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Canadian trial explores whether polygamy constitutes adultery

Published April 20, 2017 11:55 am

Testimony • The "mainstream" church regards plural marriages as adulterous, historian says; defense questions accuracy of marriage records presented by prosecution.
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Cranbrook, British Columbia • A historian who researches so-called Mormon fundamentalists returned to the witness stand Wednesday and answered questions about how others regard plural marriages.

Brian Hales, an anesthesiologist from Utah's Davis County who has written three books on Mormon fundamentalism, testified that while polygamists view plural marriages as ordained by God, 19th-century American lawmakers regarded the practice as barbarous.

"They viewed [polygamy] as adultery — biblical adultery," Hales testified.

Hales took the witness stand Tuesday as the first witness in the first polygamy trial for these fundamentalists in Canada. Winston Blackmore and James Oler, both former bishops in the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, are each charged with one count of polygamy and face up to five years in prison, if convicted.

To obtain convictions, prosecutors must show there were marriages and conjugal relationships. Much of Hales' testimony Tuesday and Wednesday discussed how Mormons of all varieties do not refer to each other as husband and wife casually — they participate in ceremonies to solemnize the marriage.

During cross-examination, Blackmore's attorney, Blair Suffredine, asked Hales how plural marriage has been regarded by politicians and is currently viewed by Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, often called the "LDS Church" or the "Mainstream Mormon church." It officially abandoned polygamy in 1890 and excommunicates members found practicing it.

Hales said the LDS Church regards plural marriages as adulterous. If a polygamist husband wanted to join the faith, Hales said, he would have to agree to not live with his plural wives. The husband could continue supporting any children from those marriages and could maintain a congenial relationship, however.

"So in today's parlance, they could be friends but not friends with benefits?" Suffredine asked.

"In today's parlance, yes," Hales replied.

The cross-examination was the first hint at how Suffredine will defend Blackmore.

Suffredine challenged the evidence again later in the day.

Texas Ranger Nick Hanna took the witness stand for the prosecution. He testified about the 2008 raid at the Yearning For Zion Ranch in Eldorado, Texas, where rangers seized thousands of documents from the ranch during an investigation of the FLDS.

That included marriage records. Hanna validated records memorializing 20 of Blackmore's marriages, the ceremonies stretching from 1990 to 2001.

Hanna also validated records of five marriages for Oler — one more than listed in his indictment. Those ceremonies stretched from 1983 to 2004.

Under cross-examination, Suffredine raised questions about the accuracy of the records. He noted some of the marriage records had fax headers with dates between those of the suspected marriages and when rangers seized them.

"So the records that were seized in Texas were not original records?"

"I don't know," Hanna said.

Hanna also testified that he doesn't remember finding a record for Blackmore's first marriage, believed to have occurred in 1978. Oler is representing himself, though Judge Sheri Ann Donegan has appointed an attorney who will make arguments favorable to the defense. Oler had no questions for Hales or Hanna and has not challenged any evidence thus far in the trial.

The trials are drawing attention in Canada as a test of whether polygamy charges can survive the country's protections for religious freedom.

For 22 years, Blackmore was the Canadian bishop of the FLDS. In 2002, then-FLDS President Rulon Jeffs and his son Warren excommunicated Blackmore. Oler succeeded him.

The indictment issued against Blackmore in 2014 listed him as having 24 wives. As of July, Blackmore had 27 wives and 145 children, according to discussions he and his family led at a Sunstone symposium in Salt Lake City. At least a handful of his wives are from Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the traditional home of the FLDS.


Twitter: @natecarlisle






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