Canadian polygamists using same-sex marriage as basis for defense

Posted on 22 Jan 2009 at 6:32pm
By Jeremy Hainsworth Associated Press

Leaders of rival sects: ‘If gays can marry, then why can’t we marry more than one woman?

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Canada’s legalization of same-sex marriage will be used in the defense of two men charged with polygamy earlier this month, a lawyer for one of the men said Wednesday, Jan. 21.

Winson Blackmore, 52, and James Oler, 44, made their first court appearance on the charges Wednesday in a courtroom in Creston, British Columbia.

The hearing lasted less than five minutes, and was adjourned to Feb. 18 for further disclosure of documents.

Blackmore’s lawyer, Blair Suffredine, said in a telephone interview that if gays marrying in Canada is legal, then marrying more than one person should be legal. Canada’s Parliament extended full marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2005.

"If [gays] can marry, what is the reason that public policy says one person can’t marry more than one person?" said Suffredine, who is former provincial lawmaker.

Suffredine said standards have changed. He also said the case is also about religious persecution.

Authorities arrested Blackmore and Oler, who lead rival polygamous factions in Bountiful, a town in southeastern British Columbia. Blackmore is charged with marrying 20 women and Oler is accused of marrying two women.

British Columbia Attorney General Wally Oppal said the charges carry a maximum penalty of five years in prison. He has said the case will be the first test of Canada’s polygamy laws.

Blackmore, who has about 400 followers in Bountiful, once ran the Canadian arm of the Utah-based Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but was ejected in 2003 by that group’s leader, Warren Jeffs. Oler is the bishop of Bountiful’s FLDS community loyal to Jeffs.

FLDS members practice polygamy in arranged marriages, a tradition tied to the early theology of the Mormon church. Mormons renounced polygamy in 1890 as a condition of Utah’s statehood.

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