary now lives in northern Idaho, having left the FLDS in 1985.  I'm reporting her words as I heard them earlier this afternoon.  At times she became quite emotional, and her voice dropped to little more than a whisper, so it was hard to understand some of what she said. 


"The FLDS believe they are the true Mormons. I was born near Colorado City.  My Mother was the third wife of my father.  Every generation from me back to Joseph Smith has practised polygamy.  I was my father's sixth child, and as the family grew he became less and less involved with us children.  I had 27 siblings.  When I was fifteen he took a fourth wife, who already had 4 children.  So you see there weren't enough hours in the day for a man to be a real father.  My mother worked full-time, and had to turn over every pay cheque to my father.

At an early age I was initiated into the 'Secret of Special Love' [i.e. child sexual abuse] by my Dad. I  found out that he had the same 'special love' with my sister, then with my other sister. He scared me.  I had to do it.  He was totally unavailable to us emotionally.  When I grew up I was attracted to abusive men.  

My mother was very strong.  She had seven children and taught me to love the Church, but because of her own hurt she too was unavailable to us emotionally.

Mom was the favourite wife, which caused a lot of jealousy.  Everyone was vying for attention and you were easily ostracized.  You had to be content not to have your innermost needs met.  Sarcasm was used a lot.

After the events of Short Creek in the fifties [when authorities attempted to break up the polygamous commune there] I couldn't sing any patriotic songs.  God Bless America?  No!  We were taught that the police were our enemies, and I was 13 years old before I lost my fear of them.  At school, I really wanted to wear a mini-skirt like all the other girls, but of course I had to wear an ankle-length dress.  So I got a mini-skirt and wore it under my dress.

Celestial marriage was taught to all the girls as they grew up.  You got married and had babies.  And obeyed your husband.  That was it.  By the time I was 13 or 14 I was ready for marriage because of these teachings.  When I was 17 I married a man who was 50 years old, older than my father.  Wilfred was right hand man to the Prophet, Rulon Jeffs; he had his own business and high status.  Although I had a driver's license I was not allowed to drive after I got married.  My husband was a very secretive man.  We had 5 boys, but I was not allowed to get birth certificates for them for many years.  I had no share at all in the financial aspects of the business, and was always short of money.  I had to ask for everything.  It was hard to be always asking for money for sanitary products, and I always had to give him the change.  He had definite dress preferences, and liked me to wear pastel colours with flowers all over them, and lace on the front.  As with my father, all my choices were now made for me by my husband.  I had three changes of clothes, underwear and all - that was it.

It wasn't about 'This is Love', it was lonely.  No discussion was allowed among the women - everything had to go to my husband.  There was no true intimacy.  Life was very competitive - there was a cold silent war going on every day.  There were altogether 35 children in the family - not enough hours in the day to father them.  He had no time for us, and I wanted a home of my own.  This wasn't a want, it was a need.  I decided to get a job, so I left and found work, but I was forcibly brought back by my husband's older sons and locked in a room for two days.  I decided to have no more to do with him or the FLDS.  There was an intervention by Rulon Jeffs, but it was just 'There, there girl' - a pat on the head.  

I had no money.  My husband gave me $20 'to get what you need'.  It was the first time I had ever been free to spend money as I wanted.  It gave me my freedom.  I left on 2 September 1985, and I remember that date like a birthday.

I had health problems - stress, hypoglycemia, diabetes - I had to keep off sugar.  When I ate I was all wound up, when I didn't eat I couldn't do a thing.  But I had chosen to live, and to live free. 

I wanted to get my High School diploma.  When they tested me, I came out in the 91st percentile for Math!  I got a job as a secretary, but that paid almost nothing and it was hard to live.  In those days it was shameful to apply for public assistance, but now they know how to make use of the system to get assistance money.  Eventually I went to College and got my Bachelor's degree.

My husband's last wife was mentally challenged, but she was good at repetitive jobs.  So they got her to do the laundry.

The girls got younger and younger when they married - some us young as twelve.  At that age they hadn't established a personality.

After I left I had trouble with relations with men and with women.  I was angry and hurt, disconnected from my feelings.  I'm content now, but your thoughts are a fixture.  I'm over my depression now, but I find men are still unavailable emotionally."

Monday, January 10, 2011

Expert Witness - Dr. John Witte Jr.

 In today's Vancouver Sun Daphne Bramham wrote:

There is a consistent, 2,500-year tradition of marriage as the monogamous union of two people and a 750-year tradition of polygamy as a crime that has, at times, been punishable by death.

That is the conclusion of John Witte, Jr., the director of the Law and Religion Center at Emory University, who is testifying in the constitutional reference case in B.C. Supreme Court that will determine the validity of Canada's polygamy law.

