Real life polygamy: Where sisters are sister-wives and sometimes even wife-and-wife

The National Post, Canada/April 24, 2017

By Daphne Bramham

Cranbrook, B.C. — Double weddings to most of us mean two brides and two grooms, but not for some Mormon fundamentalists like Winston Blackmore.

For them, it can sometimes mean two brides and a groom married in quick succession along with a string of others.

Often enough, too often, those soon-to-be sister wives are already sisters.

Nearly half of the 24 women listed on Blackmore’s indictment are related to at least one of their sister-wives. On three occasions, sisters were married on the same day to the former bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

There are even two of Winston’s wives who are wife and wife. Within six months of Canada legalizing same-sex marriage, two of Blackmore’s wives took out a marriage licence and married each other. The two young women had married Blackmore within a month of each other in 1999 and had been sharing the same home.

As Blackmore himself has admitted under oath in other court proceedings, nearly half of those brides were under 17. Of course, at the time of the marriages, Canada’s age of sexual consent was only 14.

But, more disturbingly, one of the sisters on the list is Blackmore’s own adopted sister, who in this Byzantine world also happens to be his stepmother.

In the marriage records put into evidence last week, she is distinguished from the rest as having married Blackmore only “for time” and not “for time and all eternity.”

What that means to Mormon fundamentalists is that when she dies, she will be resurrected and reunited with Blackmore’s father — her first husband and adoptive father — or, perhaps with her second husband, who was Oler’s father.

But what it also shows is that women are deemed so vulnerable to bad influences that they must at all times be under the authority of a man. According to FLDS doctrine, they must always have a “priesthood head” to direct their temporal and spiritual lives.

There are four women on Oler’s indictment for one count of polygamy. But five marriage records were entered as evidence with the personal church records of Oler and the five women.

The records were among 375 boxes of documents seized in 2008 by Texas Rangers from the heavily secured vault next to the temple at the Yearning for Zion ranch. The ranch was owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a splinter group from the mainstream church.

Unlike Bountiful, which has no gates or fences and is publicly accessible, the entire ranch was surrounded by a high, perimeter fence. Less than a kilometre from the first gate, there’s another gate and a lookout tower.

The centrepiece of the compound, which once housed 700 FLDS members, is a massive stone temple that resembles the mainstream Mormon’s temple in Salt Lake City. It is enclosed by a gated fence as is the annex next to it where the documents were found in a basement vault behind heavy doors and many locks.

Mormon scholar Richard Bennett testified this week that the keeping of records is essential. Without it, he said, there would be no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because Mormonism has “a doctrine of revelation.” Its adherents believe that God’s word is continually being revealed unlike Christians who believe God’s word is fully contained in the Bible.

Two revelations are the reasons that Mormon fundamentalists split from the mainstream church. The first was in 1890 and the second from LDS president Wilfred Woodruff was in 1904 and it instructed that no new plural marriages should be performed. Men with multiple wives were told to choose one and live monogamously or risk excommunication. But they were also advised to support all of the other wives and children.

Bennett, a professor of church doctrine and record keeping at Brigham Young University, also explained that Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith set out clear rules for who is able to perform marriages and how those marriages must be recorded.

Marriage is one of three “ordinances” believed to be necessary for salvation along with baptism and confirmation. Because of that, Bennett said, meticulous records must be kept and protected.

It’s the FLDS’s meticulously maintained records that are the foundation of the prosecution’s case against Blackmore and Oler.

They were also used in Texas to convict FLDS prophet Warren Jeffs of sexually abusing two under-aged girls. And they were used to convict two Bountiful parents. In February, Blackmore’s brother, Brandon James Blackmore, and Emily Gail Blackmore were found guilty of unlawfully removing their daughter from Canada for illegal purposes. They took her to Utah to marry Jeffs.

Oler was also charged, but acquitted. The Crown is appealing that decision.

The polygamy trial continues this week when Blackmore’s first wife, Jane, is scheduled to testify.

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