Friday, November 26, 2010

Mormon Polygamy on trial - Press coverage and summary from Day4

Day 4 saw opening statements by lawyers representing the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints and the Canadian Polyamory Association.

The FLDS Lawyer clearly wanted to separate the authoritarian patriarchal structure, and the specter of abuse in the FLDS community from the practice of polygamy. He argued that Polygamy is the only thing on trial. Whether people choose to believe in a divinely inspired prophet and live their lives according to his revelations is a matter of conscience and personal choice, not state policy. He also pointed out that Mormons have been practicing polygamy since the beginning and persecution is nothing new to the followers of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

The CPAA also rejects the current polygamy law. Polyamorists are almost the mirror image of the FLDS - they advocate full gender equality - both women and men can have multiple partners, reject discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and they honor sexual freedom while living within respectful and committed relationships. The CPAA position quickly highlighted problems with the positions of the BC and Federal Attorneys General. The BC attorney general suggests that polygyny (1 man with multiple wives) should be illegal while polyandry (1 woman with multiple men) should not. This would mean that 3 polyamorist lawyers living in one Vancouver household would be legal (if it was 1 woman 2 men) but the polyamorist lawyer family living next door would be criminal if two of the lawyers happened to be women. He did not begin to mention the problems this would raise when sexual orientation and gender identification issues are included. As for the Canadian AG position, he pointed out that if one group of lesbian lovers decided to hold a party to celebrate their relationship, they would be law-breakers but another group who did not do this would be legal.

If Canadians are not prepared to make people criminals on the basis of the way they choose to live their sexual lives, then it is very difficult to imagine how prosecutors can enforce section 293. On the other hand, if Canadians are ready to allow government to regulate this most deeply personal aspect of human relationship, what does this say about our society?

On the other hand, the CPAA strongly rejects the patriarchal and authoritarian structure of the FLDS and they don't want to be identified with them. Asking how the 2 groups can be distinguished, the CPAA lawyer offered three test questions:
1) do you believe that men have more rights and authority than women?
2) do you practice polygamy as part of your religious beliefs.
3) do you live in a community that is separated from the broader society.

I would offer that only one of these questions is a valid test. The history of radical Christianity shows that several sects - including the Ranters, Seekers, early Quakers, Perfectionists and even the Mormons during the time of Joseph Smith - practiced a form of complex marriage. This practice included both polygyny and polyandry and it was based on the belief that Christian salvation freed the soul from all sin. It was also consistent with the communal ideal as exemplified by the early Apostles in Acts 2. These radical believers saw that possessions separated us from God and from each other.

If possession is a bad thing, leading to jealousy and idolatry, is there any difference between possession of goods and possession of people?

As for living in communities, does this mean that members of the Federation of Egalitarian Ecovillages, who endorse polyamory as a founding principle, are breaking the law because they choose not to live in a city?

Is it right to call a polyamorist a criminal if they see their lifestyle as a part of their spiritual practice, but a secular polyamorist upholds the law ?

As for the abuse of authority in the FLDS - that is responsible for tearing apart families, isolating and terrifying individuals, treating women like commodities, discarding young men and enslaving both men and women to build up incredible wealth for a privileged few in the name of religion - that really should be punished to the full extent of the law.

On the other hand, if the polygamy law is upheld, does it have any hope to address these problems?

Not if history is any indication. Mormon polygamists have been jailed, disenfranchised, driven by armed mobs, subjected to state-endorsed extermination orders, had their church dissolved and assets seized, and yet polygamy - with all its attendant abuse of authority- still continued. Mormon polygamists may go into hiding, migrate to more favourable locations and separate themselves from the outside world, but they will not stop practicing their faith. Unfortunately, legal prosecution seems to make them stronger, more insular, consolidated and afraid of the outside world. It confirms that they are God's chosen people and strengthens their belief in their Prophets and their way of life.

If we really want to do something to help the women and children in Bountiful, maybe we should try a different approach.

Should some kinds of polygamy be legal, but not others?

Polyamorists decry anti-polygamy law - The Globe and Mail

Multiple-marriage advocate tests the waters on polygamy law - The Globe and Mail

Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association » A right to live with those we love

No comments: