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January 8th, 2009
01:12 PM ET

Polygamists feeling under siege

An aerial view from last year shows some living quarters at polygamist leader Warren Jeffs' Texas ranch.

An aerial view from last year shows some living quarters at polygamist leader Warren Jeffs' Texas ranch.

Gary Tuchman | BIO
AC360 Correspondent

I know a lot of polygamists. Covering fundamentalist sects that have broken away from the Mormon Church will do that for you.

Most of the women I talk to who share their husband with other women laugh at me when I suggest they are being used and abused. They tend to tell me they can't imagine a life without their "sister wives" and their husband all together.

Meanwhile, men who are married to many wives tend to tell me they have plenty of love to give to all of them; and they often add, ‘why is what they do worse than a single man who has relationships with lots of women, or a husband who cheats on his wife?’

One thing they all tell me is that they believe polygamous marriages are holy in the eyes of the Lord. Their beliefs are strong; but they almost always prefer to stay very low profile because polygamy is illegal and they fear prosecution.

Polygamy is almost never prosecuted. You probably know that polygamist leader Warren Jeffs is in jail. But his convictions as well as other charges against him involve the marriage and resulting sexual abuse of girls under the age of 18, not the fact that he's believed to be married to scores of women.

So that's why what happened in Canada this week is remarkable. One of Warren Jeff's archrivals, Winston Blackmore, who heads one of the biggest polygamist communities in North America, was arrested in British Columbia and charged with the crime of polygamy.

I first met Blackmore in 2006. He used to be part of the group run by Warren Jeffs, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or FLDS - whose Texas ranch of a few thousand members was raided by authorities last year amid allegations abuse of underage girls. FLDS members have pleaded not guilty to charges, and the case is still under investigation by Texas authorities.

Blackmore and Jeffs had a falling out several years ago, and Jeffs kicked Blackmore out of the sect. But most members of the Canada compound remained loyal to Blackmore, who has continued to lead the compound with nearly 1000 members in Western Canada. Jeffs is a very strange bird - self-righteous, distant and narcissistic.

In contrast, Blackmore comes off as a pretty normal, friendly even jovial guy. But then you find out about his life and you see he's not like most of us. He told me he had more than a dozen wives, and at least 100 children. He also acknowledged at the time that some of his wives were under 18 when he married them. And notably, he predicted Canadian authorities would arrest him someday. Well, he was right.

Blackmore has been charged with polygamy; making him the highest-profile person in North America to be arrested for that crime in many years. His defense will almost certainly involve claims that this is a violation of his religious freedoms. Canadian authorities will almost certainly dispute that.

Either way, it means that fear of government authorities and other outsiders - already quite prevalent among polygamists - will become more acute. I called a woman I know who has a husband and one other sister wife. She has been quite friendly in the past. When I asked her if she had a reaction to the Winston Blackmore arrest, she hung up on me.

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Filed under: Gary Tuchman • Polygamy
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. L Griffiths Australia

    Frankly I don't care how many wives a man has just as long as they are all over the age of 18 and legally able to make their own decision on the marriage.

    However I find it hypocritical that polyamists state that they should be allowed multiple marriages outside the law and have it legally recognised (through tax, inheritence, government funding and child support) and yet at the same time refusing same sex marriages to be legally recognised (through tax, inheritence, government funding and child support), seems mighty mighty selfish and the will of God mighty mighty fickle.

    January 8, 2009 at 6:07 pm |
  2. Annie Kate

    Well, I don't agree with polygamy and I think the women get a raw deal from it. One thing I don't understand though is why is it only the men that can have multiple spouses – what about the women? There should be some equality in polygamy – if the men can do it the women ought to be able to also. Just think about it girls – we could have a husband to do yard work, one or two to earn money for the family, one to cook, and a few more for eye candy. That would be nice.....until equality comes to the practice of polygamy I'll just stick with what I have and be grateful I have it. While most of what I wrote is silly – it does make you wonder how it would work if the women could do it too.

    January 8, 2009 at 5:28 pm |
  3. Renee

    It really boils down to control and abuse. Folks can be in a controlling and abusive relationship (1 man/1 woman, 2 men, 2 ladies) and that abuse and control and manipulation makes no sense to me.

    It was nice to see you and your sweet daughter on NYE. It looks like you all were having lots of fun even in the cold weather!

    January 8, 2009 at 4:28 pm |
  4. Jen

    I don't care how MANY women these men sleep with. That's their prerogative. I'm incensed at the unchecked abuse of children within their insular communities. Give these kids a chance.

    January 8, 2009 at 4:25 pm |
  5. Melissa

    Polygamy is actually far more common than Monogamy, which is why I don't understand what the big deal is. I would never marry a man who is already married to another woman, but that's because I'd prefer to have a Monogamous relationship. Polygamy is generally common in other countries, that's true, especially those where marrying more than one person is beneficial to your social status and your survival (there are women in some countries who marry multiple men – more bread winners!). It just doesn't bother me that much, and I don't think they should be arrested for being married to more than one person.

    Abuse is a different story.

    January 8, 2009 at 3:51 pm |
  6. Larry - Scotland

    Gary, will you be the Czar of all things polygamous?

    January 8, 2009 at 3:23 pm |
  7. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    Finally someone is going after these criminals and pedophiles! Living in Utah, I have often wondered how these people live in plain view(in and around the Salt lake Valley) and no one enforces the laws??????? Disturbing!

    Gary, come to Utah and check out the Kingston group of Polygamists! They live here, own homes and businesses basically thumbing their noses at the law!

    January 8, 2009 at 2:11 pm |
  8. Suzy

    I may not agree with polygamy, but I have yet to understand why it's criminal and illegal. If someone chooses to have more than one partner, why is that the governments business? As far as I'm concerned, as long as no one is being abused or taken advantage of, and as long as the fathers are providing for their families without welfare, etc., then what's the problem?

    January 8, 2009 at 1:48 pm |
  9. Jennifer

    Isn't the reason behind polygamists not being charged is that they are married in the church, but have not been asked to be recognized by the government? If that is true, then Jeffs and the others could only be charged with sexual abuse, if they are bedded with those under the age of 18. My religious views tell me that polygamy is wrong, but I would never believe myself to be any better than anyone one else and that includes polygamists. But I also believe that marriage that is in front of God is done so they can seek his blessing on that union. So for them to say that it is holy in the eye's of God, I can see their thinking. Also to ask the question about why is it worse then adultery, I would have to agree. To me, both are just as wrong. Government would have to make adultery illegal, if they wish to put an end to the mulitple marriages. Or so, that is my opinion!

    January 8, 2009 at 1:42 pm |
  10. Cindy

    Gary,
    Great to hear from you again! It's been a while! And I guess you're the polygamist go to guy now huh!? LOL

    I for one think that polygamy is wrong. They did have it at first in the Bible but then it was deemed wrong and is a sin. Here is the passage from the Bible proving that God did not and does not believe in polgamy...

    "When thou art come unto the land which the Eternal thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it, and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are about me. . . . Neither shall he multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away" (Deut. 17:14, 17). It is spoken of as "THIS LAW" in verses 18 and 19.

    It was a known custom in patriarchal times but God forbade it of his people! Anyone that says it is God's will is lying and doesn't know the Bible.

    I think they all should be arrested seeing it is against the law. Especially seeing that they marry young girls who have no business even being married yet.

    Cindy..Ga.

    January 8, 2009 at 1:27 pm |