69 Pages Posted: 13 Apr 2009 Last revised: 2 Jul 2009
Date Written: April 13, 2009
Common portrayals of Canada's only openly polygamous community cast it as a space frozen in time, both socially and intellectually. "Bountiful", British Columbia is a 65-year old community comprised of followers of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS). Many residents espouse plural marriage as a central tenet of their faith, believing that the practice leads not only to a good terrestrial life, but also, to facilitated entry into the "Celestial Kingdom".
Visual and written accounts of Bountiful routinely present the women of this community as submissive, silenced, and isolated. Their traditional dress, and the number of children often captured following or clinging to them, suggest conservatism, and possibly also social regression and exploitation. This imagery bolsters current legal approaches to plural marriage in Canada. In particular, the notion that gender inequality and oppression are inherent to polygamy serves to support the criminal prohibition of plural marriage.
This paper presents a counter-narrative to this common portrayal of the FLDS wife. It draws upon interviews conducted with 20 FLDS women who are, or who at one time were, Bountiful residents. In discussing matters related to family, reproduction, work, education, and their perception of law's approach to polygamy, participants cast Bountiful as a heterogeneous and dynamic social and political space, where at least some women are able to wield considerable authority. Their stories are inconsistent with the dominant legal and social narrative about polygamy and its harms for women, and offer an opportunity for developing a more robust and nuanced appreciation of the implications of plural marriage for Bountiful's wives.
Keywords: polygamy, plural marriage, women, religion, criminalization, marriage, feminist legal theory, legal pluralism
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