Witte traced Western marriage laws and traditions back to Greco-Roman times and then followed the evolution through to the 21st century when the definition of monogamous, dyadic union was expanded in some jurisdictions to include same-sex couples. He noted that throughout all of that time, harms to women, children and polygamous men themselves were regarded as both a cause and a consequence of the practice.

From Aristotle to the Hebrew Bible to Christianity's New Testament to Thomas Aquinas in the Enlighten to jurist David Hume to utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham on into the 20th century, Witte says all have argued that polygamy is damaging both to individuals as well as to the society at large.  Among the harms Witte cited are: violence, intrigue, rivalry, envy and enslavement. Those harms are prevalent not only within families, but spread out to the society at large.

More specifically, the professor outlined how polygamy harms women, children, men and society noting that over the millennia the descriptions of the harms have been consistent.
The harms to women are: exploitation of the vulnerable including young orphans coerced into arranged marriages where they are often raped or battered; commodification of women who are sold or bartered by their fathers or guardians including divorced women and widows left destitute; isolation of women by confinement to their homes (i.e. harems) or by keeping them away from regular society because of prohibitions on working or being otherwise involved in society; 'instrumentalization' which reduces women to objects of seduction, lust or vessels for child-bearing; and, impoverishment because they can't participate in public life or because their husbands have less capacity to provide for them post-divorce or post-death. 

Additionally, Witte said polygamy "betrays the ideals of mutuality, love and devotion" that are associated with marriage and is "a violation of the fundamental dignity and rights of women."
The physical harms to children include inequity because of preferential treatment to another mother; rivalry and violence involving half-siblings as well as other mothers/wives; fewer economic and educational resources.

But Witte says philosophers and legal scholars over the ages have also written how polygamy harms the development of "democratic citizenship capacity." Children see their mothers are powerless and enslaved by a powerful man and they reproduce that behaviour in their own lives.

Men are harmed because they don't have equal opportunity to have a marriage partner. But over the centuries, Witte says polygamy has also been said to have induced a false appetite for patriarchy and inflamed the lust of men who continually want more wives.

For societies, the longstanding examples of harms have included child brides, sexual exploitation, assault and violence as well as a disproportionate need for social welfare because the polygamous men are not able to provide for their wives and children.
Examples of those harms that he pointed to in Jewish and Christian texts are the stories of Jacob and King David from the Old Testament. Both of the patriarchs were polygamous and the discord sowed in their families by polygamy led not only to jealousy, but incest, children sold into slavery, wives becoming slaves (and vice versa) and violence. In the story of King David, the inter-family murders eventually led to a civil war in Israel.

In his testimony, Witte went through the various epochs, referring to texts from the period. And among his conclusions is that there have been very few exceptions from Greco-Roman times to the present that polygamy has any merit.  But he said, "The longstanding consensus [of the harms] underscores that the prohibitions are both pre-Christian and post-Christian."

Witte was testifying as a witness for the attorney general of Canada, who takes the position that the law is valid and does not breach the constitutional guarantees of religious freedom and free expression.

Under cross-examination, Witte was questioned about his views on same-sex marriage. Witte was an expert witness in the high-profile Ontario case that ultimately resulted in the Supreme Court of Canada deciding that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex couples to marry.

He noted that sodomy and prohibition on same-sex relationships were "an invention of Christendom" that were unheard of in Greco-Roman times.

Tim Dickson, a lawyer for the amicus curiae appointed by Chief Justice Robert Bauman to argue that Canada's law ought to be struck down, suggested that polygamy is also a Christian-inspired offence.  Witte rejected that characterization referring back to his early comments about Greco-Roman laws and traditions.

But if same-sex marriage is okay, why not polygamy? Dickson asked.

Because, Witte said, polygamy is not dyadic - it involves more than two people - and it provides none of the classical "goods" associated with marriage. Those include mutual companionship, love, protection against sexual sin or harm to the household as well as protection and support for vulnerable children.

Dickson then asked his opinion of a hypothetical, conjugal relationship involving three consenting adults. Would that be inherently harmful?

No, said Witte. Not every case exhibits harms.

My Comment: 

Shortly after Dr. Witte  began to offer testimony this morning, I reached the conclusion that he is the most outstanding expert witness so far on either side.  A tall man, with an imposing presence, he took control of the situation, and gave what amounted to a two-hour lecture on the origins of monogamy in the western world, his words flowing without reference to notes, his composure assured but respectful, his delivery articulate but not condescending, totally at ease (when Judge Bauman sneezed, Dr. Witte wished him "Gesundheit, My Lord!"), and his vocabulary a marvel.

We were treated to a succession of seldom-used but totally precise and appropriate terms - leit-motif, polity, dyadic, normative import, disquisition, empirical, cruciform, nice (in its original meaning).  It was a joy to listen to someone at the top of his game , and I and many others present found him truly impressive.  As a practitioner of the English language, I consider him without peer.