Polygamy news: Utah ruling and Canadian name-rights case

The affect of polygamy on children remains one of the most contentious issues of that institution. Image:Teens from polygamous families, Wikimedia

The affect of polygamy on children remains one of the most contentious issues of that institution.
Image: Teens from polygamous families, Wikimedia

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.

Utah polygamists in prison, circa 1889

Portrait of Mormon polygamists in prison, at the Utah Penitentiary, circa 1889. Image: Wikimedia Commons


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15 Comments on “Polygamy news: Utah ruling and Canadian name-rights case”

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  1. Pete Klein says:

    Polygamy strikes me as dumb. The freedom of religion argument doesn’t hold water because there have been religions who have held that human sacrifice is essential to their faith.
    But if Utah wants to legalize polygamy, it should also allow a woman to have as many husbands as she wants.

  2. Ken Hall says:

    “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.”

    Subjugation, especially of girls/women as well as boys/men, is a trait in common with most if not all of Earth’s religions, super size and small, as practiced by religious zealots, including those of the USA.

  3. Michael Greer says:

    Wait! I didn’t know that exploiting boys for their labor and jettisoning them was child abuse. Heck, when I was a young man, my mom even made me pay rent…..

  4. Michael Greer says:

    I think that the main problem we have here is too many people minding someone else’s business. As I remember from my American history lessons; folks came to America to escape religious persecution, or in the case of the Puritans, came to find stricter persecution than they were allowed in Europe.

  5. Peter Hahn says:

    the problem I see is divorce. How do you divide property? What about the children? Do all the mothers have rights to all the children?

  6. Pete Klein says:

    One of the unspoken things when it comes to freedom of religion in the US is the freedom meant was freedom to practice whatever Christian religion – not any other religions.
    For most people, this is as true now as it was in 1776.
    This is why most Americans do not regard Islam as just another religion.
    I might add, Muslims do not regard any religion other than Islam as a true religion.

  7. V. Burnett says:

    Something that is often overlooked regarding polygamy as practiced by the early Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is that it was often a really good gig for women. Historical accounts certainly record strife and disharmony in some homes but there are other cases where the women chose each other as co-wives and developed a culture of cooperation and mutual support in their households. Women who were dissatisfied with their family situation or who were oppressed, neglected or abused by their husbands were allowed to divorce, and many of them did. During this period, the LDS Church also sent many women back East and overseas to train as midwives, doctors, lawyers, accountants and artists. Mormon settlements had an unusually high number of female doctors during this period and women of the Relief Society ultimately developed one of the best hospital systems in the world and a Welfare program that is still used and is held as a standard for rendering assistance without encouraging reliance today. Women were encouraged to work outside the home and actually had time for study and intellectual pursuits because of the cooperative nature of their living arrangements. Mormon women in the first few decades of the last century were surprisingly well educated and some were almost radically feminist compared to their contemporaries in the East.

    Obviously, this isn’t how things are working out for women in the FLDS church. They are not practicing the anything like the same kind of freely chosen, potentially liberating polygamy as the early LDS church. The level of oppression these women are experiencing is criminal.

  8. Mr. Kent says:

    Religion by definition is nothing more than ”
    : a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices ” M.W.

    Somewhere along the way it has been anointed sacred and not to be questioned or interfered with by secular law. Cults were the roots of modern day monotheistic religions and some of those practices and symbols infused themselves with Christianity and other religions.

    “The historical roots of three monotheistic religions, namely Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are founded on the story of Abraham, a man who was willing to question authority and refute the superstitions of worshiping material objects.”-(Eliyahu Federman). He also writes “Any religious community can become a cult. It’s not about how faith is expressed in a community but more importantly how people are treated if they want to leave and disbelieve.”
    There is a fine line between the two.

    I contend the driving force behind the settling of America was not religious freedom, but economic freedom. follow the path of the Palatines , driven out of Bavaria and parts of what now know as Germany by the French who stole their lands and treasures. They end up on the shores of England, Queen Anne decides the best way to get rid of them is to ship them to America. they pay for their ship fare by working once they get here. They settle the Hudson Valley, Mohawk region and NYC areas. That is a tale of economics, not religious freedom. Just because it was written in your simplified and culturally correct history books as a child does not make it truth.

    Christians upon landing in the New World had no problem attempting to destroy the native Americans ( Indians) living here and their religious beliefs. Placing their children in Christian schools was common fare. Freedom of religion? For whom?

    Secular law can and should supersede religious doctrine when they conflict. If society does not draw lines, then rest assured some ” religion” will decide there are no lines. Refer back to the definition of religion and think about it.

  9. mervel says:

    How could we say Polygamy is wrong if we are going to support the redefinition of marriage? This was fully predicted to happen and it will happen. The next step will by Polymories (sp?) relationships with several permutations of different men and women marrying.

    I have come to believe the state should not be involved at all in defining relationships. We will likely reach the point that the state simply steps back and no longer offers marriage determinations. Which may be desirable, I mean these battles are going to go on and on and on. This goes far beyond this one little sect of Mormonism. Certainly our laws against the exploitation of children must be enforced. With this particular sect, many of them are simply child molesters wanting to have sex with their 13 year old nieces.

  10. mervel says:

    There is indeed a fascinating history of the Mormon fundamentalists and Canada.

  11. mervel says:

    As long as you have consenting adults involved, and I think that is the key, adults; it is very hard to make any sort of claim that any relationship or relationships should not be allowed to marry, if you support the re-definition of marriage away from one and and one women. Its only logical.

  12. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel. Your logic is sound based on the marriage rulings by courts. But the problem is the supreme court’s ruling in the Hobby lobby case creates a conflict in my opinion. They determined 5-4 that religious doctrine can over rule federal law. That was purely a political decision not based on law. The State never said anyone had to use contraceptives or other women’s health choices, only that it was not a corporations right to make that decision for them. The same is going on over abortion rights. Roe V Wade is still the law as far as I know, but driven by religious doctrine it is systematically not being an option under any circumstance through clever manipulation of state laws. The fabric of our Nation has more to fear from religious doctrine weaving it’s way into secular law than religions have to fear the State stepping on their toes.

    All religions and texts they follow are man made. The argument they were divinely inspired is questionable. If that is true, then there was a very mixed message sent down from above. They can’t all be right. either somebody is not telling the truth or perhaps no one is telling the truth.

  13. Mervel says:

    I am in general for keeping my religious beliefs out of secular law and government. For me as a Christian, I firmly believe that Christianity is helped by upholding our countries freedom of speech and the liberty to not have any religion forced upon us or sanctioned by the government.

    In this case, although the issue is brought up by a small fundamentalist Mormon sect; they also have rights and the same liberty as anyone else. Thus if they wish to have a structure of polygamy it is very hard to deny them that.

    The hard part is going to be things like marrying your brothers or sisters or marrying your parents, you can come up with any length of seemingly strange but possible marriage permutations. For example why should marriage be limited to only people who are sexual partners? You can’t really make the case that any marriage arrangement should be prevented between consenting adults once the arguments for traditional marriage are gone.

    But this leads us to the point of why would the state care or why should the state be involved in any of this?

  14. Mr. Kent says:

    Mervel. I suppose the state should be involved when their is a marriage license handed out as that is a legal contract. The foundation of marriage as we know it today, a legal , binding contract. Otherwise, I suppose they should not get involved. As far as children involved with adults? I guess you deal with it the same as the law allows. I think even that changes from state to state. Ah well, there is faith and there is religion and the two are not necessarily the same. Dunno.

  15. Mervel says:

    I am wondering however if the basic concept of a license from the state is needed or a contract? People can go to a lawyer now and form whatever kind of binding civil contracts they wish, the state would of course still enforce those in a civil court like any other legal contract.

    What I see happening is an endless parade of debate and cultural clashes over what permutations of people can form marriage contacts sanctioned by the state. The lawyers and politicians may like this as it would be costly, however why go through it? What does marriage mean today? We really have no common consensus on that is anymore so there is no reason for the state to be involved.

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