Did you ever imagine polygamy would become so…topical?
Confession time: I have never seen any of the TV shows that have sprung up on this topic. The few books I have read on the subject left me with a decidedly dim view of polygamy.
While I can accept a theoretical right for adults to choose their own relationships, I see valid reasons to find polygamy objectionable. Critics allege that in many polygamous sects girls are raised to be married off young, at the whim of male elders, without much ability to dissent. Boys may be exploited for their labor then jettisoned as surplus competition for mates. Some would consider that sex crimes and child abuse – at least as adjudicated by conventional standards.
Anyway, this week saw an important ruling out of Utah. As reported by the International Business Times:
A federal judge has struck down part of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, following a lawsuit brought by the family featured in the reality TV show “Sister Wives.”
The ruling effectively decriminalizes polygamy in the state, while maintaining bigamy as an offense.
U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups’ ruling follows a similar order that he handed down last year. The final ruling on that case was delayed due to procedural matters.
The ruling strikes down a provision of Utah’s anti-bigamy statute, that can be applied when someone “cohabits with another person” to whom they are not legally married. Utah law made such a union a felony punishable by up to five years in prison, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.
The judge found that the statute violated the family’s freedom of religion.
Bigamy, you’ll recall, is the offense of being married to more than one person at the same time. That’s still illegal. For now. But apparently it’s become difficult to legislate against polygamous co-habitation that falls short of bigamy. (Which make sense. I mean, once it became legal to live together outside of marriage, something most have come to accept, how can one legislate against multiple co-habitation among consulting adults?)
Meanwhile, in the courts of British Columbia, the Vancouver Sun reports that
Polygamist Winston Blackmore is fighting the mainstream Mormon church in court for the right to use the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
Blackmore has registered the name in B.C. and won’t give it up. It’s all because of polygamy.
In response to a civil suit launched in June by the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Blackmore argues that he and his 500-or-so followers deserve the name because they continue to practise polygamy as an essential tenet of their beliefs, just as Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith set out in 1838.
Blackmore is part of a sect of Mormons known as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Buzzfeed has this eclectic list of 19 things you probably don’t know about FLDS polygamists.
The larger, U.S.-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) initially repudiated “plural marriage” in 1890 and makes a point of renouncing that practice today. So the question of trademarks and brand (if you will) over who gets to use the name is naturally contentious. As the Vancouver Sun explains, the LDS may have dropped the ball on protecting their name:
But the problem for the church is that it never registered the name in Canada.
So, in May 2010, Blackmore cleverly registered “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Inc.” in British Columbia, omitting the hyphen and putting the capital letter on “Day.”
While the number of mainstream and fundamentalist Mormons in Canada remains small relative to the U.S., LDS history does include early outreach into Canada.
Writing for the National Post, Tristan Hopper explores how no less than martyred Church founder Joseph Smith once went knocking door-to-door in Upper Canada back in 1833, without much success:
Crossing the border in October, likely with only a small carriage, Smith dubbed Canada “very fine country” and “well cultivated.” But, he also said he “had many peculiar feelings in relation to both the country and people.”
The feeling was apparently mutual.
Unlike the Americans, Canadians never assaulted, killed or tarred-and-feathered any visiting Mormons, but many did react negatively to Yankee strangers telling them they had gotten Christianity all wrong.
“It was seen as sectarian and fanatical and there’s improbable claims, right?” said William Goddard, a local historian in Hamilton, Ont. “’Angels and golden bibles, so how can we put any faith in this?’”
It’s an interesting article about a little-known over-lap of Mormon and Canadian history.