Plural wives recount marriages to older men

CBC News/January 26, 2011

A 24-year-old plural wife says she was 16 years old and living in a fundamentalist Mormon community in the United States when she had a dream that set in motion her eventual move to Bountiful, B.C.

The woman, who was testifying Wednesday as part of a case to determine whether Canada's polygamy laws are constitutional, said she was already married in the dream, but she didn't recognize her much older husband.

Soon after, she said, she told her father she was ready to marry, and he relayed that message to the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Unlike the mainstream Mormon church, the FLDS holds polygamy as a central tenet of the faith.

A few days after her 17th birthday, she testified, the prophet told her she would be married to a man in his late 30s or early 40s from Bountiful, who she said she immediately recognized as the man from her dream.

A half-hour later, they were wed. That night, she was on her way to Bountiful, where she has lived ever since.

"I felt like my marriage was a revelation from God because it happened to be the same person I had seen in that dream and I accepted that," the woman, whose identity is protected from publication, told the court as she answered questions in a slow, measured tone.

Happy with decision

"I do feel like I have made the right decision. I'm happy where my station is in life."

The witness was one of three women from Bountiful to testify this week at the constitutional reference case. They appeared over a video link, sitting off-camera, after the court granted a rare request to shield them from the public.

The second woman described how she came to be married to a Canadian man in Bountiful, and also recalled the arrival of a 15-year-old American girl, who joined the family as another plural wife a half-year later.

The family now includes five wives and 24 children.

The B.C. government has argued polygamy leads to a long list of harms, including the trafficking of young girls to and from the U.S. to marry. A lawyer for the province focused on the arrival of the woman and her younger sister wife.

The woman testified that she reached the Canadian border with a letter from her parents explaining she was heading to B.C. to visit an aunt and stay with a friend.

She denied the letter was misleading, explaining that the "friend" referred to in the letter was her new husband.

Trip yields new wife

About half a year later, her husband travelled to the U.S. and returned with news that he had a new wife. She was 15, and later arrived in Bountiful with her family.

The woman explained it didn't seem out of place that her husband married another woman without first informing his other wives, or that his new wife was so young. No one in the community raised any concerns she was aware of, the woman said, and no one thought to call the police.

"And you considered it God's will that this 15-year-old should marry this 40-something-year-old husband?" asked Craig Jones, a lawyer for the B.C. government.

"It was a revelation from God, yes," the woman replied.

Student visas

Both women have been staying in Canada under student visas, the woman said. They each had their first child at 17.

The woman said she's currently attending college to become an accountant, and hopes to one day start her own bookkeeping business.

If she can't obtain a work visa to stay in Canada, she acknowledged she'll have to return to the U.S.

Like the other witnesses from Bountiful, she painted a positive picture of life in the community.

She fondly described her relationship with her sister wives, explained she was encouraged to graduate from high school and pursue a post-secondary education, and said she prefers the isolated life on the polygamous commune to the busy, hectic life in the outside world. She has travelled to several North American cities, including Vancouver, Calgary, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The final anonymous witness to appear was a 22-year-old woman who was born and raised in Bountiful.

Right to say no

She's not married and is currently attending summer courses at a university in Utah and taking online courses to become a teacher.

The woman said she hopes to teach in Bountiful's school and eventually become a plural wife herself, but she insisted she could never be forced to marry.

"I'd never marry someone I did not want to marry," she said.

"Do you feel you would have the ultimate right to say no?" asked FLDS lawyer Robert Wickett.

"Yes, I do," she replied.

The court case was prompted by the failed prosecution of Bountiful's two leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, in 2009.

The men each lead divided factions within Bountiful, and the anonymous witnesses all belong to Oler's side, which is thought to be more strict.

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