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Rosie DiManno: The courts have spoken on polygamy — but not everyone is listening

Rosie DiManno: The courts have spoken on polygamy — but not everyone is listening
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Inside the inside-out and upside-down legal arguments offered at a sentencing hearing earlier this month for convicted polygamist Winston Blackmore was an entreaty for the ersatz bishop of the ersatzier Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to be given an outright discharge — so that he would not be prevented from visiting three of his two dozen wives who live in the U.S.

Otherwise, crossing the border from British Columbia with a criminal record could be a problem.

Now there’s unabashed unrepentance.

Guilty, as per the B.C. Supreme Court, in the end zone legal spike of a prosecution that has picked at the polygamy scab for more than a quarter-century. But geez Your Honour, let me continue to polygamize with my sister-wives in Utah.

Did we mention that half of Blackmore’s wives were under 17 when wedlocked?

He posited freedom of religion as “divine commandment” underpinning for plural spouses — the FLDS in Bountiful a B.C. niche of the breakaway sect of the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), which banned polygamy in 1890.

Blackmore, 62, was purportedly motivated by “sincerely held religious beliefs,” but I have my doubts.

Did we mention 149 children, the spawn from all those missuses?

Only one of them, Mrs. No 1, has legal status as wife in either Canada or America. The rest are nuptial barnacles attached to the heel’s keel.

On three occasions, according to documents filed in court, Blackmore wed sisters on the same day. Two of the women are actually wife & wife — taking out a marriage licence within months of Canada legalizing same-sex marriage and marrying each other. A tidy legal arrangement to sort of officialize their domestic arrangement.

Co-accused James Oler, also a leader of the sect (five wives), was found guilty of polygamy as well.

Polygamy is permitted in 26 of 54 African countries, primarily in Muslim-majority states, and some 60 countries worldwide. Islam allows for a man to take four wives simultaneously, although some Muslim nations, such as Turkey, have criminalized it. But those partner-added marriages aren’t recognized in Canada or the U.S., even if the practice certainly exists behind closed doors.

Three-way relationships aren’t necessarily uncommon, if not bound by church and civil vows.

Which brings me to a sideways segue about Brazilian soccer start Ronaldinho who, according to media reports this week, was set to marry two “fiancées” in Rio de Janeiro in August.

In a way, Ronaldinho and Blackmore and Oler would have been fellow connubial travellers, even if the two-time FIFA player of the year claimed no religious exceptionality. In fact, he’s claiming the reports, with quotes from a sister who announced she would boycott the ceremony in Rio, are wrong.

Perhaps Ronaldinho — frequently photographed with the two “fiancees,” Priscilla Coelho (began dating her in 2012) and Beatriz Souza (began dating her in 2016) — is simply a practitioner of non-exclusive relationships, with the threesome allegedly all living together in his Rio mansion. Or he’s unconventionally weird. Although, frankly, what are the parameters of weird anymore? The BDSM community — bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism — have apparently found it necessary, as reported in the New York Times recently, to emphasize the consensuality of their quirks, demarcating mutual willingness from abuse. This, after two prominent politicians, New York attorney-general Eric Schneiderman and Missouri governor Eric Greitens were accused of being violent during sex, with no consent from the women involved.

I’m wandering far off-point, which tends to happen when addressing the complexity of human relationships. I suspect it will get even more knotty for courts in years to come.

The Bountiful spouses, most of them, insist there was no coercion, despite being pretty much handed over to Blackmore as nubiles by their parents.

Justice Sheri Ann Donegan dismantled the arguments for religious accommodation, finding Blackmore and Oler guilty of polygamy in March — ruling they knew that entering into multiple marriages is illegal in Canada, based on a groundbreaking decision from the B.C. Supreme Court from 2011. The Supremes, in that reference case, upheld a section of the Criminal Code banning plural marriages as constitutional. The court’s chief justice said the harm against women and children outweighs concerns over protecting religious freedom.

The matter extends back to 1991 when the RCMP, following a 13-month investigation, recommended polygamy charges be laid against Blackmore and another man. Yet the province’s attorney general decided not to do so because of uncertainty over religious freedoms under the Constitution. That uncertainty finally disappeared with the Supreme Court ruling.

The maximum sentence for polygamy under the Criminal Code is five years in prison.

In Canadian judicial history, there had been only two convictions for polygamy, but so long ago — 1899 and 1906 — that they provide little direction in determining a sentence for Blackmore and Oler in 2018.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 kilometres away, Ronaldinho on Thursday denied to SporTV that he was planning to take himself a brace of brides. “It’s the biggest lie.”

Here’s the thing: six years ago, an official in Sao Paolo state caused an uproar by putting a stamp of approval to a civil union between and man and a woman — and another woman. Religious authorities went berserk but public notary Claudia do Nascimento Domingues said the trio lived together like a family, filled with “loyalty and companionship,” sharing bills etc., and should be treated like a family unit. Domingues insisted she hadn’t “invented” a new kind of family and was “merely recognizing what has always existed.”

A civil union document — distinct from a marriage — was drafted, lawyers explaining the three-part troth was intended to protect everyone’s rights — pension, health benefits, personal property — should they split up.

But was it legal? Domingues noted there was no law prohibiting such a civil union, despite polygamy being illegal in Brazil. She argued that, because these three individuals would not enjoy all the rights of a married couple — the third person could not claim parental rights should the other two have a child, for instance — the union wouldn’t technically count as polygamy. And registering a civil union only requires that the applicants share an address and a bank account.

Three years ago, as reported by the wire services, Brazil saw its first polyamorous civil union — three women. The ladies acknowledged their yoking was “symbolic” because the deeply conservative country does not recognize marriage among more than two people.

Western societies have been thrown into tumult with the law trying to keep up with — and reflect — social barriers that have come tumbling down in what feels like the blink of an eye.

Legal or not, lovers will continue to sort themselves out as they wish.

Legal or not — and Canadian courts have now definitely declared not — there’s been little indication that the Bountiful community of schism congregants will reject polygamy under judicial duress and threatened with further prosecution. During the sentencing hearing, some three dozen of Blackmore’s children and wives stood together outside the courthouse holding signs that read: Families not Felons and “There is no cookie cutter for family.”
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