Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mormon Polygamy on Trial : Day 11 Summary and Media links

Dr. Beaman, a professor in the Department of Classics and Religious Studies from Ottawa, testified on Dec 13. I did not travel to Vancouver for this part of the hearing, however, I have read both of Dr. Beaman’s affidavits that were submitted to the court, which I summarize here.

Dr. Beaman holds a Canada research chair and teaches in areas of religion and law, identity construction, and theory and methods in the social scientific study of religion. Her research is primarily focused on religious minorities and this has included studies of evangelical Christians, Latter-day Saints and others. She contends that the social and geographical isolation of some minority religious groups often leads to the perpetuation of stereotypes and unjustified curtailing of religious expression.

Dr. Beaman points out that polygamy is typically assumed to be harmful and this often reflects the experiences of people who have been abused in these communities. However, this would be similar to forming opinions about monogamous marriages based on interviews from women in shelters who are fleeing domestic abuse. Dr. Beaman noted that there is a scarcity of research from the polygamous communities, however she refers to the results of a 5 year exhaustive study of the Apostolic United Brethren (another LDS polygamous offshoot) performed by Janet Bennion. She also supports the more limited research performed by Dr. Campbell with the women from Bountiful -which has evolved over 5 years if you include on-going email and telephone conversations along with the actual visits. Beaman notes that these studies are notable for their rarity - and she poses that this at least partly due to the fact that women in polygamous relationships are reluctant to come forward because they fear judgment and criminal prosecution. Their marriage relationships remain obscure and they are “particularly vulnerable because of their hidden nature, not necessarily because of the nature of polygamy itself. (Beaman affidavit 2 pg 6). She also cautions that research on these communities should “not be directed toward a particular result or motivated by a researcher’s preformed conclusions”. She compares this to researching monogamous marriage and only looking for negative accounts. If we did this, we would certainly find a large number of accounts that confirm the harms of marriage and conclude that it should be criminalized.

Dr. Beaman further argues that polygamy must be seen in its’ overall social context. For example, a researcher might fairly conclude that monogamous relationships were harmful to the women of Canada “prior to legal changes which revolutionized divorce law, instituted marital property legislation, and criminalized sexual and physical assault of women by their husbands”. These legislative changes did not occur until the 1980s. She compares this to changes in South African marriage law which was changed to protect the rights of women in the event that a husband chooses to add another wife to the family.

Beaman further argues that polygamy and the legislation that prohibits polygamy must be placed in its’ social context. Noting that the anti-polygamy laws were implemented prior to social science research about “harms” she contrasts this against the stated aims of the contemporary times which were “sexual morality, racism, nation building, colonialism and the importation of Christianity”. Victorian era American polygamy played on fears of uncontrolled sexual desires and monogamy was seen as a higher and more virtuous state. Mormons were characterized as being non-Christian, Asiatic and traitors to their race. She quotes a 2008 paper by Sarah Carter which links Canada’s 1890 anti-polygamy law to a colonial vision that desired to shape the nation into a largely white and Christian state. Polygamy among the First Nations peoples and the impending immigration of Mormon settlers actively threatened this vision.

Dr. Beaman compares her research among women in the LDS and Evangelical Christian traditions and argues that these women exercise a high degree of free agency despite living within a tradition that teaches women to be submissive and respect man as their heads.

Dr. Beaman included her 2001 paper, titled Molly Mormons, Mormon Feminists and Moderates: Religious Diversity and the Latter Day Saints Church” along with her affidavit. In this research paper, Beaman describes the fragmented paths that women pursue in the male-dominated mainstream LDS church and how they maintain their autonomy and agency in the context of “institutionalized patriarchy” and conservative “Family values”.

Links to Dr. Lori Beaman’s affidavit and publications are included in Daphne Branham’s media release. If you are interested the way LDS (and perhaps FLDS women to a large extent) navigate their faith, you will find this worth reading.

Not enough research done to determine if polygamy is harmful, professor says

CBC News - British Columbia - Avoid polygamy stereotypes, court told

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