VANCOUVER, B.C. — A Canadian judge ruled Wednesday that the country’s anti-polygamy law is valid and that the harms polygamy inflicts on women and children outweigh any claims to religious freedom.
The chief justice of British Columbia’s highest court, Robert Bauman, said in an individual ruling that banning the practice only minimally impairs the religious rights of fundamentalist polygamous Mormons.
Bauman accepted evidence that polygamy leads to harms including physical and sexual abuse, child brides, the subjugation of women and the expulsion of young men who have no women left to marry.
“This case is essentially about harm … to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage,” wrote Bauman.
“There can be no alternative to the outright prohibition,” he added. “There is no such thing as so-called ‘good polygamy.’”
Upholding the law could lead to prosecutions in a small, polygamous community in British Columbia. The case is expected to be appealed to Canada’s Supreme Court.
Prosecutors seeking clarity on the law brought the case after another judge threw out polygamy charges against Winston Blackmore and James Oler in 2009. Blackmore and Oler are rival bishops of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Bountiful, a polygamous community of about 1,000 residents.
Blackmore has been accused of having at least 19 wives, and Oler at least 3.
FLDS members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the Mormon church. The mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints renounced polygamy in 1890, but several fundamentalist groups seceded in order to continue the practice.
Blackmore has long claimed religious persecution and denial of a constitutional right to religious freedom.
Anne Wilde, a Mormon fundamentalist from Utah who testified at the hearings, said Utah’s community will be generally disappointed by the decision. Wilde, co-founder of a plural culture advocacy group, is a widow who was one of three wives when her husband was alive.
“It’s too bad that they have trouble separating the crime from the culture,” said Wilde, who disagrees that there are harms inherent to polygamy. “There are already laws in place to address any criminal activity in any marriage lifestyle. Why don’t they go ahead and enforce those laws rather than single out our culture?”